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.

LAX Magazine // Don't Believe the Hype

Let me be the first to go on record and say air travel sucks. My week spent in Europe last month taught me that air travel doesn’t actually have to suck. I visited five European airports that were nice, clean, and interesting. More importantly, they worked. The people there were friendly. And they were faster and more efficient than anything I’ve seen in the states.

Schiphol is one of the best. Among other things (like, I don’t know, the meditation centre, hotel, Nike store), the airport offers membership in a premium club. Independent of the airlines, you can buy your way into elite-level service from the airport itself. I’ve long wondered why they don’t do that here.

An airport is essentially a mall: They lease the space out to tenants, but are ultimately responsible for the experience their patrons have. The airline business has been messed up for over a decade, so why haven’t airlines figured out that they can take some ownership and make things better for themselves, their tenants, and us?

Oh, my point: LAX. The experience at LAX is generally terrible. Their big idea to set things right: let’s publish a magazine! I imagine the thinking went a little something like this:

- We’re hurting for money because the air travel business is in trouble

- We have a captive audience, of relatively well-off consumers

- Let’s make a magazine for people to read on-site, and then we’ll make money from ads

Here’s what’s wrong with this:

1. People don’t like the LAX brand; they don’t want to read your magazine

2. Travelers have access to huge bookstores with magazine racks, inside every airport, plus free magazines on the plane. Plus iPods and tons of other stuff to do while you wait. So you’re not fulfilling a need.

3. Although it does occupy people’s time, it doesn’t fix any of the problems that people have with traveling. Where’s the value proposition?

What they should do:

- Retrain TSA and the traffic cops out front that their jobs are to provide service, not be tyrants

- Work with your tenants to get flights in and out on time. Enforce penalties for late flights.

- Enough with Brookstone and Chili’s To Go! We’re in Los Angeles, which happens to have some of the best dining and shopping in the world. Get some good local stores and entertainment in there.

- Make extra money by inviting brands to engage your captive audience, who now might actually enjoy being there. But make them provide value to your customers. Free stuff in exchange for surveys or product demos at the gates.