airlines

Jet Airways // On the Run

I'm embarrassed to write this. Our flight back to the US from China was booked on Jet Airways, an Indian carrier I'd never heard of. When I found that out, I immediately called American to see if they could change it to one of their own flights. I thought of all the stories I've heard from well-traveled friends in remote far-reaching areas, so the images in my head were of a dirty, poorly kept plane with livestock running about. Okay, maybe not the livestock, but you get the picture. (Although, I do have a friend who flew in Russia in the 90's and there were chickens on her flight, so I'm not totally making this up.) I'd love to think I'm more open-minded than that, but that was my initial reaction. American couldn't switch us, so here I am, sitting in new-looking plane, in the nicest business class I've ever seen. After offering a glass of Dom Perignon, and a pair of pajamas (did I mention I'm in business, not first class), the flight attendant comes down with the magazine cart packed full of enough interesting material that I could fly back to China and still have magazines left over. I mean, there's actually too much space, and the crew, service, and food are first rate. Much nicer than anything American offers. So there's that.

If I had gotten my way, I would have had the same flight experience I'm used to, which is good, but not great. I wasn't open-minded enough to make it happen on my own, so fate stepped in to teach me not to judge a book by its cover, or rather, an airline by its country of origin. While American does score points for having such a good partner, on my next flight to the East I'll definitely be trying to get a seat on JET Airways.

See, American is just good enough to keep me coming back (which is a lot more than I can say for some of its competitors), but only because there isn't usually another viable option. That works for them most of the time because their industry is generally in trouble. But what happens when someone new comes along and makes a superior offering? What about your brand? Are you getting by with "good enough," or are you finding ways to deliver something special?

Emirates // Don't Believe the Hype

Emirates ad on the BART in San Francisco Does this even need explaining?

It's an ad for Emirates first class that I saw yesterday on the BART in San Francisco. I also saw the same campaign on a city bus. They're advertising their flight experience where apparently you get your own Manhattan-sized apartment. Rated one of the 10 best in the world by MSNBC, tickets average over seven grand. The guy sitting in front of the ad paid — just like I did — $3 for his BART ticket.

What are they thinking?

Emirates does not need mass marketing. They need highly targeted, highly relevant marketing to affluent individuals and the right businesses. Neither I nor the folks waiting at the bus stop qualify.

Here's what they should do:

1. Fire their media agency.

2. Advertise in places like ASmallWorld, LinkedIn, and Xing, where the ads can be highly targeted and interactive, and they have a greater chance of reaching the right people.

3. Participate in some of the networking events we're doing for high net worth individuals. We haven't talked about that yet on this blog, but I'll be happy to fill you in if you contact me. Basically, you can get face-to-face with people by facilitating their lifestyle interests. In exchange, you get a few moments of their attention, and the goodwill that comes with sponsoring someone's passions.

Or, you can advertise on a bus.

Delta Airlines // Don't Believe the Hype

I fly American. Not because I love the airline - I don’t. But a few years back I found myself with about 100,000 miles on United, American, and Delta and no elite status on any. If you travel enough, you start to learn that these things matter, so I flipped a coin one day and picked American. I signed up for multiple AAdvantage credit cards and an Advantage bank account. Now I’m trapped and would switch in a heartbeat if I found something better. Last week I had to fly Delta, since somehow America’s largest airline doesn’t fly direct to one of America’s largest cities. I had been wondering whether Delta was any better than the others, with the in-seat TVs and menu created by well-know chef, Todd English.

Seemed like they were on the right track. I don’t think paying for airplane food is such a bad idea, as long as it’s food worth paying for. Nor paying for a movie, if it’s a movie I want to see. In fact, I’d pay just for them not to show the latest Billy Crystal or the tv-version of the 40 Year Old Version three years after the fact.

Here’s the thing, and I’ll put it bluntly: after all the hype, the food sucked. The orzo had way too much oil - to the point you couldn’t taste anything else. And my rowmates didn’t seem to fair too much better – one woman liked her caesar salad, but the other one threw away almost her whole fried chicken sandwich. Todd English should be ashamed.

Oh, and roughly half the TVs on the flight, including mine both directions, didn’t work at all. I didn’t want to watch TV — I’m writing this on the return flight now — but if you offer it up, you better be able to deliver.

When are the airlines going to wake up? Stop nickel-and-diming your customers to death. Get into some real work defining what’s going to make your brand different and better, and then get serious about executing it. Can’t they see that nearly everyone is frustrated with nearly every airline? Don’t they see that they have a tremendous opportunity to be the one who gets it right?

I flew business not too long ago and there was an Ameritrade placard on my meal tray. To be fair, it could have been Schwab, or actually any one else in that business. Not only do I not remember who it was, it offended me that this airline I don’t like, who isn’t doing anything to really earn my business, had the arrogance to think I’d take their word for anything. They can’t even tell me within reason when my flight takes off.

Rebelize It:

1. Stop calling us “passengers.” We’re customers. That means you need to kiss our asses like you want our business. Treat my time like it’s valuable by being on time, even if that means you have to adjust the schedule so you can cheat your way into being on time. Move me through the airport quickly and efficiently. Stop losing luggage — that’s just ridiculous. Stop tolerating rudeness on the part of your staff. 2. Get your marketing off the TV and out into the world. The jingles and the hand drawn blah blah blah. Who cares! Travel — especially air travel — is one of the primary topics of conversation among friends, family, co-workers. Focus on providing the best possible experience and everyone will talk about it. You need to work your word-of-mouth. 3. Leverage what you’ve got. You have the captive attention of millions of people. At the gate, the lounge, in the air. That’s the time to be marketing to me. Not just by telling me — but showing me — what a great job you’re doing. It’s also the time to get other brands involved. Let’s get some free McDonald’s up on this bitch; let Coors give away free beer; get P&G to sample some of their new products. Whatever — just give stuff away. People will gladly fill out surveys, email addresses, and whatever if there’s something in it for them.

Rebel Europe - More on the Airlines // On the Run

Quick disclaimer: I’m not coming back from a week in Europe to say that they’re better than we are. There are plenty of things we do better over here (burritos, for one). But... While there I took four inter-European flights. Amsterdam to London and back, and back again. That makes me feel like an expert. Here’s what they’re doing right and we’re not:

They’re nice. The check-in, security, and boarding processes are all basically the same as at home. You still have to take out your laptop, take off your shoes, and so on. But first of all it’s faster. Not sure, why, because like I said, the process is the same, and there seems to be roughly the same number of attendants. In fact, it may be more labor intensive. There’s an attendant that helps each person with the x-ray conveyor. Helps you take your liquids, etc. out of your back and makes sure you haven’t left any change in your pocket.

Somehow at home, this is a degrading experience, someone standing over your shoulder, barking out orders like you’re a child. These people in Europe act like they’re performing you a service, which they are. I’m not explaining it very well, but it’s just different.

Everything on the flight is for sale. Just like at home now. The difference is that they have good stuff for sale. Nice little toasted sandwiches. The Todd English food on Delta sucks compared to these joints for two bucks or so.

And the airports are nice. One time I flew out of London’s Stansted airport. About a hour outside of town. Geographically, it’s a bit like flying out of Ontario or Long Beach. But this is a huge beautiful airport. Not to mention that both Heathrow and Schiphol make LAX look like a dump in terms of both aesthetics and services.

Anybody know what the problem is?

Something else I noticed in Europe: There’s a VIP club you can join at Schiphol. And very cool stores, like Paul Smith, Nike, and Armani. We have Brookstone. Please. Heathrow has a mall that rivals South Coast Plaza.

Schiphol has massage rooms, showers, and an on-site hotel.

The point is, the airport actually takes some responsibility for the customer experience. And they should. Why leave it all up to the airlines to manage the interaction? Especially after years of proving they don’t get it. Ok, LAX does have the secret service for celebrities, but what about the rest of us, who patronize that business on a weekly or monthly basis and just tolerate it? Screw that. LAX should realize that we’re their customers and treat us as such. Happy customers spend money. Treat us right.

By the way: American just introduced some sort of crazy first class service at Heathrow. Private check-in lounge and a Flagship Club, which is adjacent to, and better than the Admirals Club. I didn’t go in, but I’m getting the message that they’re getting the message.

Rebelize It:

Make the airport a fun place to be. Be selective about who you rent space to, and hire people who understand customer service. The airport should be a guided tour that is both pleasant to easy. Make it somewhere people want to come early, hang out, and spend money. Not a fluorescent clusterfuck that people dread going to and can’t wait to get out of.

The Airlines and AT&T // Don't Believe the Hype

I’m trying not to pick on the airlines. Enough smart people are doing that. Read Seth Godin’s piece for someone who knows what he’s talking about. If they’re not listening to him, they’re surely not going to listen to me. But I need to get this off my chest - on my flight to Paris there was an AT&T flyer on my dinner tray. I’ve seen ads like this before, and I usually get annoyed and refuse to look. I kept this one so I could make fun of it. It says the phones work in over 200 countries. Hey, good for you! First problem is I get nothing out of this ad. Drinks weren’t free on the flight; AT&T wasn’t sponsoring American’s new in-flight wi-fi, which wasn’t even in effect on my flight. Nothing.

Second problem: I’m already an AT&T customer. Even if I wasn’t annoyed by the ad, what am I supposed to do? Call and make sure my I can use my phone overseas? I’m already on the plane. And I already did that. And guess what? When I did, they offered shit for options.

So I found another solution: Rail Europe: the U.S. marketer of European train travel. The purchase process led me to a company called Call In Europe, with a special discount for Rail Europe customers. For $29, I got a Euro SIM card with BlackBerry service, and a domestic forwarding # so you can still reach me on my regular number.

AT&T should have offered me this. And they should have bought me a drink for the privilege of advertising to me in-flight - then I might be talking about about how cool AT&T and American are, instead of talking about how wack they are.