Tag Archives: travel

KLM Makes Up, and Other Airline Experiences

I wrote 18 months ago about my disappointment with KLM’s poor handling of a bereavement situation (KLM Tries Harder… But Fails). I’m flying a lot again these days (three trips to the US this year, plus several to the UK, and now India). I still receive promotional emails from Flying Blue, the alliance which KLM Read More…

I wrote 18 months ago about my disappointment with KLM’s poor handling of a bereavement situation (KLM Tries Harder… But Fails). I’m flying a lot again these days (three trips to the US this year, plus several to the UK, and now India). I still receive promotional emails from Flying Blue, the alliance which KLM and Air France have now become, to remind me that they’re waiting to serve me, but it was hard to get over that incident. (NB: I receive nothing from British Airways, with whom I was also a top-level frequent flyer until 2001; perhaps they’ve lost track of me.)

But… I still had all this mileage sitting around with KLM (58,000+), and some flexibility (for once) in planning my upcoming trip to India. So I hopped on the KLM site to see what could be done.

The awards booking process (which gets good marks on usability) informed me that I needed 70,000 miles to go to India – but they would advance me the missing mileage. This was automatic in the system, though it was a little weird – at first it looked as if that offer was only valid if I flew on Tuesday, but when I tried again a few days later, it was offered for Wednesday (my ideal departure date) as well. So I got exactly the flight I wanted for "free" (still had to pay over €200 in "taxes and fees").

In the meantime, researching other airlines, I had learned, to my horror, that the baggage limit of 20 kg from Europe to India now seems to apply to all airlines. I know that on all my previous trips I have carried two heavy suitcases in and out of Delhi, and only one of those trips was business class. I guess this is some new trick of the airlines to squeeze more money out of their hapless passengers. The standard rate for excess baggage is €30 per kilo (!!!) – no less than Air India’s rate that I was screaming about earlier this year.

However… I’m a Platinum member on Flying Blue. Turns out that that entitles me to 20 kg extra baggage – just what I need to bring Ross her winter clothing and the food goodies she craves in boarding school.

The flight I’m booked on is actually Air France, which is a bit disappointing – I much prefer KLM’s home base of Schipol airport to Charles de Gaulle – and we will have to drive to Malpensa at an ungodly hour Wednesday. I reserve judgement on comfort and service til I get there, but remember Air France as being okay (last time I flew they still allowed smoking on board, which tells you how long ago it was).

In short, treating me well as a once and maybe future frequent flyer has won big points for Flying Blue. Let’s see how well they maintain this relationship.

Share your airline experiences – who do you like (or not), and why (or why not)?

Ryanair’s Web Usability Tax – Passengers Pay for Incompetent Web Design

This article, with a new addendum added June 26, 2007, has been moved to my new blog, Usability Bitch. You might also like: Traveling in New Zealand KLM Makes Up, and Other Airline Experiences Airline Usability Dancing Horses: The Lipizzaner Stallions

This article, with a new addendum added June 26, 2007, has been moved to my new blog, Usability Bitch.

Airport Reports: Malpensa

Looks as if I’m a frequent traveller again this year, and I hope that will hold true for some time to come. I’ve been relatively quiet for the last six years – usually only one annual trip outside Europe – but it’s time to spread my wings again. Travel woman: that’s who I am and Read More…

Looks as if I’m a frequent traveller again this year, and I hope that will hold true for some time to come. I’ve been relatively quiet for the last six years – usually only one annual trip outside Europe – but it’s time to spread my wings again. Travel woman: that’s who I am and what I do.

Today’s flight, courtesy of Sun Microsystems, takes me from Milan to Frankfurt to Denver, on a United Airlines-Lufthansa code share. First problem arises from “code share.” I woke up at 3 am with an anxiety attack (I do that sometimes) and thought I should check in online in advance, as I had done coming back from my last trip on British Airways (they even had a very cute online application that let me choose my seats).

The tickets for this trip were purchased (by AmEx Business Travel, using my credit card), from United Airlines, but the aircraft appears to be Lufthansa all the way. So I went to the Lufthansa.com to check in. They didn’t recognize my credit card, kept asking for another. And that was the only option offered – no possibility to enter the record number, which I have on the printed out e-ticket.

I tried United’s website, and they apparently recognized me via the credit card, but told me I had to check in with Lufthansa. Argh.

Went back to sleep, woke up at 5:15, showered, drank coffee, dithered and fiddled until Antonello (o peerlessly faithful taxi driver!) arrived bang on time at 6. In spite of a sudden thunderstorm along the way, we reached Malpensa just after 7, and I was checked in by 7:15.

Malpensa is not the world’s most interesting airport – no real bookshops and no music/video shops. I had another coffee (decaf this time), fresh-squeezed OJ, and a chocolate croissant for breakfast, went on through security (no line! I am always going to fly on Tuesdays from now on for the rest of my life – flights on Tuesdays are cheaper, too).

There are lots of expensive fashion shops at Malpensa, but nothing I’d actually buy. A nice business class lounge would be a welcome refuge, but KLM, in spite of the Platinum status they reinstated me to a while ago, won’t let me sit in their lounge because I’m not flying on them or one of their partner airlines (what good is Platinum membership if I can’t use it anytime I damn well please?). And I can’t use Lufthansa’s lounge because I’m not flying business class with them.

So I’m sitting on the floor by the departure gate next to a wall socket (look for them on the columns near the windows) – might as well save my laptop’s battery while I can, it’s going to be a long trip. This is the only socket for miles and I’ve got it – several other laptop owners are eyeing me jealously.

Destination for this flight is Frankfurt. Also not my favorite airport. I’ve flown through there to India several times, and the terminal those flights leave from is remarkably lacking in services. Probably the US flights leave from a different terminal, hopefully with something a little more exciting in the way of food than German sausages and beer (which are only available from smoke-filled bars).

Security

Here in Milan, I did not have to take out my laptop or take my shoes off. Does this mean their equipment is different (it looks the same as any other airport x-ray)? Or should I be worried about lax security? Or (sshh! don’t tell!) does this mean that the elaborate procedures at other airports are designed to make us feel more secure when actually we aren’t?

Dressing for Travel

In the travel forums I frequent, American tourists often ask how they can dress to not look like tourists in Italy. Some other American tourists reply: “They’re going to know you’re a foreigner anyway, so why bother?” But that misses the point.

I wish all American tourists were so attentive to the cultures they are visiting as to actively research how to dress for the local culture. On my last trip through Heathrow, I noticed a group of teenage girls travelling together (I always wonder where these globetrotting kids are going, and why), and was horrified by their attire. Most were wearing sweatshirts, baggy capri-length trousers, and flip-flops. One even had her U-shaped travel pillow stuck firmly around her neck. They all looked as if they had just come off the beach.

I’m neither a prude nor a snob, and there is something I like about Americans’ relaxed attitude towards dressing. It can be a profound relief after the “keeping up with the Joneses” fashionability of Italians (I don’t always bother). But, when in a foreign country, it seems disrespectful. I wish some of my fellow citizens would think a little harder about the impression they make on others.

Airline Usability

This article has moved to my new blog, Usability Bitch. You might also like: Traveling in New Zealand KLM Makes Up, and Other Airline Experiences Ryanair’s Web Usability Tax – Passengers Pay for Incompetent Web Design Dancing Horses: The Lipizzaner Stallions

This article has moved to my new blog, Usability Bitch.

KLM Tries Harder… But Fails

In my Silicon Valley heyday I was a Platinum-level frequent flier on both KLM and British Airways, thanks to business class flights from Italy to San Francisco four or more times a year. When I quit Roxio in 2001, I stopped flying business class (in fact flew far less in any class at all), and Read More…

In my Silicon Valley heyday I was a Platinum-level frequent flier on both KLM and British Airways, thanks to business class flights from Italy to San Francisco four or more times a year. When I quit Roxio in 2001, I stopped flying business class (in fact flew far less in any class at all), and was steadily demoted by both airlines.

A couple of years ago, after its merger with Air France, KLM began actively soliciting my custom. They made me a Platinum Plus member for life, and sent me a bottle of champagne to celebrate KLM’s anniversary. BA, on the other hand, eventually dropped me from their list, and I never heard from them again.

I am now planning a trip to Singapore and Malaysia for myself and my daughter in June. KLM not only has the best prices, they’ve kept themselves in the forefront of my attention by letting me know they care to have my custom. I think they’ll get it.

I wrote the above before March 26th. On that date, my beloved aunt died in Texas, and I decided to fly there for the funeral (I had already gone twice in recent years to visit her during hospital stays).

I know that there are, or used to be, special fares offered to airline passengers in cases of emergency or bereavement. I also knew, from recent experience, that some international airlines do not now offer such: I had helped a friend book a flight from Milan to Tel Aviv for a funeral, and Alitalia told me they do not offer bereavement fares.

But I thought I’d give KLM a shot, especially in light of the warm fuzzies mentioned above. I logged into the special frequent fliers area on their website and searched for any information on bereavement fares. Nothing to be found.

I checked their online booking system to see how things looked for the dates I needed (I had some flexibility – the funeral was scheduled for the following Saturday – but could not stretch things infinitely since I would be missing work and my daughter school). The price wasn’t ultra-low, around 550 euros each was the best I could figure out in the reservation system. I was half out of my head with grief and not sure I could trust myself to book online without messing things up, so I tried calling the (Italian) customer service number listed there for ultra-special Platinum members such as myself. What I got was a phone menu with a lot of choices, none of which seemed to be “talk to an actual human being to book a flight.”

Searching elsewhere on the site, I found a general reservations number for Italy. Called that – closed on Sundays.

I finally found a booking number in the Netherlands, and called that (international long distance call!). Lo and behold, a real human woman answered, so I explained the situation. No, they don’t have bereavement fares, she said. What they do in these cases is book you at the lowest available fare. (Uh, wouldn’t I have done that anyway?) I asked her if she could book the flights for me, just so I wouldn’t make any mistakes in my state of distraction. She quoted me a price of 1100 euros each. I was startled, to say the least.

“But I just saw a fare at half that on your website!”

“It’s a different market. You’re calling Holland, we can’t access the fares available from Italy. Your best course is to book it yourself on the website.”

By now I was getting irritated enough that adrenaline was clearing my head and confusion would no longer be a problem, but I gave her one last chance to do the right thing:

“I’m a Platinum Plus frequent flier with KLM, I have just told you that I am in mourning and making an emergency trip for a funeral, and this is the best you can do to help me?”

“Yes, it is.”

So I booked my flights online. With Continental. Didn’t save much money over what I would have paid KLM (in fact, it was all so expensive that I have had to give up the Malaysia trip), but I got a far more convenient departure time. The six-hour layovers in Newark each way were less welcome, but we used the time to visit with my good friend Mithu (who works near Newark Airport), and have (well-deserved and much-needed) spa treatments at the terminal.

As for KLM, they’re going to have to try a lot harder now.

another airline saga

Share your airline experiences – who do you like (or not), and why (or why not)?