I’m flying China Eastern for the first time. The airline just got permission to fly into Manila and is pretty darn motivated to up it’s presence. That means deep discounts coming in a good $200 less than the competition.
Of course, it comes at a cost. The cushion in the middle of my seat is worn so much it felt like a 4×4 plank of wood tried to introduce itself to my colon. After a full two hours of this my travel ingenuity kicked in and I slid my blanket under my bum. Problem solved. They say necessity is the mother of invention; I learned today that a couple hours of a timber enema works, too.
Doesn’t stop there. When I ordered a “ginger ale” I got water. This is because I confused the flight attendant by looking Chinese. My bad. She misinterpreted my obscure English for a Chinese hinterland dialect, I think. Smile and nod. I’m good with water.
The real difference though is in the food. Airlines usually serve some bastardized version of their country’s fare. On KAL you get kimchi. Thai Air you’ll get Thai (surprise!) and Turkish Air gives you Turkish food (weird cheese!). American? Sandwiches, of course, but you’ll have to pay extra (deli sliced capitalism!).
For one thing, China Eastern hasn’t succumbed to the panic about peanut allergies. A thousand crinkling packets later and no ones’ died, yet. (There is a gentleman in front of me who keep coughing. I’ll keep an eye on that.)
Then, for the first meal it was either pork or chicken with rice. No beef. Way too expensive for a discount airline. Besides, Asians love themselves some pig. From the ears to the feet, it’s a magically delicious beast. China Eastern’s version is decent. I wish there’d been more rice.
Then I met ultimate danger. When I fly to Europe there’s always cheese. I’m lactose intolerant. It’s a delicate thing to be trapped in a tight, enclosed metal cylinder with a small, round ball milky temptation. It’s always a battle between my selfish self (“Mmmm. . . creamy”) and my selfless self (“Think of the children”). Between that and the no-so-private bathrooms I consume airline dairy with a caution normally reserved for road kill; poke at it, sniff, decide whether to put it in your mouth.
Here, China Eastern presented me with a cream-looking dessert. Cheesecake? Cream parfait? Did I dare? Then I remember I was trapped in a tight, enclosed metal cylinder with about a thousand (estimated) Chinese people. No flight food planner would be so foolhardy as to serve this bunch dairy knowing that around 90% of all East Asians are lactose intolerant. That kind of meal plan bring down more planes than a drunk air traffic controller.
I unwrapped my cream-like dessert and ate it. Four hours later, we’re all still alive up in the air.
My Asian people. Thank you. It’s a lovely feeling knowing I can eat whatever you serve without worrying I might commit a crime against humanity. Now, about that ginger ale.
1 Really, it’s only Northern Europeans that drink cows milk (what with their low level of lactose intolerance). It’s mass consumption seems a testament to their cultural dominance. The fact that the majority of French eat mass quantities of cheese could go a longer way to explaining the country’s odoriferous quality than the lack of deodorant. The fact that any of us permit the consumption of cheese at all given general lactose intolerance rates shows the price we’re collectively willing to pay for deliciousness, really. ↑