UneasyJet and other airport tales “It is what it is” series

Disclosure: Angry customer ranting at a particular airline. No offense intended with any passengers, staff or random readers.

I’m writing this sitting in a table outside the gate in Terminal 2 in Lisbon, a rather small terminal for the passengers it sees daily. I’m sharing it with a lovely old lady whom I do not know the name. Both of us have experienced, it seems, several poor experiences and waits provided by Easy Jet. In a way, Easy jet is promoting social bonds with strangers, some better than others. I wonder if easyjet is inspired by a mix of Murphy’s Laws with Black Mirror.

 

Let’s dig in:

1. “Nothing is as easy as it looks … everything takes longer than you expect”  

Do I need to say more? Of course I do, I am in a ranting strike. This could perfectly be the airline’s slogan, that could easily stretch to other airlines. Low Cost operators seem to suffer from a syndrome of lack of consideration for the customer, some sort of customer experience autism. So far Easy Jet is painfully the worst.

Today’s delay was not warned with a push notification on the mobile app. I realized it was 1 hour delayed upon passing the security checks, 70 minutes before the original flight time. After looking a second time, it was already in 2 hours delay. Reason: A crew member late for work, so it seems, and domino effect of the South French strike… when I am flying to Luton, with an airplane that came from the UK. Seems to me that the crew member may be in trouble… or maybe was caught on a low-cost connection flight delayed if we want to stick to Murphy’s Law.

“…and at the worst possible moment” – I’m particularly annoyed with the lack of push notifications (they never come up when they should) because I could have seen my nephews this morning if I would be aware of this delay. Easy Jet – indirectly challenging family ties. Maybe again, a side effect of the privacy policies kicking in Europe. No idea. Blame Murphy!

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2. “Natures sides with the hidden flaw” – The cattle treatment boarding experience

Easy jet is the perfect example of how animals humans really are. We are not godly beings, nor are we greater than any other creature of the animal kingdom, particularly the cattle we raise. Fair point! Let’s dive deeper into this, shall we?

a. The Cow Bell: It is rang, and we all rush to queue in a line that interrupts the flow of equally anxious passengers waiting to board the neighbouring gates. Then we wait for 15-20 minutes standing, reality which most of us know very well. You may say: “you will all arrive at the same time, why you queue so early?”, As this may be the reality for normal flights, us who have been trained in low cost airlines, know this is simply not true.

“On Behalf of Easyjet, we wish you a pleasant flight?!” The punctuation is not arbitrary. If you pay attention, it almost ends in a question mark, not as a statement, but as unmistakably doubt. The voice is either poorly recorded from an actual human being, or it us a poor computer system. The voice has a theatrical but unemotional tone in a strange slow motion monochord tone. Either the person or the computer clearly fought against themselves to portray such unrealistic words. Tip for EasyJet: pay 10$ online and have a professional actor / actress recording a message.

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b. The Inspection: 2 servants of the airline, easily noticed by the uniform, walk the lines, inspecting the possessions of all passengers. It is usually small ladies, that can easier blend in and pass through the mass of people and bags. Very strategic. Do not get deceived by the stature. Their mission is to coldly mark luggage in a polite order (rarely a request) to voluntarily (ish) give these away to be transported on the hold, for there is not enough space to accommodate everyone and everything safely.

Furthermore, if any passenger attempts the serious offense of having a second carry-on bag bigger than a wallet hanging on their neck, they will then need to either risk damaging its goods by compressing everything in the main carry-on bag, or pay a fee for the privilege of occupying 10cm more of space, and still be disposed of the bigger bag during flight. It takes swiftly moves to escape the inspection, something some of us have learnt along the way. Unfortunately these secrets cannot be shared to not alert the inspectors :).

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c. The false start: After surviving the inspection, you will see movement at what it seems to be the end of the queue. The host smiles politely at a screen (not so much at you) while taking passports and boarding passes that are barely verified. The passengers mimic the smile in a primitive hopeful social reaction, before frowning gradually into an angry state. We, passengers, have not realized the space and time still left to occupy before boarding the mighty craft. There is this square shape area (or in Lisbon case, a long line surrounded by a never ending temporary construction barrier), where we are pushed cosily together against each other, compressing bodies as much as we did the goods inside our small bags, looking into random directions like lost flamingos in an attempt to ignore the unbelievable uncomfortable strangers proximity touch. (Trying to keep a pink picture of this to not offend anyone by calling us pigs or cows).

I am sure there is a hidden Marketing strategy called “the Cattle treatment”. The purpose? I have no idea! Surely you don’t need to ride the rush-hour subway in Tokyo to experience it.

'Ugh, traffic.'

d. Stairway to heaven: After surviving these stages, you are finally at the edge of the stairs that will concede the privilege and easiness of flying. You are literally a few steps away, and look up beholding the door in awe and admiration (mostly relief), barely noticing the fierce weather. The boarding is within reach. You take the first step up, carrying your impossible heavy mini bag with you as quickly as you can, before stopping half way through. You queue in the stairs, while the wind and rain remind you once again of your own true nature. The familiar compression of bodies starts once again, now unfavoured by the steep stairs. You compressed against the backside of the person in front of you as people below try to go up as quickly as they can, in some sort of wave that freezes on the break. Upon this situation, you look to the side and contemplate the aircraft wing pretending normality. You are trapped. It is a slow march until the actual door of the plane where you work on creating as much space as possible between peoples butts and faces.

The heard starts to move slowly and you are stepping into the door. A polite smiley pony tailed face welcomes you, providing a false sense of hope to which you again mimic as the survival instinct to socialize kicks in. To be fair, it is your best choice.

e. The Throne: You finally realize what made the stairway march so slow. Inside the craft passengers are fighting for space for their bags over their heads, and trying to squeeze into the seats they have been assigned to. There is the risk of having a bag falling on your face, so never assume nothing. Once again, people squeeze against each other while targeting any remaining space available overhead before catapulting their bag up. It is a fight for resources and only the first ones survive. To the impossible tall man that waited the line to move in the boarding gate, fate has it that there is no space for the bag, and so he must place the baggage under the seat, leaving no leg or feet space, risking a severe knee injury.

Luck favors the short and the first in queue in low cost flights.

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3.  “If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will go wrong, is the one that will cause the most damage”

You miraculously made it! Congrats! The wait is over… You are finally seating on your desired uncomfortable seat, which is a relief comparing to the hour you just spent queueing (please noticed that I did not included the security checks on purpose, that perhaps deserves another post).

There is a false sense of relief that makes me believe I will miraculously arrive on time for my afternoon meeting. How presumptuous of me! As I am leaning backwards almost drifting into sleep, when an (un)expected announcement comes. “there is a malfunction on the plane, we are waiting for a technician”, “We are delayed due to queueing of planes, “We are waiting for a passenger”, “We are expecting delay in take-off authorization due to the delay of the flight”… The lady in front of me is saying that sometimes they make you wait on the plane so the threshold is not met outside, and they do not have to pay any delayed flight compensation. Happened the last 4 times…

'I saved 10 minutes at the hotel with speedy  checkout, 10 minutes at the car rental with instant check in. Now I'm spending 6 hours on the runway.'

The power of contrasts in shaping customer experience here: What counts is the first and last impact. The boarding experience is surely the most consistently awful one. The booking is made quick and easy (if you learnt how to skim through all the extras they try to sell you when booking a flight and checking-in), and the time you leave the plane upon reaching the destination is surely an amazing one.

Yes, I can surely stop flying low-cost airlines, particularly when they are not so low cost anymore (300£ flight? I paid less to South Korea!), and I can’t wait for that time to come. As of now, due to sometimes cost, sometimes schedules, sometimes airport and sometimes all, I have to keep my complaining mind complaining every time I have the dreadful task of booking with Easy Jet. And please remember, especially true at low-cost flights, as Murphy has it, “If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something”.

It is what it is…

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