Tales from the Road - For the Love of Flying

Back in November I had the privilege to visit Mongolia to do some training for the Institute of Export. During that week I experienced a range of different attitudes to Customer Care, Customer Service, ‘the Customer Experience’.

I believe that the very term ‘customer service’ should not need to exist, not even as a concept. It should be self evident. So when I use a hotel service, or buy something online, or maybe use airport wifi and they fall short of expected standards, I tend to tell the provider. I will write to them. I will telephone them. I will politely and constructively make their lives a misery on social and business networks until they respond! I will not fill in their online surveys, even when such a survey carries such stunning inducements as a free MacDonalds with every 40,000 airmiles, a free cup of Starbucks underwhelming coffee for every time I book a SkyPriority flight, or a voucher to use on the next occasion they disappoint me.

I flew out to Ulaanbaatar on a Saturday morning to arrive in my hotel following day at 6pm local time – a door to door journey of 44 hours! I had a day of rest and a couple of meetings on the Monday then trained for three days while my sleep pattern adjusted, to fly back the on the Friday (or the day before UK time). My door to door return journey was a mere 27 hours, when it could and should have been 25 hours 30 minutes. All because the final flight from Paris to Manchester seemed unable to move the baggage from plane to carousel until 90 minutes after landing. At Manchester Terminal 3 the planes park up almost in baggage claim, so the degree of ineptitude was staggering and no explanation was forthcoming.

Apart from the time estimate on the screen above the carousel, which was quickly passed, there were no airline representatives or airport officials to deal with the gathering storm. So the poor girl behind the baggage counter had to endure a barrage from a group of loud and angry passengers who seemed to blame her for everything. In the end I intervened, pointing out to the angry throng that the poor girl was probably paid minimum wage and that any complaints would be better directed at the airline themselves or their contracted baggage handlers. I asked her for a letter head and asked the complainants to photograph it with their phones and direct their ire at the right people, encouraging them also to take to Twitter for a real time rant.

Further, the flight from Charles De Gaulle airport that evening was supposed to take off at 8:50pm local time, but somehow between CDG and the airline they forgot to call for ‘assisted embarkation equipment’ to enable a disabled man to board the plane safely and with minimal embarrassment. When it finally arrived and he was given special access via the rear door of the Embraer jet, it transpired that the seat he had been allocated was at the front. So the poor man had the humiliation of limping along the whole length of the plane.

So compare all that to my experiences earlier in the day (or was it the previous day?). My client had arranged for me to be collected from my hotel in Ulaanbaatar at 5am local time. After all these years of travel I generally have a sixth sense when something isn’t going to go to plan and as I checked out I asked the receptionist to check that the cab was on its way. It wasn’t. The hotel had mistakenly booked it for 6am and their response was appropriately both polite and profusely apologetic. A cab arrived by 5:20am through the -16 temperature and falling snow and got me to the airport on time. Nobody stabbed themselves with a fork over the mistake. They just took it on the chin and made it good.

Thus my appallingly air conditioned Mongolian Airways flight took me the near 4 hours to Incheon Airport in Seoul where my near missed connection experience on the inward flight at this vast hub airport led me to go to the Information Desk to make absolutely sure I was in good time for the 12 hour Paris leg of the journey. I duly presented my entire flight details at the Desk and was told very clearly and politely by the demure lady to take the train from the Main Concourse to the Passenger Terminal and collect my Paris Boarding card at Transfer Desk E. When I arrived at Transfer Desk E another demure lady told me that my flight was actually due to leave from the main concourse! I was both tired and not happy, and said quite a few words that they clearly understood but preferred in their dignified way to understand, and then acceded to my firm request that because it was their mistake they should provide a guide to ensure that I met my fast approaching departure time.

So they did, without question. Their apologies were gracious and sincere. Their very capable and hugely polite guide got me to the gate for Paris with ten minutes to spare and the demure flight attendants were fabulous the whole way back to Paris, Europe. Nobody asked me to fill in a form or apply for a complimentary MacDonalds. They just did the jobs they were paid to do, and did them well.


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