You may remember my post Pains, Planes & Automobiles from 2009 where I lambasted the customer experience of Air Travel. Three years on is it any better?
I book online and it's a breeze, but I do notice that they now charge per item of baggage. This actually suits us as with 4 young children we don't need to pay for six items of luggage - so I book 4 which cuts the price down. We get up to 23kg per item of luggage. Our toddler is free but he has to sit on a lap. I suggest to my wife that should be her, which earns me a look that could turn milk.
Well since 2009, Sydney Airport hasn't moved - nor has a much discussed 2nd Sydney Airport been built. This means that we still have to make the 15km drive to the airport on the other side of Sydney. Doesn't sound far, does it? But this is Sydney we are talking about - with it's hideous traffic and 3rd world road network). We are so terrified that we'll get stuck in traffic we set off 3 hours before our flight. That's a domestic flight where we have to be there 45 mins prior to the flight departure time.
One improvement is that I book the parking online this time - and it's considerably cheaper for twice the duration.
I take a different route from 3 years ago - it costs me more but we arrive at the airport in plenty of time (thanks to my GPS and my e-tag which speeds me through the toll roads). I drop off the wife and kids at the front door and go to long-term parking. Somehow I manage to drive past the entrance to the parking and have to double back. That annoys me as I was looking for a road sign which I couldn't see - but I later notice that the car park (named "Blue Emu") is festooned with giant banners of Blue Emus all over it so I blame my "man vision" for that one. The car park has been improved by the addition of animal names so you can remember where you have parked. I park in section C - "Craig the Koala" so I can't possibly forget where I have to return 2 weeks later. I can't help but think that it should be "Craig the Crocodile", but "crocodile" is hard to fit on a sign...
So far so good and I am whisked away from the bus stop to the airport within 5 minutes so I am back with my waiting hoard in just 15 minutes.
We have already checked in and picked our seats and as we are 2 hours early the bag drop queue is only 5 minutes long. This time we can take our baby buggy to the gate (last time we couldn't) but the bad news is that despite us having 2 tiny cases and one medium sized case our large case is over 23kg's and we are charged $40. Previously Virgin would simply add up the luggage total and divide by the number of bags - not so, anymore. Any bag over 23kg's is charged an excess. I ask the check-in lady if this has changed recently and she says it changed about a year ago. Nice of them to make that obvious. I'm seriously pissed off. Customer experience dissatisfaction #1.
So with time to kill we grab a coffee and some breakfast. The airport chiche of bad, overpriced food unfortunately still holds true. Customer experience dissatisfaction #2.
After breakfast we make our way to the gate - when we arrive there are no seats left so we have to stand. I don't really mind as there is a large space where our kids can run around in circles annoying other passengers, but I feel sorry for others who stand looking at screens with thousand yard stares, waiting for the golden moment when "boarding" appears. Customer experience dissatisfaction #3.
We board the plane and hand our buggy over - all is good and we take our seats. I'm impressed that the aircraft is new and that all of the seats have entertainment devices which have games, TV and movies. The kids are very excited by this. Big. Improvement. Pity none of the headsets work properly so we sit with buzzing in our ears for 5 hours. Customer experience dissatisfaction #4.
Drinks arrive fairly promptly after take-off, but as the tray tables slope downwards my son's drink slides off the table and into my lap. Nothing like having a giant orange juice stain to make you look like a seasoned traveller. I ask the steward why the tray tables slope and he says that "people keep leaning on them". Funny that, people actually using the tray tables. Food arrives a short time later and the quality is reasonable but I have to hold my son's food tray while he eats as it keeps sliding off the table. This is not fun when you consider how long children can take to eat food. Customer experience dissatisfaction #5.
After 5 hours of swapping a squirming, tired toddler between our laps we finally arrive at our destination. We pick up our suitcases and buggy promptly (marvelling at how tiny and pleasant Perth airport is). I do have to pay $4 for a trolley to take me the 200m across the road to the car rental pickup, however. I am old enough to still remember the porters who would cheerfully collect your luggage at Glasgow airport and take it to check-in for you in the 1970's. For Free!Customer experience dissatisfaction #6.
I follow the instructions on the hire car company email to go to the meeting point and to call the number to arrange to meet the rep. I am told on the phone where the car is and given a code to collect the key inside the glove box (there is no rep!). I like this system but it could have been improved if they'd have emailed or sent me an SMS of the details. The instructions could have been updated thereby eliminating a breakpoint and requiring minimal human intervention (reduced cost for the hire car company). I collect the car and all is good except that they haven't marked any of the damage on the report form. It looks like the car has been used for dodgem practice so I spend 10 minutes writing down the 300 dents and scratches. I also find it strange that they provide cash to pay for the car park. As they've dropped off the car too early I have to pay more for the car park than the cash they have left. Customer experience dissatisfaction #7.
We have a great two week holiday but the real pain starts on the return leg. I receive a handy email advising that I can check-in 48 hours prior - even using their new mobile service! So I try to check in via my iphone and receive and error. I try on an ipad and a PC and still receive an error. Check in at the airport it tells me. I check my mother in via mobile with no problem. I must be special. Customer experience dissatisfaction #8.
I call Virgin customer service. I can't understand the girl as she's speaking pigeon English and have to ask her to slow down. She tells me she doesn't know why I can't check in. I tell her I don't care as long as she can check me in. She says she can't check me in but she can reserve seats for me. Yes, that's right. She can't check me in. Customer experience dissatisfaction #9. I decide that I'll check us in at the web kiosk at the airport then use the bag drop.
1 day prior to our flight I receive both an email and a text to say that our flight is delayed (I don't mind as it means extra sleep!) I appreciate the notification.
We arrive at the airport, drop the car off (following the easy instructions), pay for another trolley (urgh!) and make our way inside. As I had feared the check-in queue was hideous so I made my way to the kiosk to check in. Ahhh...the kiosk - so devoid of the inadequacies of inert customer service staff.
"Check-in for this flight has closed" it tells me. Noooooooooooooo. It appears that the virgin system hasn't accounted for the flight change so has closed the check-in an hour earler than it needed to. Either that or the flight is on time and check-in really is closed. Now I'm in a panic. Customer experience dissatisfaction #10.
I join the hideous queue which take 20 minutes to get through to us being checked in. Customer experience dissatisfaction #11. But we do check in - with no excesses this time due to careful packing.
We are late so rush to the gate (which now looks like some sort of war zone) with people queueing everywhere. Customer experience dissatisfaction #12. We board and pass our buggy to a helpful virgin member of staff who says "I'll take care of that for you".
We have an uneventful flight other than the usual sloping trays and spilling drinks. The kids are well behaved apart from our toddler who persists in throwing himself in front of the drinks trolley like a lemming. The staff smile politely. I was delighted to see that they changed the headphones to a new brand - unfortunately they no longer fit in children's ears so my three kids have to hold the earplugs in their ears the entire 5 hour flight. Cue whingeathon. Customer experience dissatisfaction #13
We land and depart to the horror that is Sydney Airport on a Saturday afternoon. We pick up our bags - well we try to - one of them isn't there. We wait, and wait. Suspiciously there is a bag with a similar tag as ours hypnotically doing laps of the carousel until it is the only one left. The painful realisation that some numbnut has taken our bag slowly sinks in. I panic knowing that the suitcase contains my twin boys' favourite stuffed animals, which they love more than me. I rush to the virgin bagage desk only to find my wife there reporting that our buggy is also lost not having turned up at excess baggage. Customer experience dissatisfaction #14.
We wait 1 hour until a rugby shirt wearing Mr Potato head lookalike turns up with our case. My eyes glaze over as he tells me his reasons for picking up a case which is neither the same make, brand, size, shape or colour. Apology accepted, now please leave me alone as I want to die having been at baggage collection for an hour and a half with 4 grumpy, hungry children fighting over a stale cookie scraped from the bottom of my wife's handbag. It still seems strange to me that anyone can walk up and take a bag full of thousands of dollars worth of goods so easily. Customer experience dissatisfaction #15.
Our buggy is still lost and the virgin staff tell us "we have tons of them - we can give you another one if you like". Nice to know they are so regularly lost! She wheels out what looks like a brand new super deluxe buggy which we dash out of the airport with before someone finds it. Bonus. It almost makes up for the pain.
Finally I go to the car park - well I try but I can't find the bus stop. I hunt up and down. There are plenty of signs but none of them have a "you are here" dot on them so it's impossible to know where I am. I see the bus sailing past. I want to cry! I eventually find a security guard who points me in the right direction. Customer experience dissatisfaction #16.
There is no pick up at the terminal so we have to walk hundreds of metres to a pick-up area before I finally get on the bus and return to pick them up.
9 hours of travel (only 4 of which were on a plane) and we are finally home.
It's good that we had 3 years between flights - it allowed us time to forget what was and still is a hideous customer experience from start to finish.