Flying the friendly skies

airline awards

Imagine how proud I was to hear that Air Canada has held on to its title as best airline in North America. I keep promising myself that I’m going to find the source of this particular award because it’s puzzling to me. I can’t help wondering what the criteria might be. Is it like the non-competitive athletics now played in some schools? Does everyone win? What is it, exactly, that so sets Air Canada apart that it deserves an award, not just for one year, but for five years in a row? Granted I don’t fly every week on business so I’m probably not the expert to depend on for an evaluation, but I’m out enough, and have flown on sufficient airlines over the years, to be able to have some sense of what goes on when flying.

Now don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I’m really even complaining. As I wrote on this blog yesterday, I don’t really ask much of airline travel. I don’t even mind flying economy on the really long flights, the ones to or from Asia, for example, that can run some 12 to 15 hours, depending on where you’re departing from and where you’re going. I’m with R. L. Stevenson on this one: travel is its own reward. I decided some time ago I wasn’t going to turn this marvel of our age – being able to arrive virtually anywhere on the planet inside of a couple of days – into a burden.

As for Air Canada, since I still haven’t been able to get it together and find out who is presenting this award or what the critieria are, I can’t help trying to guess. I’m over the Pacific Ocean at the moment on a United flight that offers the washroom free of charge and that’s about it. I’ve been aware of the many ways in which airlines are working to make ends meet but an absolute lack of free onboard entertainment surprised me. Now, to be fair, you can watch a series of infomercials on the little screen in the seat-back in front of you but, all of my natural good-nature and optimism notwithstanding, even I am hard-pressed to think of that as being anything other than stingy. If this were a quick flight such as the Saint John-Toronto leg where they don’t have the onboard equipment to provide anything anyway, I could understand. But this is almost six hours in the air with not so much as an option to listen to elevator music. Maybe United is in even worse shape than other carriers.

So score one for Air Canada there. From Toronto to Los Angeles, a solid selection of music and other forms of entertainment is available. If you need headphones, there’s a charge but the product itself is free. So what else might separate Canada’s national airline from the competition?

Friendly flight attendants? Exceptional and thoughtful service? Careful baggage handlers? Never mind that last one since most of us wouldn’t have much sense of how good or bad our baggage is handled until after the fact. As for the first two, I can’t say I’ve seen much difference among airlines in North America. As is so often the case with such folks, it’s hit and miss. Overall I find those working in airports and on planes about as competent and friendly as the general mix found in just about every service industry. I’m sure most of us can think of the exceptional server in a restaurant – both the exceptionally good and the exceptionally bad – but the vast majority falls into that forgettable category of the “ordinary” where so much of our lives are lived.

And that’s a pretty good place to live, especially when so many people’s ordinary, in so many of those parts of the world I’ve visited (or hope to visit some day), can be so fraught with difficulties that I can read about but have little expectation of ever experiencing.

So congratulations Air Canada on a job well done. Someone out there thinks you are doing a great job and who am I to disagree. Until it matters enough to me that I take the time to look into it, the specific reasons will have to remain a mystery. And that’s really okay. As I said, I’m just amazed that I live in a time when the world is just waiting to be discovered. I may be stuck in economy for a long time to come but I don’t mind. I’m flying 34,000 feet above the earth at the moment. Not a bad place to be.

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