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Posts from the ‘Travelling with children’ Category

Lufthansa’s family check-in counters a win!

July 19th, 2013

Kinny Cheng

Lufthansa promotes their new family counters at Frankfurt and Munich:

Something is happening at the family counters in Frankfurt and Munich! Even from a distance children and their parents can see where they get their boarding passes and check in their baggage: a great archway with Lu and Cosmo, the two Lufthansa mascots, invites children to take part in check-in. As a family you walk along a red carpet to the counter where Lufthansa staff will take your baggage without fuss and hand you your boarding passes.

You will also be given a copy of the ‘The Family Pilot’ brochure. This contains valuable tips on the location of children’s play areas, baby changing units, family-friendly restaurants, pharmacies and the nearest viewing terrace.

The family counters are located in Frankfurt in Departure Hall B at counters 336–338 and in Munich in the departure hall at counters 422–423. The counters are open to parents and their children up to 12 years old.

Mascots — check.

Visibility — check.

Involvement — check.

Parental guidance — check.

Sounds like a winning formula to me!

The epitome of airline screw-ups: Utter irresponsibility towards an unaccompanied minor

August 15th, 2012

Kinny Cheng

United Airlines has officially reached a new low with this latest show of disgrace (via Bob Sutton’s “Work Matters” blog):

“Here is the headline: United was flying Phoebe as an unaccompanied minor on June 30th, from San Francisco to Chicago, with a transfer to Grand Rapids. No one showed-up in Chicago to help her transfer, so although her plane made it, she missed the connection. Most crucially, United employees consistently refused to take action to help assist or comfort Phoebe or to help her parents locate her despite their cries for help to numerous United employees.”

The whole blog entry is a must-read, and goes to further reinforce my belief of just how US-based legacy carriers — in this case, United Airlines — has and will never fare(d) well when it comes to provisioning an acceptable, and sustainable, passenger experience.

And this part of the post takes the cake:

“4. Now comes the most disturbing part, the part that reveals how sick the system is. This United employee knew how upset the parents were and how badly United had screwed-up. Perry asked if the employee could go see if Phoebe was OK:

“When she came back she said should was going off her shift and could not help. My husband then asked her if she was a mother herself and she said “yes”—he then asked her if she was missing her child for 45 minutes what would she do? She kindly told him she understood and would do her best to help. 15 minutes later she found Phoebe in Chicago and found someone to let us talk to her and be sure she was okay.””

Reality: the system has always been this sick.

For someone who resides outside of North America, seeing how these legacy carriers operate can lead to countless murmurs of “what-the-hell?” and #facepalm moments. Inversely, I would be very pleasantly surprised if I were to have positive experiences at each step of the way (i.e. from reaching the airport for check-in, and right to the moment when I step off the plane and head out to landside at my ultimate destination).

I have never had an appreciation of the culture of flying in North America, specifically in the United States. I may understand why it works in such a way — but that doesn’t mean I have to necessarily agree with it.

This latest fiasco by United is not only just wrong, but completely unacceptable. Who would entrust their kids with them ever again?

Which reminds me — my recent flight with Virgin America back in June was an absolute eye-opener (in a very good way!) I will most definitely fly with them again if I ever return to that side of the world, simply because they have a far greater understanding of how the passenger experience should truly be.

Pre-boarding families: Why would any airline operator want to do away with it?

June 11th, 2012

Kinny Cheng

Time’s Bonne Rochman:

“Are families getting stiffed by airlines? There’s been lots of chatter recently over perceived family-unfriendly moves by carriers: charging parents and children extra to sit together, tossing a crying 3-year-old from a flight after he refused to buckle up, doing away with family pre-boarding.”

Rochman’s article on Time Healthland focuses specifically on the last point — that is, “doing away with family pre-boarding” — and goes on about how a a frequent-flyer mum has created a petition for folks against its removal to sign. More than 36,000 signatures have so far been recorded.

But let’s forget about the article for a minute, and revisit the concept of boarding an aircraft.

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Despite the existence of different cabin classes, everyone travelling on a particular flight is going to be on the same aircraft. For virtually all passengers, it’s about getting from A to B with the least amount of hassles.

According to Rochman, three American-based airlines — including American, United and US Airways — have done (or will soon do) away with family pre-boarding, with the general argument being the streamlining of the process.

But do these policy-makers realise that by removing this one single step in the boarding process, it will most likely make “general boarding” (that is, the very last stage when everyone else can board the aircraft) a ghastly nightmare?

Not sold? Let me give you an example scenario to consider (please bear with me, it’s a bit lengthy-but-detailed):

  • Family (Mum, Dad, three-year-old walking on twos, and an infant in stroller) arrives at gate way before boarding begins;
  • Boarding is called, passengers in premium cabins “may board at their own leisure”;
  • Those remaining passengers in economy are called to begin boarding, queue quickly develops, and Family is 15th in the sequence to board;
  • There are around three other parent/s with child/ren spread out in the entirity of the queue;
  • Family is three-quarter way down the aerobridge, stroller needs to be collapsed and stored into cargo hold, and Family spends around 2 minutes doing this, and lose their place in the queue;
  • Family rejoins the queue, which has extended onto the aerobridge (due to congestion on the aircraft), with pace becoming slower
  • Family is closing in on aircraft door, and both three-year-old and infant is becoming restless, Mum and Dad tries to keep them in-check;
  • Around 8 minutes later, Family is finally on the aircraft, congestion still exists (those in front are either trying to get into their window or middle seat, and/or trying to fit their carry-ons into the overhead bin — and multiply this by around 10);
  • Family is seated in the middle of aircraft, Mum and Dad have their hands full (carry-on and infant in hands) and three-year-old is becoming very impatient and restless;
  • Family finally reaches seat, but their seating is separated by the aisle — hence, Mum needs to seat the older child first, while Dad fumbles around with the carry-ons and find an available overhead bin to place the items (because they wouldn’t fit beneath the seat in front);
  • After a bit of assistance from a flight attendant, Dad was able to store the bag in a bin a few rows to the back, and is now trying to make his way back to his assigned seat — while Mum is struggling to calm her children (because of the change in environment, they have become uneasy); and
  • Finally, after two more minutes of mingling, Family is seated and almost settled (barring the kids who seem to want a feed now, where a new situation seems to be brewing…)

Once again, it’s a detailed summary — but when you attempt to imagine the above scenario and run that through, you would probably stop before halfway, throw in the towel and say “this is ridiculous!”

Yes, I have to admit that the thought of mixing “families with children” into the general boarding queue is not only a crazy policy, but a very stupid one at the same time!

With pre-boarding for families, the same family-of-four I described above would have been able to go through the entire process with ease, and not have to deal with the challenges of having other passengers, who are also boarding, to worry about. The freedom will also expediate the entire process for the Family and everyone else who will subsequently board the aircraft.

So it really beats me as to why any airline would want to abolish pre-boarding for families, being a win-win scenario for virtually all air travellers of commercial airliners of today.

And as far as those airlines outside of the United States are concerned, I do not know of any that does not provide it. Hence, to even consider the boarding process without this stage just seems utterly mad!

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EDIT: I’ve just spoken to a few aviation enthusiasts and frequent flyers. Apparently, “pre-boarding” — as the term goes in the US — is offered to a far-broader set of passengers, which simply complicates the matter of trying to bring greater efficiency to the overall broading process.

From a rest-of-the-world point of view, the move by various US-based airlines to re-define who gets the pre-boarding priveledge (in this case, anyone who has a “status”, those with large carry-ons and have paid baggage fees, etc.) has all but improved the flying experience for everyone.

To those people responsible for redefining how passengers should board an aircraft, I would like to invite you to become one of the general public and board several flights a week — experience just how “enjoyable” it can be to get on that plane, and finally plonk down onto your assigned seat.

Fortunately though, not all airlines practice the same procedures. I was on a Virgin America flight last week — and how they deal with their passengers is a far cry from how US-based legacy carriers attempt to do so similarly. It is just shocking.

SAS understands the importance of today’s young passengers

June 9th, 2012

Kinny Cheng

When I speak the words “children on aeroplanes”, what is your immediate response?

Probably a picture of wailing babies and seats-being-kicked comes to mind almost immediately… (oh the horror!)

While it can be bad in *some scenarios*, most times we adults are able to do something to soothen any boredom or frustrations that may develop with children, especially when being cooped up on an aircraft for any given amount of time. Question is, who is going to make the effort to do so?

Yesterday, I came across a tweet by SAS:

“New memory games & sticker books for our young passengers. Flying with kids? Read more bit.ly/saskids instagr.am/p/LkMhkNzf51/”

Great! These are definitely things to capture the attention of children, keep them focused, and prolong their concentration span on something they may enjoy. Not only will the parents be glad to have a mood soother, but also other passengers travelling on the same flight.

Here’s a picture of the memory game posted on SAS’s Instagram account (I’m unsure if whether this is the only set):

Games, colouring books, sticker books — they may not mean a great deal to us. But as long as they serve an important purpose in providing for a positive passenger experience all-round (that is, maintaining a reasonably-good cabin ambience), then what is this little price to pay to an airline, like SAS, that seemingly values all its passengers, whether great or small.

Point One: Make it clear and easy-to-find!

You may have noticed that, in the tweet by SAS that I quoted previously, there was another link to their web site (bit.ly/saskids). It’s a shortened link that redirects to the “Travel with children” section of the SAS site, and it looks like this:

SAS’s “Travel with children” site

The site displays a few simple links that takes the user to the respective page, both on the side navigation bar and directly on the page, well-presented. Centralising these links has made it an easy reference point for any site visitor to look up all of the important facts, without having to search in a precarious manner.

I also checked out some other airline web sites, including Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Finnair, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic. With the exception of the latter two, the remaining either only provided a sufficient amount of information (requiring further research or enquiry), or the information was scattered across different pages that made it difficult to locate.

The SAS site strikes the best balance. Granted it may not look the most outstanding by comparison — but, more importantly, virtually every piece of relevant information can be accessed with a single click. This is what people want.

Point Two: Young passengers may be your future passengers!

On the EuroBonus page for children, I found this preamble to ring many bells:

“”There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings” —Hodding Carter Jr.”

“Children are the most precious gift we can receive, and we do all we can to make the trip as enjoyable, easy and smooth as possible for infants and children. This applies all the way from check in to arrival at the destination.”

Once again, appreciating the importance of what has been said there may not be possible by every living soul (which is also understandable).

Yet, what’s important to realise is how SAS places a similar level of respect for their younger passengers, and that it is also their mission to provide the same relatively-welcoming level of customer service, or passenger experience, to this group who will, one day, become self-sustaining and pay for their own air tickets.

It’s also interesting to point out that the kids of today can play a major role in pre- and post-purchase behaviour of the decision-maker. Sure they may not have direct purchasing power — but it’s the indirect aspects (that is, how they can “twist your arm to make it work in their favour”) that can make or break the purchas decision itself. Yes, some parents do let their kids steer them at times…

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When we’re dealing with customer service, the same logic goes whether it’s for adults or the kids: make them happy and comfortable, and they will return.

SAS seems to understand this rather well, and they are seemingly making the best out of it. Plus, with this new generation of baby boomers, those other airlines out there would be wise to ride the wave — that is young travellers and their parents — and make the best out of a scenario which, to be honest, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to come up with a solution.

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