Saturday, July 27, 2013

What I Like About: Airport Terminals

Qantas 1st lounge at SYD International
a top rate lounge
I have not been doing quite as much business travel as in the past years.  But at the moment I am on the road again.  And for the most part, not much has changed.  Travel is as it has been the past few years.  Crowded airports, flights, delays, long transit times to allow getting through security screening without missing flights, etc.  And since the last rare post for this blog was a big whinge (rightful, but nonetheless a gripe)...I thought I should remark a bit on things I actually Like and Appreciate.

There are things I Appreciate very much.  They are the sorts of things that make one's life on the go a bit more pleasant, or easier, or both.  And my combination of love of form+function and also beauty/aesthetics means I like things to be well thought out and also presented  in aesthetically pleasing way.  It is not impossible.  And the good news, is some nice resources are still out here.

So, in the world of queues, harassing security screening, and crowds, what is there to like about airport terminals ?  Here are a few things I thought of just now (while I am a captive in ORD Terminal 3).

Sydney International Qantas First Lounge.  Wow, I love this lounge.  The vertical garden wall on entering (I now really want to plant african violets and anthuriums on a vertical wall--so pretty !).  The lovely service and attitude, the panoramic view of the planes parked in gates and flight line through soaring tall and wide windows.  And the gorgeous restaurant service, with brilliant food, drink, and service.  I love having my lunch or dinner there and then having a snooze on the flight.

Sydney International also gets marks for decent courtesy and yet competent security screening.  I really Appreciate I have never gotten barked or yelled at there (like is common at LAX TBIT, T4, or many other US airports).  Generally speaking I give good marks on security screening in a civilised and competent manner to several Australian airports (Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne).  Contrary to common belief, you do not have to mean and rude to the traveling public to perform competent security screening (and we traveling public are not idiots).  The TSA could do well to study this and look for ways to improve their passenger care attitudes.

But I digress--this is meant to be things to Like (more than Not Like).

well done !  asking how customers rate the
security screening at LHR T5.  (can TSA
at LAX TBIT try this ?)
LHR T5.  This has improved a lot of late.  I was there earlier this year.  And Very Impressed to see that security screening has a Customer Satisfaction station after departing screening.  Well Done !

LHR T5 also has a great WHSmith shop.  I know these exist in many places, but this one up after security screening is really good and has an excellent selection of magazines, books and more.  I have a very fierce (bad) magazine habit and I love the UK interiors magazines.  I must buy up 4 or 5 to take on my flight ex LHR.  Why not ?!

I do also like the BA 1st Lounge at LHR T5.  Lovely and can be quite nice (but the staff not quite as friendly and elegant as Qantas 1st lounge in Sydney...and I always get the impression the BA lounge attendants are gate-keeping, and trying to push all they can to the Business Lounge and keep the riffraff out of the 1st lounge !).

big selection of magazines at
LHR T5 WHSmith
ORD Terminal 3.  Such a busy place.  But a small peaceful area is the  lovely AA Flagship Lounge.  Not only is this always calm, even when the small areas are crowded, the staff at this lounge are top notch and always helpful and kind.  They have corrected things for me that other checkin or lounge agents have missed or not gotten right.  And they are unfailingly kind and polite.  Everything is kept nice and tidy too, a pleasant little gem in a very busy place.

Also in ORD Terminal 3, Barbara's Bookstore.  I love this bookstore.  Jam packed with books, magazines, accessories and always showing great customer service attitude.

Well, that is it for the moment.  I will be in LAX again soon.  Usually have to "dig deep" to find things to like, especially at the dreaded TBIT terminal, which has possibly the meanest and least efficient TSA screening teams in all of USA.  But I hope to be surprised.  If that happens, I will definitely post about it !!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Airline Behaving Badly

I just returned home from another long work travel, a round-the-world trip.  I do several of these each year, some years more than that.  Flying a very lot of miles/kilometres some years.  So I have a lot of experience on the customer/traveller side of the flying public side of the equation.  If I say an airline is behaving badly, then I feel a bit justified.

Recently I was flying through DFW (Dallas Ft Worth) airport in USA.  Transiting to change planes.  on American Airlines.  DFW is one of their hubs, so they have a lot of flights in and out of there and it is a big operation for them.  The first day I travelled through this trip, there was bad weather, severe winds, rain, thunderstorms, etc.  Just before arrival, my inbound flight to DFW diverted to a small airport at Shreveport and sat on the tarmac for nearly 3 hours, waiting to be allowed to take off and proceed to DFW.  Eventually we got to DFW, several hours late of course.  Little did I know the adventure had just begun.

I had missed my connecting flight, and AA rebooked me onto one leaving just before midnight, as they pushed back many flight departures to accommodate many delayed flights in and out.  So four hours to kill.  Not so bad, I found a colleague also delayed and we caught up in the lounge.

When we went to board our near midnight flight...we learned that they were cancelling it !  Leaving a big crowd of people to queue up and find out what options there were.  My colleague and I felt lucky we could go find the Admirals Lounge to queue up there.  Probably it was better than waiting in queue at the gate.  But we still waited an hour there before getting helped.

This is (just one of many areas) where I think AA could have done better.  First, they cancelled our flight so late there were NO more hotel rooms to be had near the airport.  Second, they did not have rebookings at the ready, they left everyone to battle it out for themselves.  The staff on hand were not all the most skilled to do the rebookings (and impression, seems reinforced by the outcome).  For instance, they did not offer direct flights to our destination for the next flying day...they said late the second day afterwards was the best they could do.  Unless we wanted to fly to some other airport and hire a car to drive to our destination.  A call to my corporate travel agents said that drop off in a different city would incur fees my company could not on the spot authorise, so I continued to press AA's rep for a better option.  Instead they offered flights all the way across USA and criss crossing back again, with transit time in between.  So 7 hours journey after 14 hours wait, for a flight less than 1.5 hours flight time away.  No offers that night whatsoever to put us on the standby list for direct flights.  And we were both OneWorld Emerald status flyers (and I was traveling on a First Class for US segments of my ticket).  So not very impressed.  I took a coupon for a city hotel room, thinking I might get a mere 4-5 hours rest.

The Admirals Lounge then CLOSED !!  I know people need to go home, but if they have hundreds to a thousand passengers stranded, perhaps they could put on some people to keep some services open for their customers ?

In addition to this, several AA staff at gates left to go home, leaving dozens of customers waiting.  One said to those waiting, "call a supervisor" !!  I thought these attitudes were pretty shocking.

I did try to get to the city hotel, but outside the terminal found myself about 50th in a long queue of people.  And no taxis at almost 2AM.  I went back into the terminal before TSA screeners quit for the night at 2A, and so overnighted in DFW Terminal D.  A very uncomfortable sleep too, on a bench with an arm rest that dug into my back (too low to roll under it !).  My colleague slept on the floor.  The shops, bars, restaurants all closed in the terminal.  But amazingly the huge screen TV in the area where we camped out kept blaring all night long.  And the terminal was air-conditioned and rather cold and crafty.  Hundreds and hundreds of people were camped out like we were.  I did my best to get some sort of rest, using my handbag as a makeshift pillow.  (which I later learned caused a snap break in my all time favourite sunnies that were inside !)

After waking up every 45 minutes or so (who can "sleep" under such circumstances ?), at 530AM I headed to see if I could freshen up a bit in the Admirals Club.  And on flashing my boarding pass (which showed I am allowed to use the lounge), I got shouted at !  There was a queue of people waiting to rebook flights, and I was meant to stop behind them and wait before I could be allowed to use the washroom.  Grudgingly they let me in on leaving a bag with them (I did not like doing this).

Later I came back and had a "customer service" chat with them.  They said weather events happen frequently there and they don't have enough help.  I feel this was a real cop out, of course they did not enough help...but why is it the customer's fault and why should customers (premium customers no less) be yelled at ?  I expressed some empathy, but also said I thought they should be making suggestions  to their management to improve service.  I have written to AA before and not gotten much reply, so not sure the customer's voice matters much.  (I will be writing again though).

After getting a coffee, I did go back to the desk and they did help me and my colleague get onto stand by flights.  Perhaps they felt bad about previous treatment, because they did make a bonafide effort.  It shows that it is possible to be decent, even when under pressure of not having optimum levels of help/staff on duty.

In the end, we did get on a standby flight and escaped.  However, our luggage was lost for another day.  And the online and telephone systems one checks for status did not provide much info (they said it was lost in fact).  Did not inspire much confidence (and my feet were killing me, I needed a fresh pair of shoes !)

On the return through DFW, deja vu all over again.  Flights delayed due to storms and severe weather.  This time I felt lucky to escape another night in Terminal D.  However, on arrival at my destination, I found contents of my checked bags soaked !  I can only assume the bags were left Uncovered in the raging rain for hours.

Dear AA;

Please consider to take the opportunity to improve your customer service processes and also your handling of delays caused by weather, especially at your hub, DFW.  I have flown through this airport many times before, but never had such impacts to my travel and such poor customer service from an airline either.  I did not feel you staff were empowered or motivated enough to make a difference in their treatment of customer service.  Also, if you have so many passengers stranded in the terminal, you could make efforts to help more of them, and make available some food and drink and other basic services.  Your lounges could stay opened for premium passengers.  Your staff should not go home leaving dozens of customers who have queued up for hours waiting to be helped with rebooking options and other help.

I will write about your onboard services another time.  Suffice it to say there is a reason your airline is not a world top one for customer service, or much else.  I know all about the demise of customer service in US carriers (and financial pressures), but can tell you there is a big road to hoe before you reach parity with other airlines, especially in Asia Pacific and Middle East.  Still, if you listened to customers and travellers and took on board to improve your service, I am sure some things could be possible.  Starting with the mindset of your staff, who seem fatalistically defeated in their attitude and remarkably unwilling to treat your passengers like customers !

I did not appreciate spending the night in an airport.  Or losing luggage.  Or having delays.  Or having wet clothes when you left my bags out in the rain.  And being yelled at in your premium first lounge.  Being given a run around when rebooking.  If your staff think it is ok to treat its first class passengers like this, what are you doing to everyone else ?  I did not feel like a very valued customer last week.

Customer service starts at the top and needs to be part of the culture to permeate the organisation.  There is a lot of work to do here to have a better show.

A Passenger

Monday, May 21, 2012

What to Pack: Another Work Trip

Soon it will be time to hit the road, the next business trip is about to start.  Several weeks out, so I need to think through packing.  Especially since the first week has me first in Asia and then UK and hitting the ground running for work agenda in both locations.  This trip is a bit simpler than the previous, with all destinations in Northern Hemisphere.  But given it is now cold and wintry here, I need to find summer things to pack !

It is always  an interesting task to work out how much to take and, what.  The task for a work trip is centred around how many days I will be in a single place with the same people, or a before I need to and can do a cycle of laundry in one of the hotels.  I need to also think ahead about transit outfits, to wear when traveling.  I always have something that can go from plane to office, though I prefer opportunity to change if I can.  I always have an outfit in my wheel aboard, so that plus what I am wearing give me two days of clothes, and those could be laundered to make 4.  It is enough time for the odd lost luggage problem to be resolved.

The real determinant of transit and work clothes is SHOES.  The packed bag and carry on will really only allow so many shoes (usually three or four, plus what I am wearing).  Transit and work day shoes need to be work suitable (no sneakers or thongs !).  Wearing work suitable shoes on flights is a bit dull, it would be nicer to wear comfy slipper like shoes.  But alas, I don't wish to carry an extra set of dressier shoes usually.  The wheel aboard is full as it is with all the take-with necessaries.  Weekend clothes and workout clothes also get packed.  But less critical for planning than the work and transit wardrobe.

My cases at the moment are a 29" Rimowa Salsa Deluxe in Dark Brown.  For the past year I had a 26' of this same case, but was always finding it a bit cramped for trips over 2 weeks.  I do many for 3-5 weeks, so a bigger case was in order.  I prefer this to having to have a second checked bag for the whole trip.  And my carry-on is a Mandarina Duck small sized wheel aboard, a model discontinued now I think.  I had one in blue for years and when it asked to retire, I bought the last of a like model in black.  It would be nicer to have a larger one, but this one is very civilised, I can hoist into overhead bins myself, and it fits on board on everything except the smallest propeller sort of jets.  I also carry a hand bag, but it varies depending on season, what my destinations are, how large a shoulder bag I want to lug around, etc.  A also take a Longchamp Le Pliage bag in the pocket of the Mandarina wheel aboard.  This can be used as a handbag, or for my work laptop or files when I am on location.

I travel with a wardrobe base of what I call Uncrushable Black.  This has been referred to as my "uniform"...which is a nice way to look at it.  The workhorses of the travel uniform wardrobe are a black jersey skirt and a silk tunic for summer.  The silk tunic is replaced by a micro fibre jersey top in other seasons.  The jacket or cardigan choice for these is based on destination climate.  Hosiery, heels (or flats), scarves and jewellery make it into an outfit.  Jersey slacks work on flights, with a jersey cardigan.  All Uncrushable Black, of course !

Stay tuned, for some posts soon on personalities and characters I'll meet on this trips inflight chats.  I have lots of flight time, some long flights.  And I always meet really interesting people along the way ;)