Minggu, 28 Maret 2010

Pets on planes. Part 2


Some people just cannot or will not leave their pets at home and often it causes chaos. I still remember one time when standing close to a baggage x ray machine I heard a tremendous commotion. I turned to see this very lithe, beautiful albeit over-made up young woman screaming at an official to “leave im alone” and “don’t frighten im”

The “im” in question was a five foot long python that she had packed in her cabin bag along with a Hello magazine and a pair of hair straighteners. “He is an integral part of my act” she bleated “and part of the family”. It was fun watching the security folk trying to lever this large snake back into a small bag using nothing but hand-held metal detectors whilst having to restrain a now frantic ‘exotic’ dancer. She was also found to have two dead mice in a little cool box for the journey in case he got ‘peckish’

The ‘Supermouse’ referred to in my title was neither of the two snake snacks mentioned above. This supermouse was very much alive and caused mayhem lasting three days on a long drawn out flight to Australia. This mouse belonged to a little girl who could not bear being separated from her ‘Mickey’ so she successfully managed to stow it away somewhere on her person.

Off the plane went and after about 3 hours we could see something was clearly wrong. There was this frantic child on her hands and knees followed by even more frantic parents poking their heads under people’s seats. They refused to tell even the crew what they were doing but it became clear when a scream came from the rear of the cabin galley area. “I tell you it was a bloody mouse” came an indignant voice. “The bloody thing was washing its feet as bold as you like in that corner”

Creatures like mice are big deals in the airline world. Mice have been known to not only chew cables but also spread diseases around the world. Our plane immediately was awarded the status of a flying global outcast along with everyone in it. Mickey had to be caught and all the passengers and spare crew set to it whilst the pilot tried to get someone somewhere to allow us to land with a rodent on the run.

Finally the mouse hunt ended fruitlessly and our captain had managed to persuade the Lebanon to allow us to land. We all shuffled off into 40 degrees of Beirut sunshine, only allowed to take the clothes on our back and the plane was impounded until Mickey was taken ‘Dead or Alive’.

It took a nightmare three days in blinding heat with no change of clothes living in a war zone before the news came through than Mickey was no more. The manual searches had failed so they decided to gas the aircraft and kill it that way. Unfortunately having gassed the plane and located our demised Mickey the humidity would not allow the gas to leave again. This meant that the plane had to go up and down a spare runway with its doors open before we were allowed to get on it.

Just before we boarded a little chap came along with a jam jar. Inside the jar was a dead mouse which he proudly displayed to the passengers and crew. “We have him,we have him” he exulted. I glanced over to the young girl to see how she was coping looking at the corpse. She quickly turned to her dad and said “it is not hi……” before he snatched her away and headed for the aircraft steps.

Jumat, 26 Maret 2010

Do academics understand the real world?

I don't think so if the group who wrote to the Guardian newspaper about the intransigence of Willie Walsh and British Airways management are an example. What they appear to be complaining about is that Mr Walsh is actually doing what he repeatedly warned the staff and unions he would. That does not seem such a heinous approach to me.
To my mind Willie Walsh currently has the easiest job in the World. His strategy is a no brainer in that he will not have an airline to run unless he does what he is doing plus he is getting general support from customers, other employees and importantly his shareholders. How many other bosses could claim that!
As for the cabin crew I really feel for them. Their unions have led them on a dangerous path, they are fighting the inevitable and, if they win they will probably lose both their jobs and pensions in the process. As for those worthy academics? I suggest they do their sums and realise that for this airline to survive maybe some "unilateral management" and bruising a militant union's egos is an acceptable price to pay for staying in business.

Selasa, 23 Maret 2010

Thought for the day

If BA cabin crew continue to strike and the airline goes bust who will pay their pensions? At the last count there was an enormous black hole in their pension fund.
Pass me that self destruct button please.

Is Government Buying Wisely?

Being part of the European ‘nanny state’ must have its advantages…..although I can’t quite think of even one at this time. Most definitely government travel buying, or for that matter any kind of state procurement is not one. The conditions, deadlines, red tape, mandatory declarations and disclosures are such that the likelihood of a smart or mutually worthwhile deal is small.

Until I got involved in the process I have always been perplexed as to why, if there are so many procedures and rules government projects always end up costing much more than the original contract. In the UK you only have to look at the Channel Tunnel, the Millennium Dome and Wembley Sport Stadium as examples of this. Why is this I thought, and then I got involved in a major UK government travel tender myself and saw what I think could be the key contributors to cost and timing failures. I will share my experience and subsequent assumptions with you but I must state at the outset that these are my own personal thoughts and not those of the company I worked for at the time.

If you are a private company you can set your own tender schedule and process. In government you cannot. There is a strict procedure in relation to timelines, disclosure, format and bidder selection you must keep to. On the surface this might seem highly laudable but in actuality it becomes restrictive, eliminates flexibility and costly in unnecessary administration and process. It also works on the basis that you know exactly what you want to buy as this has to be declared and published at the outset. Unfortunately, such is the size, mix and variety of such contracts that this essential is unknown and is probably a part of why the business is out to bid in the first place.

So what are these restrictions I am talking about? Here are some of the key ones as I perceive them:

1/ you have to publish all details of the contract and bid process in advance across European and give all equal opportunity to bid. You cannot be seen as individually selective or discriminatory in any way even if you are wasting your time or that of bidders who stand no chance of success.

2/ At this stage you must declare exactly what you are putting out to tender and you cannot easily change it even if you do not really know if it is accurate or not.

3/ the system seems to prevent any informal or individual dialogue with potential suppliers without giving everyone equal opportunity so there is no way building understanding, knowledge or relationships in order to improve/modify the brief.

4/ Everything has to be done by the book on a ‘one size fits all’ basis even though these contracts are some of the most diverse one is ever likely to come across.

5/ Government bodies seem incapable of aportioning or sharing out costs and savings amongst themselves which means that pricing is a nightmare and the potential of negotiating a fair and equitable financial package is minimized.

If you put some or all the above together you end up in a no win situation as the buyer has had to follow an entirely unhelpful process ending up with an oversimplified deal full of loopholes. The seller has to find some way of picking up the pieces while making a profit and minimising negative exposure.

At the beginning of this piece I mentioned that, in my eyes, most government contracts end up costing far more than the original contract agreement. I personally think it may be as a result of my point in the previous paragraph. What can end up happening is that the supplier goes in at a rock bottom unit price but then builds in a whole raft of necessary caveats in case the core buyer RFP is wrong ,which of course it is. The buyer is not able to hold contingency funds or apportion out costs internally so they have no way of dealing with it. The end result is that the government has an embarrassing overspend and the supplier makes their money out of charging caveats built in for ‘out of scope’ activities.

I write this for two reasons. Firstly I think it is wrong that any government should have to ignore sound commercial tactics and hog tie itself with bureaucracy when buying. Secondly, as a tax payer, it is my money they are wasting.

Pets on Planes. Part 1.

Colin and Edith

Pets and planes don’t mix really, unless the animals are safely and securely stored away preferably in a pressurised and heated hold where nobody can hear their howls, meows, tweets etc. Even then it is apparently unwise to put a dog in the same hold as human remains as they can sense and respond to it even when sealed in a lead casket (the body that is).

My first doggy experience was on an Air Afrique Boeing flight between the Ivory Coast and Paris. The French you see cannot bear to be parted from their ‘Fifi’ or ‘Pierre’ and, in those days there was nothing against them taking their hound in the cabin with them, if they bought an extra seat.

So there I was. Me in seat 26D, a lady that looked like a bloated Edith Piaf in 26F and between us in 26E a Daschund who, for the sake of this story I shall call Colin.
Colin was built like one of those balloon dogs made by child entertainers and I soon found out he contained the same level of wind. We made an incongruous trio. I was trying to read a paper and pretend I was not sat next to a dog, an old lady who I discovered could snore and dribble at the same time and Colin who spent most of the voyage licking his scrotum or getting into contortions and generally scratching things in my direction. Colin was clearly not into personal hygiene and neither was his owner. Things did not bode well.

I decided I had to move. Up and down the cabin I walked but there was not a spare seat anywhere. I got evicted from a stewardess seat in the galley and asked to vacate a toilet after I holed out there for 20 minutes. Anything was better than being left to the tender mercies of Colin, especially as the meal was about to be served. When I left the toilet I was confronted by Edith and Colin who were queuing to ‘use’ it. Even today I cannot fully imagine how that particular exercise was completed in an area too small to swing a cat let alone a Daschund.

I struggled back to my seat just as the meal trays arrived. My companions arrived shortly after and one climbed over my knees as the other waddled under them. Edith and Colin had the fish whilst I ordered the meatballs. Clearly Colin had flown Air Afrique before and there was no way he was going to risk the meatballs. Sadly I had no advance warning and they were truly vile. So bad in fact that I tried to slip one to Colin and he regurgitated it over the in-flight entertainment consol. Which probably never worked again.

By this time it was very late and the cabin lights dimmed. Good night Colin I muttered. He fixed me with a cold stare and once more decided to excavate his crotch. I woke about two hours later and something was wrong. I could feel it, no I could smell it. Yes, it was Colin. At some time than night Colin had decided to double up with me. He was flat on his back, paws in the air and nose one centimetre from my left eyeball. Gravity had forced back his cheeks over his canine teeth making him look like something out of the film An American Werewolf in London. I can still see it now.

Thankfully the plane arrived in Paris. Colin and I had survived each other without too much incidence, apart from the meatball, and there was every chance we would never ever see each other again. He stood on his seat, wagged his tail. Then at the last minute…..oh no! He cocked his leg.

Senin, 15 Maret 2010

So the government make their pitch

Can you imagine it?
What was a bitchy inter airline dispoute has bit the government in the posterior just before the election. Unite union is their biggest benefactor but are clearly wrong. What do you do? You have to go for the throat of your top contributor or suffer the consequenses. You couldn't write about it.

Jumat, 12 Maret 2010

Death Wish 6 – Up in the air (not)

So the BA cabin crew unions have decided to call two strikes of three days and four days each.

This would make good background for a blockbusting film of what life was like when unions controlled industry and businesses were driven to ruin.

With this in mind I have written to Michael Winner and suggested he stops appearing in all those silly television advertisements and returns to films in order to direct “Death Wish 6”a tale of intransigence, greed and revenge. I think Charles Bronson is now too old for the lead role so I suggested the blind union leader could be Len McCluskey (playing himself).

The storyline is no longer fully played out yet by I predict that a mighty plague is likely to play its part. This will be when a huge number of supposed ‘strikers’ will phone in sick in order to try and keep off the ‘punishment’ list BA will be compiling. Every time there has been a strike in the past the BA ‘sick’ list multiplies alarmingly. I expect that is why the union has changed plans from one long strike to two short ones as it is easier to throw a ‘sickie’ for a few days.

I am still waiting for Michael Winner to get back to me. Equally BA has still not responded to my application for cabin crew. Do you think they are both trying to tell me something?

Selasa, 09 Maret 2010

Who should buy travel? (Part two)

In part one I gave my view as to who should buy travel within a corporation. To recap, I pointed out that no one person should do it. Instead an alliance of procurement and operational management was required pulled together by the influence and gravitas of a hands-on board sponsor. In the mix of travel there is no way to success if the person buying is not linked seamlessly with those who will manage the contract and they can both give up unless there is someone on the board who fully contributes and ensures top down buy-in to the programme. Surely with the complexity, emotional factors and likelihood for misunderstanding this extra effort is worthwhile?

Here in this follow-up I will submit my view on whom in suppliers should negotiate with corporations and how, as I can say from the outset that from what I saw this process is often flawed. If you put the wrong person in front of a professional buyer you deserve everything you get. By wrong person I mean anybody that is not researched, not empowered and lacks crucial client understanding. If a buyer does not know his own volumes or traveller behaviour they too will become unstuck. Obvious really but it is a starting point as so often these ‘givens’ are not evident.

Sales are the lifeblood of any supplier especially during times of diminished and uncertain market conditions yet you would be hard pressed to see much evidence of this. To survive and thrive you would need to be decisive, flexible and have the right attitude towards prospective customers yet I think I would find very few buyers who have observed these necessary traits in their negotiations.

Many travel suppliers (especially major airlines) still seem to think there is their way or no way. The old style still thrives where a supplier will create their strategy and programmes, drive it into their sales teams and say this is the only way people can buy from us. The sales folk then have to go out with minimal flexibility or authority and try to tell the customer why they will have to fit in with what the seller wants. Some of these sales folk are little more than front line ‘cannon fodder’.

I cannot see why a far more productive approach cannot be taken. If you are selling to a high volume senior corporation then you should send out someone of a comparable level with a full mandate to close the deal. That person should not have one type of programme but a range tailored for the differing types of customer out there. It is not rocket science but prospect customers should be researched to discover what their philosophies and missions are, what their previous issues have been and what their capability to deliver is. Elementary I know but it actually happens very rarely.

If I was a buyer the first thing I would do is examine my own company well. Granted the numbers are important but equally so are the levels of internal support, mandate and cross company delivery any negotiated programme is likely to get. If you do not do this any deal could end up compromised or possibly an unpopular, unproductive financial and political liability. As I have said before you may be thinking you are buying a commodity but it quickly becomes a service as soon as the contract ink dries.

I mentioned earlier that there should be a range of potential deals and services to choose from which should deliver increased volume to suppliers and lower prices to buyers. There are plenty of ideas out there but few seem to make it past the internal discussion phase. For example I cannot understand why there cannot be different day and time pricing on individual airline routes. If you looked at airlines flying between London and New York you would find some flights at specific times and dates are always full whilst others go half empty. Why not give your best price on the slack flights?

Airlines could also give bigger rewards to corporations who save them money. By this I mean better deals for corporations who book early and whose travellers always turn up. Why not give bonuses to corporations and travellers who do such things which enable suppliers to maximise their loads and reduce costs. It still puzzles the hell out of me that suppliers still seem to allow people to not turn up without penalty as it must cost them a fortune. What other industry would allow that?

So there you have some simplistic but hopefully logical thoughts and recommendations. Suppliers should be flexible and recognise the individuality of corporations whilst buyers should spend more time ensuring they can deliver their part of the bargain.

Rabu, 03 Maret 2010

A truly sickening idea

Heard the true story about the low cost carrier that decided to sell advertising on their sick bags?
They did a deal with a photographic company who converted the bags to make them sealable and marketed on the side that all you had to do was fill in a section and, place your film inside and post it off.
The promotion did not last long as the photographic company was inundated with packages filled with......err what the bag was originally placed in the seat back for!

Coming in March

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

Ladies of the Night

All five of us were exhausted. We had trudged the streets of Brussels for two weeks calling on businesses and agencies promoting the launch of our new airline service.

The concept was good in that we were to visit every travel prospect company in Brussels, gather contact information, asses their potential for using our new service and establish an initial awareness ready for the local sales team who would replace us. The reward these companies got for seeing us were a range of give-away goodies from tartan scarves, to cuff links, beach balls (very useful in Belgium) and desktop plastic tailfins displaying our company logo. The latter was to cause me enormous grief as I will explain

The welcome we received was mixed. It was mainly ‘who are these weird Anglais materialising out of the grey drizzle brandishing model airplanes and beach balls? Why did they not speak French? Why did they not make an appointment like normal people and why did they keep asking map directions?’ All very odd, and as welcome as a tepid Stella Artois. I got physically ejected twice and my two female colleagues got propositions that ranged from dinner to a quickie in the manager’s office. Oh the joy and sophistication of international sales.

Finally it was over so we sat in my hotel room and worked our way through the entire mini-bar from Armangac to Pernod. Then someone remembered we had one more dilemma. We hade two cases of give-away tail fin desk pennants and nobody was prepared to haul them back to base. The need for creative thinking was clear and, through a drunken haze the answer hit like a thunderbolt. They belonged across the road.

You see we were staying at the Metropole Hotel and on the other side of the street was the Brussels red light district, I set off with a large trolley bag full of mini tail fins, topically displaying a lion rampant on each side and disappeared into the red and welcoming glow of Brussels most diverse tourist attraction.

I tapped on the first window I came to and there sitting inside was a lady I can only describe as having the face of Margaret Thatcher, the body of Jordan and the clothes of Elton John. She looked keen so I spoke quickly of my mission

I told Nicole (her name) that there was a big convention in Brussels starting the next day and jaded businessmen from around the world would be arriving in their hundreds and looking for a good time. I explained that the convention logo was a golden lion and pulled a pennant out of my trolley bag. To benefit from this work opportunity I suggested she placed the pennant in her window to show she had been approved by the convention organisers and she willingly agreed to do so. She even offered to demonstrate what the lucky delegates would receive but I naturally made my excuses and left. I managed to offload the rest of the pennants in a similar way before tottering off to bed.

It had all gone terribly well until the following evening when our senior executives and their wives arrived for the inaugural celebration dinner. As the last guest left one of the wives said she was not sleepy and up for ‘a stroll. Swiftly they all agreed and one suggested it would add some spice if they took in the red light district across the road. I froze.

It took them no time at all to come to the first window. There was Nicole/Maggie/Jordan/Elton sitting on her chair, legs akimbo and a neckline below her navel. Next to her was her proudly displayed lion rampant pennant. There was an eerie pause and then my boss started pointing at it and spluttering. Immediately Nicole assumed he was an interested punter and went to great pains to explain she had been personally approved by me and that she would give him a staff discount.

All hell was unleashed. They walked from window to window seeing their precious logo on display It all became rather frantic as they stormed the windows, grabbed their pennants, made their excuses and left. Retribution was swift but fortunately for me, they ultimately saw the funny side of it and, after the roasting of the century I survived to sell another day!

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