Jan 172007
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Usually, it is not difficult to differentiate between the developing world and the modern developed world.

Whereas a dilapidated infrastructure, stagnant economy, and a substantial population struggling for basic needs are the signature mark of developing countries, the opposite is true for developed countries.

One need not even have a formal understanding of development indicators, such as birth mortality and literacy rates, to know which countries fall into which category.

For example, a mother rummaging through a dumpster for food with four of her nine children is usually a dead giveaway that one has left the comfort zone of the developed world.

For all of their pronounced differences, the line separating the developing from the developed world is blurred when it comes to airfare.

This became apparent to me in a recent trip I took to Mendoza, Argentina. Together with my mother, we flew in three air carriers, American Airlines, LAN Chile, and Aerolineas Argentinas.

Based on the quality of service and flight attendant professionalism, American Airlines could be compared to a typical Motel 6, whereas the Latin American airlines ranked more like a Hilton.

However, one should note that there was no significant price difference between all of our flights – so, basically, we were paying the same price for the Motel 6 as we were for the Hilton.

Indeed, American Airlines leaves much to be desired. On our four-hour flight to Miami, for example, we were not provided with any sort of food – not even a miniature pretzel snack, as has typically been the norm.

The plane was also not adequately clean, as I soon discovered by reaching into my seat pocket and pulling out a magazine that was plastered with bubble gum. Passengers had to pay extra for food, headphones and wine.

On top of this, the seating space made me feel like a human accordion.

Honestly, I would not have minded the quality in service as much had the flight attendants compensated for those deficiencies. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Apart from a general feeling of apathy towards passengers, some flight attendants were flat out unpleasant.

On one occasion, for example, a flight attendant who had been snappy throughout the flight managed to spill a cup full of ice on my lap. I treated this as an accident and helped him clean up the mess.

What caught my attention, however, was that he barely managed a passing sorry, as though it bothered him to show even a minimal degree of courtesy.

The LAN Chile and Aerolineas Argentinas flights were on another level. Not only were passengers presented with a clean aircraft, but they were afforded food – even on short two-hour flights, free-of-charge wine and headphones, and flight attendants who were both cordial and professional.

I am not alone in my poor assessment of American Airlines. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Scott McCartney shares a story that by far exceeds my negative experience with the airline industry.

In McCartney’s case, apart from a lack of water and an extensive delay, the toilets in his flight began to overflow.

As McCartney reflects on his flight, he writes, “After years of cutting staff, carriers are less capable of handling crises – from not having enough telephone reservationists to handle calls, or extra bodies to empty toilet tanks or spare pilots and flight attendants to help out when delays stack up.”

McCartney’s account highlights American Airlines’ tendency of putting more weight on cutting costs than quality customer service. It is no wonder that the airline has experienced its first full-year profit since 2000, as USA Today recently reported.

If this trend continues, we can count on American Airlines having first world planes and third world treatment of passengers, which is characterized by a lack of food and, in flights such as that of McCartney’s, a lack of sanitation and water as well.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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