The highly entertaining Nury Vittachi, columnist, compére, wit and observer of some of the more bizarre things in life used to write a regular column in the Far Eastern Economic Review called Travellers' Tales; having such things in it as the classic and still passed around (with variations) today, of the "Morny, ruin sorbees"* conversation in a Bangkok hotel. Well, apologies, Nury, I sort of plagiarised it for this Blog today, just because it fits my purpose.
If you travel as much as I seem to be doing, you have to expect the odd "difficult" experience at airports and with airlines and with immigration and particularly with security. If you smile at them they think you are acting unnaturally and if you don't smile, you're obviously behaving suspiciously! The law of averages itself would see to it that somewhere down the line you will fall foul of something or someone. But I guess I have either become anesthetised to the problems so I don't notice them, or if it really is something out of my control then any amount of screaming and shouting isn't going to change anything - so I don't.
Having worked all my life (so far, anyway) in the service industry, I am only too well aware of the things that can go wrong, and that the nearest person you want to take it out on often had nothing to do with the problem. Equally, those complaint letters that find their way into the newspapers seem, in many cases, to be about trivial things and if you ever get into the detail, the complainant was quite regularly a contributing factor to the problem - although you can't tell them that!
So a word in defence of our local airline - Cathay Pacific - who appear with some regularity in the local press but who last week got me off a plane in Hong Kong that was late in from Kuala Lumpur (arrived gate 62) on to the train, through transit and security, and onto a London flight (departing from gate 1) in 18 minutes flat. Now that's service!
And before you start getting all - "well he flies a lot so they are bound to take care of him" or, "he flies up the front of the aircraft, so of course they look after him" - get back in your seats! Perhaps only the "he flies a lot" would have any weight - none of the rest of it is true. There was another passenger also going for the same London flight. In addition there were three passengers catching a Los Angeles flight who were afforded the same courtesy.
I had already accepted the fact that the inbound flight was going to be late in arriving, and while on board the crew had made arrangements for me to catch the midnight flight to London. But on arrival at the gate the Cathay staff were there - and having clearly stated there were no guarantees - off we went. But the wider point here is this. It was not just the cooperation of the airline - it was the fact that the transport system at the airport works so well, and that the security services were also willing to help. And I can think of plenty of airports around the world where that just would not happen!!
So, thank you Cathay and thank you Airport Authority.
And on the subject of travel, I wonder how many of you read and swear by the comments on the web site Trip Advisor. I must confess, I do go through them from time to time as I had generally thought they were a useful source of background information. But then I recalled some news articles recently about the "unreliability" of the sites. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority raised serious concerns that not all the reports were genuine, and placed some restrictions on the claims being made by Trip Advisor. So not quite as independent as you might think.
I am a firm believer in reporting and feedback, as long as it is fair and objective. Criticism is fine - it enables action to be taken, but I have just watched a programme about some of the people who go to various establishments to comment - particularly on Trip Advisor, and oh my goodness!
One "critic" put a pencil mark on the bottom corner of a sheet so he could check whether the hotel changed the sheets or not. Other than it being environmentally unfriendly to wash sheets too often - not something he considered, he said the reason he was concerned was because he had a skin condition and needed his sheets changed regularly. Fair enough, perhaps, but did he think he should tell the hotel about this? Oh no. It was up to them to enquire, he said.
He was the same person who reported negatively on hotel service when he was brought a gin and tonic, instead of a gin and lemonade. The drink was changed immediately and with apologies, but no, the later report marked the establishment down for poor service. (Even his Granny, who was with him at the time, thought it was a bit harsh)
He apparently did not get on very well at school, was bullied, was not academically gifted (I can relate to that!) and was not considered to be good at anything much. But as a "critic" he had found something he was really good at!! You can form your own opinions.
All I have to say on the subject is that if you are planning a trip and Trip Advisor is your sole guide, maybe you should be digging a little broader and deeper.
* Morny, ruin sorbees - Morning, room service!