13 December 2007

Business class traveller gripes

Today in The Australian Bernard Salt, who generally writes well on demographic matters, weighs into airlines (mostly Qantas) about delays in airport security check-ins and various other things. Initially, instead of (as I've tried to do) coming up with some constructive suggestions, his piece loses its way and lapses into a self-serving rant:

Waiting in line for 20 minutes simply to X-ray carry-on baggage is bad enough but this procedure is made all the more galling by the convention of allowing Qantas (and I assume other airline) staff to walk straight to the top of the queue. Their logic is, no doubt, that they travel almost every day and so they shouldn't have to wait in line with the plebs.

But what about people like me, business travellers paying business class margins, who travel 160 times a year. How does this frequency compare with a pilot's? And yet I am treated the same in the security queue as a once-a-year tourist!

To a thrice (or so) - a-year tourist like me this is red rag stuff. At the arrival end Mr Salt and his business class mates get out of the blocks first, so whatever they may lose on the swings of the departure queues they gain on the roundabouts of arrivals (provided that their baggage is delivered to the roundabouts in time - but that's another of his gripes) .

To be fair, he does get back on the rails later:

It strikes me that Generation Y staff, in particular, believe that if they apologise for a problem then that problem ceases to exist.

"You've been waiting in line for 15 minutes while we get our act together and summon extra staff to help with business class check-in?

"No worries, when you get to the counter I'll apologise for the delay and then we can both pretend that it never existed. And when you come back tomorrow and the same thing happens, I'll apologise again. And again."

Now I don't know whether this is me being picky, but if there's a problem, I don't want a rote apology - I want the problem owned and fixed.

Could someone in airline customer-service training please remove the instruction to offer "platitudinous but meaningless apologies" from the program, and replace it with "ownership of the problem".

My comments might be viewed by some as the end-of-year grumbles of a jaded traveller, and to some extent this might be true.

However, what the airlines need to know is that these complaints are discussed frequently among business travellers. Indeed, the jaunty ice-breaker to any business meeting these days is talking about how horrendous the flying and baggage-retrieval experience was. Everyone has an anecdote worthy of telling and retelling.

And the worst thing is that there seems to be no accountability for the incessant delays in the travelling process. Any complaint is invariably shrugged off with a "you wouldn't want us to skimp on security, would you?" To me, this seems to be the eternal excuse for slack service.

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