Many will agree that boarding a plane can be a frustrating experience. Being stuck in a queue, in a narrow aisle, whilst others around you fight for overhead luggage space is enough to get you in a bad mood. This article has acknowledged that the typical way we board an aircraft is not efficient and claims to have the ultimate solution:
Taxis have been a hot topic in the news this week and this has got me thinking about the different ways taxis and minicabs feature in our travel experiences.
For many of us, a cab ride to and from the airport signifies the beginning or the end of a trip. These threshold moments, as we shut the car door and hear the engine rev, bring a host of different feelings. It could be the sheer excitement in knowing you’re jetting off somewhere exciting…it could be the anxiety around needing to get to the airport in good time or the unease, even guilt, at having left loved ones behind when off on business. In many cases, on the return leg, it’s the sinking feeling in knowing the holiday is really over and it’s back to the grind…or for some, even concerns around finding your home as you left it.
So lots of emotional highs and lows depending on numerous circumstances… From the type of trip you are going on, the time of day and whether you are alone or with others… to whether it’s driving to or driving back home from the airport. All of these things can affect the mindset of a traveller and taxi drivers need to pay attention to more than just what’s on the road and tune into the needs of their passengers.
In many cases they don’t know how to. For example, a cab ride with friends to Luton airport a few days ago (at 4.45am) involved a 10 minute stop for petrol, despite us talking en route about being pushed for time and the likelihood of having to battle through the crowds at the check in desks. The driver definitely had enough in the tank to get us to Luton but for some reason hadn’t paid attention to our sense of urgency or even checked what time our flight was before deciding to stop.
I’ve also had numerous encounters where I am on my way home from Heathrow after a long transatlantic flight with little sleep and all I want to do is spend time thinking, reflecting (and more commonly nodding off). In these circumstances I’ll often pull the short straw and get the driver who insists on interrogating me about my trip…asking about my job and offering opinions, verdicts, solutions and stories of his own. Normally I appreciate the chit chat, but not when I’m so tired I can barely string a sentence together.
This type of conversation is best suited to when I’m on my way to the airport, especially when I’m going to a new destination. For example, I went to India for the first time a couple of months ago and the cab driver who took me to Heathrow had been to India several times before. Our conversation added to my intrigue and suspense about the country I was about to spend the next two weeks discovering.
And what about the taxi drivers at our destination? Cabbies on the other side are often our first insight into the new culture we have entered into…the first physical contact we have with a local. Often the shoe is on the other foot here and my co-travellers and I will be the ones asking them the questions and seeking their advice, making small talk to try a get some initial insight into our new temporary home.
Sometimes we’ll end up having deep and meaningful conversations and I’ve occasionally found myself thinking back to conversations in cabs and words of wisdom shared by taxi drivers themselves…from discussing the Tibetan population in New York City to the extreme poverty and slum life in New Delhi.
Right now I’m staying in a small village in Cyprus and was delighted to discover that the taxi driver who takes us back from the restaurant area is the son of the person who works in the village pizzeria and the same person who came to sort the WiFi in our villa. Speaking with him (albeit after a few drinks) resulted in a really memorable 5 minute journey where we ended up learning some of the local lingo.
The best drivers in my view are the ones who stay with you for long run. The ones in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand who, for an agreed upfront charge, accompany you for the day and go beyond being just a driver, becoming more of a ‘tour guide’ or ‘partner in crime’…doing whatever it takes to get you to your meeting, event or tourist attraction in time and even waiting patiently for you until it’s finished to take you back without you having to worry about transport.
The worst, on the other hand, are the rude, obnoxious drivers who barely acknowledge your existence, the ones who take the strange back streets and make you question your safety, and the ones who seem to just want an argument. I had an incident a couple of weeks ago in New York where the driver misunderstood me asking to go to a street number rather than a building number and nearly reached boiling point whilst blaming me for the mishap. Needless to say he didn’t get a tip.
So lots of examples of the different ways taxi drivers can affect our travel experiences, for the better and for the worse. It goes without saying that cab drivers, often far more than they are aware, contribute enormously to the highs and lows of a trip and set the tone for the journey, day or holiday ahead. And in many cases they become more than just a driver. We, as travellers, where possible should reap the benefits of this, learning from their knowledge and expertise and adding colour to our overall travel experience.
I am a massive fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm. While some may find him irritating, I can’t help but think that Larry David’s experiences in hotels, restaurants and on aeroplanes beautifully capture some of the anxieties and inconsistencies we endure as customers of travel.
If, like me, you think Larry David hits the nail on the head, take a look at some of my favourite LD clips here:
Larry David on tipping a bellboy
Does a thorough tour of the room really deserve a $20 tip or is it an unnecessary waste of time?
Larry David on sticking to your cabin
The unwritten rules around sticking solely to toilet usage in your own cabin.
Larry David on how the chosen attire of other passengers can affect the in flight experience
How the hairy legs of the guy next to you can be a rather unpleasant distraction on board!
Larry David on sample abusers
How far is too far when it comes to ice cream samples?
We know for a fact that word of mouth now plays a key role in customer experience with customers increasingly using social media sites as platforms to provide feedback and share experiences… the good, the bad and the ugly! Some argue that this phenomenon has led to customer experience being more powerful than advertising, with blogs such as business2community.com claiming that 85% of customers who have had a bad service experience want to warn others about doing business with said company. I agree with this claim, but it seems that word of mouth has become a massive form of advertising in itself with companies striving to make customers happy simply to encourage them to generate positive buzz
on social media. This is especially evident in the travel space with review websites such as Tripadvisor playing a key role when it comes to booking any kind of travel. I for one will not book a hotel unless I’ve sussed it out first on Tripadvisor and my final decision is always based upon reviews from others who have recently stayed there. Travel companies have now started to cotton onto this and more often than not it seems that anywhere I go when doing something touristy, I get encouraged to go directly to Tripadvisor to shout about how good it was to the rest of the world. I’ve even been handed out business cards from companies working with Tripadvisor to better ensure this happens:
But that’s not the only way Social Media is shaping the travel experience. Many airlines and hotels are pulling out all the stops to engage with their customers via the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, whether it be encouraging them to share feedback, having full on conversations with them or getting really creative with characters and campaigns. A couple of favourites are the Air New Zealand Fairy who with nearly 60,000 likes on Facebook uses her magic wand to provide gifts for loyal customers or entertain them with her ‘happy dance’. There was also the British Airways Race Against the Plane campaign during the launch of the new Dreamliner route which encouraged British Airways followers to get on board the ‘Tweetliner’ and race against the 787 on it’s first route to Toronto.
And the story published last week which sums up how pivotal social media is when it comes to our travel experiences is the #Pleasehelp incident on a Virgin train. A customer, irritated by a banging noise under his seat, turned to Twitter to raise the issue rather than alerting a member of the crew. As a result, the service was stopped and Virgin acted promptly, with another customer stating “It shows the world has changed, that passengers get listened to and can play a part in customer service.”
Great summary from the Metro Blog on the 9 types of train passengers you’re guaranteed to encounter and how they can affect your travel experience. Worth a read!
Tomorrow I’m off on a business trip to New York. I feel (just about) prepared for the week ahead and am looking forward to what will hopefully be a successful few days with a little time on the side to enjoy one of my favourite cities. However, one menacing element of travel which is currently lingering in the back of my mind and threatening to accompany me for the next few days is Mr Jetlag.
I’m sure many will agree that, when travelling, there is nothing more irritating than jetlag. It’s every long haul travellers enemy. For leisure travellers who have limited time to spend at a destination, jetlag eats into precious holiday time and can often prevent us from really making the most of a trip. When recently arriving in Adelaide, Australia at midday after what seemed like an eternity in the air, I tried my best to fight the beast and stay up as late as possible. This resulted in falling asleep standing up in the middle of a busy street at 6pm whilst en route to a restaurant, with a very hazy memory of what happened after that. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to dinner and consequently sacrificed one of my precious evenings to then find myself wide awake at 2am. Is there anything more frustrating?!
For business travellers jetlag can take the enjoyment away from any spare leisure time and seriously hinder the ability to think and function during meetings, presentations and conferences. When in Los Angeles on a business trip in November I experienced what felt like mini earthquakes the evening we arrived. I kept asking my colleagues if there was an earthquake happening as my head felt all over the place and I soon realised the swaying feeling was indeed one of my jetlag symptoms. Thankfully we had incorporated a day to ‘acclimatize’ into the schedule otherwise I’m not sure how I’d have been able to work productively.
I asked a few friends about how they deal with jetlag and thought I’d share some of their words of wisdom to help anyone else who wants to overcome the jetlag blues:
1. Choose a destination with limited time difference. As good a solution as this sounds, we don’t want to restrict ourselves from travelling afar and experiencing the likes of Asia, the USA and Australia. However, there are some fantastic holiday destinations if we fly South from the UK and visit places like Cape Town which is only 2 hours ahead. Some friends did exactly that over the Christmas period and only spent a week there which (for a long haul leisure trip) seemed a bit ambitious. But, due to not suffering at the hands of jetlag, they were able to really make the most of their time away and could fully enjoy their first few days without feeling like death.
2. Cut ties with the homeland. Small things like adjusting your watch when you’re on the plane and not checking Facebook to remind yourself that everyone in the UK is fast asleep can help get you adapt to the time zone of the country you are visiting.
3. Don’t fly in economy. I know most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to afford a premium cabin. However, for business travellers especially, if budget allows it’s always worth going to your boss with a case for flying in business class or even premium economy, emphasising that being more comfortable on the flight will help with productivity at the destination. For leisure travellers, it’s worth sticking with one airline and earning points with their loyalty scheme to then use as an upgrade treat for that long awaited long haul trip.
4. Acclimatization time. Be sure to factor in allocated time to acclimatize when arriving at a destination that has a time difference of 5 hours. Where possible, it’s worth having at least a day in the place you are visiting prior to any business events. When travelling for leisure, it’s worth considering the first day/evening as a write off and then if you do happen to feel more alert than anticipated, there’s a bonus time reward. Don’t forget about your trip home too. Jetlag can be at it’s most powerful on the return leg, so it’s always worth having a day to recover at home before going back to work.
5. Make the most of it. If you do find yourself awake before sunrise cursing the clock then why not use the ‘can’t beat em, join em approach’? Treat it as bonus time to catch up on work emails on a business trip. Have a work out in the hotel gym. See if there are any activities you can organise prior to your trip that require an early start and plan this in advance for the first day. WARNING – this is not advisable beyond the first day of a trip otherwise getting over jetlag will be hard to achieve in the long run.
Some airlines have acknowledged the pain and frustration their customers experience as a result of jetlag and have measures in place to try and help their customers deal with it.
On a recent Cathay Pacific flight from Sydney to Hong Kong they purposely blacked out the inside of the cabin to help passengers get to sleep. In theory this was a good idea as it’s difficult to get to sleep in a fully lit cabin. However it didn’t particularly help my situation when arriving in Hong Kong fully alert at 10.30pm after a good sleep on the plane…so it might have been better for my specific travel requirements if the entire duration of the flight was not in full darkness.
British Airways have a page on their website dedicated to helping their customers plan for jetlag. They advise on the best approaches to minimizing jetlag, such as how much light exposure you should get prior to a trip in accordance with Britain’s leading sleep expert. I’m not sure yet how viable this is, but the calculator has instructed me to seek light between 21:00 pm and 23:30 pm this evening and avoid light between 23:30 pm and 2:00 am – so will see how that goes!!
We can’t deny that airports are strange places. They are worlds within our world, home to endless amounts of continuous activity. I enjoyed reading a blog post this weekend from Blue Sky which referenced an infographic produced by cheapflights.co.uk on 50 things to do when you’re stuck in an airport, and not just because I have a geeky love for infographics, but because people watching, one of my favourite activities, featured on the list.
With some of the busiest airports in the world such as Heathrow seeing an average of 191,200 passengers arrive and depart each day, we are guaranteed to see lots of different types of people from all over the world and many different walks of life passing through. Sometimes I just like to spend a moment taking it all in, looking around and watching the drama unfold. Because yes, with lots of strangers thrown into what can often be a time-pressured, unfamiliar and uncontrollable situation, drama is guaranteed.
Over the past few months I have witnessed husbands and wives having full blown rows, people racing through the airport upon hearing their flight’s final call and of course the increasing anxiety as fellow passengers wait for luggage to arrive at the carousel, turning to panic and rage when it failed to show. One of my favourite moments at an airport this year was waiting for a colleague to meet me at Heathrow Terminal 5. Our meeting point was in the arrivals area and whilst waiting I shared some of the beautiful moments that can only be experienced in arrivals – watching exhausted yet excited passengers emerge through the doors to be greeted by loving partners and eager family members…smiles, laughter, hugs and even tears. It was a heart warming 20 minutes and I could definitely see where the inspiration for certain scenes in the film Love Actually came from!
Moments like this have often made me think that working in an airport must be one of the most exciting jobs in the world. Front line staff inside airports must have endless stories to tell about their encounters with passengers, from the awkward and bizarre to the magical and even tear-jerking. Ex TSA agent turned writer Jason E Harrington documents in his blog Taking Sense Away some of the weird and wonderful things he witnessed whilst working at Chicago O’Hare’s airport from 2007-2013. My favourite of these is a term he coined the ‘baby-shower opt out’ which describes when a woman opts out of going through the scanner, ‘explaining that she is pregnant to the surprise of the friends she is traveling with, who shriek and yell and have an impromptu celebration.’
I am really looking forward to reading Jason’s book when it comes out and to witnessing many more of the unique moments that airport people watching has to offer on my upcoming trips.
Following on from my post a few days ago about airline humour which looked at some comical interpretations of air travel, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a related subject…the antithesis of humour…the airline safety video.
When it comes to flying we all know that the safety video is a necessity and all passengers need to be aware of what to do in the event of an emergency. But we also know that safety videos tend to be as boring as hell. I for one, as a regular traveller, completely switch off and ignore the safety video as it plays whilst the aircraft taxis to the runway, knowing full well that if I did zone back in I could probably recite the instructions word for word. I imagine that many regular fliers are like me and think they’ve heard it all before. So why bother showing it at all if people aren’t going to pay attention? Well I guess there’s no choice in the matter… it’s got to be shown for legal reasons and we also need to be as up to speed as we can possibly be on safety procedures. But with this comes a dilemma… how do airlines get people who think they know it all to pay attention?
Well it seems that times are changing as airlines are beginning to acknowledge this. Strategies are now being implemented for the safety video to go above and beyond simply telling us about how to “adopt the brace position” or what to do “in the unlikely event of the aircraft having to land on water”. The safety video has taken on an additional role… to entertain passengers.
Air New Zealand were the first to get creative with their safety video, using Kiwi-centric themes such as the Hobbit and the All Blacks to capture the attention of passengers:
Virgin America recently launched a fully choreographed, pop style safety video with some quirky dance moves and catchy lyrics. Although specifically designed to ‘grab people’s attention’ according to COO Steve Forte, the video has been a success in the realms of social media and content marketing, with nearly 9 million views on Youtube:
And now Delta have just got ‘on board’, with the launch of their nostalgic 80s style safety video this week which acts as a tribute to their first ever safety video 3 decades ago. In it we see iconic hairdos, big glasses and rubik’s cubes as well as some celebs from the decade bopping along to the retro beats. The video has already had over a million hits in the space of a few days and streams of positive comments such as “Great way to reinvent (the always boring) safety videos!” Take a look here:
We can’t deny that this change in style is having an impact, with these videos now going viral and gaining millions of hits. People are clearly starting to pay attention. The key safety messages are not only being delivered, but they are being done so with personality and banter and as such, the airlines responsible have successfully found a way to engage even the most ‘know it all’ passengers, whilst raising their online profile. I certainly am looking forward to the prospect of seeing one of these videos on a flight and it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ to see which airline is going to get creative next!
Air travel seems to provide rich material and fuel the laughter for many comical sketches. I guess this is largely down to the fact that flying still (despite some carriers providing what can seem like a bus service) feels strange and unnatural with so much potential for things to go wrong. The idea of being in a metal tube 40,000 feet in the air for several hours can be quite hard to contemplate – for me at least anyway. If we were meant to fly, surely we’d have been made with wings? Nevertheless that doesn’t stop me from going anywhere and trying my best to forget my fears and enjoy the experience of flying.
Bad and bizarre customer experience is often at the heart of any comedian’s work. I am a big fan of anything ‘comedy’ related so I was quite excited to discover a comedienne over the weekend (who has apparently been around for years) who goes by the name of Pam Ann. As you can probably tell, her sketches focus specifically on the flying experience, bringing to life the varied perceptions people have of different airlines in an amusing yet graphic way. Much of it is of course deeply exaggerated, but there are still some interesting underlying messages in her work around how people are made to feel by staff, based on her observations as a passenger.
Check out the following (though best not to if you are easily offended):
If you like what you see here is the link to her website to find tour dates. It looks like she’s going to be in London at the end of March…! http://pamann.com/
Another great pair of comedians who have also used the theme of flying and the unique customer experience we can encounter whilst in airports and on board as comedy fuel is David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Despite first hitting our screens a few years ago, their series Come Fly With Me will never get old, especially with episodes currently being re-aired on Sky and Netflix.
A couple of my favourite sketches:
Enjoy and remember to keep your eye out for real life comedy gold whilst you’re travelling!