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Kudos to Those Who Were Nice to Us in ’88

<i> Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. </i>

Now that 1988 is behind us, it’s a good time to acknowledge those who helped make our travel experiences bearable, even enjoyable, last year. Some awards--not for anyone who has been naughty, but only for those who’ve been nice.

Best First-Class Service: Singapore Airlines. Again this airline wins for class, as well as style. It even wins for food, some of which is cooked to order on board. If you like your eggs poached, they’ll be poached.

Best Business-Class Service: British Airways. The airline has come a long way from the old business class of coach seats and a few free drinks. Its new Club Class is well recommended.

Honorable mention to Virgin Atlantic. The airline’s “upper-class” service is a well-kept secret. It’s excellent, and equals, if not surpasses, other airlines’ first-class sections in terms of passenger space and other goodies, like a free one-way coach ticket for taking just one trip.

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Best Coach Service: Lufthansa. Efficient, courteous and even the meals are thoughtful, with things like fresh fruit.

Best First-Class Seats: If you want to know the reason why Royal Jordanian Airlines has spent upwards of $10,000 per first-class airline seat, just sit down. These hydraulic electric marvels are truly the closest things to real beds an airline can provide.

Rivals to First Class

Best Business-Class Seats: a tie, between Cathay Pacific Airlines and British Airways. Both airlines radically restructured their business class in 1988, and a major part of that included removing and redesigning business-class seats, head rests, leg rests and added leg room. And both airlines did almost too good a job in business class. Each is now laboring to make its first class even better, because in many cases the improved business class now rivals first class on some other airlines.

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Best Coach Seats: No award. In this category, things have actually gotten worse, not better.

Cleanest Planes: Japan Airlines. Its flight attendants come as close to providing perfect service as possible. Can you name another airline where the flight attendants rush into the lavatories after each passenger has left to clean them?

Best Domestic Airline: American Airlines. It still has a deserved reputation for consistency of service and one of the best route structures in the United States. It is also an airline that is rapidly expanding to Europe through new U.S. gateways like Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Western Winner

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Best Regional Airline: Alaska Airlines. The airline, based in Seattle, offers great in-flight food, good on-time performance, clean airplanes and some of the nicest, most helpful flight attendants I’ve ever met. In case you haven’t flown the airline, Alaska flies to 32 cities in the United States and Mexico.

Best International Airline: a three-way tie among Singapore Airlines, Thai International and SAS.

Best Domestic Airport: a three-way tie. If you define a great airport as (1) convenient, (2) efficient and (3) passenger-friendly, then kudos must go to the airports in Oakland, Kansas City and Tampa. They are distinctly uncrowded, well designed and pleasant.

Best International Airport: Schiphol, in Amsterdam. It defines the word efficiency. And, if you like duty-free shopping, this is your place. Honorable mention: Changi Airport in Singapore.

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The Humanitarian Travel Award: Doubletree Hotels. Again this year, the hotel chain will provide free short-term lodging for those in need during this holiday season. The chain’s Room at the Inn program is offered to individuals and families visiting loved ones in out-of-town hospitals, and runs each year from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.

Honorable mention to Clark Howard, a retired travel agency owner. Earlier this year, Eastern Airlines had a special promotion for its 60th birthday. The offer: People who flew the airline 60 times in 60 days would get 60 free tickets. Eastern never thought anyone would take them up on the offer. But Howard did--and won, then gave the tickets to several charities in Georgia so that local needy children could take their first plane ride as well as enjoy a California vacation.

Vacation Tips

The Safe Travel Award: Westin Maui. You can thank the hotel, or perhaps its attorneys, for this, but thanks are due to the hotel for providing truly useful information about the sun and surf. In a pamphlet distributed to its arriving guests, the hotel gives specific tanning advice: “Spend a short time in the sun during your first day or two and gradually build up during your stay.” Some swimming advice: “Enter the ocean gradually and carefully. Breakers come in ‘sets’ with spells of calm in between.” Plus: “Never turn your back to the ocean.” If this seems like basic common sense, it is. But remember, most visitors to Maui don’t live near the water, nor do they enjoy year-round sunshine.

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The Thoughtful Hotel Award: a tie, between the Hyatt Key West Hotel and Stouffer Hotels and Resorts. Earlier this year, when the Key West International Airport needed a face lift, but there was no county budget for the project, the Hyatt Key West hotel staff donated their time and repainted the terminal. Stouffer wins for abandoning a long-standing rip-off in the hotel business. The chain correctly identified a major traveler complaint, and dropped surcharges on credit-card phone calls, collect calls and calls to toll-free 800 numbers. Three cheers to Stouffer; it’s about time. Honorable mention to Hyatt Hotels, which has decided against using the more expensive alternative operator service (AOS) to supply its long-distance service.

The Thoughtful Airline Award: UTA French Airlines. In order to welcome Americans to France, folks who travel on a UTA Holidays trip will receive a “telecard” good for a free four-minute call to the United States.

The Freedom of Travel Award: to Japan. An agreement was just reached between the United States and Japan exempting most Americans from needing a visa to visit the country. Now, if we could only afford the visit!

And Just for Fun

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There are also some unusual award winners:

The 1988 Best Travel Lawsuit Award: to the case of the sunburned buns. A court in Madison, Wis., heard the story of the woman who stayed in the artificial sun a little too long. The woman sued a local tanning salon, claiming she suffered second-degree burns that ruined her vacation in Jamaica by making it impossible to bask on the beach. She won.

And, finally, the 1988 Best Retort to a Lost Travel Lawsuit Award: to Robert Hazard, president and chief executive officer of Quality International. The company was sued by McDonald’s after it announced its intention to use the name “McSleep” for a chain of budget hotels. After McDonald’s won the suit, Hazard announced the new chain would be called “Jack in the Sack.” Actually, the new hotels will be called Sleep Inns.

Merry Christmas.

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