Archive for the 'travel' Category

17
Jun
14

An example of excellent customer service from…*gasp*…a US airline!

I know, that title is shocking.

If, like me, you’ve travelled around the world then there’s a good chance that you find flying in the USA a shockingly bad experience. You have to pay for every extra little thing. Check-in is a semi-automated nightmare. We still have to take off our shoes because of one failed shoe-bomb attempt over 12 years ago. Seats are cramped. Airport terminals are well-worn. It’s just not pleasant, especially compared to flying elsewhere in the world.

But on a recent trip through the US I experienced an event that blew me away with its customer focus and totally changed my feeling about the trip in a positive way.

I was flying from LaGuardia, New York to Dallas, Texas. My flight was with United Airlines, and I had to go via – and change planes – in Chicago.

united_airlines

The day before I flew I noticed that I only had 37 minutes to make my connection in Chicago. Gulp. That’s what I get for trusting my corporate travel booking system too much. Oh well, I thought, I’m flying with carry-on only. If things are on time I can make it. Although it’s been over a decade since I’ve been through Chicago’s O’Hare airport I verified that my arrival and departure gates there were in the same terminal. And I am a runner. I decided to remain positive.

I also decided to pay the extra $49 for legroom on my LaGuardia-O’Hare flight and get the front row of economy so that I’d be first off the plane, increasing my chances of making the connection.

The first snag happened before we left LaGuardia. At the gate, preparing for boarding, United staff announced that the overhead bins were going to be very full and that by the time they seated group 4 there would be no overhead bin room left; anyone who wanted to have their bag checked through to their destination could do so now for no charge.

I looked at my boarding pass: seating group 5.

I went up to the check-in desk and asked if I really had to check my roller carry-on, because it would not fit under the seat in front of me (which is where I planned to put my laptop bag). She said yes. I said, “But I only have a 37 minute connection in Chicago”.

“Your bag will make it,” she said.

I did not believe this. But it was clear that I was going to have to check my bag. My meetings weren’t until the following morning so I figured I could deal with a late-arriving bag. I checked it.

The second snag was that it took the plane a long time to board. People were attempting to squeeze bags into the overhead compartment despite being told they wouldn’t fit. By the time the plane was underway we were 20 minutes late. And then – third snag – there was congestion leaving LaGuardia. I resigned myself to missing my connection.

By the time we arrived at our gate at O’Hare there were only 2 minutes left before my connecting flight was scheduled to leave for Dallas.

Nevertheless I had nothing to lose by sprinting. Maybe my connecting flight was delayed, I thought. I ran into the terminal and had to make a choice: left or right. I chose right. Right was wrong, and I ended up at security. Luckily there was also a big board of gate numbers.

There was my Dallas flight. Gate number: the opposite way I’d chosen to run. Gate status: closed. Damn.

Once again I figured there was no downside to running, so I did. As I puffed up to my gate I was delighted to see that they were boarding the last (but me) person. They were about 5 minutes late. In total perhaps 4 minutes had passed since I left my plane. I had made it.

“Thank you for running,” the gate staff lady said.

“I’m glad I made it,” I gasped, “but it’s too bad my checked bag won’t.”

“Yes it will,” said a man standing behind the woman. He appeared to be some sort of baggage or ground crew supervisor. My stunned look prompted him to go on.

“I saw that your flight had just arrived and I figured you might make a run for it. The system shows you had a checked bag, so I dispatched one of my guys over to your plane to retrieve it and bring it straight here in case you did. It’ll be on the plane.”

“Mate,” I said, “that’s incredible. Thank you!”

The supervisor followed me down to the end of the airbridge. As I boarded his man popped up from outside and gave a thumbs-up that he’d loaded my bag.

“Thanks very much,” I said to both of them.

“Not everyone would catch that,” the supervisor said. “Fifteen years on the job, so I know how to spot these things.”

I’m glad he did.

 

Edit: Actually, come to think of it, luggage and ground crew staff might not be part of United Airlines at all, they might work for O’Hare airport. It’s hard to give credit where it’s due when, as consumers, we’re sort of forced into compressing all our feelings about the travel experience into the airline we choose to fly with. 

17
Nov
11

Back from Europe

OK, I got back four days ago. But I feel like this is the first moment I’ve had to sit and write about it.

It was awesome. From top to bottom, good all around. Flights, London, seeing old mates, hanging out, beer, visiting old workplace, buying shoes, going to France, eating and drinking, training to Spain, work conference in Barcelona, revisiting Casa Batllo, seafood, flights back. Everything was smooth and fun and interesting and good. It was a really invigorating trip.

I miss Europe, though I wouldn’t want to be living and working there at the moment. I also miss London, but I don’t think I could live there anymore.

27
Oct
11

Two weeks back in Europe

My whirlwind trip to Europe begins very soon. I’m just about packed.

  1. I work a half day tomorrow, then head to Sydney International Airport.
  2. I fly to London (via Bangkok) and meet up with my better half, who’s already there.
  3. I have five awesome days of holidays back in London. I lived there for 9 years, but have not been back since I left two years ago. I’m planning to see a lot of people.
  4. We fly to the south of France, for a few days in the spot where we got married (aww).
  5. She flies back to Oz. I, however, take the train from Toulouse to Barcelona (via Montpellier and Figueres).
  6. I have a work conference for five days in Barcelona.
  7. I fly back to Sydney, via London and Singapore.

If you look close, you can see me in a window, very smug. Photo from velodenz via Creative Commons license

10
Sep
11

Trip to Barcelona in November

I’ve just had a work trip confirmed to Barcelona for the week of November 7-11. Awesome, I love that city. We had a great weekend there in 2008.

Now, the other big question becomes: can I tack a London visit onto either end?

16
Jul
11

Trip back to Canada

In two hours we’ll catch a taxi to the airport and start the 24-hour trek back to Nova Scotia, Canada.

The journey won’t be so bad. Sydney to Los Angeles – the longest leg by far – is in V Australia’s premium economy class, about which I’ve heard good things. LA to Montreal, then Montreal to Halifax, is by Air Canada, which is what it is.

The important thing is this will be the first time I’ve been back to Canada in two years. It’s been the same amount of time since I’ve seen most of my family too.

I expect this trip to be very fun, and very relaxing.

See you soon from the northern hemisphere.

10
Jan
11

Super driving holiday

I’ve been back for more than a week, but I’ve just gotten around to uploading all the photos of what was a great Xmas/New Year’s driving holiday.

We drove south through New South Wales, into Victoria, around the Great Ocean Road, up into South Australia, and back across the Sturt Highway to Sydney. It was 5100 km, but we took a leisurely 18 days to do, staying for a couple of nights in a few spots (mostly wine regions).

You can see some of the photos here.

17
Dec
10

Traveling holiday

I’m off tomorrow morning for 17 days of driving around Australia. This is how I’ll spend my holidays. I’m really looking forward to it.

Later, people.

05
Dec
10

Vietnam

I spent five days last week in Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon), Vietnam. It was my first time in this Asian country. I, like all of the people at the work conference I was attending, was pretty impressed.

HCMC is currently at 9 million people, and with 4 million scooters. That’s the first thing you notice: the millions of motorised bikes, weaving in and out of the traffic, up and down each street. They swarm. And they all somehow get along with a shared cultural understanding, each wave taking its turn.

Seafood was great. Beer was cheap, as were taxis. It’s not overly westernised. Western visitors and expats are not uncommon. The war is so recent that memorials like the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, and the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels seem like raw, fresh wounds. The people were, like people anywhere, very friendly.

Highlights were a scooter ride ourselves through the city, and helping a school of disadvantaged kids build some bicycles.

The overwhelming feeling I got from the whole place was one of growth at every level. There are shops everywhere. There are stands along every street, selling stuff. The government has cleared the residential side of the Saigon River and plans to allow the bustling business centre to spread there.

You can see some pics from the week here.

 

26
Nov
10

Vietnam

In a couple of days I’m off to Vietnam for a week. I’m looking forward to this: I’ve not been there yet.

Unfortunately since it’s for business and I’m not taking any extra time I won’t get to see much beyond downtown Ho Chi Minh City. I have booked onto a tour of the Củ Chi tunnels, though, which I expect to be pretty cool. I’ve been looking forward to trying snake wine again, too.

And you thought Snakebites were bad.

 

06
Mar
10

Across Australia

I was on a whirlwind tour of new Australian cities in the previous two days, for work.

On Thursday morning I flew (about 4.5 hours) to Perth, getting there at mid-day, having meetings and dinner, and then flying out at about 11pm.

It took about 3.5 hours to get back to Sydney, but with the time change it was just after 6am local time on Friday when I got back. I had no time to go home, though. After a shower and a change and some breakfast I was airborne again, this time for Canberra. It’s only an hour flight to the capital; I’d normally drive it, but I knew I’d be knackered after the redeye from Perth.

I spent only a handful of hours in Canberra, and then it was back to Sydney by 5pm. Even then I couldn’t go home: I went directly to a Twestival planning meeting and then a gig.

I slept well when I finally did go home after that, though.

No rest today, though: it was sunny so we hit the road to see Palm Beach and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.