Good and bad companies

by Jörgen Eriksson on April 19, 2013

The good the bad and the uglyWhat is the difference between a good and bad company? The difference is that great companies commit to the integrity of an idea. They will not let it get watered down or compromised but stay with the core mission that made them successful in the first place.

Great companies honor service, they do not overpromise but rather over-deliver and they know their customers experience is what makes them thrive.

Most crappy companies start out as good ones. But somewhere along the line, what starts out as a great business is destroyed by a million changes and accommodations to counter competition or increase margins by lowering costs, or just bad new ideas with good intentions but bad results.

Ultimately, of course, it is a question of the competence of owners and management.

We have sometimes written about airlines on this blog. It has been articles about airlines and innovation and the competitive landscape. This is also a blog post about the aviation industry, but about a specific airline, as an example of what happens to companies that go bad. And I really mean Bad, with a capitalized B.

This blog is about a particular Scandinavian airline, and I can publicly promise you, if I can avoid it, I will never ever travel with them again. That should not be difficult to keep, as I am quite sure they will go bankrupt soon. If not by the already bad balance sheet so by how they currently treat their customers.

Falling airlplaneFor us frequent travellers, I guess we have all been there. We have been in the unknown waiting hall, the queue to the transfer or ticket desk, with a feeling of being deserted, knowing that the airline we paid for an expensive ticket has let us down. Let us down big time.

Those moments happen and it is very few industries where the company doing so gets away with it. Reputation spreads fast. The only reason airlines get away with it is that national carriers have monopoly on certain routes, or that we forget and are tempted to buy tickets with them again by competitive pricing.

Since the mid 90s I am a frequent traveller. I travel at least four flight legs per week and I have been through most things. I have described some of my experiences previously on this blog. I have my favourite airlines and I have the airlines I dislike. I can publicly announce that I favour to travel with Swiss or Lufthansa when I can. They are punctual, the service is impeccable, the seats are comfortable, and there is ample leg space, which is important as I am quite tall.

In the category of airlines I dislike are the budget airlines, because of their lousy service, lack of priority queues for us frequent travellers and general lack of comfort. Anyway, they are ok. I know I get what I pay for and in the last minute with all other options sold out, they take me where I need to go. I got used to them already when I commuted to and from London with Easyjet in the 1990s, sharing the same weekly Friday evening flight from Luton to Nice with the founder Stelios.

Star allianceToday I was not travelling with one of them. Today I was travelling on a more expensive ticket that I got a while back and the first leg of todays flight was with a particular Scandinavian airline from Stockholm to Zurich. The second leg was with Swiss, and I knew that would work well. However I was a bit worried about the first leg, as I have had some bad experiences with the scandinavian airline in the past and I had a feeling something bad would happen. Guess what? It did. Big time.

That I got home Friday evening was of particular importance as I have a flight tomorrow morning from my home to Zagreb in Croatia, where I have a meeting at a very high level during the weekend.

Boarding my flight in Stockholm, I noticed the plane was full and I was reseated to a B-seat, between window and aisle. This has not happened for a long time since I am a frequent flyer with Star Alliance and usually well taken are of, but I adjusted myself, folded my legs with my knees up and pulled in my elbows’. After all, I was going home.

Scandinavian by gateTo the increasing frustration of us passengers, the time came for takeoff and it passed, and we did not move from the gate. After about 20 minutes came an announcement. There was some slight malfunction with the plane but no need to worry, it would be fixed soon.

After one hour in the aircraft, bad air, by the gate, came a second announcement. They had not located the source of the problem and unfortunately there was no spare aircraft available, but no need to worry, they would tell us what would happen shortly.

After about 90 minutes, we got the word, the aircraft was not functioning and was to be evacuated. So we did. all of us. For a full Boeing 737 with quite a number of not-so-regular passengers this takes 20 minutes, or more, and of course my mid seat was at the back, which was odd as my Star Alliance profile says I usually should have seat 4A or 5A.

Then after an additional wait appeared a backup aircraft. New boarding procedure, but before I boarded I asked at the gate about my connecting flight. No need to worry. I had a long connection and seven passengers was going to the same destination. The pilot would fly fast and the other aircraft would wait. I suggested that they could transfer me to the Lufthansa flight for transfer by Frankfurt, which was later, but no, that was not possible. Anyway I would for sure catch my connection.

A slight disappointment on the aircraft was that the stewards charged for drinks, despite this being our fourth hour onboard. I had the patience to take an argument with the stewardess about this and I was told to fly Norwegian next time. On the surface, I kept calm.

Approaching Zurich, we were first told that it had not been possible to telex the airport. Then we were told we had a low priority and had been put on hold to circle a few times around the airport before we could land. No worries, we had been reassured before so most people kept calm, despite the more than two hour delay.

Angry passenger on airlineOnce we landed and most passengers realised that all, _all_, connecting flights were gone, there was a rush for the transfer desk. It seemed to me that most passengers was in transit and quite few left for the Zurich exit.

At the desk I patiently walked by the long queue to the Gold card service desk. Being a frequent flyer has its perks after all.

However the friendly lady at the desk was surprised and not prepared to help me. Looking around I realised it was the same also at the other counters. As the scandinavian airline apparently does not pay for changes when they are late, what would be the incentive for the second leg line airline to accommodate?

Making a long story short, it took me more than two hours at the counter at the transfer desk and numerous phone calls to managers with Swiss at the airport and elsewhere (all very friendly, and we called Swiss as no-one was available to pick up the phone at the scandinavian airline at this hour) without any success, and then a call I made myself to the Senator service call center with Lufthansa in Frankfurt made the difference. I gave the phone to the Swiss customer service representative and together Lufthansa and Swiss, my two favourite airlines, sorted out my complex itinerary.

15 euroIn the end I had to pay the modest fee of 15 euro myself for a change in tax fee for a complex reroute so I can end up in Zagreb tomorrow, where I have meetings in the afternoon. Out of good service, Lufthansa and Swiss helped with the additional rebooking costs, even though none of these airlines had anything to do with my original ticket from the bad airline.

Having the flights sorted out, then came the final blow. I expected to be booked into Radisson Blue at the airport, where I usually get to stay when I have an involuntary stopover in Zurich. Well, not this time. I was told by the nice lady from Swiss that the scandinavian airline does not pay for that hotel but have an agreement with an hotel away from the airport. At this point, it was actually good for the scandinavian airline that they had no company representative of their own in the airport that could face me.

So there I was in the middle of the night, waiting for a shuttle bus to a remote hotel, in the rain. It really reminded me of the budget airline, just that the ticket fee with this regular scandinavian airline had not been budget at all.

At the bad airlines hotel I was told the shuttle bus in the morning was full so I had to book a taxi to return to the airport at my own expense. I asked if this happened frequently and was told it was the case.

Bad hotel imageThen having dinner at the hotel, the dinner voucher gave me a cold microwave oven heated pizza margarita and tap water. Half way through the dinner, at midnight, the restaurant staff closed the lights and told us we had to leave as they were going home. 

Checking the fee level for stays in the hotel, I noticed that this remote place took about the same overnight fee as the good hotels that are located next to the airport. Well, what can one expect, when they get people here with a one-way shuttle bus?

It is for todays overall experience, and the final insult of a cold frozen pizza and tap water, that I will tomorrow file a formal complaint to the bad airline and also publicly post this review and opinion, so that airlines might actually address their problems, instead of paying badly treated passengers to shut up.

Tomorrow as I will rest in my comfortable hotel in Croatia, I plan to also post on the website BadAirline, a consumer advocacy website and blog that I hope in spite of its negative name will have a positive impact on airline service. Whether you want to congratulate or lambast an airline you’ve recently flown, I encourage you to do like me, head on over to BadAirline and make an airline complaint on the airline’s report card.

This blog post has been about good and bad companies, illustrated by one particular experience. Now I urge you the reader to do two things.

Number 1 – Re-read the first two paragraphs of the post. They are important and worth to keep in mind when you encounter the service offering of companies who in todays hyper competitive markets try to compete by reducing costs, service level and quality but keep their old pricing, instead of either accepting reality and go bust, or reprioritize resources to stay with or enhance their service offering to maintain a customer-friendly sweetspot.

Number 2 – click on the buttons below to spread this post to other people if you have experienced something similar to my evening yourself. Bad service like this just cannot go on unheard.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day.

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