Travel

British Airways Long Haul – That Flight – Part 2

This post has been a bit delayed – it’s part 2 of this post from December 2012 (specially for Danuta 🙂 )

So, after 2 hours in the the Singapore Qantas Club lounge, its back onto BA16 and the haven of comfort and serenity that is 43D (not) for the remaining 14 hours to London.  

My ankles have really swollen up – but they do this every time so I’m not too worried.  Won’t make that mistake again. 

There’s a different crew on this leg and while the previous bunch were rather indifferent, this lot seem a bit cheerier.  Unfortunately our aisle has someone who is older;  efficient, but in a rather brutal way – without any personal warmth at all.  She stalks up to a row in front of me and barks at a teenage male passenger about the overhead lockers (he was wearing a trilby so he clearly deserves it).   The FA in the other aisle is a bubbly girl who addresses passengers as ‘love’.  And she has tinsel in her hair.  I want to be on that side of the plane – probably everybody else does too.

In one of my wide-awake-but-slightly-crazed-from-lack-of-sleep phases, I start thinking about the customer experience I’m having.

Take the food.

On Emirates, dinner on the plane is a bit like opening your presents at Christmas – you know something good’s about to happen because there’s an attractive menu to inform you of the delights ahead.  Then there’s the build up as we go through the heated towel ritual.  When it eventually arrives, the tray has lots of interesting little packages –  ooh salad-y thing with smoked salmon, ooh delicious pudding, ooh cheese and biscuits to go with the shiraz, ooh, warm croissant with butter and jam (breakfast), ooh little chocolate to have with coffee.  It’s nicely done.

With BA there is no menu and a fairly bare tray.  I’m not complaining about the sufficiency which was fine. Quality was adequate at best.  It was just very clear that nobody gave a stuff: ancient, cold, dry croissants;  ‘chicken or beef sir?’ as the standard descriptor.  And no chocolate to go with the coffee (thank you Tanya for the Maltesers!).

In case you’re thinking ‘she’s a bit pouty over the lack of an After Eight mint’ it seems indicative of 2 very different approaches:

  1. BA:  what can we get away with?  Let’s strip out everything and put the bare minimum back in. Quality and service don’t matter because it’s the back end of the plane.
  2. Emirates:  what can we do to provide a premium product at reasonable cost?   Menu?  Tick.  Tiny chocolate for post-dinner coffee?  Tick.  Heated croissants with butter and jam for breakfast?  Tick.  A choice of wines?  Tick. Heated towels for any nose-picking South Africans?*  Big tick.  *I realised later that there must have been a handwipe sachet in with the plastic cutlery.  I didn’t notice it and neither did the South African.

I’ve mentioned before that the organisation I work for is completely focused on customer satisfaction and the customer experience.  I compare what’s happening to me on BA with a recent experience at my bank where, despite my being a techno-dullard, the concierge showed me a new way to bank a cheque quickly and easily at an ATM (amazing!).  Best of all, she managed to do this while being totally professional and charming and not making me feel like an idiot or ‘I should know better’.

Being an FA must be a hard job but there appears to come a time when they lose the ability to relate to economy passengers as human beings, and view them as livestock.   I cringed for the teenager in the trilby – nobody needs to be spoken to or humiliated like that, especially in front of a cabin full of people.   It just shouldn’t happen.

BA needs to get back the ability to affect customers positively.  They appear to have forgotten that all of us on that wretched plane have paid a fair whack of money to be there.  In exchange for all that very hard-earned dosh, I expect to get from A to B safely, to be treated as a human being and receive a reasonable level of service.

Seems like it’s too much to ask.

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Emirates Redeemed: Sydney – Bangkok

After the hideous experience of trying to redeem Emirates frequent flyer points for a flight to Bangkok, we turn up at Sydney airport to check in.

Standing in the queue, feeling suicidal at the thought of 9 hours in economy, I’m doing my usual silent cursing of Neil for yet again consigning us to the non-pointy end of the plane.

One day I’ll take a deep breath, superglue my mitts to the credit card and book myself into Business Class while leaving him in Crap Class.  I’ll be whisked into a world of champagne, chocolates and a lie-flat bed, while he’s shunted off down the back towards the bendy plastic cutlery, the hyperactive kids trying to kick a hole in back of his seat and the screaming babies from hell.

I’m feeling very sorry for myself, and then the check-in chick says ‘You’ve been upgraded’,  hands us the tickets (‘NLA’ scrawled on them in large letters -No Lounge Access – but I wasn’t complaining) and sends us on our way.

I’m convinced that this happy event has been created solely due to my genius as an influential blogger (Neil’s sniggering).  Two of the blog post views were in Dubai – not the usual cosmopolitan spread of Dundee, Edinburgh, Sydney and Maggieknockerty.

I’d like to think that the Emirates Customer Experience Fairy read my bitter outpourings and tried to make amends.  Neil says I’m deluded; it’s purely down to luck.  Whatever.

On boarding, normally they say hello very nicely, glance at your ticket then wave you vaguely in the general direction of ‘away’ ie off to a seat down the back.

This time however, it’s ‘Oh welcome Ms McDonald’ like he’s been waiting all his life to meet me.  He takes my ticket in both hands and holds it reverentially cupped in his palms.  It’s comical but, wow, do I feel special.

We’re shown to our seats and it’s all wonderful – the ridiculous amount of space, the lack of people, the quiet.  Heaven.

Then nothing happens.   For ages.

Row 10 is getting a lot of attention from one of the flight crew.  I hear him ask them ‘can I get you the wine list?’   I’m thinking ‘Here we go, the wine list is coming, the champagne won’t be far behind’.  Five champagne corks go off in the galley.

Row 10 get their drinks;  the giggling with the flight crew continues and….. nothing happens.  It’s so noticeable that it feels embarrassing.  I think ‘oh well, this is how you’re treated as an upgraded passenger’  but people behind us had paid full fare through to London and start to complain quite loudly about not feeling the love.

Not loudly enough to make any difference though, because it’s that sotto voce semi-whine, beloved of the English, that never achieves anything.  I’m  half English so I practice whining at Neil and he ignores me.

That glowy, I’m special feeling dissipates and I’m starting to loathe Row 10 who are now in full party mode, very probably drinking champagne meant for me.

So we sit and sit. There’s no-one in First and only about 10 of us in Business so who’s drinking all the fizz?

I feel a little bit depressed.  We’d got to the airport really early and hadn’t done our usual thing of getting trolleyed in the bar to dull the pain of Economy.  Instead, we’d kept ourselves pure for the Emirates Business Class Extravaganza, so there’d been 2.5 hours of anticipatory build up before getting anywhere near a plane.

The lower lip is beginning to tremble with disappointment and I start to fret about the 5 bottles of champagne going flat in the galley. Then a flight attendant arrives with a tray of Moet and suddenly it’s all forgotten.  The order for dinner is taken, the wine list is waved around and then it’s time to take off.

After a decent meal, Neil goes out like a light but I get carried away with the entertainment options, watching stuff until I’ve gone past being able to sleep.  This is when I realise I’ve left the vintage valium (c 1999 – only 5 tablets left) in the hold luggage.

But we arrive in Bangkok quite chirpy and head off to attend Linda and Yoon’s wedding in Krabi.  Excellent.

No upgrade on the way home so the first 20 minutes the trip was a bit grim until I decided to cheer up.  We’d had a relaxing break, attended a really wonderful wedding and had a great time in Bangkok.

Now plotting how to get Neil to agree to an upgrade for our trip to the UK at Xmas.

I’ve dug out the credit card; now where did I put the superglue?

Life Lesson No 2: Redeeming Points with Emirates: Nearly Enough to Make Me Fly Qantas

I work in an environment with a mania for customer service, so it’s a bit of a rude shock to bump up against a business model which just doesn’t give a stuff.

From Emirates point of view, their points redemption process looks something like this:

  • customer selects flights
  • customer clicks ‘redeem points’ button
  • customer receives e-tickets
  • customer offers youngest born for sacrifice as token of gratitude

But as is so often the case, what the customer experiences bears no relation to what the provider thinks they’re providing.  This is what happened.

SCENARIO:  Long-time Emirates customers want to redeem points for fab trip to Thailand in July for a wedding.

DAY 1 – EVENING

  • check Emirates site for points required to get to Bangkok and back – all ok, plenty of points, so Thunderbirds Are Go….
  • log in to Skywards (Emirates points manager)
  • select flight
  • faithfully enter all data (including no of boyfriends, dates of measles vaccinations, name of family cat (deceased), favourite colour etc) CORRECTLY
  • click on ‘purchase tickets’ in state of high excitement and anticipation
  • Skywards counters with ‘YOU NEED MORE POINTS’ even though Emirates says we have enough
  • Buy extra points for $500
  • Enter all data AGAIN (including dead cat) although spirit is failing
  • Receive faintly snotty message saying that there is a ‘difficulty processing the payment’ which manages to make it sound like it’s our fault
  • Repeat data entry x 4 to no avail
  • All of Neil’s rewards points disappear from the system
  • Apply a large G&T in vain attempt to head off  impending nervous breakdown
  • Give up and go to bed

Customer’s Emotional State = Really Quite Annoyed with Emirates (in a Very Understated British Sort of Way).   Emirates Customer Service might like to note the soupcon of customer ambivalence there.

DAY  2 – MORNING

  • Call bank to confirm there’s not a problem with card/bank
  • Call Emirates who pass the buck to Skywards and leave me on hold for 1 hour
  • 20 minute shouting convo (due to very poor phone connection – not me going berserk) with Skywards lady in far off lands
  • Skywards lady refuses to access husband’s points due to privacy issues ie ‘get lost’
  • Refuse to get lost.  Point out that husband is at work and does not have 1 hour to hang around on the phone listening to Barry-Manilow-on-valium lift musak.
  • Skywards lady tells me how to access husband’s account which she could have done originally instead of telling me to get lost.  Not that I’m bitter.
  • Neil’s points are found and returned  (allow self small premature victory smirk)
  • Skywards lady kindly offers to book flights
  • Provide all details AGAIN
  • System fails.  Skywards lady then:
    • makes rude inference that we don’t have enough credit to pay for the balance
    • suggests I go into the Emirates office in Sydney to sort this out because she can’t.

Customer’s Emotional State:   Loathe Emirates with a Vengeance  (note, not Skywards, Emirates).

DAY 2 – AFTERNOON

  • Take 1 hour bus journey to Emirates office on my day off
  • Wait for 20 mins
  • Speak to nice but clueless young man
  • Nice young man fails to understand the situation
  • Pecks at keyboard with one finger (a dead giveaway) but clearly has no clue what he’s doing even when challenged about lack of mouse clicking for 10 minutes. What’s he doing then?? Reading War and Peace??
  • NYM disappears and comes back with older woman who is a bit more clued up
  • She asks him what the problem is but he can’t tell her
  • I explain
  • Older female inputs all the data, smirks triumphantly and says ‘you don’t have enough points’.
  • AAAAARRRGGHHHH
  • Explain that ‘yes I do have enough sodding points actually’ (I didn’t actually say that because I like to keep a very firm grip on the moral high ground  and anyway, she was bigger than me.  I didn’t want to inflame the situation either but ooooh, was I tempted….)
  • Older female realises that Skywards and Emirates have 2 different redemption rates (what???)   Falls back on ‘it’s probably your card being declined.’  Pardon?  Call me oversensitive but to be told that effectively means ‘you’ve got no credit you cheapskate, and here you are trying to get flights for free’.
  • Retaliate with ‘I-work-for-the-bank and I’ve had this conversation twice before so don’t tell me there’s a problem with the bank’
  • 5 minutes of arse-covering by older woman
  • Told ‘we can’t do anything. Try again in 24 hours’.
  • I did; it still didn’t work but eventually it did.

This is the simplified version of what actually happened.  A very unpleasant experience – at no point did anyone apologise for what was happening – especially when I went to the Emirates office – it was more ‘why did you bring this problem here and lay it at MY feet?’

And although we were redeeming with Skywards, it is Emirates who own us as customers and to whom I now have no allegiance whatsoever.

Here endeth Life Lesson No 2:  if redeeming points with Emirates, keep the gin within arm’s reach at all times (for medicinal purposes only of course).

Hunter Valley Road Trip

Kathryn, Daina and I went up to the Hunter Valley on Thursday to stalk our prey – cheese, wine, olives and good food.  Talking too much (really???), we drove well past the turn-off for the  Hunter and were heading for Darwin.

Just a little bit lost

A u-turn and some backtracking took us to Tempus Two.  I don’t usually buy their stuff but it was the first one we got to, so out of the car and into the tasting room.

Kathryn & Daina - Tempus Two

Nothing wonderful on the wine front so we headed into the huge cheese/deli area – but it was so crowded we didn’t stop.  Instead we had lunch on site at Goldfish.  Wonderful food – betel leaves stuffed with pork belly in an asian dressing, whitebait with aioli, gratin dauphinois and hot dried chilli beef. A bit of Atlantic/Pacific fusion.

Whitebait and dried chilli beef

We then headed off to Tintilla.  It was all good – I ended up with some  chardonnay, the Rosalind pink fizz, the 2007 reserve shiraz and the 2004 Justine merlot.  The winery itself is a beautiful old house right beside the vines.

Daina suggested Pigg’s Peake as the next stop so in we trooped.

Piggs Peake Pig

I liked a lot of what we tasted here but only bought the 2011 Silk Purse verdelho – Neil and I are supposed to be ‘not drinking’ and I had already bought half a case at Tintilla.

Piggs Peake vines

Next was cheese at Binorrie Dairy for their marinated goat’s cheese and ashed chevre (goat’s cheese added to scrambled eggs along with some pesto is my favourite weekend breakfast).

Last stop of the day was Peppers Creek Winery for coffee and cake.

Daina had a creme brulee; Kathryn and I were going to share a chocolate cheesecake but it was so good that I ordered my own (I’m a reluctant and resentful sharer anyway).

Afternoon tea

We didn’t get to all the wineries we wanted to but we’ll do more next time.  

A really excellent day – thanks to Kathryn for doing all the driving and to Daina for insights into her Lithuanian heritage, including literal  translations of common Lithuanian sayings.  Possibly a bit too literal 🙂

Bangkok – Day 3

We’re trying to get to a temple that was shut yesterday so instead of the river, we take to the canals. This was a hilarious cultural experience:  the boat rockets up the canal, stops briefly, everyone piles off/on in a mad scramble and it shoots off again. The crew wear motorbike helmets and hang onto bits of string as they run up and down the sides of the boat.  You really wouldn’t want to fall into the water – it looked worse than the Water of Leith.  And then we saw people swimming in it. 

We got to the palace eventually via tuktuk – terrifying but what a laugh 🙂 and taxi (with seatbelts that go across the body but have nothing to click into)This is what we were heading for:And inside the grounds…

I just loved it. 

Then back to the hotel on the ferry and Skytrain for afternoon tea/cocktails/dinner at last night’s restaurant again . This is our last night and I’m still handbagless.  Am now teetering on the brink of panic-buying territory.  Neil makes irritating comment about the donkey starving because it couldn’t choose between eating the bale of hay or the oats.  This doesn’t help. 

He came round all the shops yet again and I still couldn’t make up my mind. He suggested leaving it till the next morning before we leave for the airport.  Genius.

A perfect day despite the handbag crisis 🙂

Bangkok – Day 2

We’re up and out early, locate the Skytrain round the corner and head off down to the river for some sightseeing. 

The river itself is a surging brown flow full of debris (vegetation, coconuts, the odd plank of wood) with a rather terrifying current – you wouldn’t want to fall in.   Activity on the river never stopped – it was just incredible.  These boats moved really fast… I loved it.The ferry dropped us off at a temple.  We were the only ones there; a little haven of peace and quiet.  

It was all stunningly beautiful.  The colours, the detail, the artistry – I hadn’t expected to love it all so  much.

After a long morning wandering around as tourists, we went back to the hotel for afternoon tea/cocktails then went out round Patpong market again all evening (endlessly fascinating – Neil told me his stories about the ping pong balls and razor blades).

Found a really good little restaurant – Ton Kao Surawongse –  in Surawongse Road round the back of the market. 

Spot the elephants….

Still couldn’t make my mind up between the Jimmy Choo or the Hermes knock offs and decided to sleep on it again.

Bangkok – Day 1

Bangkok was amazing – we had a brilliant time.  Neil didn’t think I’d like it (too hot/humid & lots of people hassling you) –  he hadn’t enjoyed it when he was there 15 years ago but things have changed and it was all reasonably relaxed.

We stayed at the Sofitel on Silom Road, not far from the river, the Skytrain and Patpong markets.  Our room was on the 24th floor – great views of the city – and especially beautiful at night.  

After a long flight on Emirates from Paris, dumped the bags, had a shower then up to the 27th floor for afternoon tea (!).  The hotel has it’s own outlet of Le Notre, the Parisian patisserie, so there were scones, jam, cream, sandwiches, lovely cakes and huge pots of tea.  This was served from 3-5pm, cocktails following from 5-7pm, while the sun went down and the city skyline lit up.  It was fabulous. 

We then headed out into the warm, humid night to have a look round.  Bangkok is Handbag Central – my life’s mission is to find the perfect handbag, so if I couldn’t find it here, it wasn’t going to happen.  I went through every handbag shop and stall and in the end couldn’t make my mind up. 

Went to bed and conked out for 9 hours.  Bliss.