"Fly the friendly skies!" "There's no better way to fly." "Austrian. Like a smile in the sky." These are a few of the snappy airline slogans I’ve heard through the years. The most unusual slogan was “We don’t smile because we’re serious about making you happy.” That was the slogan of Aeroflot Airlines in the early l990’s, when I booked my first international flight with them. I should have paid more attention to the slogan…
Photo by curimedia
The date was January 7, l994. Our family was moving from Alaska to Russia. We boarded our Aeroflot flight, took our seats, and buckled up in anticipation of a direct flight from Anchorage to Moscow.
The stewardess strolled down the aisle as the plane taxied to the runway. She looked bored, and true to the airline slogan, there were no smiles. Also, no English.
Since verbal communication was limited, we relied on our powers of observation to discern the rules of Russian airline travel. Here is a partial listing of our findings:
1. Overhead storage bins weren’t closed during take-off or landing. I sat with my hands protectively covering my head for most of the flight, after seeing a fellow passenger narrowly escape permanent brain injury from a falling piece of luggage.
2. Tray tables remained lowered during take-off and landing. My son was thrilled with this rule. He laid his head on the table and periodically mumbled, "I'm going to die," for the duration of the flight. He was our in-flight entertainment.
3. People brought their own food and drinks on the flight. Passengers opened their bulging carry-on bags and pulled out a veritable feast of kielbasa sausage, brown bread, and vodka with a side of cigarettes for dessert. The smell of greasy kielbasa mixed with cigarette smoke is forever burned into my nasal passages.
4. Toilet paper and soap disappeared after the first hour of our 10-hour flight. Water and flushing toilets were also in short supply. I ceased drinking liquids after my first (and last) foray into the flying outhouse. Dehydration was my preferred option.
5. Seat backs didn’t recline but they could lean forward. Passengers simply pushed the seat backs in front of them down flat, then propped up their feet. The coach class version of a recliner. (Advisory: the seat in front of you must be empty.)
6. The carpet in the aisle wasn’t attached to the floor. I tripped over the loose carpet exposing the metal floor of the plane. I quickly checked for stress fractures or holes, and then replaced the carpet in its original position.
7. Passengers clapped and cheered for the pilot as the plane touched down for a landing. This seemed appropriate on an airline with the nickname “Aeroflop.”
The memory of that flight makes me smile. It marked the beginning of a life of adventure and travel. I learned two important lessons on that flight:
-Always carry a pack of Kleenex when you visit the restroom.
-Stop drinking liquids 12 hours before a flight.
Also, clap and cheer when the pilot safely lands the plane.
What is your best piece of advice for someone flying internationally?