U.S. Airlines, Infrastructure, and Attitude

globe12Sydney

Yesterday we booked flights for our next trip to Paris, England, and the U.S.  As I’ve written about in previous posts, we have a global family, and try to see them, especially our aging parents, as often as possible.

We’re not using any U.S. airlines, and a U.S. family member asked if it wouldn’t be best to do so.  This same person, before President Obama’s inauguration, said ‘only in the U.S.’ regarding the peaceful transfer of power.

Not Only in America

Am I the only ex-pat who thinks U.S. airlines are not the best in the world?  Am I the only one who gets tired of hearing ‘only in America’ with respect to mixed race families, peaceful transition of power, democracy, and freedom?

globe_peopleI think America is a great country.  My intention isn’t to bash, though I’ve noticed through the years the first response to criticism from any source is often a howl of, “How dare you bash the greatest country on earth?”  My intention is simply to point out there’s a bigger world out there, a world with many great countries.

Some of these countries have superior airlines and infrastructure, and many have a much broader awareness of the rest of the world than exists in the U.S.

Airlines

 

Both Clive and I have travelled extensively to destinations in Asia, the U.S., and Europe.  We’re not outrageously demanding of airlines, asking only for:

·        efficient check-in and boarding

·        basic pleasant service

·        cleanliness of seating sections and loos

·        edible food

·        decent in-flight entertainment systems, not necessarily state of the art but at a minimum, screens on the back of every economy seat; i.e. not dark ages (as mentioned regarding United Airlines in my post Travel and Books, Part 1)

oldplane5

U.S. airlines lag far behind those of Asia, Australia, and Europe.  Notwithstanding everyone has a war story for any airline, broadly speaking there is no comparison of any U.S. airline to Singapore, Malaysian, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, British Airways,
or Qantas.

There are magazines and websites devoted to in-depth airline analysis.  A short Economist article on 2 February offered a comparison between recent economy flights on Emirates and US Airways (with appropriate admiration for the US Airways pilot who landed the Airbus in the Hudson River).

Based on my own experience, I recommend this article as both accurate and, in a shake-your-head-sadly way, amusing.

Infrastructure

This is a much broader topic than airlines, and along with millions of other Americans, I’m hopeful President Obama’s stimulus package will address some of the country’s most critical infrastructure priorities.

mobile_flashIn a brilliant New York Times column, Thomas Friedman wrote on 23 December 2008, “Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.”  Kennedy is one of the worst U.S. airports, but this comparison could apply in varying degrees to a number of others, including Newark.

Friedman contrasts technology and transportation infrastructures from his trip to China and his return to the U.S.  He says, “All I could think to myself was:  If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than we are?”

Attitude and Awareness

happy_globe2What wears thin for me is the combination of the facts with the seemingly constant “we’re the greatest” attitude inside America.  I was brought up with that attitude, and I know it well.

I especially get tired of hearing the self-congratulations and accolades from people who have never had a passport or travelled and lived anywhere other than in the U.S.  I said above I think America is a great country.  I also think its superiority complex is at times quite misguided.

It seems to me there are two forces at play:

1.      Many Americans seem to have no idea how their services and infrastructure compare to the rest of the world.

2.      Yet they persist in saying, “we’re the best” without knowing ‘what else is out there’ and the basic facts of the matter.

We were in the U.S. on election day, and heard many commentators talk about Obama as ‘the leader of the free world’.  There is a large free world out there, who firstly did not vote for him and secondly, do not see him as their leader.

Back in Australia in the weeks leading up to Obama’s inauguration, we heard U.S. citizens and commentators say over and over and over again, ‘only in America’ is power transferred so peacefully.  This came out of the mouths of experienced journalists and TV anchors like Sam Donaldson, who I thought should know better.

No Excuse – So Why the Blinkers?

monitor_globeWith today’s technology and Internet news penetrating the most remote areas on earth, I don’t think there’s any excuse for Americans to wear blinkers with respect to the rest of the world.

We all see through our own experience, to be sure.  It’s natural our primary interests are close to home, and every country has problems.  But I think it would be good if more Americans acknowledged the U.S. isn’t always the best at everything.

On my first trip to Paris (and outside the U.S.) years ago, a young French man said to me, “You Americans are friendly, and inventive, and amazingly successful.  There is so much about you that we like.  But we don’t want to be you.”

This was a profound revelation to my younger self.  He didn’t think Americans were superior!  He didn’t wish he was one!  This was the first I had ever heard of that possibility.

Why I’m Sensitive to This

world_people

As an ex-pat, I’ve spent years being the ‘face of America’ to business colleagues and personal friends.

The majority of American managers and executives I worked with seemed genuinely surprised, when they visited Asia and Australia, by the high levels of technological and ‘lifestyle’ sophistication that exist outside the U.S.  Being positive about other countries is one thing.  Being amazed at how ‘civilised’ they are is quite another.  It shouldn’t be such a shock, and for locals, it borders on being offensive.

Ex-pats take the heat (e.g., about George Bush) and the praise (e.g., about Barack Obama).  When people in the U.S. say things like, “peaceful transitions only happen here” it’s embarrassing, especially if you’re sitting with friends in a free, democratic country (such as Australia, England, or France) that has a modern history of peaceful transitions.

Of course Americans aren’t all the same, and I’ve spent years defending my country of origin when it’s accused of being ignorant and insular.
I always say, “They’re not all like that.”  I know many, including regular readers of this blog, who have a more global perspective.  Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly predominant image Americans project to the rest of the world is one of insularity.

I don’t know why there are such blinkers in what Americans seem to see, but suspect it’s a chicken and egg situation.

If Americans were more aware of the rest of the world, would they have a different attitude?  Or, if they had a different attitude, would they desire to become more aware of the rest of the world?

Market Opportunity:  Fill the World News Vacuum in the U.S.

globe_globe3I think truth is on both sides.  I’ve previously written about the world news vacuum in America, and I see filling it as a significant market opportunity.

The media always says, “We give the public what they want.”  But I wonder if that’s really true.

I told Clive if I were a multi-millionaire, I’d start a 24-hour world news TV, Internet, and radio station in the U.S.  I bet Americans would watch it, starting by channel-surfing, then gradually watching more and more, even when there’s no direct U.S. involvement.  Major disasters like this weekend’s Australian bushfires appear to be the only non-U.S. events that make the news in America.

America is a great country, but some of its products, services, and infrastructure are inferior to those elsewhere in the world.  Freedom, democracy, and peaceful transitions of power are indeed worthy of celebration.  They are not unique to America.

It would be good if more Americans understood this. I’m hopeful President Obama will help take off the blinkers, and Americans will be seen in a more positive light in years to come.  I believe with all my heart this will contribute to greater peace in the world.

globe21

I realise I may get some opposing comments to this post, and if so, hope they will foster constructive discussion.

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12 Responses

  1. I’m married to an Australian too. We live in the U.S., but honestly, only because DH prefers it. I am not a huge fan (Obama or not…although I’m hoping he helps my feelings). And definitely! Anytime I get a chance to fly on an airline that’s not based in the U.S., I do! :-)

  2. I really enjoyed this post Carolyn. I truely hope everyone who reads this takes on board what you have said and don’t just blindly comment in patriotic anger. If we just took the time to explore different countries cultures and practices I’m sure we could improve our way of living – no matter what country we call home.

  3. Carolyn, that was a wonderful post and as an Australian who has travelled widely I so agree. I have lived in the UK and US. I do love the positive attitude of Americans though and this heightened sense of ego . Its very contagious. It is a little different for Aussies. We seem to have more of a chip on a shoulder perhaps and more relaxed.

    Recently I was sent an email from an American reader blasting me for my poor spelling. This person was not aware that Australians followed the English spelling system not the American. I just smiled. I think ignorance exists everywhere and travel really does broaden the mind. Young Aussies are used to travelling abroad, particularly to Europe. Americans travel less mainly I guess because they get such short holidays. There is a big wide world out there. I recall living in New York and was amazed that some people had never left New York in their lives even to visit other parts of their own country. I cannot imagine that. America is a great country but sometimes this view that its the best and is saving the rest of the world from doom and gloom gets on my nerves. I dont know I guess, as nations, we all have our issues. I really enjoyed your post though and given you were born in the USA you can say it and are more likely to get away with it, lol.

    Funny, I always thought we had a sense of humour like the British but I have noticed from my blog that Ausssies and Americans are more alike.

    I flew on Thai Airways recently and loved them. Also I think that every American blogger is finding out a great deal more about other countries via all our blogs. And vice verse. Isnt it wonderful that we can all share? Thanks again for your terrific and well thought out post.

  4. I was shocked when I landed at JFK this past August–it was like landing in Central Queensland, circa 1990. I’d been used to CDG and Narita and Melbourne. I have to deal with a lot of travel for colleagues, and if they’re going on mission to the US, even the Americans prefer Air France over Delta–although I traveled on Delta quite a bit this past year and found them to be really good.

    So many things in your post to comment on, but let’s just say I agree. I also agree with Lilly when she says blogs are helping people around the world learn about other cultures, and that’s such a good thing.

  5. I cannot realy comment on Airways and as for airports have had no problems yet., I have only really flown to Europe, (used to fly more when a child)..but I am sure my husband would say that Heathrow is really bad..i will have to ask him, when he returns from his trip (gone to Spain). As you know he works in F1, so travels most of the year to lots of different airports and with different Airlines. I will let you know.

    Oh the British think they are the Greatest!!! Some are so BLINKERED…They diss the French, when on holiday they want British food, but want the heat from other countries….and some of the British are so rude. They get irate when on holiday and they cannot make themselves understood..Learn the language, or at least try!!!

    I have never been to America, not sure if i will ever go, but that doesn’t mean I cannot stand the place, I am drawn more to Europe

    But as everyone is saying, I am finding out a lot from all the blogs I read. Those in America and those Expats in France and Italy..and enjoying them, so thats good!

    Take Care Anne

  6. I think the problem more often with the US is about money. How to save! More for the top less for the bottom type of savings really and that is the bottom line. Maybe for foreign airlines, it is about prestige?
    I remember coming back to the US from France once on a US airline and non of the flight attendants sopke French (or the only one who did was busy somewhere else). They made an anouncement and ask if anybody could help with a passenger who didn’t speak english. Very sad!

  7. What great comments. Thank you, everyone!

    jumbleberryjam, I too hope Obama helps make it more enjoyable for you to live in the U.S. Of course there’s a lot of good there as I’m sure you’d agree. Mrschipndale, very well stated about exploring other countries and cultures no matter where we call home.

    Lilly and Gabrielle, loved your perspectives as fellow Aussies who have travelled a lot, and Anne, you really make me smile about the Brits :) Nadege, excellent point too – so true money is often a big factor.

    Most of all I agree with everyone that blogs along with message boards, dating sites, and the Internet in general are having a huge positive effect in connecting people and increasing awareness and understanding around the world. This is indeed a very good thing.

  8. I hate American Airlines. We use them often because they always have the best prices but the planes are old with screens up overhead in the aisle and the food is horrible. I like Air France but you never know when someone is going to go on strike-like the time when no one got their luggage for months due to the bag handler’s strike. Hard to beat the airlines from the East. That where we had our best flights, especially Cathay Pacific.
    I agree about America. Most living there only hear one sort of news and have not idea what’s really going on in the rest of the world. Many wonder how I can live in France but I think it’s fabulous.

  9. Hi Carol,

    In 1902 American novelist Edith Wharton wrote the following: “There are two ways of spreading the light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

    Most Americans have always seen themselves as the candle and are both distressed and threatened to think otherwise. It is hard for many to accept that in various circumstances the United States could function quite successfully as the mirror.

    For the most part 9-11 just hammered the airlines in the United States, and few have recovered. The other notable issue is taxes. Taxes have always been an anathema in the United States since the earliest days of the republic. Ever since Ronald Regan convinced Americans that they could still have all kinds of services and pay lower taxes, the infrastructure in the United States has deteriorated significantly. As a result politicians at all levels have been terrified of raising taxes.

    Just think how many airport renovations could have occurred for the money that has been spent on what appears to have been a useless war in Iraq. The only reason that there is talk about improving roads, bridges, and other transportation necessities is due to the Obama stimulus package that is currently making its way through Congress. Let’s face it an airport that was built 20-25 years ago is at best shabby and at worst a dump after thousands of people have made their way through the corridors week after week.

    Finally, few Americans are aware of the differences in the variety of World Englishes out there. After fighting two wars with England, early 19th century spelling advocates such as Noah Webster were eager to see a distinctively American version of English. He championed spelling changes such as colour to color and centre to center. (He liked other changes such as tongue to tung and women to wimmen, but they didn’t make the cut!) Later on punctuation changes such as periods and commas that go before end quotation marks and additional spelling changes such as globalisation to globalization evolved. The word “American” is really a misnomer because there are many Americans other than those who live in the United States, but it is hard to turn that word into the right kind of noun.

    There are, of course, many Americans who enjoy travel and learning about other countries and their culture, but I think there are many more who don’t particularly care what is happening anywhere else. We must also consider the anger and bitterness that is evident in many communities across the United States due to the number of jobs that have been shipped overseas. We must hope that more Americans will buy into the true meaning of the word “globalization.”

  10. LInda, living in France must indeed be fabulous :)

    Eleanor, that’s a wonderful Edith Wharton quote, and thanks for your comment. Clive and I have had a lot of discussion about spelling and punctuation and we both learned something about Noah Webster! We have also discussed the ‘America’ term a number of times, but I thought it was outside the scope of this post. Great point, too.

  11. I just followed your link to this article from Elizabeth’s Life After Cancer – Now.
    A very thoughtful and measured assessment of where the USA stands in world opinion, if I may say so.
    I think it is ironic that America (for very good reasons) broke her ties with Britain, but subsequently has taken over the mantle of world power.
    The later loose confederation of the British Commonwealth seems to embrace far more internationalism and understanding, whilst the USA has become more insular.
    I’m thinking of the huge number of young Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders etc who travel and work in the UK and Europe and the fact that the world’s biggest cricketing nation is India !
    Hopefully, Obama’s more international perspective will gradually reveal more of the wider world to nervous America !

  12. John, thanks for your comment. Great point about the Commonwealth!

    I too continue to hope for the best re Obama’s influence and international perspective.

    Cheers.

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