Monday, 19 February 2018

Airlines? Have they lost the plot?

Over the last twelve months there have been a slew of reports about Airlines forcing customers off planes, cancelling flights with no provision for travelers and more, so, so much more.

You may wonder why airlines have suddenly been in the news for all the wrong reasons and worse still most of it was entirely avoidable!

American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines and Ryanair are four of many, who have come to grief over the last year.


Airlines operate in a highly complex and regulated industry. International agreements govern the industry, health & safety, security & tight profit margins and all have contributed to the problem.

The main problem is that Airlines have lost focus on the customer.

Some seem to be forgetting to remember they are commercial operations to make a profit and they do this by providing a service to their customers.

United Airlines “Fly the unfriendly skies”

In the case of United Airlines,  being the first of these reports to hit the headlines.

It was a video of security dragging a customer off a flight due to overbooking. Worse still the overbooking was due to staff was traveling on a “dead leg”.
I have worked in the Travel & Tourism for over thirty years and I could never understand the Airlines setting loading levels at 103-104%. Purely on the basis that if I am flying I need to fly on that flight I have booked, I have never traveled with the intention of delaying my travel!

Airlines got away with it over the years because they would offer enticing offers for people to shift their travel arrangement (financial recompense, free hotels with board provided, upgrades on future flights etc.).

What has changed is the mindset that they have a right to offload passengers and when this came to a head they used security as an excuse to forcibly remove the passenger.

“Make American great again”

American Airlines also have fallen foul to PR disasters as well.

First up is when they ejected a woman wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt. She had queried why non-English speaking passengers could not sit in the exit row. The flight attendant reported she felt threatened by the passenger.

Second up is Briana Williams who was reportedly ejected because she was involved in a standoff with staff. This happened when she asked staff for the stroller for her 4 month baby to be off loaded when they had a long delay.

This is basic customer service, if they could explained why the stroller could not be offloaded and then offered assistance in the airport for the mother & baby, this may have been a much better solution.

I have flow with American Airlines and they use to have a reputation for being among the best for customer service. Not any more, in one fell swoop they have destroyed a hard won reputation that dates back over forty years.

Ryanair “Need somebody to love”

Ryanair is a different story, famously cost focused, the boss Michael O’Grady famously refuses staff to buy pens out of company funds.

This extended to their staff contracts and tight scheduling of turnarounds. When they made a mistake in the scheduling they could not match the staff to flights, in this case pilots to planes.
The pilots refused to change their schedules as Ryanair had also lost the goodwill between management and staff.

This has been compounded by the loss of pilots to rival airlines offering better working conditions.

This resulted in the cancellation of thousands of flights and caused many customers to be stranded abroad.

My view on low cost airlines is they are not the same as traditional scheduled airlines.

They operate out of the cheapest slots and the secondary hub airports for major destinations, in some cases over 60km from the “named” city on the advertising.

That is like flying to London and actually using Birmingham or flying to Washington and arriving in Richmond.

In the beginning they operated charters to certain airports for a set period. This meant they avoided all the costs of having to commit to rescheduling customers if flights were cancelled. Ryanair still have this mindset, yet now they are a scheduled airline.

This came back to haunt them in 2017.

BA “The World’s Cleanest Airline!”

British Airways has been hit with a slew of reports relating to bed bugs and cleanliness, apparently according to the news reports this is linked to a change in the cleaning contracts.

BA are still advertising as if nothing has happened, they are still projecting themselves as upmarket service with high customer service standards. A quick check on forums and trip advisor tells a different story.

I wonder if the marketing department actually checks with these forums or their own customer service department to gauge customer feedback, before creating these campaigns.

The point is that all of this is entirely avoidable by focusing on the customer. Remembering that as a business, long term profit and margin is reliant on making the customer happy.

Yes, the airlines operate in a highly regulated environment but providing customer service should be their top priority.

This can happen in competitive conditions such as:

·         Be honest and up front with the true cost of the flight. Having a low headline cost with lots of hidden add-ons erodes customer goodwill.

·         Be upfront with the service levels, a low cost airline is not the same as a scheduled carrier. Luggage restrictions are tighter, food and drink is not included, destination airports may not be as well connected for example.
·         Treat the customer with respect and they will respond in kind.

·         Set loading levels sensibly, don't have 104% levels on busy routes or at busy times. When caught out splash the cash as it is the airlines fault not the customers. Personally I think no flight on main routes should exceed 100% loading levels.

·         Once a customer has boarded don't forcibly remove them for the flight being over booked and especially if it is due to staff on “dead legs”.
·         Plus don't harm them in the process! The video of this event beggars belief!

·         Don’t cut cost at the expense of customers, customers expect planes to be safe, clean & staffed sufficiently. Sometimes “outsourcing” equals losing control.

·         If a customer has a query that can’t be fulfilled, try and find a solution that is acceptable to the customer. If you can’t do it yourself, find another member of staff who can. (American Airlines, are you listening?)

Finally, have customers finally starting realising the differences and will they change their buying habits as a result… Only time will tell.

ZENIF has an expertise in customer service and uses the “Customer Service Twist© to help business achieve exceptional customer service.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015



As the debate in the UK continues, ZENIF is concerned that the decisions relating to the UK’s relationship with the UK is no longer reflecting the true interests of UK businesses.
There are some key areas that need highlighting regarding the current debate regarding the Uk’s relationship with the EU. They are as follows:
·         Biased journalism within the UK media industry
·         The benefits of EU membership are being ignored (or not highlighted)
·         The internal politics of the Conservative Party is affecting the current debate
Also that within the business sector there is a range of opinions regarding the relationship and that both sides of the debate acknowledge the current instability is potentially damaging to the business sector.
ZENIF believes the best outcome for the business sector is for the UK to stay within the EU and that the potential benefits far outweigh the drawbacks to membership.
Read on for more information…

The membership of the EU has now been in place for forty years and the changes within the EU have been brought about with various UK governments engaging within the EU. These changes have resulted in many benefits to the UK economy.
However, the current debate is now removed from how to best change the EU to benefit the UK and has been replaced by political posturing prior to the 2015 election. This current debate ZENIF feels is not in the best long term interests of business and the UK economy.
Below is how the current debate is being influenced and how it is affecting the UK business sector.
Biased Journalism
Public opinion since the UK’s entry into the then EEC in 1973 has been influenced by biased journalism.
·         The largest selling newspapers of the last forty years have been politically, right of centre biased, without informing the readers of this bias. Most notably, The Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph & The Times.
·         The drip-drip of negative bias over the last forty years has warped public opinion towards being anti-European.
In addition, the ownership of the newspapers has been dominated by one organisation that is being investigated for criminal activities relating to their journalistic procedures. This hardly engenders a belief in high quality journalistic standards being upheld by the UK media sector.
·         The journalism is focused on finding any faults within the EU and ignoring that UK run operations fair little better if not worse than the EU bureaucracy. If we look at the NHS, Public Sector Education or Parliament itself, are we more capable than the EU in that department?
·         The focus of highlighting the immigration within the EU has been poorly reported. The UK economy is in dire need of certain skills, which are lacking in the UK workforce.
·         EU workers have contributed to the growth of the UK economy, most do not settle but return to their country of origin. Those that do settle tend to be a net benefit towards the UK economy.
·         UK workers in large numbers have found work across the EU, many still pay into the UK economy in some form or another.  This factor is rarely reported on, except in the cases when UK workers are affected. As in the arrest of a UK Tour operator’s “Ski Guides” in France during the 2012/13 season in a row over qualifications and duty of care.  

Benefits of Membership being ignored
The benefits for UK business have been understated, mainly because we now take them for granted, as follows:
1.       Stability is crucial to continued economic growth in the long term.  Western Europe has been remarkably stable for the last fifty plus years. This stability has hinged on the EU.
2.       The cost of doing business is lower as there are fewer barriers to trade. Leaving the EU will increase the barriers to trade. Even with a Swiss style affiliated agreement, that would be the most likely outcome of leaving the EU.
3.       The UK has benefited from the creation of the free market and right to work anywhere within the EU. Businesses and individuals have been able work across the EU without any restrictions.
4.       The biggest prise of the last twenty or even post war years is about to become reality, access to the North American markets. Talks are starting on a free trade agreement across the NAFTA and EU regions.
5.       To leave before this happens will be a catastrophe for the UK business sector. Imagine, BMW and VW having access to the enlarged free trade area and JLR being left out! Where will Honda & Toyota want to produce its cars? - Outside or Inside?
6.       Regeneration of the low performing regions of the UK has been backed by the EU regional development funds (Category One Areas in Wales for example). 
The UK is a country with extremely diverse economic areas. The South East of England generates a much higher level of GDP that the North East or North West of England. How much will it cost the UK to replace the EU funding?
Much of the saving from withdrawing from the UK from the EU would be eaten up by the need to support these regions.
7.       Germany, Sweden and Poland are all countries with administrations that broadly share the UK’s antipathy towards the huge expense of the EU budget and regulations that hinder business.   Increasingly the UK’s views upon EU reform are becoming more accepted by other countries. The crisis in the Eurozone has change the dynamics towards EU reform towards a centralised EU.

The internal politics of the Conservative Party is affecting the current debate
The historical split within the Conservative Party over EU membership has been heightened in recent times by the rise of UKIP. 
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has introduced the concept of a referendum after the next election. This can be viewed as a reaction to the party’s internal concerns regarding the threat of UKIP leeching votes away from the party and preventing them winning the next election.
Most businesses want stability to allow a level playing field for competition.
The Business Sectors Response
It is clear that the business sector has made its stance clear on this matter, as highlighted below:
·         Businesses want stability and the uncertainty of a long wait for a possible referendum will affect business confidence and the ability to make key business decisions over the next two years.  
Government strategic planning should be to meet these aims, rather than short term strategies that are reacting to the current political pressures.

·         Inward investment will stop and worse may follow as established operations relocate to within the EU. Honda and Toyota have stated that they will review their UK operations in the light of any withdrawal from the EU.
Dave Hodgetts (Chairman Honda UK) stated the Swindon operation is at threat if the UK is not at the heart of the EU..
In 2000 Minoru Harada stated Honda regretted investing in the Swindon plant because of the weak Euro v Stirling
The Japanese embassy sent an open letter to David Cameron warning of these consequences
·         Financial Institutions have cast doubt over the financial stability of an independent UK.
·         Over a longer time period, Frankfurt may become the stronger draw as a centre of finance for MNC at the city of London’s expense.
·         Some Business leaders have supported withdrawal from the EU. Many more are in favour of continued membership, including many who would like to see reform of the EU, rather than greater integration. 
ZENIF Our Position
ZENIF would like to see all EU governments actively engage in improving the EU, in particular:
·         Reducing the bureaucracy and thus reducing the barriers to trade across the EU
·         Enforcing compliance with EU regulations
·         Tightening the fiscal control of the Eurozone. (This may happen as the fall out of Eurozone defaulting & bailouts occurs)
ZENIF is concerned that if the UK business sector and its leading “lights” do not press the current government to adopt a more balanced business orientated approach towards the EU. (The harm to the UK economy of short term political decisions driving current government EU policy could last for decades.)
EU membership needs to be assured, with the pro EU opinion being highlighted far more than at current, as well the negative opinions. (This is unlikely to be achieved with the current ownership of the media sector in the UK).
Globalisation is a real and on-going process, it is occurring via the merging of trade blocks. The EU is one of the largest single markets in the world and is possibly going to become part of the most dominant trade block if the “merger” with NAFTA happens. 
The benefits and opportunities to the UK economy are immense.  That’s the message the UK government & press should be telling the UK public.

ZENIF works across the EU and sees the advantage of continued EU membership. The stability offered of assured membership and the potential access to North American markets far outweighs the continued political debate upon the UK membership of the EU.
ZENIF:  What is needed?
·         Market stability offered by assured EU Membership
·         Governments engaging in a positive manner within the EU, with a balanced business focused strategy
·         Less bureaucracy for businesses to operate across the EU
·         Better enforcement of EU regulations within the member states.
·         Tightening the fiscal control of the Eurozone.
·         A stronger case made for the benefits of EU membership
·         Highlight the inherent political bias within the newspapers reporting of EU issues

ZENIF has no political affiliations and is an apolitical organisation.