Air India Unaware of the Concept of “Chartering A Bus”

I just don’t understand why Air India didn’t just charter a bus for these people – their flight into London Heathrow was diverted to Gatwick, a little over an hour away. There are regular express buses (called coaches in the UK) between the two airports and there’s even regular scheduled bus services that are really cheap (the fare is about 25GBP).

Instead, they were forced to sit on the plane for up to 9 hours while Air India waited for a rested crew to show up to fly the plane from Gatwick to Heathrow. If they’d been put on a bus, they’d have been at Heathrow about 7 hours earlier, including customs.

Police were called to keep calm among passengers on a plane at Gatwick, who were kept on board for an entire day after their plane was diverted from Heathrow airport because of fog.

The Air India flight from Mumbai was originally due to land at Heathrow at 7.30am, but was diverted to Gatwick because of dense early morning fog.

The passengers were then forced to sit on the plane on the Gatwick runway for nine hours – just an hour’s drive by coach from Heathrow – watching brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies out the windows.

A BBC World Service reporter on board, Rahul Joglekar, said the mood became heated as the crew failed to keep the passengers, who included small children and a heavily pregnant woman, informed about what was happening, and when if ever they would set foot on English soil. “We continue to be stranded here without any information from the crew,” he told the BBC .

via Police called to calm diverted passengers stranded on plane | World news | The Guardian.

Do Not Sass The Pilot Or Wear Droopy Drawers: It’s The Sky Law!

Oh for CHRIST’S SAKE. Yes, security is important, but security theater is impotent.

An entire US Airways flight was evacuated and the pilot placed a passenger under citizen’s arrest after he refused to pull up his baggy pants, reports NBC Bay Area.According to his mother, her son initially refused, saying that his hands were full. His mother says he then went to his seat where he pulled up his pants.The airline says the passenger refused to get off the plane and that’s when the pilot placed him under arrest. He was later charged by police with trespassing, battery and resisting arrest.US Airways released this statement: "The passenger refused to comply with instructions, so the captain exercised his right to make a citizen’s arrest after passenger refused to deplane."And that, my friends, is what we call Sky Law.

via US Airways Pilot Arrests Passenger For Having Baggy Pants – The Consumerist.

Southwest Pilot Holds Flight For Man Rushing To See Dying Grandson. Kudos! @SouthwestAir

Big WIN for WN on this story – it’s a terribly sad story, but this pilot’s exemplary actions make it easier to take. My condolences to Mr. Dickinson and his family.

CNN — Time was running out, and Mark Dickinson wasn’t sure whether he’d get to see his dying 2-year-old grandson one last time. A long line at Los Angeles International Airport’s security checkpoint had kept him from getting to his gate on time.

His grandson Caden would be taken off life support in a matter of hours in Denver, Colorado, with or without his grandfather’s presence, according to CNN affiliate KABC.” I was kind of panicking because I was running late, and I really thought I wasn’t going to make the flight,” Dickinson told KABC.

That’s when a pilot from Southwest Airlines stepped up and held the flight at the gate until Dickinson arrived. The pilot was standing by the jetway waiting for him when Dickinson arrived in socks, so rushed that he just grabbed his shoes at security and ran through the terminal.

“I told him, ‘Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that.’ And he said, ‘No problem. They can’t leave without me anyway,’ ” Dickinson told KABC.

via Pilot holds flight for man going to see dying grandson – CNN.com.

Amtrak chugs along nicely to record ridership

After hosting a dear friend from college who’s traveling on an Amtrak USA railpass this month, I’m happy to see this news. In fact when I told my workmates about my friend’s epic journey to Glacier National Park, now they want to try it too… just not without using Amtrak’s horrible reservations system, “Arrow.” Maybe an improvement to one of our tools sometime next year will make it easier to book the occasional business traveler.

That said, I’m a rail fan, and I really wish the US hadn’t turned its passenger rail systems into a few tourist routes and a lot of memories, songs, and rust.

Amtrak chugs along nicely to record ridership – USATODAY.com.

Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down

Looks like there’s going to be lots of bad travel karma this weekend and into next week, as many flights into and out of the Iberian peninsula are canceled due to another hiccup from the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano.

BBC News – Volcanic ash cloud hits transatlantic flights

Hundreds of transatlantic flights have been cancelled or delayed by a cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano drifting south over Western Europe.

Sixteen Spanish airports – including the international hub, Barcelona – are closed, with many flights being re-routed around the affected area.

United and Continental Sitting in a Tree, M-E-R-G-I-N-G

… and as a business travel arranger, I’m curious to know how this is going to effect me in the months to come, too. Some of my business travelers may benefit, but many of my guys are based in Houston (CO’s southern hub) and other Midwestern cities – NOT Chicago or Denver (UA’s main hubs). They don’t fly United much except for some of the ones that like the early morning ‘daylighter’ flights to Britain from Washington or Chicago.

How the Continental-United merger will affect business travelers – USATODAY.com

Now that United Airlines and Continental Airlines have tied the knot, business travelers will be wondering how this latest merger will affect them, and if additional airline consolidation is likely in the near term. Assuming the deal clears all hurdles, just four network airlines will remain, down from six two years ago before the merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.

For most travelers, the impact of the Continental-United merger depends most on where they live and where they fly most often. The combined route network of the two airlines may benefit those who live near a large hub operated by one of the airlines or those who fly to one of those hubs frequently. The addition of United’s route network gives Continental fliers a combined airline that is very strong in the North Central U.S., with hubs in Chicago and Denver, as well as a major presence along the West Coast and across the Pacific.

I will say that I hope, hope, hope that the merged airline will DUMP UNITED’S MANILA-BASED CUSTOMER SERVICE reps, and keep Continental’s Executive Desk folks. Whenever I have a customer service issue, ticket waiver, or hairy international recalculation to get fixed and the traveler is on United, I groan. Why? Because I hate, hate, hate the voice activated phone menu system on United’s toll-free number, and the chances that I’ll get somebody that can actually help me are about 15%, since the Manila agents are not empowered to do much beyond the level of a routine question like a name change exchange.

Agents on other accounts may disagree, but my experiences with United since coming on my current team has been consistently bad. They used to be a LOT better when I was on a different account that had a higher tier service level agreement with them, but then that account switched favorites to American, and that’s when we were introduced to the folks in Manila, who try hard but rarely meet my expectations.

When I have a situation on Continental, however, I breathe a sigh of relief, because I know that I’ll soon be talking to an expert who offers real support.

I sure hope those people keep their jobs.

In slightly related, travel agenty detail, I suppose the CO (005) code will go away, and UA (016) will remain. Pity, that, because the lower number is just cooler. Interesting that they’re going to merge logos, though.

Best Call Ever

I had it yesterday – a client called in by cell from a large commercial ship to arrange a change to his return as it was about to arrive in port. It was a windy day, and it was hard to hear him. Suddenly, the ship’s horn blasted in my ear repeatedly, a hugely oppressive honking noise like “WHORNK! WHORNK! WHORNK! WHOOOOOOOOOORNK!

It was impossible to hear, as it went off 10 or 15 times. After making sure he was okay and not under some kind of attack or in a raging fire, we just laughed until it was finished. He kept making funny “Augh!! Aaaaiyeee” noises the whole time, and when it was finally quiet he said, sounding as if he was being tactful for my delicate feminine sensibilities,  “You have no idea just how bad that nearly was, ma’am, I was crouched down to get out of the wind, right under the horn when it went off.” I tried to go on with the “business” but could not resist saying mischievously, “…do you need to get a mop?”

This busted him up again, and he explained that he had been on all fours, trying to keep talking but also trying to crawl away from the terrible noise, and that he’s “not a small guy, over 6 feet.”  He was so overwhelmed,  he said, that he instinctively cowered down as if he was being assaulted, and he really thought it was “doing things” to his insides. And that he was trying to crawl like a dog to get away from the noisy monster, because standing up and bringing his head even closer to the terrible noise was unthinkable.

Come to think of it, he was crawling on all threes, because he had me on the cell the whole time, although the racket made the phone mic cut out repeatedly.  I pictured him hopping like a gut-shot frog.

At this point I was laughing so hard that I had the silent hysterics – the kind where you’re laughing so hard that no sound comes out at all (which is really better for all concerned, since I usually have a really loud, raucous laugh).

And then he said, “Oh, I hope there wasn’t a camera… uh oh, the guys up on the bridge are laughing at me, they watched the whole thing on the security camera.”

I tend to think that this was the real reason the horn blew so enthusiastically; the bridge crew saw he was in perfect position for a classic prank, and they had to blow it anyway because they were about to dock.

“[Client name], I said, “prepare to be YouTubed.”

It was at least a minute longer before either of us could stop laughing so that we could finish up his change. Actually, I was able to go on because I already knew what he needed, but he was totally helpless.

When I recounted the call later for my work buddy Donna, complete with “whornk whornk whornk” sound effects, she laughed so hard she started a coughing fit, and had get out her asthma inhaler.

And then I realized that not only might I get a really, epically bad technical score on that call, as in “your calls may be monitored for quality control purposes,” we could get my supervisor to pull it up so we could ALL enjoy it again and again.

If I’m going to go out for having bad call monitors, I’m going to go out BIG.

The Legendary Week From Hell Is Not Over Yet

@dropdeadchris, this post’s for you! Thanks for the kick in the butt. It is indeed high time I got back to REAL blogging and not just Tweeting, Google-sharing, or posting del.icio.us links here at Blogula Rasa.

My team at work has been decimated by whatever bug is going around the office; my supervisor noted on Tuesday that we were going to have a “legendary” week.

There’s a slight chance there could be one of us at work tomorrow on my team: me. But only if my only other healthy team-mate has some emergency problem with her mom, who’s had some health problems lately. We’ve been joking all week about our not-very-wonderful, really-quite-awful “legendary” week, and it would really make a better story if there was one heroic l’il travel agent struggling to keep up. But more than likely, there will be two of us to open at 7am, and two of us to close at 5pm. It’s going to be a long day.

Here’s the setup: Friday of last week, one teammate went out sick, probably with the flu. We knew Monday we’d be down 2, because another teammate had scheduled that day off for a long weekend. But when I got in, we were down 4, because a third member of our little working group was ALSO out sick, and the fourth was dealing with an ill family member who’d been hospitalized in the middle of the night (nothing to do with flu, but serious).

When I walked in, there was only one person, the only other “early shift” agent. The phone lines were backed up to hell and gone, and it stayed that way almost the entire day. Miraculously, things eased up toward the end, we caught up on tasks that we handle via queues and email, and there were no “whammies” at the end (calls that come in late enough that you’re held over after closing time to finish up). Our supervisor congratulated us both on getting through the day and said something about how it was going to be a legendary day.

Well, it’s already shaping up to be a week of legendary, even epic proportions of suck.

Tuesday, we were eventually up by two; one sicko was in, but not feeling all that well, and my former team leader/now teammate was in, after getting her relative settled with tests at the hospital. But we should have been up by three; turned out that my newest “teamie” got sick over the weekend, and her nice Monday off turned out to be just the first of 4 sick days this week. But the miracle held; at the end of the day, in spite of all, we were caught up and had nothing pending at Blessed Logoff time. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, we were briefly cheered by the sight of our original sicko, who hadn’t seen the doctor yet, was still sick, and was sent home until he was clear of The Pestilence. Le sigh, we were back to… (counts on fingers)… 4 including me. That night, another lucky Blessed Logoff, and I got out in plenty of time for my Wednesday night ritual of Sierra Turkey and soup at Panera before choir practice. But then I got stuck in the most baffling traffic jam I’d seen in a while; ALL directions, ALL arterials, all jammed up and barely moving. I got to the restaurant in time to hang out with my iPhone reading and sharing via Google Reader, but had to gobble my food to get to St Nick’s in time.

Choir went well, by the way, and we’re working on Christmas music, of course. Yours truly got tapped to sing like a li’l angel in a short section of one piece with our newest soprano, a funny and acerbic woman named Cindy G. We’ll see if I continue to be allowed to sing like a l’il angel, as both Cindy G and I noted that our halos are held up by our cute l’il devil horns. It was a fun end to the day, as we all laughed a lot and got a lot of work done. The bishop’s visitation is Sunday Dec. 6, St Nicholas’ Day, and we’re planning on a lot of music for every Sunday in Advent in addition to the Christmas Eve musical blowout we’re hatching.

Anyway, that brings us up to today.

Thursday, today, Original Sicko was out and being implored to see a doctor or nurse and quit farting around with over-the-counter remedies. He’s being stubborn and is trying to tough it out, which is just asking for more trouble. I don’t expect he’ll be in tomorrow, either. And we were back down to three, because the other two sickos were still out.

It was a busy enough day, with a lot of emails and queued records (they come from the client’s online booking tool) to process in addition to calls coming in steadily all day. I volunteered to sit on the email inbox, which mostly yielded file attachments that get turned into booking shells, mostly for recruits. I guess it’s a positive sign that we’re seeing a big spike in “interviewees,” for freedom and LOLs! But handling the bookings takes a lot of extra steps, and the travelers are usually unsure of what they need at first, although very pleasant to talk to for the most part. Things went steadily enough, but got piled up at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the air quality in the office was terrible – not only my usual complaint about scented hair stuff and perfume, but also there was a controlled burn at the nearby forest preserve, and a lot of the smoky air made it into the building. Yep, lovely day. And then it worked out that I and the other lone “closer” got late hits on records in the queues, so we got out about half an hour late.

Tomorrow: will be horrible. Because there will just be two of us, me and my fellow closer – as the only other person that wasn’t out at all this week is taking tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday off.

Oh boy! Tomorrow will be a legendary, epic, architecturally significant Tower of Suckitude! Because due to the way our schedules worked out, I’ll go in and open with my former leader at 7am, we’ll take staggered but long lunches probably, and then we’ll both close. And then as soon as Blessed Logoff finally comes, I’ll go downstairs, work out if I feel like it, and then meet my husband David for some carbonized ruminant protein (and quite possibly wine for me, YAAAY!).

That pretty much covers the week as far as work goes. Home and its entertainmental charms is a whole other post, as is workout-related stuff.

So thanks to Chris, that’s my week, all documented and written up tidy-like.

Maybe now I’ll get around to tweeting that haiku that occured to me on my way to work one morning this week… maybe.

Having An Off Day

Friday, that is! I’m home for the day, which I scheduled off… God, about a year ago now, with the vague idea that I didn’t want to be at work on “Halloween Friday.” In years past, we used to make a much, MUCH bigger deal about decorating for Halloween and competing as teams and individuals for best concept, and in fact we used actually start building stuff or putting up decorations a week or more in advance. Not so much this year… a lot has happened, we’ve gone through a layoff cycle, we’re effectively between VPs until the new executive moves to the area, and the people that were the most competitive (and the most psychotic about crazy themes and wacky, elaborate costumes) have all retired, been fired, or de-hired.

Hmm. Possible corollary there.

Anyway, it’s been interesting at work the last few weeks, and looks to get more and more interesting in the weeks to come (in the Chinese proverb sense of the word).

There’s a lot I can’t say about some of the pressures and tensions that we’re under at work. I’ll see if I can do a little wire-walking, in the interests of documenting my current mind-set.

Where I work, metrics are hugely important. We’re measured on how long we talk on the phone, how long we work off the phone before becoming available again to take more calls, and how productive we are (total number of reservations logged).

I’ve been doing this, mostly on SABRE, American’s reservation system, for lo these 23 years. I’ve been with my current company for about half that time. Within the last couple of years, my company decided to mandate use of a different required tool (it’s kind of like a GUI) for making and modifying reservations, which is capable of handling most (but not all) of the tasks I need to do in a typical day that I now do with regular SABRE. We’re… pretty much required to use this tool as much as possible, and many of the quality metrics start off with “Did (did not) use required tool.” We’re coming up on the end of the year, and there are numeric goals we are supposed to hit, having to do with “call quality” and “technical quality.” It is not possible to make the minimum goal if the required tool is not used.

I’ll just say that my original distaste for this tool was entirely due to the poor quality of training we had the first time. An outside trainer was brought in, turned everybody in her classroom inside out and backwards for a week, and after 3 months, everyone had been trained… but almost no one was using the tool. The year after that, we all had to go through re-training. It was better, but only when it became a mandated part of the technical quality scores did most of the office resign themselves to using it. There were a few pockets of resistance, but I really started using it when I was assigned the new account – it was actually helpful since I didn’t really know the account that well and it added some of the required documentation. It’s been a bit bumpy in the year since my formal transfer to my current account, for various reasons. But I think I’m on the right track now.

I’m OK on “call quality.” I’m just under the wire on “technical quality,” but my “trendlines” are pretty good. I’d have been better off if I hadn’t stopped using the required tool as much the first half of this year out of peer pressure.

NEWSFLASH: It’s not that bad. It’s improved a lot. And it’s not going away, in spite of all the molly-coddling.

And then there’s various kinds of coaching. I absolutely hate, hate, hate having to trail off to a little cubicle in the back office to be coached. Even if my most recent score was above 90 (which is very good), I still hate it. It is as the tortures of the damned, to me. It makes my toes curl back on themselves with embarrassment to hear my voice talking to some traveler, knowing exactly where I messed up on the call with perfect hindsight. I will never stop hating it, because I see it as intrusive and slightly offensive. I try not to whine and grumble (but fail miserably), and lately I’ve adopted a rather faux-cheerful, yet tight-lipped aspect, because complaining about the tool’s shortcomings is useless (as is resistance). Fortunately, we are not required to listen to our own calls – it’s optional now. I always demur when offered a chance to listen, preferring to sit through the recap from the scoring PDF (that I’ve already read for myself).

It makes my skin crawl, and I don’t know exactly why.

Since I stopped complaining and learned to love the Bomb started using the required tool more consistently, my scores improved. In fact, I actually prefer to use it to start a new reservation now. It’s fine for that sort of thing. It’s just frustratingly slow off the mark and it takes a long time to resolve between screens, and I can’t really start to work until the fourth screen because I have some required marks to hit before getting there. With certain high-powered, VIP-type secretaries and travelers, I can sense their irritation and impatience while they wait for me to get where I can do something. Fortunately, now that I’ve used it more, I’ve learned to cover this part of the process with a bit of happytalk (which also hits some of the quality marks early in the call).

Probably the most irritating thing about having to use this tool, though, is that not everyone is using the damn tool. We’re also required to “import” everything we work on into the tool, if it wasn’t created there; this normally doesn’t add more than a few seconds to the process. But if the traveler was not profiled, oh! misery! Because the tool requires a faux profile be filled in, so that an “unprofiled” but otherwise perfectly formatted record can be imported.

And of course, there are those who will not use it at all, so every time I catch a call from someone booked “old skool” as an unprofiled traveler, my stats suffer because of the extra time that must be taken to do this “faux profile/import” process.

Yeah. This seems like a good place to stop, or I’ll have to set a password for this post…