Not always a great way to fly

Not always the service that you get.

Given the challenging times that lie ahead, you would expect carriers to do all they can to keep their customers happy. Unfortunately, as my recent experience with Singapore Airlines shows, that is not always the case.

Let me say first, though, that I really do like SIA. They normally have great service, their connectivity out of Singapore is second to none, and it is a reliable airline that does not usually let me down. The experience that I am about to relate, though, has made me realise that too many of us have an idealised view of the airlines that we like.

Last month, while waiting to take off on a trip to Tokyo, the pilot announced that there would a short delay to a small technical problem. That short delay turned into a 75-minute wait inside a crowded Boeing 747-400, with the air-conditioning switched off in the section where I was sitting. The experience literally left me hot under the collar.

Around 45 minutes into the ordeal, I asked a stewardess why we were not being let out of the aircraft. My first shock came when one of her colleagues, who was walking past us and heard me and gave an indignant sneer in my direction. You know, the type where she really saying: “Another bloody idiot.” The second came when the lady that I asked said nonchalantly: “Can you just go back to your seat please? We will tell you if there are any changes to the plan.” It was the tone of her voice, though, that got to me. She might as well have told me: “Stop moaning and sit down.”

I would have, but for the fact that it was simply too hot where I was sitting. I soon got hold of an in-flight supervisor, who assured me that they were considering getting us out of the aircraft sauna. He was an experienced hand, and his professionalism was a good example for the rest. But it eventually took around 30 minutes more before a decision was made to change the aircraft and we were let out.

SIA could have relayed more information to the passengers, who were left wondering why they were sitting in the aircraft for so long. Waitng for more than an hour inside an aircraft with the air-conditioning switched off is simply not on as well. And the crew should have been better trained to deal with the situation.

I have a lot of sympathy for airline crew. It is not easy trying to serve several hundred passengers in economy, who vent their frustration at the long flight by ordering around the flight crew. Surely, though, that is no excuse for being plain rude? I am not expecting the five-star service that business or first class passengers get on SIA, but it is not unfair to expect some polite answers and responses.

This was not an isolated incident. Several friends who have been flying on Singapore Airlines for several years are reporting that they are getting worse service on the flights than before. Admittedly, it is still better than in most other airlines. Increasingly, though, they feel that they are not being rewarded for their loyalty and some are trying out competing products.

A colleague recently flew on Cathay Pacific and came back saying that he was very happy. He intends to use them more frequently from now, even if there is a short lay-over in Hong Kong. Ditto for a friend who recently flew on both Malaysian Airlines and Thai Airways, and was surprised at the quality of the on-board service. They are grateful for the ability to choose.

I, though, am sticking to Singapore Airlines for now. My loyalty is not just to the carrier, but also to several friends who work there. I also still like what SIA offers on board. Ultimately, all I want in most flights is a diet coke, the crackers with cheese, and for my headphones to work so that I can watch the movies and pass the time.

The competition, though, is catching up. When times are bad, people will sniff around at the other options. Treating your customers badly is not the way to keep your lead in the game.

One Response to Not always a great way to fly

  1. spacman 17 November, 2008 at 5:55 pm #

    Mate, fly BA or any American carrier and you would be luck to be let off the plan after 8hrs.. SQ is still miles ahead of any other airlines and your just sounding spoiled…

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