I felt like I needed something on which to hang this issue of my unhappiness with Air Canada’s service. Then I found it in the toilet of the Korean Airlines flight from Seoul to Bangkok. It came in the form of a bottle of moisturizing skin cream.
It broke the log jam. The muddle in my head started to clear and I wish to state here that I’m sick and tired of Air Canada’s mediocrity -- to be kind. Don’t get me started on its frequent reminder that it was voted “the Best North American airline," by Skytrax respondents. Well, it’s a pretty sorry field of candidates. I base that on my American friends’ lack of anything good to say about American carriers! Mexico? Forget it.
I know it just seems petty and unwarranted to want to run down your country’s national carrier. I held off, trying to follow the platitude that says, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
But I cannot hold back now. Thank you bottle of moisturizer. But there’s more, a lot more.
I’d just spent 10 days in chilly, low humidity Toronto and my skin was peeling and cracking. I guess my skin had become acclimatized to the steamy tropics that keep your skin in oily condition. When I’m back in Canada, I get really dry, itchy skin now, even in the fall.
I was on the return flight to my home in Bangkok. My shins were killing me so I thought I would check out the toilet because I remember a bottle of creamy hand soap there the last trip. Different cubicle, different toiletries. Two bottles, one of them spelling relief. That body cream really worked.
Then my thoughts just cascaded. The KAL toilets smell nice. The water tap is tall enough and big enough to get your full hands under the flow and it keeps on flowing after you press the regulator. The AC one is extremely tiny, you can only wet your fingers and as soon as you remove your hand from the regulator, it stops. The flow amounts to maybe ant spit. The KAL tap spreads a nice wide flow and it continues long enough so you almost never have to touch it twice.
The KAL Airbus 330 mid-cabin service module has FOUR toilets, with curtains shrouding the two-sided hallway entrances. There’s two in the back service module. So convenient. Toiletries include toothbrushes, mouthwash, moisturizing hand soap and skin cream. AC? Some industrial strength liquid soap that dries out your hands.
But let’s go back to the beginning of my trip where the downfall began.
First thing I noticed when boarding at Bangkok airport was how helpful and safety conscious the KAL crews were. Cabin staff were stationed all along the aisles to help people push heavy carry-on bags into the overhead bins, rearrange the load, put people in their correct seats, and generally prepare for takeoff. Once bins were locked down and everyone seated, staff went back through the entire cabin again to double-check the bins were safely locked and seatbelts fastened. They were very quick about it too. All was done with a real desire to help and maintain safety.
At Incheon, leg 2, when Air Canada took over, it looked like AC was using another airline to do most of the check-in and boarding. I’ve seen AC do this at Hong Kong, too. My Korean-born seat mate, who lives outside Toronto, said they were using another Asian airline’s staff.
Frankly, boarding organization was a disaster. People just lined up anywhere, with the line blocking the exit path of an express moving sidewalk. Meanwhile, six or seven check-in staff stood motionless behind the counter watching and doing nothing to organize things.
Finally, someone managed to wake up and try to split the lineup and get them standing parallel to the sidewalk. It was a failure. Organizing boarding by seat rows was put over the PA but nothing done about it. People just lined up as best they could without any staff helping or pre-checking passports.
Inside, none of the luggage bins were unhooked and ready for loading. People had to reach up and pull the bins down themselves, including old folks and short people. Then they had to stow the bins themselves. Finally, AC staff and these rental staff showed up but the worst was over.
Throughout the flight to Canada, I hardly ever saw cabin staff except when they were forced to serve food. Then they would disappear. On KAL, cabin staff toured the seating area constantly, offering drinks or checking safety items. When the seatbelt signs went on due to turbulence incidents, they scurried into the cabin pronto to make sure everyone was belted in. Every time.
On the return flights to Incheon and Bangkok, I have to say the AC ground staff at YYZ were very well organized for boarding. Went off smoothly and quickly. But, still not enough cabin help. In flight, AC served up the same menu it’s been serving for 10 years on this route. What’s with AC that it can’t afford to put lettuce or tomatoes or something green in its sandwich. Look at the cheap-assed ham “sandwich” picture. At least there was mayonnaise. And whoopee, Nissin noodle cup soup. Again. Talk about cheap.
Meanwhile, the KAL meals, three to choose from (chicken, beef or fish), were varied and tasty. How is it that KAL can use stainless steel cutlery in its meal sets, as does Cathay Pacific, and AC cannot; not even a bloody toothpick.
Last, the LCD entertainment service on KAL was much easier to use, faster to react to inputs and had much clearer audio. Both airlines use Airshow software. I have found the AC system extremely frustrating to use. And how come the continuous flight data were only in the Imperial system, no metric?
The overall feeling on KAL is that they are here to help you enjoy your flight and hope that you come back. On AC it’s an attitude that my job requires me to do this and that. I will do this to the absolute minimum standard and when you’re off the plane, goodbye.
Really, though, that attitude is common in Canada. We just don’t do service. We reach for the floor.
I can't believe Air Canada's four-star ratings. If you have experience of Asian airlines, you will not want to use North American services again.