personal: Great film at the cinema

I definitely want to go to the cinema this weekend to see Munich. I studied the story when I was preparing my university dissertation on 'The aviation terrorism of the Middle East'. It's breathtaking, sad, and extremely human.

There's a really fantastic book on the subject, it's not a mere manual, or history book, but rather the event told as a story by those who lived it. It's a really good read. "One Day in September" by Simon Reeve; you can find on amazon.com and even read a few pages of it. There's a documentary with the same name too.

work: How to save money

Among our clients there is a big chemical company. Their travel policy states that within Europe all travel has to be in economy. When they travel from Italy to Germany returning the same day, a ticket in economy class costs around €850, on LH (Lufthansa), and a ticket in business class costs €860 (depending on the route, but that’s a fair estimate). Yes, only €10 difference. Still, they travel in economy class. Isn’t that stupid?

If you work for a company who doesn’t care about travel expenditure, have fun and enjoy all your freedom. But if you have to be careful about your travel budget, then there are a few things that you should keep in mind.

The first and most important rule to follow is to keep in mind not to save every possible penny just for the sake of doing so. What might look to you as a saving in the first instance, could turn out to be an extra expenditure in the end.
For instance: air tickets including a saturday night stay are usually much cheaper. But the comparison between the two air fares is not a realistic saving; you have to take into account the extra night in a hotel, the extra dinner at the restaurant, the extra 24h at the airport parking, etc. How much are you really saving in the end?

Business travel is what generates good cash for airlines, hotels, car rentals etc. They know that the key element to business travel is flexibility and that’s what you’re really paying for.

However there are ways to save on your travel expenses!

… next installment tomorrow, I’m off to bed …

work: Travel Agents mistake too

I cost my company €124 today.

The problem of us travel agents is that if we get things wrong, it can be really difficult, or impossible, to get them right again.

A client called me today. He had a ticket from BLQ (Bologna) to PEK (Beijing) connecting in FCO (Rome) with AZ on the domestic rounte and CA (Air China) on the intercontinental sectors.

The problem was that I had spellet his first name wrongly. A C insted of a G. Usually as long as it’s not your surname it’s no problem, you just need to give indication on it in the reservation. But he wanted a new ticket.

It is not possible to change the name of a reservation, if you do so, the system cancels all reserved flight automatically. So I rebooked all segments, but made a mistake and booked the wrong segment from BLQ to FCO, the 06.55 instead of the 14.25. I only noticed after having cancelled his old reservation. Damn, the 14.25 was fully booked except for the full fare. The Air China fare of €980 allowed to add domestic routes with AZ only in a very low economy class, but with the class I had available the cost would rise to €3200.

So I had to issue a ticket going FCO–PEK–FCO–BLQ for €940 and a separate BLQ–FCO for €164.00.

I had sent the ticket to his secretary 6 days before, either she or him could have had a look at it before couldn’t they?
Damn, sometimes I really hate this job.

One piece of advice to all of you. Always check whatever your travel agent sends you. And check your travel tickets and documents. We are human and it’s always best to prevent mistakes like these.


work: Soon to be... a major motion picture

Just joking.

Next post will be on what to save money on, and what not to save money on... when travelling, that is.

I must get down to setting up my blog in Italian too.

Good night, and sleep tight.


personal: New Year's unexpected gifts

Having resolved not to make any resolutions for the coming year, a) because I'm too lazy, b) because I never meet the target, I have instead been surprised by a 'resolution' making its own way in. I was getting a bit fed up of the way in which I tried to fill the gap left by loneliness, getting to the point where I was overdoing things hoping to get so tired about it that I would eventually stop. But it didn't work. Then all of a sudden I stopped and thought about it, probably some little part of my mind grew up too, and here I am, stilly lonely, but definitely fresh, revived and full of my usual optimism.


work: Problems at the Airport?

I'm a traveller, I have worked in an airport (actually 2), and am now a travel agent; hopefully all of this has helped me to get a good enough picture on how things work. And hopefully I will be able to give you a few useful tips to use when you have problems at the airport.

First, always follow two basic rules (regardless of how politically incorrect the first might sound):
1. If you belong to the male kind of the human species, then always look for a counter the position of which is being attended by a lady; but if you belong to the female kind of us humans, then do everything you can to find a man to give you assistance at the airport. Sounds a bit dodgy put down in these terms, but jokes a part, trust me! Once, this and a smile got me from BLQ (Bologna) to LHR (London Heathrow) with 53kg of baggage when I was only allowed 20kg, and all for free.

2. Always be pleasant. No matter how mad or frustrated you might be, always count till 10 and put on a smile and a pleasant attitude. Airport staff always have the 'right end of the gun' – so to speak – no matter what the situation is. Remember, it all depends on who is assisting you. You might find the person who abides by and applies rules in the most 'anal' of manners, or that who will be prepared to go out of her/his way to help.

That said, there are other small tips that might induce an airport member of staff to give you better assitance:
1. Enrol in the frequent flyer programmes of the airlines you fly less too, and carry your card with you when you travel. Always make sure to show your card to the airport clerk, but without showing off. Even if you belong to the lowest tier of membership, a card can get you further. But don’t wave it in front of them in an arrogant way expecting special treatment; it is better if you let them know in a casual manner… for instance, when you approach them show your ticket, boarding pass (if you have already checked in), and frequent flyer card.

2. Create a situation where you get the airport clerk on your side. That could be by cracking a joke appropriate to the situation, making some irony on the situation, making the person feel as if you’re lost and clueless (not dumb, but fairly ‘blonde’) and cannot deal with the situation without their help. If you manage to do this, you’re already more than half the way toward the solution of your problem.

Trust me when I tell you that in an airport, everyone wants to get the plane off in time and as smoothly as possible. And believe me, it is not always the airlines fault, there can be a number of reasons causing problems to a flight:
- air traffic control restrictions, i.e. too many planes in the air, so yours might be grounded for a longer time and accumulate delay, or be delayed because the your flight will be carried out by a delayed incoming aircraft
- weather conditions like fog which restrict the number of aircrafts that can land and take-off, or ice and snow that can cause the airport to shut down
- delays that accumulate on several aircrafts at the same time causing delays to operations such as cleaning, catering, fuelling etc
- long queues at security check, resulting in delayed boarding
- technical problems, after all hasn’t your car ever broken down?
- strikes, luckily in most countries workers have a right to it

These are some of the problems you might face at the airport. Remember though a very important thing. If the problem is the fault of the airline or its handling agent’s operations, then you should expect a certain deal from them; however, if the problems are a cause of ‘force majeure’, like weather conditions, or a strike, then anything that the airline does to help you must be accepted gratefully. For example, if a foggy evening means you have to spend the night in Paris, be grateful if the airline manages to accommodate you on the first flight the next day, but don’t expect them to pay for your hotel stay, fog is something out of their control and they should not be expected to pay for it. Still, you can ask them to help you make a reservation in a hotel nearby.

This is a malpractice done by most airlines. On most flights things go smooth, but sometimes passengers have to suffer the consequences from it. Once I was coordinating operations for a flight with 164 seats available and 190 passengers booked on it. The flight left with 150 passengers and 14 empty seats. This means 40 passengers didn’t show up at the airport.
However, when things go wrong it can be quite painful, and this is the scenario where you are entitled to expect the most from an airlines, in the reason of meals, hotel accommodation, next flight out even if it is another airline, etc.

Happens. As I said before, I’m sure your car has broken down at one point in the past too. This is where you don’t want to rush an airline to get things right; rather, you want them to take their time to fix the aircraft in a safely manner to enable you to get back home in one piece. If the flight is considerably delayed, do ask the airline for a meal or refreshment. If the flight is cancelled, then you should be entitled to the same treatment as that for overbooking.

Probably some of you have already herd the term ‘slot’. It’s a time frame set by the ‘radar guys’ which limits the time by which a flight has to depart. For instance, if your flight is at 07.30, there might be a slot at 07.40, this means that ATC (air traffic control) needs for the flight to leave on time, and if it doesn’t, then they will produce another slot that might restrict the flight from taking-off for another hour or even more. If everything goes smoothly, then an 'on time slot' is no problem; but then just take the enormous morning queues that form in airports at security checks, these might delay the passengers arriving on time at the boarding gate, thus delay boarding, sometimes causing it to miss its slot.

… got to go to bed, will list more tomorrow.

God there can be so many problems that they are all cramming up in my mind now.
Here is an interesting one.
A client calls on Monday morning, he's in AMS (Amsterdam) really angry because his flight from BLQ (Bologna) was late and he missed his connection to Helsinki. Flying KL (KLM). He asked me at what time there was another flight to HEL and told me that a) he rushed to the gate of his original flight to HEL, the aircraft was still there, but as boarding had closed, they wouldn't let him on; b) at the KL counter they told him that as he had an electronic ticket they could not fly him on the next available flight operated by AY (Finnair) but he would have to go on the later KL flight.
What really pissed him off was the fact that the aircraft was still there and he wasn't let onto it. He could not understand why they did this.
I myself instead was more annoyed by the fact that they didn't rebook him on the next AY flight.
A. Ok the aircraft is still there, but it's not a bus where the driver can just open the door again; people don't understand this, especially those who arrive at check-in 20 minutes before departure, they think it's just a matter of walking on. Probably the flight had a slot and was meant to depart shortly. When there is a slot and the aircraft is ready to take off, the pilot send a 'ready to go' message to the control tower, in order to improve the slot. At that point, if the door opens or other operations are carried out, the flight is no longer 'ready to go' and the control tower doesn't like that; if you miss a slot after having given a 'ready to go' warning, because you're actually not ready, rest assured you're slot will dramatically worsen, making life difficult for all the other passengers... and for those who have to take flight operated by that aircraft who will be running late all day. So it is perfectly understandable that he wasn't let on the flight.
B. The guy had paid around €850, it's a good deal of cash for a flight from Italy to Finland. Now, I understand that airlines don't like giving a client away and paying money to another airline with which they don't have a partnership (such as a fellow member of their alliance); however, the delay was caused by KL and according to EU law they should have rebooked him on the AY flight. But airlines play on the ignorance of passengers and whenever possible they try to do pretty much what they like. If someone is travelling on a very cheap ticket, and is obviously a toursit, then a few hours delay will probably not make a big difference; but for someone travelling on business, one or two hours delay can mean losing important appointments and clients.


work: Know Your Rights

Let's talk about Passenger Rights. Outside of the European Union territory they are valued individually by each airline. Airlines based in the EU and flights departing from the EU instead have to abide by specific EU laws and regulations called 'Passenger Rights'. They have to do so at all times and not only when flying from a EU country.

There's a tricky bit though. The EU has produced a 'Passenger Rights Poster' which you can find scattered around EU airports; however this poster leaves a lot to interpretation, and as things can get quite costly for airlines, these always do their best to interpret regulations in their favour, as much as possible.

Let's take for example, overbooking, something probably a lot of you have experienced.
The Air Passenger Rights poster states that: "... The airline must also give you:
• a choice of either a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your
initial point of departure, when relevant) or alternative transport to your
final destination, and
• meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation when necessary (including
transfers) and communication facilities.

Very well. Let's take a bet. You're stuck in Paris because AF (Air France) has overbooked you on a CDG (Paris Charles de Gaulle) to DTW (Detroit) flight. At this point there are no other direct flights and the only way to reach Detroit is by connecting somewhere in the United States. Fine, keep calm! The next connecting solution to Detroit is in 2hours with UA (United Airlines) via ORD (Chicago), however 6hours later there's an AF flight to Cincinnati with an onward connection to Detroit with DL (Delta). Trust me, AF will tell you that they cannot put you on the UA flight but that you can only go on the later AF flight. LIERS!
Try flashing the Air Passenger Rights poster to them, and they will quite rightly say that they are providing 'alternative transport to your final destination'. The text of the EU legislation properly states: "passengers shall be offered the choice between ... (b) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity." Probably 'earliest opportunity' still leaves some room for interpretation, however this should give you more room for manouver when discussing alternative plans. In the case stated above, the UA flight was the earliest opportunity.

You can find the links to the poster and legislation in the list on the right. Print them out and carry them with you when you fly, they might come useful... though I wish you wont need them too often.

personal: Bad Luck

Nobody interesting at the party... a complete waste of time.
Doesn't mean I've learnt the lesson yet though.



personal: Fingers Crossed

Going to 'one of them' parties this afternoon.
Just hoping to meet again someone I met last time whose contact I hadn't managed to get hold of.
Hoping to be quick about it though, would like to see my friends this evening.


work: You think you know what the Best Airline is?

Well sorry to say so but, think again!
I have come to the conclusion that Airline choice is only a matter of kharma, or something like that.

The reason why I am writing this is that all my clients think that they know what the best airline is, but the funny thing is they all prefer different airlines. A good bunch of them think that LH (Lufthansa) is "the best and no questions about it", others really like BA (British Airways) much more that any other airlines. You'll then have those wanting to fly only KL or AF (KLM - Air France), and to be honest I really don't see the point here, but still, to each their own.

So who is right, and who is wrong? Nobody, almost.

The funny thing is this. When I have a LH fan travelling on IB (Iberia), AZ, AF or other, something inevitably goes wrong. When I have an AF fan travelling on LH, OS (Austrian Airlines), SK (SAS) etc, something inevitably goes wrong there too. And if the nature of the problem is not attributable to the airline itself (aircraft technical failure, overbooking, missed connections), then rest assured that there will be fog in Vienna, ice on the runway in Frankfurt, snow in Paris, a ground personnel strike in Milan or a fire at Heathrow.

I don't know why, but I just see it happen so many times. A client had to travel to HEL (Helsinki) last Tuesday. He asked for LH straight away, but as my job requires I let him note that, though KL left a couple of hours earlier in the afternoon leaving him less time to work in Helsinki, it cost around €800 instead of €1200. So he reasonably opted for the KL solution. He called on Tuesday morning: his flight from BLQ (Bologna) to AMS (Amsterdam) left an hour late, and he was stuck in AMS having missed his connection. KL would not let him travel on the next AY (Finnair) flight to Helsinki, but on the later KL flight. [Because in the former case, KL would have had to issue a FIM (Flight Interruption Manifest) and paid AY for that leg of travel, which they don't like doing]. In addition to that KL staff at AMS blatently lied to him telling him something on the lines of: as you have an electronic ticket, we cannot do that. Now, honestly, he was in AMS, the main hub of KL, if they can't do what they want there, then where can they? Ok, he had a restricted fare, which doesn't allow you to travel on another airline with that ticket, but in these cases, the airline that issued the ticket can choose to do so. I was amazed that they didn't do so in this case; I can understand if you have a cheap €300 ticket, but with an €800 ticket, they could have made the effort.
He asked me not to make him travel on KL ever again.

My colleague had a clinet in Berlin yesterday. He always travels AZ but this time, as he needed to stop in Frankfurt on the way out, he flew LH. Ready to return to Italy, yesterday, he arrived at TXL (Berling Tegel) in good time, having finished his business earlier than expected. He telephoned my colleague to ask her to get him on the earlier flight back home. No problem, he had an expensive unrestricted fare; she cancelled his 17h00 flight from TXL to MUC (Munich) along with his onward connection to BLQ (Bologna), rebooked him on the 15h00 flight and sent him to check-in. Suprise! At check-in LH staff told him he could forget about it as the TXL to MUC flight was overbooked. What's the problem right? Just book him back to his original flight huh? Well no, his original flight was now all waitlisted.
We tried and tried, and finally managed to get him onto a TXL to VIE (Vienna) flight with onward connection to BLQ, that was lucky. But the passenger wasn't at all impressed.

This is why I have come to the conclusion that it is just a question of kharma. Some passengers just go well with one airline, and othes with another one.

I have to be honest though. Overall, when I sum things up at the end of the year, I do have a little less problems with BA and LH.

Have a safe trip.


work: Funny

A colleague was telling me the other day that a client telephoned to book a flight to Moscow. Knowing that there are two airports in Moscow, the client wanted to be absolutely sure not to arrive at Domodedovo airport (Brussels Airlines and Swiss land there), so she stressed that she wanted to fly to Shevchenko airport. Now, I'm sure you understand how difficult it is for us to remain serious in such a situation and politely advise the passenger, who was acting really smart and knowledgeble, that Shevchenko is a football player and that the airport in Moscow is Sheremètievo.



work: The Independent Business Travellers

Most people think that business travellers only work for medium or big companies. Though probably a large part of business travellers do, there is a considerable amount of business ravellers who do not belong to this category. There are those who work for companies who only have a couple of employees that travel for business. There are self-employed consultants, advisors, teachers and doctors going to congresses and conferences, etc.

Travel agencies that specialize in business travel are only interested in the former category, while those pertaining to the latter are pretty much left to deal with their own travel plans, probably with the help of a standard travel agency that in most cases does not deliver a satisfactory service (it's not their fault, it's just not their type of business).

The latter category is what I refer to as Independent business travellers, simply because they are 'left on their own'. They don't have the 'protection' of a big company and a specialised business travel agency to help them deal with their specific travel needs. I know for a fact that many of them turn to standard travel agencies, and also know for a fact that in most cases they are deeply dissatisfied. But leisure travel and business travel are two very different things, and one really can't expect a leisure travel agent to know how to go about organising business travel.

What I would like to try to do with this blog is to help Independent Business Travellers to get closer to business travel as it really is, help to let them know more of what this world offers to them. Give advice, share my experience and, why not, get some advice and gain experience. The 'comment' option at the end of each post is there to be used, do make comments or even just ask questions.
Hopefully this experice will prove useful to the non-Independent Business Travellers too.

work: Why Business Travel?

What is all the fuss about business travel?
Just let me give you the example I always give to my friends. When I tell them that a business class ticket to Sydney costs around €3000-3500, or to New York around €2000 (closer to €3000 if you travel direct), they are always shocked about the prices. They are used to travelling for leisure and spending half, if not even a third, of that. They always ask me what is the purpouse of spending so much money on a ticket.
It's quite simple. If you're travelling for work, most times you will be meeting clients, fellow managers or partners, and will very probably be negotiating contracts, partnerships, product lines etc. Does a company really want to send a tired and jetlagged employee to represent them? When having to deal with contracts worth thousands or even millions, would a company prefer to save a few hundred on a ticket and a cheaper hotel resulting in a less relaxed, fresh and happy manager who would probably bring home worse results?

The ability of a business travel agent nowadays requires two main skills:
> that of finding the cheapest possible solution
> that of understanding the company's and the traveller's needs in order to find not the cheapest, but the most suitable solutions balancing costs and comfort

The two contraddict eachother don't they?
When I organise business trips, I always give my clients two options (often more than two):
> the cheapest: enables my company to go to their company every one in a while to remind them how good we are at finding bargains and how much they would have saved if they had followed our advice. It also keeps the competition away.
> the most suitable: gets my client there happy, satisfied, and ready to work and bring home good results for his company.

Important notice: sometimes the chapest solutions happens to be the most suitable one too.


personal: B-day

Well it's my birthday today. Happy birthday Emmanuel. I've always considered it a very important day, simply because you're allowed to expect to feel pampered by who's around you.

Going to my friend Sara for dinner. Fish, is on the menu, so I made some of my special mayo (I'm pretty proud of it), baught a bottle of champagne, and made a crème caramel for desser – Sara's husband loves it, and I thought I'd make him happy.
Homeliness is pervading me already.

Damn, I really got to get down to organise that present for her baby, I've got the idea and have been meaning to get down to it for the past month. It will happen sooner or later, though proably later than sooner knowing me.

work: Useful Tools

Sometimes business travellers don't know what available out there to make their travel more enjoyable, comfortable, easy and so on. Other times us travel agents aren't up to date with all that's on offer for you business travellers. I will be adding links of tools you might find useful when planning your journey. However, your input is always very much appreciated and will surely be appreciated by others.

> Major airlines now offer ONLINE CHECK-IN, which a) saves you time in a cue, b) allows you to choose your favourite seat when pre-assignment is not available for that flight (usually economy flights within Europe)

> LOUNGE PASS is useful when, travelling in economy class you have a longish transit in an airport. You don't need to fligh business, just buy a pass and spend that time in the business lounge connecting your pc or just relaxing.

> SEAT GURU helps you choose your favourite seat on board. When us travel agents open an aircraft seat map on our screen, the question always is: where would he like to sit? This will help you track down your favourite area and seat and either pre-assign it yourself by calling the airline reservations centre, or just asking your travel agent to do it for you.


personal: Irritation

Was having dinner out with a couple of best friends. The irritation was fierce when they told me they would be at some party tomorrow evening. I would have kept myself free if their birthday happened to fall on a Saturday, and believe I should expect the same from them. I think I wont answer their 'happy birthday' calls tomorrow.

Good night.


work: Happy Holidays?

Few colleagues in the office yesterday, thinking that most clients would be away as it's a bank holiday in Italy today... the country is out of money, few clients went on holiday; the result was madness. Never had such a hectic day.
Sent 3 off to Athens, wanting to go LH (Lufthansa) as usual, but managed to convince them to go AZ (Alitalia) instead, as i tend to do often... for €450 instead of €750, was an easy one after all.
3 off to Tel Aviv.
One off to some place in the Stetes called Louisville, again AZ (Alitalia) to ORD (Chigaco) then on to SDF (Louisville) with UA (United). Wanted to go on Sunday, but had him go on Saturday instead, saving him €1000, and giving him the chance to have a look round in Chicago for a day.
Another one wanting to go to New Zealand on Star Alliance... dreaded points everyone is after all the time... at least managed to convince him to go TH (Thai) instead of LH (Lufthansa) saving him €1000; he kept changing his mind, one day longer in MEL (Melbourne) on the way back, no sorry, an extra day in BKK (Bangkok) would be better, wanting to go through FRA (Frankfurt) on his way out, costing him €350 more than transiting in FCO (Rome) to save just two hours layover in BKK (Bangkok)... making his mind up in the end BLQ (Bologna) - FRA (Frankfurt) - BKK (Bangkok) - AKL (Aukland) - NSN (Nelson) -/stop CHC (Christchurch) - SYD (Sydney) -/stop MEL (Melbourne) -/stop BKK (Bangkok) - FCO (Rome) - BLQ (Bologna) ... would have cost him €500 less if he'd gone CX (Cathay Pacific) through HKG (Hong Kong) instead, but that's OneWorld, another alliance, different points.
A RTW (Round The World) ticket then came up, though the guy could not make up his mind, shall I got to TYO (Tokyo) or not? This one was pure alliance-points-madness. Again a StarAlliance fan needing to stop in Jakarta, then Singapore, then Melbourne, then Santiago in Chile, hopping round South America, then back home. There's a direct flight from Aukland to Santiago with LA (LAN Chile), would have ment a RTW ticket with OneWorld; but no... he'll be going MEL (Melbourne) - SYD (Sydney) - LAX (Los Angeles) - GRU (Sao Paulo) - SCL (Santiago), absolute madness... and costs him €2000 more. I guess that if it's the company paying, then who cares.
1 to BEG (Belgrade), with OS (Austrain Airlines) though AZ (Alitalia) was again cheaper.
3 to TLS (Toulouse) + hotel + car rental
4 to CDG (Paris) + car rental
1 to MAD (Madrid) + car rental
1 to ALG (Algiers)
2 to AMS (Amsterdam) + hotel + car rental
1 to HAM (Hamburg), with crossed tickest. A LH (Lufthansa) same day return ticket would have been €1400. Got her a return ticket from BLQ (Bologna) to HAM (Hamburg) via BRU (Brussels) on SN (Brussels Airlines... oh Sabena we miss you!), and a return ticket from HAM to BLQ via PRG (Prague) on OK (CSA Chech Airlines) for a bargain at €460 for both tickets. Uses the outbound of both tickets and dumps both returns in the bin.
1 to IST (Istanbul)
1 to PER (Perth) + car rental... then he decided not to drive. This was a SkyTeam fan, got him on AirFrance, which is fine as long as you travel economy, forget it for business class.
1 to SYD (Sydney), a not very convinced StarAlliance, got him on OS (Austrain Airlines) as LH (Lufthansa) was full, for a decend €1200, then wanted to to a day earlier, no OS flight that day, would have been ok on AF with his buddy, but no more seats... so a good TH (Thai) will get him there for even a little less.

That was my day, i was shattered by the end of it. Got back home, and a lovely Corona beer with the usual slice of lemon just did it for me.