Sabtu, 27 Februari 2010

Planned posting frequency

Hi folks,
Thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement so far.
Remember any sensible comment, criticism and questions on any travel related topic is very welcome.

My plan is the following:
Business travel comment at least fortnightly.
Silly memoire short stories at least weekly.
Topical issue comment as they hapen
Funny/bizzare/informative stuff when it turns up.

With regard to the last item I heard recently that Ryanair is supposed to have in their regulations that they reserve the right to charge for two seats if they think you are fat. HOWEVER they cannot guarantee they will be next to each other!

If you like what I am doing please check this blog occasionally or perhaps even become a blog 'follower' whatever that means.
ALSO FEEL FREE TO PASS THE BLOG ADDRESS on to friends and colleagus.
I really don't want to talk to myself!
Take care,

Kamis, 25 Februari 2010

Who should buy travel? (Part one)

This debate has rumbled on for a very long time and I expect it will continue particularly at this time of financial and strategic difficulty. Suppliers have to earn more and corporations have to pay less to achieve their recovery strategy so it has never been more important that the function in the middle of the pricing debate gets it right. If they don’t we will end up either with less products or fewer customers or perhaps both. The key reason for there being an impasse in this debate is there is no right answer for all the stakeholders. It very much depends on the flexibility, specialist knowledge and skills of individuals concerned.

It is not an easy subject to comment on without rubbing someone up the wrong way and getting called biased to one particular part of the supply chain. Although I was very much a TMC man I now feel I can look back more objectively and hopefully put forward some valid considerations to be taken into account. For example I do not believe this activity should be outsourced to a TMC in the current climate as they will be viewed sceptically by the suppliers and not have sufficient mandate within the corporation. It also has the potential of removing ongoing control of the programme, especially within large organisations and their global subsidiaries.

To understand the challenge and make an informed decision you have to know the key issues. I believe many of you know them so I hope you will bear with me while I ad my thoughts on them. Rather like buying most things the secret is to get the correct blend between quality of product and price. In the travel arena this is easier said than done especially when the product is either a commodity or a service and more likely both. In this environment the corporation needs to look closer at a) what exactly they want to buy and b) how they are going to manage the programme to maximum gain when it starts. A decision has to be made as to who in the company is suited to doing both jobs or if the project should be split into two parts. This is where it mainly goes wrong as one task naturally blends into the other.

If you put the TMC and outside consultants aside for a moment that really leaves just two functions which are procurement and the travel manager. One view is that a buyer is expert at buying a commodity and a travel manager is much better at controlling a service. Having seen both in action more times than I can remember it is very rare indeed to find one person who can lead both functions successfully as the skill –set is so different.

So there we have it. When a buyer says it should be their job they are probably as wrong as the travel manager who says it should be them. In my opinion there are only two alternatives. One is that you go out and find that rare breed of person who can both buy professionally and manage a complex service orientated project. After all travel is a commodity when you buy but turns into a service when you use it. The second option (and best in my opinion) is to form a triumvirate of a buyer, a travel manager and a leader who should be a senior board member with a strong mandate from his colleagues. All three should work together from concept to strategy to buying to delivery. This liaison should not stop at delivery but move forward to ensure disciplines and benefits are achieved.
What about the suppliers? Who should be negotiating what with whom?
I will put forward my views in part two but I can say now that I think it works pretty badly in general!

Rabu, 24 Februari 2010

A Distressed Salesman in Paris

Well, it happens to us all. Retirement or should I say 'benign culling'. When you think you are useful but in a minority of one!
What on earth are you going to do? Someone forgot to remove the drive and passion during the process but there is no obvious outlet….or is there.
Maybe some entertaining therapy/transition process can be achieved by using ones rapidly fleeing memory? Maybe one could entertain, amuse, inject a tad of revenge and at the same time enjoy the process of remembering the weird and wacky with just a tad of embellishment thrown in here and there. You know what it is like. When, after an ‘experience’ you only wish you had said something or triggered a slightly different ending. I confess there are a few of these dotted about in these ‘memoires’ but frighteningly….not that many
I plan to do these monthly and, although some will appear in other publications these will be the unedited versions!

(These articles are the sole property of the owner and can only be reproduced with his express permission)


We all know what it is like. That dreadful feeling when you just know you have to go. You feel strange movements and aches in your gut and you try to position yourself in the car seat in a way that you can best cope. Cold sweat starts to form on your brow as you realise that your race against time is nearly lost and there is no salvation is in sight. The mind wonders what you are going to do when it literally’ happens’.

It all seemed so harmless the previous night. A few Kronenbourgs, a celebratory glass of champagne, some suspect cork flavoured wine and oysters for the first time in that quaint riverside Parisian bistro. What the hell are you supposed to do with oysters I thought, my mind wandering back to various novels I had read. I tried swallowing, and chewing, a bit of Tabasco, au naturelle but frankly it tasted like raw sea slug whichever way it went down. My table host was ‘eating’ moules marinier at the same time so I borrowed a few to see if the combined taste improved matters. It definitely did not. Back to the hotel afterwards and after a couple of Armagnac and a jar of assorted peanuts from the mini bar I fell into an uneasy sleep.

Out of bed early in the morning, shovelling down a breakfast ‘Anglais’ with a swill of tart orange juice and black coffee and off in my hire car, a replete road warrior The kilometres ran past and my stomach tightened until I found myself in contortions, talking to myself, and sweat poring down my face. The sheer horror of being in a foreign land on a busy perimeter road and not the first idea how to explain my predicament to a local began to play on my tortured senses.

Just as my stomach was seriously contemplating giving way to gravity I saw it. There it was, a roadside toilet. The relief was palpable. Providence was on my side and there was a large parking space, right in front of it! Oh what joy I felt as I crabbed across the pavement in a Quasimodo like gait. Relief was imminently at hand, I thought.

The anticipation was as good as it gets, until I got inside. My eyes focussed simultaniously on two unwelcome sights. First was an enormous old lady sitting behind a plain wooden table by the urinal and the second a sign next to the only cubicle saying ‘ferme (closed). Any blood remaining in my face drained at these two terrible visions.

The woman was obviously both, cleaner and custodian and her eyes transfixed me with a baleful stare as I stood there hunched over with my knees clamped together. I made my move first, lurching towards the cubicle door, hands like claws reaching for the handle. She moved fast considering her bulk and age but I got there seconds before her and slammed the door in her face. Eureka I thought as I settled on the grubby seat. It was then I realised that the reason the cubicle was ‘ferme’ was because the lock on the door was broken and hanging off its screws. By this time nothing was going to stop me so I stretched one leg as far as I could and jammed it against the door.

It was like the 1812, Ride of the Valkerye and the Hallelujah chorus all thrown into one defining moment of relief. I could swear the earth moved and with a whimpering sigh of joy I let it all go. My pleasure lasted as long as it took for the cubicle door to crash open throwing me backwards and leaving my leg a painful limp and inanimate object. There standing in all her massive glory was Madame the cleaner, cigarette in mouth and brandishing a mop and bucket. I was transfixed to the spot with my hands trying to shield my nether regions and blubbering ‘excuse moi’! She took no notice and started mopping the floor around me as I sat like a petrified gnome. Finally she started prodding my feet with her mop head until I understood she wanted me to raise them so she could do the bits closer around the bowl. The shame of it.

Having cleaned everything bar where I was actually sitting she stood back and stared at me. Very slowly she shrugged her mighty shoulders, shook her head and muttered something like ‘Pah’ and lumbered off to her table with a glimmer of a smile hovering on her lips. She had taught Johnny foreigner a lesson he would not forget in a hurry. ‘Merde’ she felt good.

I made it back to my car with both sets of cheeks burning and drove off. I was embarrassed but the feeling of sheer physical relief far outweighed the humiliation. But I should have known better. Like an earthquake food poisoning does not result in only one big bang. The further I drove away from that hell hole the greater discomfort I felt. What happened next?

Groundhog Day.

Senin, 22 Februari 2010

Getting an Upgrade. A matter of Life and Death?

People go to extreme lengths in order to get themselves sitting as near as the pointy bit of a plane as possible, especially on long flights. During the process every emotion is used from grovelling to indignation, lies and sheer cunning. Sexual promise has also been tried but frankly it got me nowhere.

I have seen them all in my times both as an airline worker and, in person as a traveller and I would recommend that the most likely way to succeed is to die. A bit extreme I know but it does work most of the time although you could possibly end up propped in a toilet instead. Let me explain.

Think about it for a moment. People more often than you might expect get ill and die on planes so what do they do with the corpse? There are very few places it can be put without it getting in the way or causing hysteria amongst other passengers. One of the favourite positions is in seat 1A or 1F in First Class. Reason being that nobody apart from the flight crew is likely to walk past and it is much more preferable than leaning it in its seat against a loved one or stranger in seat 32D. After all dead folk tend to attract the wrong kind of attention from all but the most hardened fellow travellers.

I have travelled with two corpses that I have known of and they seemed very comfortable (they didn’t complain) except for one who rather terrified an air hostess by moving under his blanket. I wondered for a moment if he was going to ask for champagne but it turned out to be rigormortis as we tried to tell the shaking hostess. “He’s alive” she wailed.

A certain African airline I know created an ingenious new service which included upgrade followed by death. It was many years ago when air hijacks were in their infancy. This particular aircraft was somewhere over the Gobi desert and someone at the back pulled out a gun and tried to take over. Mayhem ensued and the perpetrator was grabbed by an air marshal employed by the airline who had a zero tolerance policy to acts of terror.

Folklore backed up by much anecdotal evidence has it that a very polite steward ushered all the first class passengers back into the economy section and then escorted the hijacker up to and into seat 1A. Absorbent towels were placed on his chest and then…..they cut his throat so “he would cause no further trouble”. He was then vacated from 1A and into a forward toilet for the remainder of the journey. The passengers were led back to their seats (including 1A) and lunch was served.

Toilets are the obvious and most popular place to put bodies followed by seat 1A and then, as a last resort, the crew sleeping area if there is one on board. The crew are most unhappy with the latter option as sometimes not all of them are aware of the arrangements. On one occasion a tired and irritable air hostess was seen to be poking and verbally abusing a corpse thinking it was an idle colleague. This experience must have been awful but I think it was topped when the captain decided to store one body inside the food delivery lift that is a feature of some Boeing 747s where meals are cooked below the main seating floor. Unfortunately various crew forgot (or were not told) that it had been commandeered only to find out the hard way when the demised suddenly appeared through the loading hatch every time the lift button was pressed.

Anyway, back to upgrades. Approaches tend to fall under two categories which can best be described as aggressive and subtle. Both have merits in differing circumstances but, choose the wrong one with the wrong airline staff member and life can become extremely messy.

The check-in counter is usually the front line for upgrade efforts and, having worked there, I have heard them all. The aggressive ones were my favourite in a sadistic way particularly if I had suffered a boring or tiring day. I would end up with a florid faced passenger asking me whether I realised exactly who I was talking to, who he knew and what he had been promised. If barely veiled threats of future retribution failed additional reasons would emerge like needing space to work, sleep etc. In my case their fate rested on how rude they ended up being but seldom resulted in an upgrade. Instead I used to refer to a list of previously checked in fat, noisy, odd people or screaming kids. I would sit my upgrade petitioner right next to them.
Beware as check in staff do this regularly.

In general aggression does not work terribly well unless you succeed in convincing the person being negative that you have as much influence as you say you have and there will be implications including inconvenience, report writing and possible disciplinary proceedings. Otherwise all you are doing is ensuring you do not get a coincidental upgrade prior to boarding. What is a coincidental upgrade? Nearly all airlines overbook individual cabins as long as the whole aircraft has space. Being the biggest and most popular economy class is overbooked most especially on leisure destinations so. As a result flight administrators search at the last moment for people to upgrade. This is the place upgrade hopefuls should aim for by very politely asking if they could be considered for upgrade if required. This does work.

So my advice for upgrades is as follows:

Be polite and create empathy. You are after all asking another human being who, like you, react well to nice people. Focus on people who have the power to recommend your upgrade. The customer facing people you meet at airports have very little decision making say but speak to others who do like flight dispatchers, gate staff etc. If you have a good reason to need an upgrade then give it, followed by a gentle reminder and follow up as it gets nearer to flight departure. Get an airline card as sometimes the computer chooses who moves forward and a card number on the booking increases your priority. Finally have one last go when the flight is boarding by explaining that somebody was trying to help you and asking if this person has succeeded or if they themselves can help.

Getting upgraded on board is becoming rarer these days but I have seen people doing it particularly if there is something clearly wrong with where they are sitting and the cabin is full. I have heard of some people trying to damage their seat or in-flight entertainment but I would not recommend it. A more successful reason is unpleasant neighbours so maybe that guy who I tried to teach a lesson got his way in the end!

Finally, feeling unwell, claustrophobic or any other symptoms that might upset people around you sometimes work. A lady feeling faint and unwell was upgraded to First Class just across the aisle from me. Initially I felt very sorry for her but within 30 minutes she was reclining eating her meal while sipping champagne and watching her video screen. A miraculous recovery and better than taking the ‘death’ option I mentioned earlier!

(This article is the sole property of the owner and can only be reproduced with his express permission)

Sabtu, 20 Februari 2010

An Open Letter to British Airways

Dear Mr Walsh
I am writing today to apply for the part-time job of cabin crew.
This will probably come as a big a surprise to you as it was to my wife. "Don't be ridiculous" she said. "You are 61, retired and can barely boil an egg". Whilst she is right on at least two counts I still feel compelled to publicly put myself forward for this position and explain why.
There is a real chance that by the time this message gets to you the Unite union may have their mandate to call a BA cabin crew strike as it seems that despite losing two court cases they will not listen to the obvious reasons why they shouldn't. If they go ahead then you will, I am sure, do everything you can to minimise disruption to your passengers and operate a full schedule. This is where I come in. Despite maybe seeming rather absurd I feel compelled to offer even my services if it means playing a part in halting this militant union's self destructive action. Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly.
Unless I am missing something you already pay your cabin crew more salary and allowances than competing airlines. Unless I am missing something else I understand that you have already come to agreements with other sections of your team (pilots etc) who have understood that you have to become competitive or suffer the likely consequences. Finally I believe your new package on offer has been amended after negotiation in order to make it far more palatable to existing staff who will still be better off than flying for Virgin and most other airlines.
Frankly I do not really understand why such a 'no brainer' of a deal is being rejected by the Unite union. To me it is because they are either naïve or have another agenda. Could it be that they see this as a means to go back to the old union 'glory days' of the Scargil era. I hope not but they already seem to be using some of the old terminology that most people hoped had been consigned to the history books.
Mr Walsh, please consider my offer and let me know if you need my c.v. I think you find I have rather a broad experience of flying going back 40 years or so and, despite what my wife says, I make a mean boiled egg! Call on me and I will be there and I expect many others would too.
Yours sincerely
Mike Platt
Former Managing Director of HRG UK

Into the Unknown

What do I know about blogging? Pass me a postage stamp someone and I will write it all down on the back of it and have room to spare.

Business Travel? Well that is a different matter.
At least I hope so as I have been devoted to that particular industry in one shape or form for over forty years. During that time I have worked for airlines and agencies starting in the filing unit and ending up as Managing Director for HRG UK, the country's biggest travel management company.

So did I learn anything during that time and is it still worth passing on? Do I have any stories that are funny, absurd or maybe even educational. Am I a bitter and twisted old git?! Well dear reader (if you are out there) you will shortly find out as my objectives for setting up this site are:

To comment on issues of the day.
To speak out in a way that was constrained in the past when I had shareholders to consider.
To tell some travel life stories that are in part informative, hopefully amusing and almost entirely true.
To try and answer any reasonable questions where I think I can inform and add value.

So lets see how I get on. I am my worst critic so if I fail I will disapear as quickly back into the ether as I emerged out of it.