November 12, 2010
10.5 Hour Flights Cattle Style
In fact, there have been times when a dozen hours have gone by and I've taken not much more than a five minute break to put the tea kettle on.
Flying used to whiz by for me -- just like it does in front of the addictive PC screen. After all, you can "endure" anything for a day. Enduring of course, is a choice, isn't it? You can opt to do two things:
1-change what we perceive as something to endure to a different experience, i.e., an educational journey for example.
2-simply choose to opt out of the experience altogether.Opting out of flying is not really an option when it's an integral part of your life work. Flying for those who have spent a lifetime doing it know it has only gotten worse, not better. Flights are cramped and often overbooked, service is in the toilet and you're charged for every incremental whether it's worth it or not. To top it off, most of the food is processed, overpriced and not worth eating. And, that's just the beginning.
Let's visit international travel today.
1) Three-four hours of research -- flight times, changes, connections, all to avoid 5 am take-offs and two changes along the way.
2) Research various destinations (time varies depending on the trip but it's not an exaggeration to say that this process can exceed 20 hours)
3) Accommodation research. Don't get me started - you want wifi? Even when they say they have it, more often than not, they don't or it doesn't work the "day" you arrive.
4) Seat in advance? You actually want to book your seat in advance?
5) See above. Call airline. On hold. Call drops. On hold again. Agent is following rule book so we go round and round the bureaucracy circle. They don't understand or pretend they don't. Frustration increases. They transfer you. Call drops. Call again. Throw phone across room.
6) Check in online 24 hours in advance. Find that you're stuck in the back of the airplane in a middle seat and can't change it. Call airline. Repeat #5.
7) At airport with online boarding pass yet you still have to stand in line for bag drop off (note, line is longer than check-in line). What's wrong with this picture exactly?
8) Elevated leg room for an extra $50 she says to me without a smile. That buys you 3 inches she says, again without a smile. OR, you can pay $180 more for "premium economy." What does that mean exactly? More leg room she says, without a smile. How much more? She doesn't know. It's the in-person equivalent of #5.
On my latest flight to Heathrow, I learned that they had overbooked the plane, which btw, happens 9 times out of 10 flights in my more recent experiences.
Instead of having a spare seat next to me, the entire row is full as is every row behind and in front of me. Instead of looking for ways to make the travel experience less stressful, more comfortable and relaxing, airlines are creating new stress points to a trip that never existed before.
It's as if the COOs have fired all the CMOs, hired a 22 year old social media director straight out of college to manage their Facebook and Twitter page and think that that'd do the 'ole marketing and customer service trick. WTF?
Airlines look for every conceivable way to milk another dollar out of their customers while decreasing the value of the travel experience. Stewards don't listen to needs, they follow rules. Rather than serve the customer, they serve an operational system that dehumanizes the travel experience. Even Virgin has moved in that direction.
More and more, I feel like I'm one in a herd of cattle getting moved through an operational system so airlines can make more money. The net result is that travel becomes something to 'endure' not enjoy. Despite the fact that quality goes down and customers complain, nothing changes. For the airlines that are active on Twitter and Facebook, you may get a response if you shout loud enough, and while it may make you feel 'heard' for a moment or two, it doesn't change your last or next travel experience.
It's not just the service that continues to decline, it's the products too. If you haven't noticed, the headsets have gotten cheaper - I had two break on me on one flight in the first 30 minutes and another break on a flight two weeks later. (different airlines).
What used to be blankets are now oversized golf towels with a logo on them and let's remember, most now charge you for the terrycloth lap coverage. American recently charged me $8 for a "very" cheap mini bottle of wine and $10 for processed crackers and cheese.
On a London to Florida flight, British Airways charged $24 for a box of food (return flight). WTF?
On another flight across the Atlantic with Virgin recently, the guy to my left was impressed that Virgin didn't charge for food for the transatlantic flight. It's a 10.5 hours flight I said to him in disbelief. WTF? He shouldn't be impressed, he should be outraged that it isn't the norm. He was not, btw, a frequent traveler.
Acceptance of crap means we get crap. Rewind the clocks for those who are old enough to do so. I remember looking forward to flights - the service, the food, the movies, the wine. Hell, when I was a kid, I got crayons and American Airlines cards on every flight. (for FREE and we took them home with us). Imagine.
As I squirmed around in my jammed packed "cattle class" row listening to the crying babies in front of me, and the angry man behind me who kept elbowing my seat in hopes I wouldn't recline my seat, I desperately tried to re-frame my experience and turn "enduring the flight" to something I might be able to learn from.
Sadly, I couldn't think of anything I could learn from repeated airplane discomfort except for perhaps motivation to get more women in senior management in the airline industry so we can put the "human touch" back into travel.
So, I closed my eyes and imagined what I WOULD DO if I were running marketing and operations for a major airline. My goal would be for the airline to own the phrase "airline love" on every platform out there - on and offline. Hire different people. Train them on what customer service really means. Put them through the "cattle experience" and ask them for ways to make the experience better. And, identify other revenue streams so the customer doesn't "feel" like they ARE the revenue stream.
It's time. It's so time.
Cattle call be gone!
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