Monday, May 23, 2005

Czech Airlines (CSA) won an award for "Best Airline in Central and Eastern Europe" given by London aviation trade rag Official Airline Guide. Here's what Gridskipper travel blog has to say:
I was in Prague last year and took scary ghetto CSA to get there. Seats didn’t recline right, food was inedible and angry stewardesses could have kicked Martina Navratilova’s ass.
Let me guess, you bribed the East German border guards with blue jeans and Beatles tapes.

It's always glib to demean ex-communist Europe for its inferior service culture. Most of the time it's accurate, too. But not here.

This is the second time recently (see below) I've said this sort of thing about complaints posted on Gridskiper, but here it's really worth repeating: If you think CSA is "scary ghetto," you should probably get out to the scary ghetto more often.

I check fares at CSA before shopping for tickets with any other airline. Most of my trans-Atlantic flights are with CSA, and when other airlines aren't offering discounts, so are my European flights. The fares are reasonable, I can't recall ever meeting an angry or unpleasant (or unattractive) CSA stewardess, and I've never had a seat that didn't recline right. As for the food, it's decent enough by airline standards, i.e. I usually clean the tin foil tray.

CSA also has some of the most friendly and helpful customer service people in the country. It's shocking -- all the more so because the company is still state-owned. I therefore concur with the professonials, granting CSA the Scottymac.blogpot.com award for "Most Unexpectedly Satisfying Airline Experience."

This assessment is backed up by people who travel in and out of Prague a lot more than I do, and certainly more than Gridskipper writers.

No, I'm not just playing the reduced expectations game. Right now I'm sitting around my apartment waiting for Lufthansa to deliver my baggage, over 24 hours -- sorry, make it 26 hours -- after my plane landed. For what it's worth, this has never happened with CSA.

Now, if it's a scary ghetto airline you want, go for Smart Wings, the Czech budget airline. Plastic-wrapped baguettes and Budvar for 50 crowns each, and the airplanes themselves looks like they were found in the back of the bazaar at Libensky most.


About my trip to Italy: To answer a question in the comments, it was warm, but definitely not Athens-in-August hot. Sunny, often breezy -- basically what I'd peg as "perfect weather." It rained roughly once a week when I was there. I got a tan for the first time since I was 18, back when I had the late-afternoon shift at the supermarket and spend the mid-day reading books on the front lawn. (Point is, me being so pasty, getting a tan requires real effort -- okay, it'd be a stretch to call sunbathing "effort" -- but I do have to watch the minute hand, and keep at it day after day after day, to avoid turning into lobster-boy.)

There was nobody in the town who spoke a word of English, save for my brother-in-law's cousin Enzo and a girl working at the bakery who grew up in Brooklyn before moving back to Calabria to be with her family. She maintains the Brooklyn accent.

Renting a car proved unreasonably expensive, so we had to make do with the buses. Basically fine as long as you set aside the entire day to get to any of the neighboring villages. (And some of the nicest neighboring villages appear to have no bus service at all.) There are posted schedules, but it doesn't seem like anybody adheres to them, not even as loose guidelines. Basically you just have to stand at the bus stop and ask each driver if he's going to your destination. Count on waiting anywhere between 5 minutes and 2 hours.

The difference with other parts of Italy I've visited is really stark. No tourism whatsoever. The houses in the upper part of the town are literally built into the ruins of a crumbling medieval castle.

Last day there we ran into the Oslo band Salvatore, who were traveling around the Mediterranean on a tour in a dilapidated bus. They were very nice and very ... Scandinavian.

We made friends with the butcher and the baker. Gioiosa Jonica did not appear to have any candlestick makers.

Doh! Luggage finally arrived. Now I can pack. I'm going to Colorado tomorrow. Back in a week. After that, I'll have to really start thinking about doing some work. Anybody got any bright ideas, drop me a line.


Blogger sambeckwith said...

In my experience, CSA food veers wildly between perfectly adequate and totally inedible - my girlfriend once had a piece of rotten courgette in her salad.

But they seem to improve every time I fly them, and the service has always been fine.

Now if only they'd do something about that horrendous 1980s-style logo and livery...

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