Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Angry and frustrated !

People ask me why I blog and how I choose my subjects. It's a simple answer. I write for enjoyment and choose subjects that either interest me or move me in some way. Today is a perfect example. I have been moved, but negatively. I am angry and frustrated !

An early morning start today for a 9am flight to Moscow (flight BA872) saw me struggle out of bed before I was ready (admittedly i take some responsibility for the late night before, the nice wine and rich food), but this was necessary for the short trip which was to start with meetings straight off the plane in the afternoon.

On this flight sector, I always opt for GBP300-400 economy ticket versus the GBP1200 "business class", which offers little more than a printed tissue on the seat informing you of the premium status you hold. However, when I checked in online, there was a special offer of GBP200 for a one way upgrade. Although I thought this was a reasonable offer (valid only at that moment), I figured that I will get to the airport with no time to spare before the flight and will get no use of the lounge, and I don't really value the head tissue alone for that much money.

As predicted, I stumbled into Terminal 5 at the last moment and cleared security and had to run to the gate with not even enough time for my ritualised Starbucks! Right on time! The lady at the gate picked up the mic to make her announcement, but to my rude awakening, it was to announce a 2 hour delay for the flight .....because BA didn't have a plane! At Heathrow, in their home town and dedicated terminal, British Airways didn't have a plane!

The lady gracefully dismissed us with a very generous GBP5 voucher for food and drink, which was quickly donated to Starbucks as I then went on the hunt for a lounge a could use. I have an Amex Centurian card, a Priority Pass Card, a Skywards gold card, a Star Alliance top tier card, a Skyteam top tier card and a Cathay Pacific silver card, yet there was nothing accessible to me at Terminal 5. The CX card isn't a high enough level, and BA have you captive in their terminal and gives no other lounge option (for payment or otherwise).

In any case, I spent the time making calls and shopping (my Tumi luggage collection grew again), when I heard of another 2 hour delay! This was now a major inconvenience. An afternoon meeting and dinner appointment needed to be cancelled, and I was in need of a power socket and wifi (I wasnt able to connect to the generic Terminal 5 wifi). I went to the BA customer service counter and asked about the ability to take up their offer of an upgrade. I was told the price was now GBP1000, and so asked to see the Duty Manager. Remaining calm and reasonable, I asked what possibility he may have of allowing me an upgrade at yesterdays offer price, or any other "sensible" price. I explained that I was aware that it was a limited time offer, but that it was also based on the fact that the flight was supposed to fly at 9am. While I was told that this special price upgrade could not be made available, I was shocked at his arrogance, his unbelievable attitude clearly indicating that he couldn't care less about customers inconvenience made me exceptionally angry. I knew I was not entitled to use the lounge, but what about showing some courtesy or understanding to hugely inconvenienced passengers? Had I been politely informed of his inability to help on this area, I would have been satisfied (I had to try and get a benefit, but would have accepted if I was politely declined). Instead, his manner was smug and totally unsympathetic. An attitude "these things happen" is totally unacceptable for an airline like British Airways. To my mind, they have a responsibility of duty to take passengers to locations ON TIME and understand that plans and commitments around this, and there are real costs for delayed passengers. For them not to care, is simply unacceptable. Beyond the token GBP5 gesture they gave at the beginning, there was no consideration from BA as the money that had to be spent on phone calls and not to mention what the time cost was for me missing 2 meetings!

If that is the courtesy and attitude that customer facing staff at BA show, then they don't deserve the pay increase they are asking for, and if BA corporate can train their customer facing staff correctly, or indeed empower them with a little authority to deal with situations (as opposed to arming them with a "there's nothing I can do about it" tool), they may not be in the slump they are in now.

I am on a plane once or twice a week. I fly all classes and on airlines ranging from the so called "best" (Emirates, Singapore, Cathay etc..) to discount airlines and fledgling airlines from the developing world (including, BMI, Easyjet, Air Berlin and Arik Air in Nigeria, Huangzhou Air in China and S7 in Russia), and I can honestly say that BA has the worst attitude to customer care of them all. The smaller airlines may not have the resources of the larger ones and accordingly may lack in training budgets, but there is a genuine caring attitude towards customers, and a willingness to help and sympathize in difficult situations (including a 3 hour on board delay aboard an internal Chinese flight I had 2 weeks ago). I suppose it is perhaps not even as deep as training, but perhaps as simple as being caring towards another person. BA ha shown it's ability to find people to work on their airline who lack this common courtesy, and can't but help to vent my anger and frustration on this.

BA remains firmly as my last choice of airline to travel on any route, taken only as a last choice when i have no other option, and I can easily see the writing on the wall for the future survival if they don't change and understand they are not representing the British Empire, but a faltering company that needs to wake up and reinvent itself .... fast.

I am writing this now aboard the flight, which finally took off 4.5 hours late. The only saving grace, and a caveat to the above, is an excellent stewardess named Tracy who has been exemplary in her behaviour and service to me and my fellow passengers. If only she was the rule and not the exception!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My cycling adventure in London !

About 3 weeks ago, a number of "cycle stations" started popping up around the streets of Central London. This initiative by the Mayor of London had me fascinated, and I was an early sign up to the scheme. After a simple online registration, I received my key about 10 days ago. It has been in my pocket ever since. On each occasion I may have had a chance to use a bike, I have either not been alone, had too much to carry, or the weather has let me down!

Not so this morning ! As I set off on an early start, it was a cool London morning with a light spattering of rain, it was the perfect chance for me to test the scheme and do "my bit" for the environment and London's traffic.

My "local"
My local cycle station is just a 3 minute walk from home, and suitably located to take me to my office down the quieter back streets of London, rather than the usual busy Marylebone Road and Tottenham Court Road that I would normally walk down.

The system is a breeze to use. Choose a bike, insert the key, a green light comes on, and away you go ! The bikes themselves are sturdy and comfortable. They have adjustable seats, 3 gears, lights on the front and back and nice little "tray" to keep a small bag or briefcase.

So away I went on my adventure. Feeling a tad self conscious as I wobbled during the first leg of my journey, I soon got comfortable and started to enjoy the ride. It doesn't take long to notice how many cyclists there are in London ... something I noticed immediately when I was one of them. I also noticed how well cycle lanes are marked out (although less well obeyed by motorists). It is an interesting sense of freedom to move around Central London on a bike. You are faster than you would be on foot. You can use the road network to your advantage, but then can bypass it when it works against you (I confess to having made short journeys on the pavement when I had to go the wrong way down a one way road, or simply ignoring a no entry sign to go down some quiet streets that would take several minutes to navigate around in a car). Nevertheless, the times you do have to cross into heavy traffic, you do need to be spatially aware and be respectful of the faster moving heavier vehicles around you.

My first bike :-) 
Upon arrival to my destination, although having done my research before I set off, I opened an app on my phone to find the nearest docking point to park my bike. Amazingly convenient, as the app told me which of the 3 nearby stations had empty slots available and then guided me there.

I arrived to my meeting on time (but out of breath ... 2nd gear was a struggle at times!), and of course had an ice breaker to start the conversations with.

Over the past 2 weeks I have spent a lot of time in London and have been impressed with how many cycle stations have popped up. I think this is an excellent initiative that will not only contribute in its own small way to the environment and keeping London moving, but it is a genuinely convenient facility to have around town and it put a little smile on my face this morning !

I hope the forthcoming winter doesn't slow down the take up of this scheme ... I will certainly be ready to keep using it as long as the skies remain dry.

Thanks Boris, for a job well done !

Monday, August 9, 2010

The LKF Hotel ..... not all its cracked up to be !

So I checked in to the LKF (Lan Kwai Fong) Hotel in Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, after a long sleepless overnight flight in from Dubai.

I was looking forward to an afternoon of relaxation in what was promised to be a luxury boutique hotel.

Check in was harmless enough – fast and efficient, but the first bad sign was the 15 minute wait thereafter for my suitcases to arrive. I know it’s a small matter, but it’s a serious pet peeve for me … having to wait for suitcases once in the room.

I quickly forgave this, as the room was nice. A good size for Hong Kong (about 60 square metres) with a good desk, nice seating and a big soft comfortable bed.

I don’t know what it is with these boutique hotels, and how close they come to being so good … but inevitably fall short. In addition to this LKF Hotel, the beautifully located Miramar Hotel in Barcelona is another that falls agonisingly short. On the other hand, a shining example is the Upper House in Hong Kong …. They got it right !

So what’s wrong with this hotel? Firstly, I should disclose that I am probably not their target audience. Its location is right in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong … the heart and soul of Hong Kong’s nightlife. I chose it because it is 20 steps from out new Hong Kong office. The hotel is modern and very slickly decorated. It has a great bar on the top floor (which I only saw as it becomes the breakfast room in the mornings).

After ordering a rather acceptable Linguini Bolognese from the room service menu, I had an early night and was asleep by 9pm. Predictably I woke up at 2am. This may have been from jet lag, or maybe from the noise outside. If it wasn’t the noise that woke me, it was certainly the reason I couldn’t go back to sleep! I should have known this was going to be an issue when I was given ear plugs at turn down service instead of a chocolate. This will be the single main reason I will not stay here again … that kind of disturbance is not acceptable for me in a hotel, and I was on the 17th floor !

But I also feel this hotel has fallen into an all too common trap. They have hired a great designer, and at first glance, everything is aesthetically pleasing but …..

The iPod / MP3 option in the room is via a loose cable attached to an old style amplifier (not concealed), and at full volume, is just about the right sound level for casual listening.

There is a great desk and nicely concealed section for power ports, but only 2 !!! ? and no other power points in the room anywhere else ! I even had to unplug my computer from the desk to use the iron. Why can a new hotel not get this right? No power points by the bed at all !

On the contrary, an over elaborate array of buttons by the bed side to control the room lighting. You can have any setting you like, for any mood or moment, but at night when you need to turn on a simple light to get to the bathroom …. there is no way to know what button to push, other than by guesswork and trial and error,

The bathroom is beautiful. Spacious and a big size tub. Powerful taps also that filled the tub promptly (not usually the case in most hotels), but the way it is positioned, you have to get into the tub to access the taps thanks to a well positioned shower screen ! And the shower rail is set about a foot too far back and most of the water misses the tub and splashes around the edge of the bath. Apart from being a cleaning nightmare for the housekeeping staff, it means bending and stretching to get your head properly under the shower head !

On the plus side, the internet is fast (although wired access only), the TV is a good size and positioned on a clever hinge to allow clear viewing from all over the room. The bed is very comfortable, and an Aaron chair provided at the desk. The room service was fast (and tasty) and the valet service was fast and efficient when I asked them to polish my shoes.

However, I can’t endorse this hotel as it falls short on detail. I may be nit picking, and for many people these points are hardly enough to write off a hotel, but for me, in all products and services, it is the detail that makes or breaks a business. Getting the big picture right is easy. Sweating the detail takes effort and dedication, and required consistency to keep a set standard. It’s from examples like this that this lesson is reinforced in my mind.

So LKF hotel …. Thanks, but no thanks.