Friday, February 27, 2009

Fly The Unsteady Skies

Since the days of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot has been known for lousy service, awful food, and questionable reliability.

When I lived in Russia a few years ago, crashes were fairly regular, especially for the Tu-154, a passenger jet distinguished by the frequency with which its wings fell off. And even if you made it onto the ground in one piece, the flight was likely to be memorable -- but not in a good way.

It was (and maybe still is) a tradition on the domestic routes that when the plane taxis to a stop, the pilot and flight crew get to leave the plane first while the passengers stay in their seats.

Also, there doesn't seem to be many rules about what you can't put in the overhead compartment. On a domestic flight to Krasnodar from Moscow, I sat a few rows behind a really tough-looking guy who brought a a pump-action shotgun onto the plane. On the way back, a solid-looking old woman dragged a cage of feeble looking chickens aboard and crammed it into the overhead compartment.

Nobody gave either of these two a second glance.

That's why this story in the Weekly Standard didn't surprise me at all. Seems that late last year, the passengers of an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to JFK staged a revolt when their pilot was so drunk, his welcome aboard message was barely incomprehensible in Russian or English.

Initially, the passengers who complained were told to "stop making trouble." People who called the Aeroflot customer service line from their cell phones were told "it is impossible for the pilot to be drunk."

Finally after an hour or so of intense argument -- if you've lived in Russia, you know how this probably sounded -- an Aeroflot representative got onto the plane and delivered this gem, which should go in to a book on great moments in customer service.

"It's not such a big deal if the pilot is drunk." the Aeroflot rep reportedly told the passengers. "Really, all [the pilot] has to do is press a button and the plane flies itself. . . . The worst that could happen is he'll trip over something in the cockpit."

Seriously, go read the whole thing. Its hilarious.


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