18.1.06

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.

OVERBOOKING
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.

TECHNICAL FAILURE
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.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL RESTRICTIONS
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.

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