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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Dear American Airlines

Dear American Airlines,

I can only imagine that you get a lot of misplaced complaints, especially over the holiday season. I am sure you are trying your very best to be a great airline, but your reputation (or lack therof) precedes you. Rather than adding to the steaming hot pile of dissatisfaction, here are nine easy ways to make flying with you much more enjoyable:

One…Given your flight schedule is planned well in advance and most people like me would have booked and paid in full for our tickets, you are pretty much guaranteed we will show up with bags in hand. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to you when people turn up and expect a little assistance to check in. Perhaps during these times it may be a good idea to schedule more than two agents to deal with the plebs. These poor check in folks are the face of your company and bear the brunt of your poor resource scheduling. It is not their fault when they are unable to magically process a snaking long line of impatient customers who are worried that they are going to miss their flights, even though they have turned up three hours in advance. Your agents look a little burnt out. It really is a sad state of affairs when your own check in agents recommend we submit a complaint online to help them get more staff “because the company doesn’t bother listening to us”. [note, this letter fulfills my promise to do so]

Two…For a family of flyers (like us) who have to cart an infant car seat from one continent to the next, large plastic bags at baggage check can generate a surprisingly high level of goodwill. This is a common item provided by real airlines, sort of like water and pretzels. Yours is the first to suggest we just throw our infant car seat into the luggage hold without any protective covering. Obviously your damaged baggage insurance policy is rather generous and it is cheaper to compensate travelers for an important piece of kit like this, than to provide a cheap plastic trash bag as courtesy.

Three…As a business traveler I use to hate traveling on flights with babies on board. I admit I would roll my eyes heavenward when I saw some frustrated parent overloaded with diaper bags in one hand and an unhappy infant in the other. Then I became one of “those people” and an epiphany struck – passengers very naturally get annoyed with crying babies (no one likes to be stuck on an international flight with a wailing child), however babies cry more when their parents are stressed out, parents are stressed out because airlines like yours do very little to accommodate. So how about allowing parents with children to board first. Yes, first. Even before your First, Business, Premium and Priority status passengers. This may appear counterintuitive but there is sound, self serving logic to this. It avoids having your expensive fare paying customers getting bopped and bumped by parents like us as we shuffle apologetically past business men and women drinking pre take off champagne. Parents (and therefore kids) are less stressed, kids/babies pick up on the happy vibe and are less likely to fuss, elite customers can enjoy their beverage of choice without spillage and the balance of the force is returned to the universe.

Four…Once the plane has taken off, reaching a safe cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign has been switched off, it would be super helpful to have someone from your customer service team attach the baby bassinet immediately, before you start serving drinks. I promise it will only delay drink service for no more than 30 seconds, and allows the trolley to better roll down an unblocked aisle to deliver refreshments to thirsty passengers without having to navigate an infant, seat table, glass of water and unlatched bassinet frame in a weird cirque du soleil maneuver.

Five…Speaking of baby bassinet, you may want to add that to the list of things that your cleaners attend to, or even better provide a freshly laundered one like your peers at Cathay Pacific. As much as I appreciate your contribution to my son’s growing immune system, I didn’t think it was prudent to let him inhale leftover crumbs and what not from the last baby that used it or perhaps the last person that mistook it for a place to discard trash.

Six…At the risk of sounding like a precious mum, it would also be useful to have an infant seatbelt for my baby. I know my baby son is a bit of a freeloader and we only paid a 10% fare plus taxes for his privilege to sit on my lap. I would still like to think that you value my son’s well being as equally important as the other full fare paying passengers who must wear their seatbelt for safety reasons. Other grown up airlines provide infant seat belts for use during the flight. Although I periodically do strength training at the gym, your sagely advice to “have him on your lap and hold onto him tightly for takeoff” will only go so far. If we were to encounter difficulties during our ascent I doubt my heroic efforts to prevent him from smacking into the bulkhead wall would hold up to much at 130 – 150mph, let alone rough turbulence whilst we are airborn. Just in case you need to convince the bean counters in your organization to approve a requisition order, you may want to think of it this way – if my son remains safe on your flights, he will grow up to be nice and healthy, and one day he will be a grateful paying customer. There’s your return on investment.

Seven…My last baby related suggestion (I promise) is to adjust the design of your 1980’s style bassinets. The carpet blue and steel look can be enhanced by adding some sort of hood or covering. Before you dismiss this as a mother’s crazy rant, hear me out. Your bassinets sit right under that riveting display monitor that shows the flight path, time to destination, outside air temperature and all manner of very useful information. This is illuminated throughout the entire flight. It means the poor little soul who is placed in the bassinet has to fight really hard to get to sleep. I’m sure you would also struggle to snooze if your bed was placed under all the shining lights on the Vegas strip. Remember point number three? That virtuous circle of happy baby, happy parents, happy passengers applies equally here too.

 

American Airlines baby bassinet

Sleep stealer

 

Eight…As stewards of industry and proud representatives of the all-things-American brand, you may want to relook at your dining choices. Two types of sloppy cheese or cream covered pasta for dinner? A breakfast snack box totalling almost 600 empty calories which includes an orange muffin thing that has sugar listed first and an ingredients list that reads like it was concocted in a science lab? Really? Perhaps you’ve heard of the obesity epidemic? How about helping to turn the tide by offering real food and fresh fruit. We would really appreciate it and you could eventually make more money as we would remain trim and you could squeeze more passengers into economy by further reducing the seat width and shortening leg space.

 

American Airlines breakfast

Sugar high 

 

Nine…Treat your employees nicer. As much as we love overhearing closed curtain galley gossip about the most recent thing “the company” has done and how “corporate” is evil, it really doesn’t reflect well. You employ many kind, smart people who not only get us safely from one destination to the next, but they are also your ambassadors. How they feel about your company ultimately determines how we feel about buying services from you. Please don’t go down the crazy ‘we need more customer service training’ route – that is just a reeducation camp in diguise – you may want to look at simple yet important things like respect and values and perhaps your own staff would not be lobbying customers like me to write letters like this (and we come full circle back to point number one).

Thank you for listening.

Me.

 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Offline

Back in 2005 when we did our first road trip across the US wifi was rare, mifi was unheard of and cellular data was not yet for the common people. Connecting to the world – which usually just meant picking up emails – was done through a good old telephone lead plugged into the laptop, or at savvy places like Starbucks who would provide free wifi which justified paying for overpriced bad coffee.

English Hubby and I shared a single laptop, and we would fight like teenage girls over who would get to plug in to the magical-inter-world-wide-wonder-web first. After a few “you got to use it longer” “but I need to finish this email” squabbles we came to an agreement that a timer would be set for 30 minutes and like the contestants in Master Chef, once your time was up, it was hands in the air and your fingers could no longer touch the keyboard. This was the only way to equitably ration precious stopover time at Starbucks, as a lot was at stake – the connection to the big world beyond just the two of us.

Our friends who pioneered a road trip before us kept in touch with the world at large by phoning a special service that would read out emails that were sent to a specific email address. It didn’t take long for Uncle Phil’s brother to realize he could have a bit of fun with this bleeding edge technology and started leaving provocative messages that a robotic voice would then relay!

Fast forward nine years and everyone who’s anyone is walking around with a mini supercomputer in their pockets. We now have Facebook, Instagram, Skype, MMS, texting, FaceTime, IM, personal blogs and the list goes on. Between the two of us (Baby Boy O doesn’t count in this one) we have nine devices – two iPhones, one Samsung, two iPads, two laptops and two kindles – and still only two hands each with which to operate them all. With 10 gigabytes of data that we can play with each month, this is a whole lot of connectedness.

 

Tech devices including laptops, phones, kindles and more

Tech frenzy

 

With a touch of three buttons, a photo can be taken, uploaded on Facebook and shared with all and sundry. Feedback is near instant with likes and comments whizing back at the speed of light. It makes me wonder what being so available and connected actually means?

There are countless articles and opinions written on this topic, from all different angles and schools of thought. Mine is just a personal first hand account of what’s different between our first road trip and this current one.

Firstly, it is a slippery slope from sharing a significant treasured moment with loved ones to performing like a well trained dolphin. I’m a big subscriber of being in the moment. Appreciating a scenic view with all your senses before reaching for a cell phone camera to click and capture. Regardless of actively practicing mindfulness, I find myself slipping into performance mode. It gives me a thrill to know that my audience is applauding (a.k.a. the number of likes on Facebook) and enjoying my theatrics. Isn’t this cool – snap. I’m having so much fun – snap. My kid just made a cute face – snap, snap, snap. You know you’re on that downhill slide into instant gratification when you are constantly checking Facebook not for new stories from friends but rather for notifications of who liked your post and what comments you’ve received. Been there, done that, and now in a self imposed quarrantine to restore the balance in the Facebook enabled narcissistic universe.

Secondly, I’ve realized the value of a secret. In September of 2005 English Hubby drove me out to the middle of nowhere Utah, sat me on the edge of a cliff with a 1000 foot drop and proposed. We were engaged under the stars with only a cheap disposable wind and click camera to memorialize the occasion. It was an excruciating three hour drive back to civilization and decent phone reception before we even had the option to tell anyone. We chose to hold our moment only between the two of us for a little while longer before breaking the news to our eagerly awaiting family and friends. The wait made it even more special. It was ours and ours alone. It wasn’t broadcast instantly, replicated across channels, pinned, tweeted, posted or liked. It wasn’t for anyone but us. But now in today’s world there is an underlying current that sweeps along even the most diligent of us and that few would openly admit to…so here it goes – like the proverbial tree falling in the forest on deaf ears, if events aren’t shared, do they legitamately exist? I fear we have forgotten the art of treasuring a secret, holding a moment in our mind’s eye for no other reason than to savor it ourselves.

Thirdly, being offline for the last three days feels like what I imagine rehab to be. We are currently staying at a campground where the promise of wifi is more a dream than a reality, and there is a hole in AT&T’s data coverage. This means patchy to no email, Skype, text, Internet and the other usual accoutrements that accompany our connected lives. I’m getting jittery, crusing locations for a hit of unprotected wifi. No more weather app. Instead we actually have to step outside and look at the sky. No instant blogging. Instead I have three days to think and refine a piece to make it worthy as opposed to a free flow of random, hastily thrown together thoughts. And no more delegated decisions or crowd sourced thinking from Yelp, Google and other information wells. We actually have to take a chance on a restaurant with an outcome unknown, or even worse, actually have a conversation with local folks and ask them where they go.

At the end of three offline days, these are just my observations, not an opinion on good or bad, right or wrong or even whether we have moved forward or backward. I personally would not turn back time and trade in today’s connectivity. I like it, I need it, I want it, but I do choose to be conscious and mindful of how it can sneak up and dilute the moments that really matter. At the end of the day it is a choice, and I choose to kick some old digital habits and mindfully cultivate new ones.

 

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