Flight reviews

Sizing up some international airlines: who makes the grade?

Lufthansa Economy Cabin Flight Review
Lufthansa Economy Cabin | Jens Goerlich - Lufthansa

Six countries. Four airlines. Thirteen days.

That’s nothing for an experienced road warrior, but it did provide me with an opportunity to see how some major airlines compare these days.

Travel entailed flying from Boston to Frankfurt and then on to Paris. After four days in the City of Light, my wife and I traveled on to Chisinau, Moldova via Istanbul.

A week later, we headed back to Boston with a flight from Chisinau to Warsaw, where we connected with a nonstop flight to Toronto.

The last leg of the trip was also the shortest: Toronto to Boston.

All seats were in regular coach. The airlines flown included Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines and Air Canada, all Star Alliance members.

With the exception of the flight from Paris to Istanbul, each plane was filled to capacity.

The Lufthansa flight from Boston to Frankfurt was aboard a Boeing 747-8, the latest model of the aircraft. Seating felt cramped and uncomfortable, making me wish I had invested in a premium economy ticket.

Still, service was crisp, prompt and friendly. An alcoholic beverage was offered free of charge. Hot towels before each meal service. Real silverware. Lufthansa also offers an impressive array of entertainment offerings in their well-designed entertainment system.

I did note that meal service at the rear of the plane took place quite late in the flight while other areas of the aircraft appear to have already finished dining. Could it be that staffing reductions have led to fewer flight attendants serving more customers?

In short, however, no complaints about the flight from Boston to Frankfurt or the much shorter hop from Frankfurt to Paris aboard an Airbus 319.

Five days later, we boarded a Turkish Airlines Airbus 330-200 to Istanbul. Turkish Airline routinely cites its numerous Skytrax awards declaring it the best airline in Europe. Frankly, I’m perplexed by the designation. Competent? Sure. A top-flight entertainment system? Yup. Courteous staff? For the most part, yes. But best airline in Europe? Somehow, I was expecting a little more. On the other hand, they did offer real silverware with each meal and a free alcoholic beverage.

The plane was clean and on time. The next leg of our trip, from Istanbul to Chisinau aboard a Turkish Airlines Airbus 321 was equally uninspired and uneventful.

After a week in Chisinau that included enduring a rare spring blizzard that crippled much of the capital, we headed for Warsaw aboard a LOT Polish Airlines Bombardier Q400. Somehow, the flight seemed much longer than the scheduled two hours.

I was truly looking forward to our connecting flight, from Warsaw to Toronto. I’d never flown a Boeing “Dreamliner” before and was early anticipating traveling aboard the state-of-the-art 787-8.

And there’s certainly much to love about the plane. The overhead bins are the largest I’ve ever seen and easy to access. The cabin had an airy feel, given the height of the ceiling. The windows are the biggest I’ve seen. My wife credited the improved airflow in the aircraft with lessening the affects of jetlag.

And yet LOT somehow manages to diminish the entire experience. Its entertainment offerings, if you can call them that, were the worst I’ve experienced on any airline for a long time. Not a pleasant prospect when facing a 10-hour flight. Why they offered both touch screen and hand controllers for such a limited entertainment system puzzled me.

Beer and wine were available – for a fee. The utensils offered at mealtime were plastic. Warm towel? How about a packaged moist towelette? Despite being aboard a marvelous aircraft, there was a cheap, low-budget feel to the entire flight.

Maybe that’s why so many of the passengers seemed angry. From takeoff to landing, many of my fellow travellers spent their time either arguing with flight attendants or each other. With so few entertainment options, maybe they were just bored.

A disappointing experience all around.

It’s almost unfair to comment on our brief final flight aboard an Air Canada Embraer ERJ-190 from Toronto to Boston. Two-abreast seating can’t be beat, nor can the friendly and efficient service. And for Americans traveling back from overseas, clearing Customs and passport control before setting foot in the United States is Godsent.

As is Air Canada’s marvelous, cavernous terminal at Lester B. Pearson International Airport. It may not be the closest to downtown Toronto, but it’s a facility that most American airports should aspire to become.

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