I’m on planes… often.
While I love to keep to myself in most regards, I can’t help but overhear the loud opinionated conversations of those around me from time to time, comparing one airline or experience to another. I’m often left bewildered, by what people choose to factor into their decisions.
Some will ignore all comforts and experience related items to purely base the flight on speed of alcohol intake, while for others it’s all about the blanket, or the quality of the movies.
More and more, I reflect on the things that I increasingly think are only noticed by a select few, who travel often enough to really notice them. Some of these are relatively meaningless, like subtle uniform details which distinguish seniority between cabin crew members, but some really matter.
Here are a few I think all true travel geeks get into.
The Speed Of The Seatback Touch Screen
Ugh, the lag. Once you’ve had an ultra-responsive touchscreen on a flight, it’s simply painful to wait seconds at a time for a gesture to register, or need to triple tap to get it to act.
I can’t help but be judge-y of airline experiences with old, buggy tech that takes forever to queue up a movie. Fast, responsive — that’s the way. You can’t un-notice it, if that makes sense.
If we’re naming names, Qatar Airways was the first to really crack this. I sat next to an executive from a leading screen and system provider once, who said Qatar wouldn’t pay or take delivery until there were “no bugs” at all. To be clear, Apollo 11 had many bugs and it went to space and back.
The Aircraft Type And Length
Some travelers may know we’re flying on an Airbus A350, but do they know whether it’s a dash 900, or 1000?
Cabin differences aside, a real OG in the game is always going to know which variant of the plane type they’re on. And really — they’ll be able to identify the differences from the exterior, such as when you look at a Boeing 777-200, versus 777-300ER.
If you’re not at this level of the video game yet, it’s time to spend more time aimlessly browsing FlightRadar24.
Cabin Crew Uniform Seniority Cues
Can you tell which member of the cabin crew on your flight has the highest seniority, just by looking at the uniform? This isn’t necessarily easy, or possible on e-v-e-r-y single airline, but it is on many.
If you fly an airline often enough, you can find the subtle details in uniform colors, wings or additional layers that signify seniority and a higher level position, such as the flight service manager or purser in charge.
Pilots, that’s a pretty easy one, the person with 4 stripes on the shoulders is in charge.
The Speed Of Meal Service
This could be seen as a first or business class problem, but on longer flights everyone eats. Any frequent flyer is going to know a good service when they see it, and know a shockingly slow service when they experience it.
The rest of the cabin, blissfully unaware that three hours to serve a meal on a plane is not the norm, nor should it be. The sooner someone can feed me well and clear my area of all dining debris, the better.
And if you’re a real player, you’ve had dine on demand on at least one flight, and can’t help but be a little bit salty about not getting that on others. If one can do it…
The Number Of Lavatories In the Cabin
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be touching down in about an hour, and in about 20 minutes we’l be disabling the lavatories. This is always the call to action where you get a real feel for how many lavatories are in your cabin.
Those of us that do it often, we know the lesser used lavatories that might not be as obvious, and we know when an airline has gone really skimpy and there just aren’t enough overall.
And… we know not to sit near them on airlines where it’ll really matter, when there’s a 45 minute queue outside your seat, and some rather unpleasant smells too.
Comparative Wifi Speeds On Board
I was recently talking to travel dreamboat Gary Leff, and we were comparing notes on the jitter speed of various in-flight wifi providers. For most people, it’s just a binary yes or no.
I’d argue only the road warriors know the really good stuff, like Viasat, or Starlink. Once you’ve had that, you realize it’s really not worth ever paying for the imitations.
Unless you need to arrange something, leave the low-speed wifi access alone. And yes, part of the game is totally being able to tell the speed, based on the provider.