(Yes, yes, I'll eventually get you your pictures. Geez. Can't you give a guy some time to even organize his hundreds of photos?)
So, as you can imagine, going to specific locations in South Asia from the You Knighted States can get pretty complicated indeed! One generally doesn't have direct flights at that distance even between major locations, and even a convenient indirect route can be expensive. I travelled between India and Pakistan as well, and while the two countries are technically next to each other, in travel terms, and Pakistanis watch a whole lotta Indian soap operas, they may as well be on different continents.
Consequently, I've had an opportunity to sample several combinations of airlines and airports in the "Old" World (hah!), and I have even been able to build up a thorough impression of some of them. And I will briefly share with you some insights.
- I took United Airlines to Munich on one leg of my voyage. I fly United domestically quite often, and even once in first/business class, and, as expected, international economy (I'm not made of money!) was a little bit closer to domestic business class than to domestic economy. The flight was uneventful, the entertainment selections adequate. However, I had bulkhead seats. Now, if I were so worried about legroom, I'd have been happy about this. But I am not, shall we say, narrowly built. Bulkhead seats, because they are at the front, have the entertainment system and tray table built into the armrests of the seats, meaning that precious inches of, er, spread are lost. The food is boring neutral-Americanish food, but it was acceptable.
- Munich airport itself was a relatively acceptable experience. American arrivals are in one terminal, and international departures are in another. The terminals are not connected by a bridge, bus, or train system, and consequently it is not possible to make the sort of connection that we were making without immigrating to Germany on tourist visa status, which is trivial for Canadians to get right there at the passport control gates (this is the case for most of Europe). The passport control guard was friendly and helpful, as were most of the airline staff, and stereotypically German Lufthansa employees.
- We had a few hours in Munich, and we window shopped at the exterior mall attached to the other terminal before entering. We were curious about the grocery store there and explored it and confirmed that everything does cost twice as much in Germany. We had to pass passport control again to exit Germany into the other international terminal---exit control is unfamiliar to most North Americans but seems to be the norm in the rest of the world. Munich is a new and underutilized airport, and parts of this other terminal were built but completely abandoned. Food choices were few beyond the security checkpoint (competent, helpful staff!), and we should have eaten in the mall food court outside. The airport is connected to Munich via Munich's metro, and I regret not spending a couple of hours in the city, but the rest of our group thought it was a bad idea for their ersatz travel arranger to run off without them (and they were too tired to explore on their own).
- Completely opposite to the Munich experience was the Frankfurt experience on another leg of our complicated journey. Frankfurt is a massively overused, undercapacity airport that is cold and dirty and has little to recommend itself. Whose big idea was it to let M. C. Escher design an airport? Let's just say that while I've had bad airport experiences, I have never felt so maltreated by airline employees as there. It was a very, very negative experience.
- Lufthansa sucks. Compared to the other airlines we took, Lufthansa's seats were very narrow, as though Germans were little people or something. Leg room was OK, but even business class looked cramped. The food was boring, and they didn't have individual entertainment systems like every other modern airline has even in economy class. We all had to watch The Devil Wears Prada. At least the flight attendants were polite. I almost rather they had not been, so that I would have been prepared for the Frankfurt experience. I won't fly Lufthansa again unless it's seriously cheaper, which it ought to be.
- I had several flights on Emirates. The experience is totally different from Lufthansa. Seats were for the most part wide and comfortable. The individual entertainment system was very comprehensive with more selection than you could really want. Some of the planes allow you to play videogames with other seats. The food was good and plentiful, and the service was friendly and prompt. I'd definitely fly them again. Emirates is supposed to be expensive, but I did a great deal of research on this trip, and it was the cheapest option to get to Karachi at that time.
- Dubai airport is good, but it's still overrated. People who travel more frequently than we were telling us how wonderful the airport was, but it didn't even have the same variety of restaurants that some of the major North American airports do...which is not saying much, of course. If we wanted to check into an internal hotel, than it might have been wonderful. The duty free stores were OK but I don't understand the fuss. Nevertheless, I have few complaints about Dubai airport. The food and services were very reasonably priced. The best thing about it was the free and ubiquitous wireless Internet access; in most airports, they charge you $10 for a little bit of access, which is extremely annoying. Not so in Dubai. Lastly, you aren't allowed into the gate lounges until they're ready to board you, basically, and there isn't enough seating outside the gate lounges. They obviously expect you to shop.
- The airport in Karachi ran surprisingly well for something run in Pakistan. I mean, it was, for the most part, a normal large airport. People still didn't follow the rules (Pakistanis don't believe in rules), but at least things worked.
- The airport in Chennai was surprisingly dilapidated for a major city in India. Bathrooms are disgusting. Efficient and orderly, at least in our experience, but oddly dilapidated.
- Finally, United Airlines was OK. For the most part. Well, on our way back we had a flight attendant with a mental toothache, so to speak. Eventually, she divulged the reason for her mental toothache, and I sympathize. Capitalism sux. But the airline was OK. Not spectacular, not bad. Individual entertainment, but not the selection or quality of Emirates. Food was whatever the local caterers brought. Do not trust them when they say that it is "turkey, not ham." It is probably ham.
That last, you may wonder why I didn't order the halal meal. Well, it goes like this: for stuff I don't cook myself, I'm not all that strict about halalitude. A lot of North American Muslims are like that. If I ordered the halal meal, I'd have been condemned to eating beans and rice on all the non-Emirates flights (Emirates is 100% halal, they emphasize it in their literature, and I believe them). Usually, the airlines have a meal that isn't pork. We had one exception which my pork radar was easily able to detect.