Be a Pilot for £69

It is common for companies that operate pilot training simulators to rent their facilities to the public. The problem is that sessions can be quite expensive. The facilities that professional pilots require for training are sophisticated and cost a great deal to operate and maintain.

A company called I-Pilot offers a rather stripped-down simulator which is aimed purely at non-professional pilots. They say that the experience of flying is “similar” to that of flying a Boeing 737 but that their systems are not authorised by Boeing – and, no doubt, they are a great deal cheaper to buy and operate as a result.

A twenty-minute session including a take-off, short cruise and landing costs just £69 which is good value considering competitor’s charges and how realistic the experience is.

The company has an existing unit at The Bluewater Shopping Centre and is about to open one at Westfield in London.

Not a bad idea for Christmas….

www.i-pilot.info

Need to Complain? Tweet it!

It’s happened all too often, your worst travel nightmare, so to complain about your experience you have called up the airline/agency/hotel, only to be put on hold for twenty minutes before being connected to someone, only to be put on hold again. Even attempts to write in your complaint have resulted in a standard letter brush off – if you are lucky. Sound familiar? Well, no more, thanks to the growing power of social networking outlets like Twitter and Facebook, through which frustrated travellers are finding more effective ways of getting companies’ attention and in most cases – a much sought after response.

According to a story in USAToday, misinformation about visa requirements resulted in a honeymooning couple, Bethany Thomas and Dmitri Zagidulin, being stranded in Frankfurt en route to St Petersburg with their luggage going on ahead to Russia without them. The American consulate was closed and their travel agency, Expedia was proving to be most unhelpful when contacted.  However, as it was, Ms Thomas is a writer and keener blogger and one blog post from her launched a volley of calls and online missives to Expedia from her readers, on the couple’s behalf. And in less than 24 hours, the couple were on their way to St Petersburg with a promised refund of their $2,000 trip, reimbursement for last-minute visas and other expenses in Frankfurt, plus a $3,000 credit for future travel. Not bad for one blog post!

Rather grudgingly, a customer service director at Expedia admitted that in this case at least “social media played an important role in alerting us to our error”.

Expedia are certainly not alone in coming under fire from disgruntled social networking customers. Readers of this blog may remember that we posted a video from Canadian singer Dave Carroll who was not happy to discover after a flight on United Airlines that, not only had the baggage handlers broken his guitar but, United were refusing to pay for the repair costs. Result? A YouTube music video titled United Breaks Guitars which has been so far viewed about 6 million times on YouTube alone, never mind the amount of times it has been re-posted and viewed elsewhere. United apparently now use the incident in training baggage handlers and customer service representatives, though embarrassingly the airline managed to lose Carroll’s luggage soon after.

Savvy airlines, like JetBlue are using Twitter to monitor customer missives about its service and respond accordingly. One unhappy JetBlue passenger tweeted about not being able to get a seat next to his child on their flight; JetBlue responded immediately and managed to resolve the situation whilst the passenger was still in the boarding area.

But before you get revved up and create a blog, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube account for your travel-related complaints and woes, it’s important to remember that size does matter -  in social networking terms at least. The magic of the above anecdotes as examples of the power of social networks is that (in the Expedia/United cases at least), the travellers already had a large online following. Someone with only a few followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook might not get the same results, if any at all. Saying that there is no real harm in trying as search engines such as Google and Bing now index tweets and status updates, so the likelihood of a viral complaint reaching the target company’s ears increases, especially if the complainant is tenacious enough to keep posting their frustrations online. When that happens, it’s bad news for the company and time to take action and appease their customer – and everyone else .

Airlines and their Awards

There are a handful of airlines, mostly in the Gulf, that constantly refer to themselves as an “award-winning airline”. I have just received a Press Release from Etihad who even refer to their frequent flyer programme as “the award-winning frequent flyer programme”. Emirates started this nonsense and the “me-too” airlines, Qatar and Etihad have followed.

There are so many airline awards, it is actually very difficult to find any airline that has not won plenty of awards.

A few awards are genuine, many are regionally biased (can we really be very surprised when the readers of a Swiss business magazine vote Swiss as the world’s best airline?) and quite a lot of awards are made by companies that make a healthy living by by organising these “competitions”.  Airlines and hoteliers are encouraged to book tables for expensive ceremonies and, either vote for each other or the organisers arrange for the more generous sponsors to be suitably rewarded.

Can you guess which airline has won the following awards?

Airline of the Year

Best Managed Airline

Best Value Airline

Yes, it was everyone’s favourite, Ryanair. In fact the only one of those awards we might question is the last. Furthermore, since the last thing that Ryanair is going to do is pay for awards through the back door, you can assume these were all obtained fairly.

When an airline finds it necessary to begin every Press Release by making some sort of boast, they are just showing their inferiority complex. Virgin also used to call themselves “award-winning” but now seem to have settled on “one of the world’s leading long haul airlines” which is just as silly. Airlines like Lufthansa and American Airlines do not have to bother with this  because we all know that they genuinely are amongst the world’s leading airlines.

Emirates, Qatar and Etihad are all perfectly decent airlines in their way but for an airline to boast of its awards is like advertising that their aircraft all have engines. It would do no harm if airlines got together and stopped supporting some of the most obviously corrupt awards presentations. At the moment, some airlines feel they have to participate – at substantial expense – or risk losing out to a competitor. A little concerted action between airlines would save them all money.

Five ways to spot awful customer service

One of the top US travel blogs, gadling.com, has an interesting item on bad service and how to spot when you’re being given the run-around.  Here are its top five indicators:

1. You are greeted with some variation of “not my fault”

2. You are told to be happy with what you get

3. You’re not the only one to complain

4. You get attitude

5. Excuses, excuses

It raises some useful points to bear in mind next time you are on the receiving end of any of this, and is well worth a read. As the article concludes: “A problem with a reason but no resolution is an excuse. A problem with a reason and a remedy – or at least a way to minimize the pain – builds customer loyalty for a lifetime.”

Airline ads from around the world #4

Here’s something from Icelandair, first seen earlier this year. The ad is promoting the airline’s improved aircraft interiors to its home market. It’s refreshing to see that chintz can still be found in Nordic parts, despite the omnipresence of IKEA.

Told You So!

No sooner than the virtual ink had dried on our last post saying that airlines will launch Sales over the August Bank Holiday weekend and British Airways announce one! Seats are on sale from today until 22nd September.
It is worth remembering that whilst holday weekends are a particularly popular time for airline sales, they will normally start any promotional activity aimed at leisure travellers on a Thursday or Friday in time for bookings over the weekend.

Bargain Alert

Bank Holidays are a traditional time for airlines and hotel chains to launch special Sales. The August Bank Holiday is a particularly popular time because it marks the end of the traditional summer peak so airlines and hotels are once again looking for customers.

We have no inside knowledge of which airline or hotel chain will announce a sudden sale. These are often promoted at short notice and might only last for three or four days. If you are a registered customer with a particular airline or chain you are likely to get email notification of any special promotion but if there is a company you are interested in then it might be an idea to register now and keep an eye on their website.

Unless you are travelling in the next few days, or availability for a flight or hotel is already looking tight, we would hold off making a booking until the weekend. It also would not do any harm to do a bit of study in advance by looking at sites such as www.kayak.co.uk which will show you fare graphs to see how fares develop over a period. There is no point in rushing to grab a bargain and then discovering it was only the fairly standard price that other companies were offering.

Doing a little work now might help you get a very good deal at the weekend. Remember that for a company to promote a price as “special” it should be a genuine reduction on what is currently on offer – that suggests this week’s prices might be artificially high so they can be reduced at the weekend!