Friday, July 30, 2010

"Best Practices" in international air travel

July 24/29 - Traveling from Singapore to Seoul and back again.
Flying Singapore Airlines business class on long haul flights is a memorable experience, as I have written in previous postings. From check in-to landing, every detail is managed with such attentiveness and efficiency; one wishes the flight might last a bit longer. But I had never flown economy class and wondered what that experience would be like. On today’s medium distance from Singapore to Seoul, I had the opportunity to find out.

From years of post 9-11 international travel, I have habituated myself to 3 hour early airport arrivals, with additional cushions for untoward events built in. War ravaged Sri Lanka requiresthis, but so does the United States, where highways can be jammed, checkin lines long and (especially in the US) security check in lines even longer. This morning, I arrived early. Check in took ten minutes with no lines. The service was more modest than the spectacular level business class provides, but cheerful, conscious and efficient.

Whenever I check in at Changi airport or fly Singapore airlines, I wonder, with a bit of nostalgic sadness why American airlines and airports can’t be better. In my early years of international air travel, Pan American World Airways and the Pan Am Terminal at Kennedy Airport set widely admired standards to which others aspired. I wonder if executives of US Air and United Airlines - to target my worst offenders - ever travel incognito on their own carriers, experiencing the dispirited (sometimes bordering on hostile) checkin and cabin service that I have experienced. Do they investigate the best practices of carriers such as Singapore and Qatar, regularly ranked #1 and #2 by international travelers. Are they trying to set a standard of excellence and failing due to incompetence or lack of effort. Or is it that they simply don’t care.

PS. The gate check-in process at Inchon Airport (on my return flight) - was well below Singapore Airlines standards. It was so much below my usual experiences I asked if those in charge were Singapore Airlines employees. One said “yes” but the others were employed by their “partners.” Insofar as is possible, it seems to me that SAL should choose “partners” with care and, having chosen, should be attentive to the level of service they provide.

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