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I just got back from Europe. Between the drinking, sightseeing and jet lag, my body is beaten down and bruised. But I do come back with some valuable learnings that my dumb American brain had never considered before.
Along with a much better usage of public transportation and encased meats, Europe boasts an airline system that puts America’s version seem like prehistoric cattle-herding. It really puts our system to shame and has me dreading my next connecting flight on Delta. Yes, you get what you pay for when it comes to airlines, but even the worst of the worst (Ryanair) costs me $10 for a cross-country trip from Budapest to Brussels and didn’t lose my luggage in the process. I took five European flights on my vacation – four were exceptional. Here’s why.
To level-set, European airfare is not a ton different than American flights in some areas. It still has its cheap and terrible options. Instead of Spirit, Europe has Ryanair. And while Spirit typically boasts $99 flights, finding an eye-popping $12 flight on Ryanair was enough for me to rationalize the horrible accommodations and having to board in the middle of a warehouse lightly connected to the actual airport.
The reason European air travel stands out is because the mid-level options are so much better than what is offered in the states. While I still love my short Southwest flights from Chicago to Minneapolis, Swiss Airlines is miles better – and cheaper.
For starters, the three flights I took with Swiss actually arrived ahead of time, which is basically unheard of for someone has had been indoctrinated by the long delays of the O’Hare labyrinth. That Swiss efficiency was also important when navigating customs for my connecting flight in Zurich – which I stupidly scheduled for two hours after I touched ground. Navigating customs, passport checks, and a shuttle to a new gate is a veritable death knell for those looking to successfully catch their connecting flight. The night before I had accepted my fate, thinking I’d have to find the next flight from Zurich to Chicago. But, traveling in a European airport again surprised me. Sometimes the grass is greener and you can make it to your gate, sans sweat, 30 minutes before your flight even boards.
Even better, the customer service on these flights is aggressively accommodating, to the point that they offered snacks and hot towels on even the shortest one-hour flights. Add in two bouts of meal service, ice cream, and a full suite of movies, and my endcap flights to and from Europe along were surprisingly not horrible. Obviously, sitting in a plane for 9+ hours with seatmates who don’t understand the concept of elbow room is always tough, but it was so much less painful than similar flights I’ve take cross-country from the likes of Delta and United. You don’t feel like a worthless ass filling a pricey seat, you feel like a slightly-less worthless ass filling a slightly-less pricey seat. Although these margins might be small, they are meaningful, especially if you’ve ever experienced unannounced flight cancellations and flight attendants who seem to be especially stingy on the bags of pretzels they give out.
I learned a few things about myself on this trip. One of those things is that I’m a nervous traveler, accustomed to the unbridled chaos that typically comes with flying domestic in large, unaccommodating airports and airlines. Yes, my experience might not be entirely typical, but it does showcase the concerted effort European airliners put into making your flight suck less, which I appreciated. Plus, they’ve yet to go viral for “re-accommodating” a man’s face, which is a step in the right direction. .