There are lots of organisations which award various ‘best of’ awards to airlines each year, but there are not so many ‘worst of’ awards, which would be just as useful for the traveling public. So for the past few years I have been publishing my own awards. Here are my awards for 2006:
Worst airline food
Winner: Malaysia Airlines
For the third year in a row, MH is the runaway winner in this category. You’d think MH management would send one of their chefs on a Cathay, Emirates or Qatar Airways flight to learn that airline food does not have to taste like canteen food that was prepared last year and then reheated until it’s as dry as the Gobi desert.
Worst onboard entertainment
Winner: Uzbekistan Airways
What can you say? There is none. Zilch. Maybe there are other full-service airlines in the world that have no onboard entertainment, but Uzbekistan Airways was the only one on which I did a long haul flight in 2006 that didn’t even have a single audio channel.
Worst cabin crew
Winner: Saudi Arabian Airlines
This year the award was snatched by SA on one of my last flights of the year, narrowly beating Mahan Air for rudeness, indifference and inattention to passenger service. The ‘locals’ seemed to be getting okay service, but the foreigners on the flight were completely ignored. The message seemed to be “we don’t want foreigners on our airline”.
Worst cockpit crew
Winner: Malaysia Airlines
A second award for MH for a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, when the captain announced that we were flying to Kuching (which we weren’t), didn’t correct the announcement - leaving the passengers wondering where the hell they were going - and then announcing an arrival time which had already passed.
Worst airline safety
Winner: Air Koryo, North Korea
I feel sorry having to award this to Air Koryo every year because their planes are comfortable and their flight attendants very polite and courteous. But as the only airline that I ever fly on that doesn’t have life vests or oxygen for the passengers, it’s hard to believe that they take passenger safety seriously.
Worst aircraft condition
Winner: Mahan Air, Iran
After the Pakistan International Airways Boeing 747 that I cited as last year’s winner of this category was banned from operating in Europe for safety reasons, I wonder if the same fate will beset the Mahan Air Boeing 767 that I took from Bangkok to Tehran where the ceiling panels were hanging down exposing all the cables and electrical equipment in the roof.
Winner: Heathrow, London
According to the International Herald Tribune, a recent survey conducted by neuropsychologist, David Lewis, the stress endured by passengers traveling through Heathrow is higher than that of a Formula 1 driver during a race, a free-fall parachutist during descent, or riot police confronting a stone-throwing mob. I can vouch for that.
Worst baggage delivery
Winner: Johannesburg, South Africa
I had only two flights through Johannesburg this year, but on both occasions my baggage was ransacked by the baggage handlers. They stole my iPod on the first transit so I made sure there was nothing worth stealing in the bag on my second transit – and put all my smelliest dirty laundry on top.
Worst airport immigration
Winner: Narita, Tokyo
Foreigners entering Japan sometimes have to wait more than an hour in the immigration queue with only two or three immigration officers processing hundreds of passengers through the “foreigner channel”. Meanwhile the six or seven officers processing Japanese citizens through the “Japanese channel” ensure that their countrymen speed through in a matter of minutes.
Worst airport customs
Winner: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
You have more chance of winning the lottery than not having your bags taken apart at customs in Tashkent. Unless you are one of the first to collect your bags off the belt, be prepared for a 1-2 hour wait in a long queue for your turn to interrogated by one of only two customs officials that will be assigned to process a whole planeload of passengers.