text sent to KLM Customer
Service on December 31, 1998)
KLM: Smooth as a swan
My Dear KLM,
Oh my dear KLM, how will you ever forgive me? I have been so bad, so
distrusting, so unfaithful! Last month, in a fit of foolery that I am
still ashamed of, I chose another airline over you just because I had
never flown with her before.
Lufthansa has a reputation, similar to yours, of being an efficient
and enjoyable airline. That may be true, but it is definitely a far cry
from your level of service and comfort. From the moment I sat in the
hard, flat seats on my flight from Moscow to Frankfurt, I knew I had
made the wrong choice. Once we were airborne, and they did not
serve ice cream after the in-flight meal, my spirits sank even further.
How can anyone even compare you, with your generous meals and tasty ice
cream deserts, to another carrier? I was so foolish!
On arrival in Frankfurt, I became even more despondent. Not only did
I have to walk across the tarmac to a shuttle bus to the terminal (not
even Russia does this anymore!), the terminal was overcrowded, noisy,
and confusing, with poor signage and too much construction going on. I
yearned for the orderly and smooth Schiphol experience, with its big
windows, courteous staff, and logical layout.
My flight from Frankfurt to Miami was uneventful and comfortable,
like a flight should be, and the landing in Miami was one of the softest
I’ve had, but it did not make up for the frustration of the return
flight. First of all, my flight from Orlando to Frankfurt was completely
changed, from a dream to a nightmare. I was booked on a direct
Orlando-Frankfurt Lufthansa flight leaving Orlando in the evening and
arriving in Frankfurt the following mid-day, but then I was
involuntarily re- routed to a Orlando-Washington DC-Frankfurt flight on
Needless to say, United doesn’t even come close to Lufthansa, much
less your comfort and class. Our DC-Frankfurt pilot, in unmatched
brilliance, decided to save us an hour (and his company fuel costs) by
flying in the jet stream. Thanks for the hour! Too bad we were tossed
around so much in the jet stream, that I couldn’t sleep and I had plane
crash nightmares when I tried. Next time, I’m gonna swim before I relive
So KLM, will you forgive me? Will you accept me now that I have
learned my lesson? I promise, never, ever to spend a dime with another
airline, if you service the places I am between, so help me Ra!
December 31, 1998, The Moscow Times
Russians Show Whiners The Way to Take Delays
By Russell Working
When trains shut down, when planes don’t fly, when Russians are
stranded anywhere, they are always ready with a bottle of vodka or sweet
On a train, they squeeze into a coupe and dig out whatever food they
have – sausage, bread, cucumbers, candy -as happened last summer when my
train full of shuttle traders was stalled for four hours on the Chinese
border. On a plane, they fold down the middle scat and spread out a
newspaper, on which they lay their dried fish or salo, a substance made
from pork fat that is handy for absorbing headline ink and images of
If a foreigner is in their midst, he will be grilled about his
homeland, The glass will remain miraculously full, however often he
polishes it off and makes clear that this is really his last drink.
Eventually, some will doze. Some may even sing.
The attitude is: Why get excited? The plane will either fly or not
fly. I can’t change that, but I can celebrate with my fellow man in the
meantime. I thought of this on Sunday while returning from a visit to my
parents in Santa Barbara, California. I had spent the holiday reflecting
on the strengths of American French roast coffee, sales clerks who don’t
roll their eyes at you, a vigorous system of cheeks and balances that
keeps citizens informed about presidential DNA on intern’s dresses.
But as I waited for takeoff on a United Airlines jet, I couldn’t help
thinking of another side of the American experience. We’re whiners.
We were heading to San Francisco, and only one runway was open in
that foggy city. The pilot announced an hour’s delay. Then a second. And
a third. I figured everyone felt the way I did. You can’t change the
weather, and if you travel, you live with the possibility of delays.
But I soon became aware of an undercurrent of fury on the plane.
‘Unbelievable!’ snarled a man with frizzy hair. A woman told a
stewardess, ‘This is unacceptable, Can’t you see my children are
exhausted?’ The pilot tried in vain to calm us: ‘Folks, we’re
sorry about the delay, but really, it’s not the flight attendants’
In the end, the flight was canceled, and the passengers stomped off.
As United scrambled to reroute us the next day, the frizzy man shouted,
‘I don’t care whose fault it is. You’ll never get my business
It was 11 p.m. Passengers lugged their bags to the curb. They crowded
into cabs and headed back to the city where the electricity always
works, where the faucets always gush, where everyone is paid on time.
Angry. Muttering into cell phones. Struggling with the question that has
vexed mankind since Job: Can God really he good in a world where trips
to San Francisco are delayed?