I recently passed the two year mark on this journey of living in Europe, and in that time, I’ve flown a lot. (Those of you following along for some time can attest to this.) A number of months ago, I started making a list of all of the differences between flying in Europe vs. flying domestically in the U.S. Several of these things have become normal after all of this time, but others still make me laugh, roll my eyes, or smack my forehead.
Without further ado, I give you my list (in no particular order)…
- Airport parking. I’ve lived in a number of U.S. cities, and I’ve yet to experience a situation where all of the airport parking is full. Between short term and long term, there is typically a spot to be had. However, at the Geneva airport, I’ve experienced full parking structures. No joke. (You can imagine the amount of panic this caused, since I hadn’t budgeted for the lack of parking.)
- Identification. Most Americans would be alarmed to know that I’ve boarded several airplanes in Europe without anyone checking an ID. Boarding passes are (almost) always checked or scanned when going through security, but it’s typically not required to show an ID. The exception to this is our discount carrier, easyJet, who requires a passport for entry onto any flight.
- Airport security. Gone are the days of TSA agents yelling rules at you while you’re waiting in line. Instead, most airport security personnel are helpful (passing out plastic bags for toiletries) and friendly. My worst experiences with airport security in the past two years were my two flights out of the U.S. TSA could learn a lot from the professionalism of the rest of the world. (I could go on and on, but I’ll refrain.)
- Shoes. 98% of the time, my shoes can stay on when going through security. The exceptions being big boots or if I set off the metal detector.
- Wifi. Wifi is free in nearly every airport in Europe. However, I’ve yet to see in-flight wifi available.
- Departure gates. In the U.S., departure gates are listed hours and hours before your departure time. In fact, at night, you can often see the departure gates listed for flights departing the following morning. In Europe, most departure gates are not announced until 30-45 minutes before your departure time (if you’re lucky). People linger around the boards waiting to make a dash to their gate when it’s finally announced.
- Early departure. I’ve literally seen expected departure times posted for 5-10 minutes earlier than the originally scheduled departure time. Can they even do that?! Makes me want to arrive earlier and not risk being left behind!
- Boarding chaos. Prior to moving to Europe, I was living in St. Louis, and I was a Southwest junkie. Because of that, I was very accustomed to a structured boarding procedure. Everyone has a number, and you board in order. In Europe (maybe excluding the UK where they know how to queue), there is utter chaos when it’s time to board. It is a treat to fly Business class from time to time, because this spares you from the madness. However, following the boarding of Business Class (or Speedy Boarding on easyJet), all bets are off! I’ve learned to throw a few elbows, cut in line, and be aggressive in claiming my space…not because I like to do any of those things, but because it’s necessary! Makes me wonder why the U.S. is such a stickler about boarding within your assigned Zone when an entire continent is boarding planes without structure.
- Baggage rules. From what I hear, easyJet isn’t the worst offender when it comes to extreme baggage rules. But, they are one of the airlines I fly most, so I can only speak to them. Discount airlines are discount for a reason. In the case of easyJet, they have a firm one carry-on (or hand luggage, as they call it here) rule. This means second items (purse, briefcase, etc.) aren’t allowed. Period. Purses must be stuffed into your larger carry-on. It’s a bit of a circus to watch passengers scramble to adjust their luggage at the boarding door when they don’t know the rule. (I was one of them on my first easyJet flight.) The one work around is to pay a little bit more for a seat in the front of the plane that offers Speedy Boarding. For 13-20CHF per flight, you can board first, sit up front, AND bring two bags like “normal.” I don’t do this every time, but it’s a must on work trips when I have to bring my computer. I was already a pretty good packer, but all of this travel is refining my skill.
- Exit rows. For all of those who love the exit row, I’m not with you any more. In Europe, you can’t put anything under the seat in front of you, or even a jacket on your lap when you’re seated in the exit row. As someone who doesn’t like to be away from her purse, this is a deal breaker for me.
- Bag storage. While they may be strict about the exit row, I’ve seen virtually everything else fly in other rows. Never once has a flight attendant gone through the cabin asking passengers to make sure their bag is fully under the seat in front of them. I once flew next to a girl who had about three oversized designer shopping bags stacked between her and the seat in front of her with no attempt to fit them under the seat.
- Lockers. The overhead bins are called the overhead lockers.
- Food & drink. Excluding easyJet, all other airlines offer free drinks (usually including beer & wine), snacks, or even a meal in flight. EasyJet makes you purchase any food or drink, but I was shocked the first couple of times that I received a sandwich on a one-hour flight!
- Language. I am at a loss when it comes to which language to speak to the flight attendants during European flights. Think about it, if we leave from Geneva (French-speaking) and fly to Frankfurt (German-speaking), should I be speaking French, German, or English in flight?
- Duty-free. A duty-free cart always goes through the aisle when flying between Euro countries.
- Stand up. In the U.S., NO ONE is allowed to stand up before the plane is parked at the gate and the fasten seat belt has been turned off. Let’s just say that this rule doesn’t seem to apply in Europe.
- Disembark. Along the lines of number 16, there is not a common understanding of how to disembark upon arrival. In my past life, it was understood that one row exits at a time (like a zipper, according to one of my friends). In Europe, I’ve experienced passengers trying to crawl over me or move past me when I’m in the aisle seat and they are in the middle or aisle. Similarly, I’ve seen people bulldoze down the aisle or cut in front of you when you’re standing in the aisle with no where to go. It takes everything in me to not yell, “wait your turn” (in three different languages, of course…see #14).
- Stairs. It’s been a while, but given that I found this particular item strange, I’m going to say that I don’t recall walking up or down very many stairs in the U.S. at airports. There are escalators and elevators everywhere. There are some of those in Europe, too. But, I have lugged bags up and down SO. MANY. STAIRS. while flying in Europe. It’s still a mystery to me how an elderly or disabled person would manage. I would say that the norm here is to walk up and/or down 2-4 flights of stairs every flight.
- Applause. I kid you not when I tell you that people applaud on arrival here! The first time(s) I heard applause, I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud. It happened nearly every flight when I arrived. Then, there was a dry spell for a while. But, during multiple flights this summer, there was more applause. I’ve never joined in, but I get a huge kick out of it! Maybe this continent is full of nervous fliers?
- Group effort. Very often (particularly when flying easyJet), we have to disembark the plane via stairs (surprise, surprise). Sometimes this also requires boarding a bus to get to the terminal. In these instances, we have to wait for everybody to get off the plane and onto the bus. A test of patience for an American who wants to sprint to the exit or her next gate.
- Brace, Brace. Part of the standard safety briefing in Europe is about what to do in case of a water landing. They introduce two positions you should take when you here the instruction, “Brace, Brace!” I was familiar with the water landing poses, but I don’t recall them being part of the standard drill. For some reason, it always makes me laugh. (Maybe it’s nervous laughter?)
- Carts. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the big luggage carts available at baggage claim. But, are you familiar with the smaller version for pushing around your carry on luggage? (Do smaller carts even exist in the US? I honestly can’t remember.) Either way, I’m here to report that people are using the little carts in Europe. A lot.
- Welcome home! Or should I say, “woof woof!” Dogs are allowed in most public spaces in Europe, and this means people bring their dogs with them to Arrivals to greet their owners or guests.
- Metal detectors. The only full body scanner I’ve seen in Europe was in the Moscow airport. I’m always an “opt out” in the U.S., but I didn’t know how to say that in Russian (nor did I think it would be well-received). I’m grateful that I can go through security in peace without stressing over picking the non-body scanner lane or waiting for someone to do a pat down when I choose to “opt out.”
- Delays. I couldn’t end with 24 items, so I’m adding a 25th for good measure. There have been a couple of flight delays (usually the last flight on Sunday night) and one cancelled flight (due to Lufthansa strikes), but overall, I feel like the delays I used to experience in the U.S. due to weather, mechanical issues, etc. is far less here, (I’m sure I just jinxed myself.) and I am especially grateful for that!
I didn’t realize my list was so long! Hope this makes you more prepared for your next flight in Europe! You can join me in laughing, eye rolling, and forehead slapping as you see fit.