Polish Airlines: First Flight Impressions

Posted on December 23, 2011 by

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Well, I liked it.

Amid some negative comments about Polish Airline from friends online and off, I tried to maintain an optimistic outlook as I boarded the plane at 5:40 am in Tbilisi. We were already running late, because for some reason we were being bused to the plane from the gate rather than boarding via that bridge thing. We got to go up a bona-fide Arrested Development staircar staircase, which was cool, and the plane seemed fairly standard for a Tbilisi flight – that is, way smaller than the planes I was used to. One of the other TLG Volunteers in our little group pointed out that some flights still use “prop planes” – that is, planes with propellers rather than jet engines – and that at least we weren’t on one of those.

Anyway, the plane was small but comfortable. Soon after takeoff, we were served ciabatta sandwiches, wrapped in individual plastic sleeves, that had been warmed in, presumably, a microwave. For all that doesn’t sound appetizing, it was actually pretty good, especially coming from a country that doesn’t have sandwiches. I’ve been in love with ciabatta since living in Carroll Gardens – a posh area of Brooklyn full of little European bakeries and sandwich shops – so for me it was a special treat. They also gave us chocolate covered wafer things, which were amazing, and fruit juice (there was an option for soda, wine, or cocktails, but I’m on a health kick).

Our flight to Warsaw was uneventful. Warsaw airport was okay – empty at 6:30 am local time, but with some shops and cafes and a duty free in the terminal. The cash exchange didn’t take Laris (I know, I should have exchanged for USD in Tbilisi) or the dollar coins that I had left over from my last trip to the States, so I was SOL on getting anything to eat or drink, but another TLGV bought me a water in exchange for a couple of dollar coins. We waited and wandered for a while. Two volunteers with a ten hour layover ventured out into the city.

At 11:45 we headed for the gate to board. As we approached the gate, we realized something was wrong – no one was lining up; people were milling around looking unsatisfied. The flight was delayed. For two hours.

This was not a big deal for me, but my friend needed to connect from JFK and only had three hours to do so; being two hours late meant a chance she would miss that connection. Things got worse when we found out that the “two hours” up on all the signs was a lie, and the delay would be two and a half hours. In the end, she missed her connection and had to wait an additional 14 hours in New York for the next flight.

Things like this aren’t really the individual airlines’ fault – flights get delayed all the time, no matter what airline you fly – so I don’t specifically hold this against Polish. My Lufthansa flight was delayed at least an hour the first time I flew to Georgia, and Lufthansa remains very high in my estimation. Still, getting stuck in a strange city for hours and hours and having a travel time approaching 40 hours is quite draining. I’m glad I live on the East Coast and only ever have to make one connection.

The transatlantic Warsaw to New York flight was also good for me. The food was adequate – not delicious like on Lufthansa, but they didn’t run out of dishes that I could eat like Turkish Airlines did the first time I flew them. We got more of those chocolatey wafer things and another ciabatta sandwich, plus a hot meal that included bacon-wrapped chicken, which is becoming a favorite of mine. I’m surprised that bacon-wrapped chicken is so common in Europe when I’ve never come across it in the States – it seems like something Americans would be all over; maybe the chicken part is the turnoff and most Americans would rather just eat bacon-wrapped bacon or something. Anyway the cut of chicken was not that good, but like I said, it was adequate.

The plane was roomy enough, my neighbor was very pleasant, and the service was good, so no complaints there. One odd thing was that the plane was very cold – I’m usually uncomfortable on planes because it’s about five degrees too warm and I start sweating very lightly, which means I’m constantly having to wipe my forehead and getting sweat/skin oil in my eyes, which is about as pleasant as it sounds. Not on LOT Polish – for the first time in my life, I actually used one of those blankets that they give you on the plane. Chopin Airport in Warsaw was also oddly chilly. Anyway it wasn’t really uncomfortably cold; the blanket was nice, and I had my Old Navy fleece vest that also helped. Altogether it was nice, but odd.

Another thing was that the plane didn’t have individual TV screens on all the seats. Now, this doesn’t phase me at all – I’ve been flying regularly since before this was a feature (not that I’m a jet-setter; just that my divorced parents have lived a thousand miles away from each other since I was eleven, so I’ve flown at least one round-trip a year since then, except the odd years when we drove – and I’m thirty now, so it’s been a long time). I never fly without bringing my own entertainment; in this case it was a netbook with a ten-hour battery, although in the past, books, magazines, iPods, Discmen, and Walkmen have played prominent roles. I watched a bunch of episodes of Psych and House, listened to some Katie Melua, napped a bit, and had enough battery life that my computer still had power by the time I got to my parent’s house in Queens.

One thing that made the flying more pleasant for me was that neither flight was fully booked. Having a flight with a little room to spread out is incredible – the cabin crew is more responsive, people don’t get on each others’ nerves as much, and it’s just more comfortable in a sort of intangible way. Knowing that if I didn’t like my neighbor I could move to an empty seat in the back just made my whole outlook more positive. All of my transatlantic trips on Turkish and Lufthansa have been fully booked; I get the feeling that LOT doesn’t fully book because people don’t like them much, which, honestly, is just fine with me.

And on a final note – and this is mostly coincidence – the flight happened to occur right around sunset, and because we were flying west, I got sunset for seven hours. It was awesome.

So I don’t know – for me, LOT Polish Airlines was actually a really pleasant experience, even if everyone else I’ve talked to seems to strongly dislike them. I’d definitely consider them a strong option if I ever had to pay my own way across the Atlantic.

Readers! Feel free to share your own airline experiences. We’d all love to hear your impressions about your TLG flights on whatever airlines you’ve been on.

Enjoy your vacations and your holidays!

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