Podcast #144 — Outside Airports; Hospitality Mentality

Greetings…

Back in front of the mic after 12 days of skipping across northern Europe — Copenhagen, Brussels, and Scotland. In this episode, we get nostalgic about outside airports in California, talk about how a hospitality mentality is pervasive in hotels but not in restaurants, missing customer service responses from United Airlines and Marriott, and European perspectives about Chicago.  All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #144:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL after 12 days bunny hopping through Northern Europe — first Copenhagen, then Brussels, and finally St Andrews, Scotland to drop my daughter off for her 4th and final year at University of St Andrews. Prior to that, I had a couple of US trips — back to Charlottesville, VA — always a nice place to visit — and a day trip to Omaha. And while all my European flights last week were fine — including the 40-min connection in Amsterdam that included a trip through passport control — late August summer storms forced to call audibles on both trips. As opposed to last month, when my CVG-ORD flight was jacked up by storms in Miami, these flights were cratered by rain that I could see outside the window — the terminal window or the airplane window.
  • They both left me less than impressed by United’s notification service. The Monday of my Charlottesville flight, it had been steadily raining in Chicago — heavily at times. I kept checking the status of the flight — on-time, on-time on-time. Finally, I headed to ORD, got through security, and then checked again – 3 hour delay? Really, you only just figured that out an hour before departure time? Looking out the window, the rain wasn’t letting up. I could see where this was going. I grabbed dinner and then settled in at the gate to do some work. Every once in a while, I’d check the flight status in the United app — 3-hr delay, 3-hr delay, 3-hr delay, then wait for it — cancelled. I wasn’t surprised at the cancellation, but the lack of push notification. Normally, I’d get a message and an e-mail from Amex Travel. Nothing this time. Like I said, though, I wasn’t surprised, and I didn’t have a critical meeting the next morning in Charlottesville. United had “helpfully” booked the same flight out the next night, but a) I couldn’t lose a whole day at the client; and b) I felt United had lost the right to my money for this flight. So, I booked the next morning’s flight on American, caught a cab back home and slept that night in my own bed. Annoying, but, hey, I got over it.
  • Next week’s trip to Omaha was on yet another rainy day. It was just a day trip, so I drove to ORD and saw the dark grey line of weather coming toward me. I mentally settled in for delay. This one, though, would be more problematic because I was flying into Omaha for a workshop, and flying out to Copenhagen the next evening. That dark grey line hit ORD as we were boarding, so I walked into that workshop about 30 minutes late. We walked outside at noon to grab lunch from a food truck. I could see an even darker grey line of weather. Back in the conference room, I’d check the United app every 30 minutes or so — on-time, on-time, on-time, cancelled. What?! Again, no notice if I hadn’t been checking. And this was a bit more problematic than last week. I found earlier SW and American flights that weren’t cancelled. I gambled on the AA flight which left a bit later but would save me the crosstown MDW-ORD Uber ride to collect my car. I excused myself early from the workshop and headed back to the airport. Arriving late; leaving early. Not sure that’s the way to make a good first impression
  • Bridge Music — You are (funky mix) by Zapac

Following Up

  • Steve Frick, a long time TravelCommons listener, left a note on the website about the last episode
    • Lots of content as well as comments on this episode. Thoroughly enjoyed the Chicago Midway Layover Southside Taproom Tour video tour, when it comes to travel and Midway, though, all I can think about is delays.
    • Chicago, I recently sent all the members of my tribe there sans, myself (Someone had to watch the dog, or vice-versa). When my wife travels she always checks baggage….. we’ve only been married 8 years. Upon arrival, I grabbed her bag off the belt and it was unusually heavy. The reason it contained 2 six-packs of Revolution Brewery beer, God bless this woman.
    • Travel and health, this one hit home. Somehow I’ve managed to “keep it tight”… somewhat. I hired someone about three years ago, and while he doesn’t drink he managed to partake in every meal that he was invited to. So much so that the rest of us had an over/under on how fast he could gain 30lbs (Yes, we’re that cruel & shallow). After two broken pants buttons, he managed to get control.
    • Sorry for the long comment, but keep up the great work!
  • Steve, thanks for that; no apologies needed. And you guys are not the only cruel and shallow ones. I may have told this story before, but I had a project in Memphis and one of the team members had kind of a similar problem as your new hire, except his weakness was barbecue ribs. The team would go out one night a week for ribs — Corky’s, Central, Germantown Commissary, but then this guy would also do a take-out slab another night. The weight gain was obvious — our over/under was when he topped 300 on his cholesterol reading.
  • I was 1 for 2 last month on TravelCommons Chicago meet-ups. I wasn’t able to connect with Keith Love and his son when they were in town early in August, but I did meet up with Rob Cheshire and his UK crew for a bit of a taproom crawl on Chicago’s Near West Side on a Friday night at the end of the month. I even got Rob to relax his anti-AB InBev stance and spend an hour in the Goose Island taproom, complete with a round of Bourbon County Stout. At 14%, it’s a bit larger beer than you’d typically see in a UK pub.
  • More telling, though, was the discussion I had with Drew, Rob’s friend on his first visit to the US. “Where are the dangerous parts of the city, where all the shootings are?” he asked. Fair question. Three weekends before, 66 people were shot in Chicago; 12 people died. “You’re fine here,” I told him, “but I wouldn’t want to go another mile west.” The next Thursday, I was sitting in a Copenhagen bar waiting out the rain — my wife and daughter were waiting out the rain clothes shopping; to each their own — and got talking to the bartender, a young woman who had never been to the US. “Where are you from?” she asked. “Chicago” “I read somewhere that’s the most dangerous city in the world.” I told her my experiences — my family and I haven’t been impacted, but we also don’t hang out on the South or West sides where all the gang bullets are flying. But given the press about the August shootings, she asked a fair question. Both conversations got my attention; I’ve gotten a bit numb to all the gun violence reporting, which is not a good thing. Travel is all about getting different perspectives, even if they’re about your own home.
  • In the last episode, I relayed Keith Love’s questions about good airport apps, ones that, he said, “actually guide you through airports and their amenities/services.” Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler Podcast dropped a lin e saying that he uses GateGuru, run by the same team that does SeatGuru. I haven’t tried it yet, but will download it and give it a go. Narita Airport in Tokyo is taking a different angle. Their free Wi-Fi service comes with a chatbot — Bebot — to help travelers. The press release didn’t give any chat samples — “Bebot, where can I find a non-Asahi beer in this terminal?” “I’m sorry, there is none” — but it could be useful — or at least entertaining.
  • Back in the July episode, I mentioned how tight the United Polaris business class seats were on the Triple 7’s that I took between ORD and Frankfurt. Last Monday, Irene and I flew a new American 787 back from London, and it didn’t seem any roomier. We flew back on miles, so were in the Main Cabin Extra section, but walking through Business Class to get there, I almost had to turn my body a bit to get down the aisle, and I’m not that big of a guy. When I got to my seat, the leg room was fine, even with the seat in front of me reclined. But the seats were narrow. The couple in the window and middle seats next to me were larger folks, and I could see it was a less-than-comfortable 8 hours for them.
  • In the last episode, while not thrilled with American’s on-time performance between ORD and CVG, I was impressed by the customer service I got from their Twitter crew. Indeed, the next day, I added a final note to my tweet stream — “BTW, while it was an operational failure last night, the Twitter customer service was not. I appreciated the delay explanation and backing me up on the next flight”. And any more, I typically get solid, timely service from Twitter customer service. Indeed, one constant on my Top 10 Travel Tips list is “Use Twitter as a Concierge Service”. So I was surprised when a colleague said to me “I gotta get some more followers so companies pay attention to me on Twitter”. He said he never gets any replies. Anybody else have this problem?
  • Now while I get good quick responses from the airlines, my recent experience with Marriott was very different. I was trying to get the receipt/the folio from a stay in Colorado Springs. The e-mailed bill never came. Then I went to the website but the download link didn’t work. I submitted a folio request on the website and hit Marriott on Twitter. Twitter was faster, though it took them a full day to respond, which was better than the 12 days it took them to respond to my website query. Neither of which actually resulted in me getting a copy of my bill. I only got that when I gave up on all the digital channels and called the Colo Springs front desk. Now, I knew that would be the fastest way — and it was; I got an e-mail from them in about 5 minutes. But I’m always interested in seeing how all the new channels work… or don’t. Maybe Marriott needs a chatbot…
  • And if you have any travel questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can send in an audio comment; a Twitter message to @mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our new Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Two Guitars by Admiral Bob

California Outside Airports

  • A college friend of mine posted a status on Facebook, saying that he was flying home to Boston from Long Beach Airport in Southern California. His comment — “New favorite airport – outdoor terminals and boarding!!” It was an immediate shot of travel nostalgia for me. My first job out of school, in the mid-80’s, had me regularly traveling from Dallas to San Jose. My folks lived in Huntington Beach, CA and American had direct flights from DFW to Long Beach. So whenever I had to be in San Jose, I’d triangulate through Long Beach for the weekend — fly in Friday afternoon, hang out on the beach for the weekend, and then catch a 7am Monday morning Alaskan Air flight out of Orange County to San Jose.
  • I loved that triangle of airports — LGB, SNA, and SJC. Compared to LAX or SFO, they were compact — maybe even cozy, if you can apply that adjective to an airport and keep a straight face — uncrowded, and all of them took advantage of the California climate to be outdoor airports. No jetways, and in LGB’s case, even the baggage carousel was outside. I remember the first time walking out to pick up my luggage at LGB, waiting by a palm tree for my bag to show up. This was right after surviving 2 of the coldest winters in Chicago while going to business school. LGB instantly became my favorite airport.
  • When you arrived at SJC, the gate agent would meet you at the bottom of the steps and guide you under a covered walkway into the terminal — almost like a Japanese tour guide, holding her clipboard up. I’d walk through the terminal to the car rental lot, to the little Hertz hut in the middle. I got to know the woman working in the hut, and in those days before Hertz Gold and President’s Circle, that’s all I needed to get an upgrade. Later trips through Palm Springs Airport — pleasure rather than business — and I loved that airport too, walking outdoors past the palm trees between terminals. Hard to imagine after 9/11 forced airports to harden their perimeters.
  • SNA and SJC are no longer outside airports. Big renovations in the ‘90’s replaced the covered walkways with jetways, doing away with that one thing that made them a little special. The renovation of LGB’s terminal 6 years ago installed fire pits and outdoor dining, but no jetways. It’s still an outside airport, as is Palm Springs.
  • Not that outdoor airports are California-only things. Charlottesville airport, which I’ve been frequenting over the past couple of years, is sort of a quarter to a half outdoors. There’s 4 gates — 1 or 2 of them have jetways, the rest are outdoor boarding and baggage claim for gate-checked bags. And there’s a nice 2nd-floor outdoor terrace that I do phone calls from when it’s not too hot, or raining.
  • One of the things I like about outdoor airports is there’s no waiting for gates. The plane lands, parks, they wheel up the stairs — maybe even two; front and back if you’re lucky — and off you go. No ORD treatment — landing and then waiting 20 minutes for your gate to open up. However, the last time I flew into CHO, we landed and stopped short of the usual parking spot. The pilot keyed the mic — “Our gate is full; we’ll have to wait a couple of minutes.” All us passengers looked at each other — gate, what gate? Turns out he meant some fancy new ramp thing; instead of stairs, they pushed over some huge covered ramp, complete with a switchback so the descent wasn’t too steep. I dunno, call me old-school (or just old) but in my book, you have to have a proper set of stairs to be a true outdoor airport. Palm trees are optional, but highly recommended.
  • Bridge Music — Garden Of The Forking by J.Lang

Hospitality Mentality

  • Nowadays, it seems that most hotels have got their front desk training pretty well down. I can’t remember the last time I hit an indifferent front desk person when checking in. And given the number of different hotels I stay in, it leads me to the conclusion that this, what I call, a hospitality mentality is a key part of their training, because, based on every other retail experience I have, I know I wouldn’t naturally run into this many nice people in a row. Not that I have a problem with this. It’s nice whenever I’m dragging myself into a hotel late because of flight delays or whatever, that the person checking me in is pleasant, wants to take care of me, walks out from behind the desk give me my key and to point me to the elevators, and seems genuinely concerned about my well-being. Even in hotels that otherwise are a bit “meh”, I find that my standard TripAdvisor review says “But the service was great.”
  • Which is a huge contrast with the typical service I get at a restaurant where I would expect a hospitality mentality, but am surprised when I get it. Last Sunday night, Irene and I were overnighting in London on our way back from St Andrews, and walked to an Indian restaurant, Dishoom, up behind King’s Cross station. There was a queue outside the restaurant, typical for a popular place. A guy came out with an iPad, took our name, and told us it would be about a 30 minute wait. That was fine, we wanted a drink before dinner anyhow. They give us a pager — again, typical stuff — but now it gets a bit different. Instead of pointing us to a scrum around a bar, someone escorts us to two open seats, asks if the seats are OK for us, and right behind her was a waitress to take our order. Right at about 30 minutes, as we’re finishing our drinks, the pager goes off. We’re collecting our stuff to head back to the hostess stand when a guy walks over to us — the same guy who took our name in line — took our glasses and walked us to our table, chatting along the way — where are you from, Oh I have friends in Chicago, how long are you in London…. We get to the table, but before we sit down, he asks us “Is this table OK for you?”
  • I can’t remember the last time a busy restaurant asked me if I was happy with the table. Normally, the hostess expects you to be happy she actually seated you. The food was good, but what really impressed me about Dishoom that here was a big, mass-service restaurant with a hospitality mentality. Easy to do at a small place, or a Michelin-starred restaurant (though don’t get me started about French Laundry), but here, in London, a place not necessarily known for great customer service, they had it nailed. Oh, and the chicken curry — they nailed that too.

Closing

  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #144
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
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