The Curious Incident of the dog on the tube

Something special happened on my commute home this evening. Something involving a dog in my tube carriage. I will come on to this shortly.

Firstly, over the past few weeks I have dedicated quite a lot of thinking time to the impact that other customers have on our experiences, especially when we are travelling.

It seems there have been an increasing number of articles in the press recently where people have claimed to suffer at the hands of others whilst on their travels. Take the recent incident of blogger Rich Wisken for example, who saw his angry post about having to sit next to someone who he described as an ‘infant hippopotamus’ on a four hour flight go viral. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/01/rich-wisken-writes-incred_n_4527086.html Whether we agree with his views or not, the simple fact is that this story was shared by thousands of people across the globe and therefore exemplifies something that people clearly relate to… a travel situation which has been negatively affected by another traveller.

Moments like this can be encountered in many ways, shapes and forms. Whether it’s the prospect of someone coughing and spluttering over you, talking loudly about things you couldn’t care less about or invading your personal space as you try to get from A to B, the reality is that despite wanting to give you the best experience possible, travel companies will always struggle to control the role their ‘other customers’ play in your journey. Yes they are certainly aware of these situations and we can see examples of where they are trying to accommodate different needs…such as quiet carriages on the train. But as much as someone like Richard Wisken might like the idea of an ‘obese only’ airline, we all know that’s never going to happen! And in the meantime the likes of Mr Wisken will continue to place blame on and demand compensation from the travel company (in this case Jetstar) who he deems should take full responsibility for his ‘physical pain and mental suffering’. This means that, with the sheer power of social media in mind and the potential damage it can cause, airlines such as Jetstar and other transport companies will need to think carefully about the implications ‘other customers’ can have on overall customer satisfaction.

On the other hand, there are examples of where ‘other customers’ can have a really positive affect on experiences when it comes to travel. I have been in situations recently where I’ve argued with staff at airports over inconsistent information and then been backed up by the people in the queue behind me. That felt good! I also spent a day going to see the Blue Mountains whilst in Sydney a couple of weeks ago and paid what felt like quite a lot of money to see quite a lot of nothing – yes the hubby and I happened to pick the one rare day where the Blue Mountains were completely covered in fog! However, what started as a miserable day filled with resent and bitterness towards the heavens turned into one of the most enjoyable and entertaining days of our trip and that was largely down to the other tourists who had made the same unpredictable error as us. We met some really interesting people from all over the world and at some points got so lost in laughter and conversation that we forgot the actual reason we were on the trip in the first place.

‘Other customers’ can even have an impact on your travel experience without you realising it (unless you’re like me and devote strange amounts of time to thinking about these kinds of things)! For anyone who has been through it, flying from the UK to Australia is the Everest of all flights and it’s essential that you find ways to help you physically and mentally survive. I didn’t realise it at the time, but one of the small interactions I had with a lady in the queue beside me whilst checking in baggage at Heathrow Airport (she made a joke about how much luggage we had) became one of my coping mechanisms. I noticed the same lady again at security where she gave me a nod of acknowledgement and then again at the gate. Whilst in transit at Hong Kong I happened to see her again out of the corner of my eye going into a shop and then started to wonder whether, out of the thousands of people who were present at that time in the busy realms of an international airport, I might see her again… and low and behold I did… five hours later to be precise! Whilst making my way in a zombie state towards the next gate I recognised her in front of me on the moving carpet. Now before you start to think I’m some kind of psycho stalker I guarantee that when facing 28 hours in limbo with minimal sleep your brain will start to fixate on things as a way to help you get through…perhaps you can think of examples of where this has already been the case? For some reason my brain decided to target a random lady who I knew absolutely nothing about and I eventually started finding myself wondering about her life, where she was travelling to and even inventing imaginary relatives that I pictured her going to visit… all because she made that joke about my luggage way back in London. I haven’t quite figured out the reason behind this…there could be many. Perhaps it’s the fact that she was going through the same enduring experience as me and on some level there’s a ‘travel mentality’ where we all feel ‘in it together’ and her little joke at the beginning helped to kick-start that mind-set and trigger a connection…or I just liked her handbag! Either way, I’d like to thank this random customer for helping to somehow positively affect my journey.

And now onto the dog on the tube. So there was a small Dachshund dog in my tube carriage on my commute home this evening. I didn’t notice the dog at first, it was only when some strange noises started erupting from under the seat next to me (which I soon translated into barking) and I think this was the case for the other commuters surrounding me. Admittedly the barking took me by surprise. It’s not every day that you see a dog on the tube, especially a cute one in the aftermath of rush hour where the trains are still relatively busy. What I witnessed next was nothing short of a miracle. I started looking around at fellow passengers and people were smiling. Smiling at the dog. Smiling at the dog’s owner. Even smiling at other passengers as they smiled at the dog! Now for people reading this who aren’t familiar with the unwritten rules of the London Underground system, the manual clearly states as rule number one that eye contact with other passengers is forbidden unless there is an emergency of course. However, what I saw tonight was rule breaking at it’s very best. And all because another customer (in this case the non human form) had provided a disruption to the monotony of the daily commute and changed the way customers interact with each-other, making the journey home a lot more enjoyable than it normally is. So is there a benefit in encouraging more people to take dogs on trains? perhaps (and as a dog lover that would certainly appeal to me!) But I think the dog could be replaced here by many other things…Someone wearing a giant nappy? A B list celebrity? (some friends did once bump into Tom from McFly on the Met line and I have witnessed ‘out of the ordinary’ fancy dress attire which has also triggered a few smiles). Either way… when other customers disrupt an experience and shake up the norms in unique ways (i.e. by not coughing and spluttering all over you) that is where an experience can potentially be changed for the better.

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