Tag Archives: Transport

More than just the meter

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.

Larry David’s take on the travel customer 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?

How Social Media is shaping our travel experience

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:

Tripadvisor card from Poseidon
Tripadvisor card from Poseidon

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.”

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.