Rabu, 21 April 2010

Volcanic Ash 2 and aftermath.

Who can you really believe?
Maybe we will find out but it could go two ways:
1/ This was one mother of an overreaction. but hang on a moment. Maybe it is better to err on the side of safety and life preservation? Quite so .....to a point and the point is were the decision makers qualidied in knowledge and consultation to make that decision? Because if they were not they were (and still will be) causing huge damage to people, companies and the economy. Did the authorities talk first with airlines, plane manufactures, scientists and all relevant parties before taking such drastic and catyclismic action. If they did then fine. If they did not they are hugely culpable for the massive damage done.
2/ If it was not overriaction how could the airlines not support the action taken? Did they put economic survival ahead of safety? Were they prepared to take riskis with passenger lives? Bearing in mind they would have killed people including staff, lost their equipment and irreplaceablly damaged their reputation I think not.

I am not particularly interested in a witch hunt but I am incredibly interested in making sure decisions like this are made better in future. Maybe that will be the only good coming out of all this.

The Aftermath

So, if the air lanes stay open what happens now?
Sadly it will be quite a time before the schedules get back to normal and people are where they should be. The airlines will continue to be in pain for even longer as some future flights will come back half empty as the expected holidaymakers were prevented from going out in the first place. Also I would not be surprised if some firms might continue flying less if they discover those contingency video conference calls worked rather well. Some airlines and hotels may also suffer (or otherwise) when travellers evaluate how they performed through this crisis i.e. did they help stranded passengers and did they meet their financial and moral commitments in this respect.
Time will tell.

Minggu, 18 April 2010

Volcanic Ash

My sympathy goes to anyone who is having their business trip/holiday ruined by this.
The only thing that concerns me is that I have heard (informally) about at least two mega European airlines that have a firm and tested view that the risks have been hugely exagerated.
They have sent their own test planes up and they have returned without a scratch.
I hope we are not all causing ourselves so much pain for possibly nothing.
I feel it too as my long haul holiday is supposed to start in days.

Rabu, 14 April 2010

Airline marriages? Call for Jerry Springer.

Well we seem to be heading towards merger-land again if reports, papers and gossip are correct. It seems a bit like springtime when you get the posturing male birds strutting around whilst the shy females look coy and occasionally defensive before they are finally !!!!!! – Well, you know. Then afterwards? You might wonder who actually got taken advantage of.

For instance a possible coupling between United and US Air would be a marriage not so much made in heaven but more likely the other place and I suggest that a strong ’prenup’agreement is put in place. Just think of what kind of offspring they would produce. Something like the banjo playing kid in the old Deliverance film I expect. At least just as smaller stunted and inbred I suspect.

If you want to see a bit of what happens in fast forward look at the quite recent post honeymoon period between Mr Lufthansa and Mrs BMI. According to today’s UK Times newspaper they may have already begun the Brad and Angelina phase along with drastic reductions in the family budget and relatives being shown the door. Are they both happy and will they be soul-mates for life? I am not sure now Mrs BMI is being told a large chunk of her dowry is going to disappear.

I used to think mergers were a great thing. It meant the strong got stronger and the weak were culled but then I started to wonder what benefits (or otherwise) the travelling customer and their employers would receive. If you look at those airlines who choose to ‘live in sin’ by joining alliances I would wager not much. I have not seen any significant financial improvement for customers in fact I have observed the opposite. OK flight services are linked more seamlessly but choice goes down, monopolies go up and contract negotiations become harder. These partnerships are more one of convenience than a desire to do good for their passengers.

Clearly airline mergers will become more frequent as time progresses and barriers disappear. They have become more common because of the new competition airlines are now facing combined with customer behaviour. The more prices are driven down and the more full service airlines fail to sell their benefits in the value add war with no frills carriers the more closures and mergers will take place. The more this happens then the less choice will be out there with less competitive routes and less keen pricing.

I think this kind of ‘progress’ is inevitable and I am not wholly sure I would want to try and stop it anyway. Goodness knows this industry needs to change and this just might be one of the catalysts. What I do think is, rather like the blushing bride we need to go into this with our eyes open and our legs crossed….well at least until after the ceremony!

Rabu, 07 April 2010

Pets on Planes. Part 3

Noah’s Ark

I think most people would be shocked if they only knew what animals were flying with them or occupied their space last. They might even be more shocked if they knew what they had left behind.

One of the biggest problems caused by animals on planes is corrosion. For example I remember British Caledonian used to very often fly planes with passengers in one direction and then use the same plane to ferry race horses and even elephants the other way. In itself, not a problem as long as the interior was put right before and after but there became one issue that never seemed to disappear completely, and that was poo and primarily pee.

Sometimes these animals used to pee so much that when the aircraft tilted upwards a veritable tidal wave of faeces ridden pee rushed to the rear of the aircraft engulfing the ankles of any unwary staff that had their seats there. I know as I have a ruined pair of trainers to prove it! It used to then get crazier if the passengers were elephants as they, like us, get bored, but when they do their heads sway from side to side. You get more than one doing this in sequence and it causes chaos with the autopilot.

Anyway, back to the pee. This pee has to go somewhere and, unless the cabin is sealed like a Tupperware box that somewhere ends up being under the floor and amongst the aircraft structure itself. This stuff is full of ammonia and, when sloshing around on sheets of alloy, nuts, bolts and wires nature starts to follow its course resulting in various levels of corrosive threat to the aircraft infrastructure. These problems were always found during the major maintenance ‘D’ check which such planes went through but who would have thought that a Jumbo could have done so much damage to….well a Jumbo!

Sabtu, 03 April 2010

Travel and the Environment

We have seen reports on environmental issues as they relate to travel. We have heard rhetoric, statements of intent, proud boasts, thinly veiled self promotion statements and promises of a ‘greener’ future. There have been board level corporate policies, conferences, business ventures linked to sustainability and a large number of ‘holier than thou’ declarations between competing companies. Strange how many of the leading standard bearers might be viewed as causing the problem like the fuel and energy giants But what has really happened?

I do not think much has happened at all and I am not entirely sure it matters that much if the experts are to be believed. By this I mean that if air travel only represents less than 3% of global emission does reducing this small fraction by an even smaller fraction make the slightest difference in the whole sphere of things? Would a large company not contribute more if they turned their lights and computers off at night? After all if you fly over any city at night the place is ablaze with lights.

I suspect environmental issues are going to become just a matter of travel hype like the exaggerated effect of direct sell, technology and vapour-ware were in the recent past. Perhaps more wistful thinking than worthwhile delivery.

My perception of the apparent state of affairs has been colloured by the way sustainability has been slipped onto the back burner while the global recession has been going on. Regardless of what others may say I believe being ‘sustainable’ costs money as you have to invest in it. You also cannot sell if you ground your salesmen.
The only exception to this is companies that need to reduce their travel budget for financial reasons and use environmental issues as a vehicle to do it.

All this may sound cynical from me and maybe it is. I actually believe passionately that we need to do something about the environment but I feel a bit sour when seeing all the hot air being spouted around over travel when the bigger and more significant winning may possibly be neglected. I also object to this issue being used for point scoring and the creation of another large consultancy sales opportunity.

This world has two global threats which are the economy and the environment. I would rather we did not damage the former in order to make an insignificant contribution to the latter when there are so many better ways to do more good. Besides I would be more convinced of commitment if people turned their TVs off standby at night like I do!

Welcome to Lagos

I noticed that there is a TV programme with the above title and that reminded me of a fine welcome I got in the murky past

Someone up there definitely did not like me. He probably sat in the heavens and decided “let us smote him around a bit and bring him down a peg or two”. After all he had been pretty good to me until that moment what with sending me around the world with a bevy of beauties and an expense account without the slightest payback of gratitude. “I know” he said, “why not give him a taste of life in Nigeria”

The first I knew about my impending comeuppance was when I was called into my then leader’s office and smugly informed that I was being transferred to the West Africa Routes office and my new job would involve lots of visits to Nigeria. To start with I would be escorting a group of UK dignitaries on an inaugural flight to it’s southern capital Lagos. My blood froze. Everyone I knew working in that area had either gone weird or eccentric or, in extreme cases, both. For example one chap started keeping chickens in the company house and insisted he was a reincarnation of Tolstoy.

I had passed through Nigeria on a number of occasions in the past and witnessed mundane day to day activities such as robbery, death, squalor and loss of essential services like water, sanitation and all types of power The thought of taking a bunch of top corporate executives on a luxurious fact finding visit to such a place was truly chilling. I think my worst fears were justified.

The first task was to select and invite guests and it was my job to organise liaison and correspondence as well as to finalise their itinerary with our office in Lagos. I was helped in this task by a young lady called Sandra, a beautiful girl that the male population of the office unanimously agreed was ‘sex on legs’ and very reminiscent of Loraine Chase in those old Campari TV advertisements. Unfortunately what she had in beauty was not matched by any ability to converse with industry leaders which is illustrated by when she told a company chairman that “Nah” I could not come to the phone as I had gone to the toilet. She did reassure him that I would not be long as I had not taken my newspaper with me “as per usual”.

Eventually it was all arranged. We had a seriously high profile guest list, most of whom seemed to appreciate talking to Sandra more than me. She even got past their protective P.As which I rarely managed One very well known chap even started sending her bouquets and propositions in the post. In the hearing of one of my colleagues she ultimately told this Chief Executive to “push off” or she would set her boyfriend on him. The big day came and off we went on a brand new DC10 aircraft heading south towards our destiny. The plane was so new that it was still being flown by the McDonnell Douglas delivery pilot who wandered out to see the guests, chewing gum and wearing a cowboy outfit including a Stetson which went down a bomb with our group of traditional British gentlemen.

We arrive and were engulfed by everything that Lagos Murtalla Mohammed had to offer. It was hot. It was humid. The air conditioning was not working and the express customs clearance that we had painstakingly bribed officials for never materialised. It took over 90 minutes to get our soggy guests out of that hell hole however, finally we decanted them all into a surprisingly ancient coach which "belonged to a brother" of our airport manager who was charging a fortune for it. In that part of the world the airport manager is the most powerful company man in the country as he controlled everything from upgrades to off-loading.

Our guests usually get whisked through VIP arrival centres and into limousines so they found the whole experience quite educational. At lest it stopped all the talking about profit margins and PE ratios and moved them on to wagering if the coach would hold out and what the ‘strange noise’ was coming from the back axle. I was more concerned about the recent hold ups on this road as there had been a spate of them recently where large planks full of nailed spikes were thrown in front of vehicles. Thankfully the Badagri Expressway allowed us to pass unhindered and the coach groaned into the EKO Hotel front entrance. It remained there for three days as it never started again.

Check-in was fine. We had been given rooms on the 17th floor which was their most recently decorated floor and all was well until we got to the lifts. They did not seem to be working and nobody knew when they would be fixed. I gestured to my motley sweaty group of dignitaries and we started the slow plod up the stairs. I felt like Hannibal leading his elephants across the Alps. On and on we staggered with people falling by the wayside as they stopped for breaks and I ended up like a shepherd dog with sheep coaxing and bullying them forward.

It took nearly half an hour to reach the 17th floor. It was an interesting human drama and a demonstrated of team spirit as they all joined together to help the stragglers make it at the same time. I felt quite proud and told them so however I was interrupted by the ‘ding’ of the lift bell as a porter emerged out of it with the last of our suitcases. I subsequently found out that it was the porters who had diverted the lifts so that they could transfer the bags up from the basement. It was not something I shared with my wheezing guests.

I barely closed my door before the phone started ringing. Apparently nobody had any running water. I started muttering to myself, a malaise that started then and continues to this day. A feeling of pure helplessness flooded over me and I rang the hotel General Manager for some word of explanation. "Welcome to Lagos" came the helpful reply. Welcome to a bunch of smelly, angry and very important customers I sneered back which at least resulted in a crate of Evian water being deposited outside each of our rooms.

The water debacle continued until early evening when miraculously it started running fitfully and brackish through our taps. I could hear the ironic cheers echoing down the 17th corridor as I settled myself down into the tepid brown puddle in my bath. No sooner had my bottom touched plastic when the phone rang. It was a call from the secretary of one of my group calling from London to advise me that Mr B could not turn his tap off. He had apparently rung her who rang me. I rang the hotel GM who rang maintenance who rang him back. He then rang me and I rang the secretary who rang Mr B to tell him that the taps operate in a different way to England. He was then able to stop the water so he rang her who rang me. I rang the hotel GM who rang maintenance to say the drama was over. I discovered later that Mr B had the room next to mine. Oh the joys of modern cutting-edge communication…and plumbing.

Somehow we all made it through the next three days. Fortunately most of the guests were blessed with a fine sense of humour and also spent most of their days visiting local offices thus passing responsibility onto their own folk. The end of the tour had come and all that remained was to run the gauntlet of the Badagri Expressway and head for dear old Blighty. I have to say I was already relaxing as what more could possibly go wrong once we reached the airport Such folly.

To be fair to the Nigerians they had a conscience about the way we were treated when we arrived so they decided to give us a special send off and boy did they achieve that. It turned out there was a special VIP lounge for royalty and heads of state and they invited us to use it while we waited to board. I wandered off to say thanks to our even richer airport manager and left them all with their glasses of champagne. On my return I was startled to see them all tucking in to some local nibbles and snacks provided by our hosts including some very dodgy looking prawns with a curry coating. One thing I have learned is never eat anything so risky and strange smelling before boarding a busy overnight flight.

It started about 3 a.m. London time somewhere over the Sahara when I was awoken by heated and desperate voices. I observed two of my charges having a pushing match alongside a toilet door and it was turning ugly. Then I saw other shapes in the gloom rising all round me and heading for the lavatories. Out of our dozen or so guests at least nine were suffering from acute food poisoning resulting in terrible stomach gripes and the need to go to the toilet instantly if not sooner. Nine people and two toilets? You can do the maths. It was mayhem. These were people in the public eye, household names and there they were literally fighting each other for the next free cubicle. Not nice and I decided to sink deeper in my seat and let them get on with it.

We arrived back at Gatwick in the early hours looking like a group of third world displaced refugees. Never again I thought. And then I remembered that this was the first of four such trips!