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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Life Lesson No 3: That’s Not a Meeting, That’s a Mess

Some people love big meetings.   I’m not a fan, especially of the set-piece, 3 hour workshop with 20 participants, unless they’re very well run and controlled.

In my experience, a meeting is rarely about discussing what’s on the agenda (unless I’m running it of course).  Expecting logical thought processes and the ability to relate the words coming out of people’s mouths  back to an agenda item, well that’s too much to expect isn’t it?  Yet another case of high expectation being dashed against the jagged rocks of reality.

My view is that meetings are an opportunity for the organisation’s sociopaths to display their wares.  Some observable meeting behaviours stand out:

Show Ponies:  look how much I know!  Even though it’s not got anything to do with this meeting!  I can talk for hours about this (or about anything – just ask me).  Aren’t I just fab!  Smirk smirk smirk; it’s all about me!

Terminally Depressed Detractors:  generally older males with deep knowledge of the business.  Do not like to have thoughts or knowledge challenged, especially by a woman.  Highly resistant to change. Will bang on about favourite grievance given any chance at all. Thinks they’re a mover/shaker (In that cardigan? Oh please.)

Ferals:  I’m too busy for this. And too important.  I must type noisily on my laptop all the way through the meeting, responding to major crises that require my considered input.  I can multi-task you know (this is the male version – the female will have already taken over the meeting).  Jumps in to demand irrelevant information and additional analysis on any and every subject.

Nowadays I have a few simple rules:

(i)   if there’s no agenda, objectives or expected outcomes:   I’m not going

(ii)  use of blockers eg after 1 minute of drivel unrelated to the point being discussed:  “thank you Torquil, noted, let’s move on” or “Serena, could you just explain how your point is related to the meeting objective?  Just so everyone’s quite clear”

(iii)  opportunity cost:  if A < B (where A = $ value of my hourly rate listening to you and B = $ value of doing some proper work on which my bonus is based) then it’s hasta banana.

Neil has an interesting way of dealing with meetings which are descending into chaos;  he bangs on the table and bellows “JUST SHUT UP” at the rabble of assorted bozo project managers and under-performing middle management.  Stunned silence.  Yes, he has actually done this – he’s my meetings hero.

I once worked for a company that during a takeover regularly flew lots of the other company’s people from Birmingham and London for day-long workshops  in Edinburgh.  It cost a fortune.  They’d arrive in a semi-sullen state (they were being taken over after all), not having done the pre-work and spend the day in the conference room farting and eating our biscuits.  It took a lot of meeting time and effort to overcome their tactics of wilful obfuscation and time-wasting with the usual ever-present background drone/whine of ‘this will never work’.  Ultimately successful but exhausting for all involved.

And one arrogant git of a project manager I worked for treated meetings like pitched battles, derailing any attempts to allow us to work collaboratively towards an outcome.  He walked out of one meeting puffed up and pleased with himself and said smugly “ah, X was a worthy adversary”.  Meanwhile his project’s heading down the pan, his project team are stressed beyond belief and a month later the project was cancelled and he was out of a job.

I wonder if he ever managed to work out why.

Fly Me to the Moon (Just Not on British Airways)

I want to kill myself and we’ve only been in the air 40 minutes.

Welcome to Flight BA16, Sydney to Singapore and on to London (oh god) and the hell that is seat 43D (Neil has just said ‘you should try 43E’ ha ha ha).

We’re welcomed onto the plane by a St Trinian’s headmistressy type, complete with half-moon specs and a figure that really does not accommodate wearing her blouse tucked into her trousers.

We pass through a pleasant Club Class with dimmed lights, although it looks very sardine-can like, crushed together. Then into another world.  OMG it’s a shock.  Two things:  this is an old plane and it looks it; plus we’re nearly last on so the back of the plane looks a bit feral, like something out of Mad Max.  Emirates it is not.

My seat feels wobbly and the seatback video screen is tiny, but doesn’t work anyway – Neil says the pixels are burned out.   I have my feet resting on the folded blanket and the pillow to take the pressure off the back of my thighs.

The flight is full and the aircon is variable – it’s boiling at the moment.  I know that this is fixable – I read my flying blogs.  At least 4 people have asked the same Flight Attendant to do something about it.  He says he has, so why is it still so hot?

From my seat, I have a delightful view of the large South African bloke I noticed at check in, now 2 rows in front, picking his nose.  BA is so pared to the bone that there are no hot towels given out, so we all get to share his germs.  I have a daftie behind me who doesn’t understand the words ‘touch screen’ and is pounding the back of the seat every time she gets bored with her video selection. My head moves against the headrest every time she does this.  She’s doing it now in fact.

We’ve just asked the FA with the drinks trolley if we could have another bottle of wine (187mls, French Merlot).  She heard but keeps going, that airline smile fixed on her face. She appears to really hate passengers.  I watched her put together bassinets for babies and she can’t crack a smile; it’s killing her.  Dinner is ‘pasta or chicken’ in a voice which doesn’t encourage further enquiry.

The entertainment system is a joke; Neil saw a Gen X try to enlarge the screen like you would with your phone – ha ha good luck with that. There is a very small selection of things to watch/listen to, for example:

(i)                 under ‘Country Music’ (I was desperate), there are 7 albums, 2 by someone called Sean Brosnan.  Super.

(ii)               Under ‘Essential Albums’ there are 8 – including Mike Oldfield’s Tubular sodding Bells.  I can’t believe it; which old git has control of the music selection?  Has he never heard of Oasis or Status Quo (ok maybe not the Quo).  Another joy is ‘’The Very Best of Blancmange’.  Pardon?  They were crap in the 80s and nothing’s changed.

It’s a bit of a shock to realise how far ahead of poor old BA Emirates is.  Seat 47D would be on a new or newish plane, with 600 channels of entertainment, a reasonably cheery crew, great food and clean loos. Don’t get me started on the toilets.  One of them stinks and there is brown sludge in one corner.

If BA is still peddling ‘the world’s favourite airline’ thing, somebody’s kidding themselves – at least that’s how it appears from the back of this particular jumbo.

I’ve had amazing experiences with BA, though it was a long time ago, where they have been nothing short of wonderful.  I’m not sure what’s happened but it doesn’t feel like the same organisation, and maybe it’s not.

Oh joy, Neil’s found Barry Manilow singing ‘hits from the 60s’ under ‘Easy Listening’.

Only 23 hours and 20 minutes to go.

Just shoot me now.

A World of Pain

After our intro session, the  Crossfit people sent us a follow up email with some info and  some simple exercises to do until we decided to join up (rather a cheeky assumption surely?).

The exercises comprised squats, push ups and crunches with the beginner’s version being 30 of each, 20 of each then 10 of each.   I gave them a go on Sunday night and posted the outcome on Facebook:  not pretty.

Photo: Totally knackered after after a beginners Crossfit attempt:  30 squats, push ups, crunches, then 20 of each, then 10.  OMG.

The net result is that I’ve spent the last 2 days walking around like a penguin, saying ‘oof’ when collapsing into chairs and groaning when trying to stand up.

There is a very Scottish verb – to ‘hirple’ which perfectly illustrates the attempt to walk in this contracted state – a sort of grandad shuffle.  Neil watches me tottering around and says helpful things like ‘aye well, auld age dis’nae come alane’*  and I want to brain him with a blunt object.

We’ve decided not to do the Crossfit thing – ‘old and knackered’ probably isn’t their target demographic, plus the email was a bit snippy, so it was an easy decision for us to keep our $375 a month and spend it elsewhere.

I have my fingers crossed that the dosh is going to nosedive straight into my Business Class Travel to Europe Jam Jar  (current contents:  $65.50) but Neil may take some persuading.  Especially as he’ll be left in Economy ha ha ha.

Only $6,933.50 to go.
All donations gratefully received

So tonight, in gratitude for not having to go to Crossfit, I decided to have another go at the squats/pushups/crunches.   I timed myself – not having bothered on Sunday thinking I wouldn’t even finish.

Of course, tonight was worse.  Within 2 minutes I thought my head was going to explode.

Doing 30 squats isn’t funny – well it’s probably hilarious if you’re standing watching.  But then there was 30 pushups:  I cheated to get through these.  There was no 90 degree angle with the arms, no chest to the floor; it was a 5 degree bend – if I got my chest onto the floor I wasn’t confident I could get it back up again.  Then 30 crunches.  I should have just done 30 in total but thought that would be cheating (idiot), plus I was feeling guilty about the pathetic push ups.  So I did 30 straight sit ups then 30 to each side.  Repeat whole thing again.  And again.

So that’s:  60 squats, 60 push ups and a bazillion crunches.  It took 15 minutes, 36 seconds and 9 nanobots.

Head explosion imminent

Pass me a glass of Sav Blanc immediately.  I deserve it.

*In the Queen’s English:  old age doesn’t come alone.   A typically grim, dour, Scottish approach to life.  

Trifextra Weekend Challenge

This weekend’s Trifextra Writing Challenge is to write exactly 33 words on ‘why we write’.

I’ve been overthinking this.  It’s simple:  paper is  somewhere to park all  your thoughts so that they don’t drive you insane.   

Or is that just me?   

Is that 33 words yet?   

No?    

Drat.

That’s enough writing for me –  I’m off to the library to find something interesting to read and to have some tea and carrot cake.  Books and cake  – genius.  Thank you City of Canada Bay council 🙂

Becoming Ert: Crossfit

Neil and I had an intro session for Crossfit this morning.

Linda over at Pingheng started doing Crossfit a while ago and can now lift 20kg.  She also posted this video showing her doing a standing start jump onto a box 1m high.  These were ‘oh wow I wonder if I could do that’ moments for me.

So last night, with our TV out of action and nothing else to do, we gave the standing start jump thing a go using the sofa:  I could get onto the cushions (30cm) but Neil got onto the arm rest (60cm).

This morning we rock up to a  warehouse in Leichardt at 8am.   We walk in and it’s not pretty:  it looks the way gyms used to look before they got all glammed up in the 90s – like in the Rocky films.   Serious, grunty work clearly happens here.

It felt totally intimidating – not just to me, even Neil felt intimidated and he’s very fit.  Most of the men and some of the women were over 6 feet tall, all in their 20s or 30s and the blokes were lifting massive weights.  The lightest bar is 6kg – the most I ever lifted at Pump class was a girly 5kg.

After some background info about how Crossfit works, Gemma gave us a practice go at each of the things we’d be doing:  rowing, sit ups, double skipping etc .  When we got to the chin ups – Neil of course does these with ease –  I just hung from the bar like a corpse:  I couldn’t lift anything except my chin.

All the time we’re doing this, the real class is doing their ‘WOD’ – workout of the day.  It looks scary.  They do lots of burpees:  drop to the floor, do a push up, jump up and do a star jump thing.  I could maybe do 1 before losing the will to live.

On to our intro workout:  we started with some skipping to warm up,  then a 500m row, squats, push ups,  sit ups and chin ups.

My back was creaky so instead of 40 sit ups I got to hang from a bar and try and lift my knees up 20 times.  There’s nothing like hanging from a bar to make you realise that (a) you have no arm muscles and (b) you could do with losing 15kg.

Crossfit has measures for how things should be done eg a push up means chest to the floor, rather than doing them with only slightly bent arms and kidding yourself.  And squats mean squatting till your bum hits the pouffe thing they put underneath you.

It was very confronting going to this:  I’m unfit, overweight and old(er). Although very pleased with myself that I cycled home from work on Wednesday, it’s really nothing in the big scheme of things.  I’ve been much fitter  in the past.

I used to walk up mountains. What happened???

I can get to 12 sessions before we go on holiday at Xmas.  The only way is up.

Bags of Bones and Botox: Sydney Trophy Wives

Continuing my deep dive into Sydney’s social scene, Kathryn and I are at an arty event, hob-nobbing with the Eastern suburbs glitterati.   We’re having a coffee and chatting just before it’s due to kick off.  Three hookers walk in.

Kathryn turns round to see what I’m looking at and her inbuilt tart-o-meter readings go nuclear.  Setting her fashion laser to ‘death stare’, she analyses the feedback and pronounces ‘hmmm, the trophy wives have arrived’.

They enter the room in a gaggle (or maybe a goggle if you’re a bloke), lots of bare skin, manes of glossy, flicky hair, a bit of frou-frou happening on the fashion front and not much clothing per square inch – what there was SQUEEZED into tiny sizes (you weren’t kidding anyone – I was going to say ‘girls’ but that would have been inaccurate – ladies); casually expensive clothes chosen with a lot of care to look, umm, casually expensive.

Everything was pert and firm but they had the featureless, immobile faces – I’ve never seen botox en masse before.

The skinniest was clearly top tart; the emaciation hidden to some extent by fake tan. The others were wannabes; thin by proximity – except that never quite works does it?  It just ends up like ‘who’s the heifer standing next to the skinny chick?’

They spent their time looking around to see if anyone was looking at them, and competitively not eating.

An interesting species to look at, but as a bloke I know put it, ‘like talking to a table’.