Wednesday, May 01, 2013

arab hospitality

When I get into my "toss out the paper" moods (paper-light), I always find a few things that make me wonder: Why did I keep this?

This menu is a perfect example.  It was the breakfast and lunch menu from my Emirates flight from Dubai to Los Angeles last year.

The cover is classy and culturally evocative.  And I recall that the meals were very good. I think I had the mutton kadhai for lunch.  Something you are not likely to find on a routine United flight.

But why had I kept the menu?  It was a very pleasant flight, but not really worthy of scrap book material.

Then I remembered why I held onto this little piece of nostalgia.  It had little to do with the menu.

While I was transferring flights in Los Angeles, I sat at a snack bar with a stranger.  He wanted to know where I was heading.  So, I told him I had already been flying for most of the day on Emirates.

I had inadvertently lit a fuse.  It turns out he was an employee of Air Canada.  To him, Emirates was about as evil as an airline could be because it was competing unfairly with Air Canada by offering "unreasonably" low fares.  If Emirates was not stopped, it would drive all other airlines out of business.

I recall similar dire warnings in the 1980s about Japanese businesses destroying all other businesses.  An early episode of The Simpsons summed it up in the words of a nineteenth century union organizer.

You can't treat the working man this way!  One of these days we'll form a union, and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve!  Then we'll go too far, and become corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!"   

But I knew nothing of this maple leaf-keffiyeh fare war.  So, I fell back on what I did know.  "The service was superb."

His response?  "They are non-union, you know.  I will only fly with companies that are unionized."

I politely excused myself because there was no profit in further conversation.

I am quite fond of unions.  My Daddy was a union man -- a Teamster.  And, as I told you last December (are you now -- or have you ever been --), I was a card-carrying member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America when I worked at the lumber mill.

So, you will hear no stereotypes from me about unionized workers -- even public employee unions like the Air Canada flight attendants.  But, I have noticed that when jobs are supposedly secure by contract, customer service tends to suffer. 

And there is a good reason why the service in an Air Canada cabin is not as -- let's call it "memorable" -- as the service on my Emirates flight. 
I am not saying that the difference is unionization.  But that appears to be what the stranger in Los Angeles was inadvertently advocating.

But there is enough difference in service that I would choose Emirates over Air Canada -- despite the difference in air fares.  Paying less for better service is merely the frosting on the lemon and white chocolate gâteau.

I have a list of high service airlines.  Whether they are unionized or not, I don't know.  More importantly, I don't care.  After all, I am buying a product, not an ideology.  And service is what I look for first.

Just like my choice for a new vehicle in Mexico.  But that tale may be stalled until at least next week.

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