Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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19/4/15: some thoughts on air travel

I've mentioned before that, for no clear reason that I can see, I can go for months and months not leaving Dar es Salaam at all for work purposes, and then suddenly have a number of trips in quick succession.  So, at the moment I'm 3 weeks into a stationary period with no trips on the horizon at the moment.

Which is nice.  I think I've decided that I enjoy the results of the process of travelling in being in wonderful places and meeting wonderful people.  I find the process of travelling itself bearable so long as things go reasonably smoothly.  Once things start to go wrong I can become a very unhappy bunny indeed.  I'm not quite sure what it is about air travel that brings out the worst in me, I'm aware that a number of people reading this blog have seen me when I've not been the brightest ray of sunshine on the planet, but believe me, if you've not seen me foaming at the mouth in the vicinity of the airport then you've not seen the worst.  Some people have - sorry about that.  Sorry, Ronald.  Sorry, Wachira. Sorry anybody else I've not thought of.

Anyway, as a veteran of luggage becoming disattached on four separate occasions now, I feel I'm in a position to share some thoughts which, should anybody be reading who works in the airline industry, will, I think be helpful.  Re: the lost luggage, to be fair, on 3 of the 4 occasions the luggage was returned within 24 hours, and on the 4th, within 48 hours.  And on two of those occasions, having had bad journeys to that point meant that I wasn't really expecting my bags to be there.

So, my advice to airlines, jolly helpful I hope!

Do not treat air travel as a novelty
Of course, for some people it is - but then, for other people so it travel by bus, taxi, train, and so on.  There is no need to exhort me to enjoy the flight (some chance) nor is there any need to ask me how I am.  Particularly, do not ask me how I am at 2am. when the flight has been delayed for 2 hours - unless you want a totally honest answer, that is.

Do not give reasons for planes running late
This is not necessary and just ends up being annoying.  I am quite happy to accept that planes end up running late from time to time.  Telling me that the plane will be leaving late because it arrived at the airport late is ridiculous - this boils down to telling me that the plane is late because the plane is late.  And if the reason is that the engine is hanging by a thread, you can't find the superglue so you're patching it up with sellotape - frankly, I'd rather not know!

Give totally honest, accurate, information
PLEASE do not obfuscate, delay, keep quiet. Just tell us what is going on!  The worst example of this was when I was in a queue to drop my bags, everybody else was doing so quite amicably, but when it came to me I was told, "You will be on this flight but your seat has not been allocated yet.  If you can go and wait over there" - pointing to a far distant bench, long way from harm's reach - "we'll come to see you when we're ready."  Alarm bells ringing, I insisted on seeing the flight supervisor and refused to move away from the desk, so stopping them dealing with other people.  Shortly afterwards, surprise surprise, I was given a seat, and when I got onto the flight discovered that it was completely full.

Now, had they said to me, "In accordance with normal airline policy we have overbooked this flight in the knowledge that generally not everybody turns up. However, on this occasion it appears that we have too many passengers for the seats available.  We are giving priority to people with connecting flights and who are travelling in a group.  Since neither applies to you, we would ask that you not travel on this flight.  In which case we will put you up in a hotel, guarantee you on the first flight tomorrow and give *** compensation"  I would, I think, have said, yes, OK, that's fine.

So, just be honest with me!  Tell me what is going on!  I want to be reasonable with you, so PLEASE be reasonable with me!

Ensure ground staff understand they are representing the airline
Clearly if a plane is late so that passengers end up missing their connecting flights, this is not the fault of the ground staff sitting behind 'help desks' (this is a technical term, you understand, not really related to the normal use of these words).  But you can reasonably assume that passengers in this situation are going to be on a short fuse, wanting to be polite to the people they're dealing with but not able to take much provocation.

So, please, can the people working behind these desks understand that they are representing the airline, do not try to interest me in the contractual arrangements between the airline and the ground services firm?  That it is their job to take responsibility for what has gone wrong on behalf of the airline?  Can they try to employ people who have not been to a charm school run by the Addams family?  Who have watched the character from 'Little Britain' dealing with enquiries ending up with inevitable response, 'Computer says no' understanding that this is a comedy programme, not a training video?  I wish I was exaggerating but, please believe me, I'm really not, not at all....

Think that's all for now.  Rant is over.  Conjunctivitis (see last week's post) is over so now feeling fighting fit, ready for students returning for term 2 tomorrow.  What is the link between the class I'm teaching on Tuesday and the El-Shabbab attack on Garrissa University before Easter?  Ah, to know that you'll need to contact me privately.....

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