Lessons from 35,000 Feet
The last month or so has provided a lot of travel opportunities for me. Most have been on business, but I did get to squeeze a weekend in there for myself. Traveling in SE Asia has its good points and bad points. Let’s start with the good…In less than an hour I can be in either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, Laos. In two hours, I’m in Bangkok. In just fours hours I can make it as far as Hong Kong or even Japan. Living in this part of the world where a bunch of countries are mushed together has its benefits. It’s one of the reasons I traveled through SE Asia last year. It’s super easy to get from one place to the next. And while there are some general similarities between Asian countries, an hour flight takes you to an entirely different culture. And I love that.
The bad part about this area of the world is that it is still behind more developed areas. Let’s take Vietnam for example…The Hanoi airport would be better off if they leveled the damn thing and put up tents. The building is old, the airline employees are not all that nice and the waiting areas are tired-looking and uncomfortable. Before you even get your boarding pass, you deal with people blatantly cutting in line, people who are standing so close behind you you can feel their breath on your neck (or smell their breath when they cough, as was the case on one travel occasion) and agents who appear that can’t be bothered to do their job. Never mind the ridiculous number of delays the airline experiences and the lack of communication with passengers.
I’ve likened Vietnam Airlines to being one chicken short of a local bus. It is probably the worst airline I’ve traveled with – ever. Not only for the lack of professionalism of the attendants – falling asleep in the jumper seat as the plane is preparing for take-off should not be acceptable in my book – but also for the condition of the planes. On one of my last fights to Saigon, I noticed that the hardware, like plastic coverings on some of the seat fixtures, were missing on several rows. I’m still shocked by how many people on board have probably never flown before. They have no idea that their ticket holds a seat number. Many people sit where they want and get bumped a few times until an attendant explains where their seat is located. Others walk aimlessly through the cabin and don’t know how to find their seat number, never mind figuring out if their seat is an aisle or window. I quite nearly punched a guy who kept pushing me when the row of people in front of me making their way through the plane stopped and he yelled, “Move!”
Vietnam Airlines also has a very strange way of seating people. If a flight is not full, they will clump people together in groups and leave several rows completely empty. As of lately, I’ve been involuntarily seated in the exit rows on most of my flights. I actually don’t like the exit rows. You are not allowed to put your items underneath the seat, and call me crazy, but I’m not willing to put all my belongings out of sight. The seat doesn’t go back, either. I’m not 6’5″ and I don’t think I look particularly helpful or someone who stays calm in an emergency. I have a feeling that in some training course, the reservation staff were told, “The foreigners like the exit rows.” And so now I am getting in the habit of asking to NOT be seated in emergency rows.
It’s kind of funny that everyday I’m learning something new about this country and about working in SE Asia. Everyday poses some challenge. I just never expected that I would learn so much while sitting in a plane so high in the sky!
On the Bright Side,