Few of you reading this blog post will not have seen one of these machines. Not many of you will have avoided having to use one in the last twelve months. My recent half term holiday with the family to Lanzarote saw me come into contact with one such machine. The machine itself is not the subject of this post. It serves a very valuable purpose. It exists to enable anyone that boards a plane to do so with a little more confidence that only things that should be on the plane are indeed on it. I am therefore very happy for my bags, coat, belt and shoes to be placed on to the belt to travel the short distance it takes for them to be cleared for take off.
However, not many machines can be operated without some assistance from the humble human. These machines require the support of a number of people to complete the ‘baggage check’ process. One person looks at a screen to see what is inside the items going through it. If they see anything that looks as though it should not be permitted on board a plane, they take action. At Manchester airport, this means that the bag in question is ‘pushed’ by the machine away from the passenger, and towards the other humans in the process. These people are the ones who have the responsibility to ‘seek out’ the suspected offending item(s).
The official who happened to be the one to check my daughters rucksack at the start of my holiday has proven to be one of the inspirations for this blog post. To explain why, please afford me a little time to tell you what happened.
Caitie is eight years old. She is a little girl who gets very excited about going on holiday – I am sure your little people are no different. Caitie packed her rucksack in preparation for our half term sojourn at least a week before we were due to leave. Full of books, colouring pads, pens, iPod, headphones, and a little bit of ‘One Direction’ memorabilia, the content of her bag was exactly what you would expect from a little girl. It was packed to perfection, exactly as she liked it. Being responsible parents (at least Naomi is anyway), we did check her bag before we left the house – the only items that needed removing were multiple bottles of nail varnish!!
So when Caitie’s bag was ‘pushed’ to the baggage check official, we were a little surprised. Maybe we had forgotten a bottle of nail varnish – that would have been a simple mistake. As I was the first through the physical check, it was I who questioned why the bag was being checked. I was very brusquely told that there was a pair of tweezers in the bag. A pair of tweezers. Caitie has never owned a pair of tweezers – I am not even sure she knows what tweezers are!
Now at this point, I suspect that some of you may be thinking – ‘the official is only doing her job’ – and you are absolutely right. My gripe has nothing to do with the fact that the lady in question was doing her job. It was the way she did it that made me rather cross. Making absolutely no attempt to engage in a positive way with me or Caitie, she proceeded to very slowly remove every single item from Caitie’s bag. Ignoring my comments that Caitie ‘does not own tweezers’, I was shouted at for ‘touching the bag’ to help her remove items from it.
By now, Caitie was starting to get upset, she could not understand why this rude and horrible woman was taking everything out of the bag. The woman had not acknowledged Caitie’s existence. Naomi, having survived her ‘frisking’ had now arrived at the scene. Seeing that the colour in my face had changed, she gently encourage me to ‘walk away’ – she is a wise woman my wife. From afar I could see Naomi trying to communicate with a woman who was on a mission to find something that quite simply did not exist. Eventually, having removed the entire contents of the bag and found nothing, she put the empty bag and its contents back through the scanning machine. Surprise, surprise, the bag came through without being ‘pushed’ anywhere. No apology, no explanation, no help in replacing everything she had removed. ‘I was just doing my job’.
Again, I must state, I have no qualms with her doing her job. What I must question though, is that is ‘just doing your job’ when you work in a profession such as this, ever an excuse to treat your customer with contempt? What would it have cost this lady to have smiled at Caitie when she started checking her bag? How difficult would it have been for her to gently explain why she was doing what she was doing? Would it have been impossible for her to treat a little girl’s possessions with respect and care? The stony faced ‘I can do what the hell I want’ attitude does not help anyone. Why did she seem to care so little about her job and the people she is there to help protect? What could be done to change her behaviour? I’ll come back to that later.
Do any of you remember the TV programme hosted by Esther Rantzen called ‘That’s Life’? This lady would have been a prime candidate for their ‘jobsworths’ award. Unfortunately, this lady (and I must point out that she undoubtedly does not represent the behaviour of her colleagues, some of whom I am sure do not act as she did) was not the only example of what I would describe as ‘jobsworths’ on our holiday.
The next example occurred very shortly after we finally cleared the baggage check, and whilst my blood pressure was still higher than it should have been! I needed to buy a bottle of water. Just one small 500ml bottle of the clear liquid we need to sustain our bodies. I approached the WHSmith shop expecting to complete the transaction within a minute of entering. As I approached the checkout, I clearly observed the shop assistant asking for boarding passes prior to taking payment. Everyone in front of me was purchasing magazines, books, and an assortment of food and drink. Surely I would not be asked for my boarding pass to pay for a bottle of water?
You guessed it! ‘Boarding pass please’, was the instruction from the pleasant lady the other side of the till. ‘Can I ask why you need to see my boarding pass’? I enquired politely (despite my high blood pressure levels). ‘Because I will be told off if I don’t’ was the response. It was obvious that she had no idea why she was asking for my boarding pass – she was merely doing what she had been told to do. Do you know why I had to give her my boarding pass to pay for a bottle of water? No-one has ever explained why this is necessary to me. I do not blame the lady for ‘doing her job’, but surely she should be in a position to explain why it is necessary to a customer. On our way home, I bought two bars of chocolate from a little shop at the airport in Lanzarote. This time I expected the lady to need to see my boarding pass. On this occasion though she waved it away saying it was ‘not necessary’. I have no doubt that she was ‘supposed’ to see my boarding pass – she could not be described as a ‘jobsworth’, but is it worse to fail to do what you have been told to?
Fortunately, once in Lanzarote, all thoughts of ‘jobsworths’ dissipated – only to be replaced by glorious sunshine, lovely food, and great fun. Exactly as a holiday should be. I do have one more ‘jobsworth’ story though. This time it is related to an experience that many of you will be able to relate to. The wonderful experience of checking in at an airport outside of the UK. This is what we experienced on arrival at Lanzarote airport, two and a half hours before our flight was due to depart:
Had there been an ash cloud? Was the weather so severe in the UK that all the flights were delayed? Had the airport staff gone on strike? No, no and no – although the staff may as well have been on strike. The reason we were met with this scene, is that the airport staff will only open the checkouts in this airport precisely two hours before the flight is due to depart. Not a second before! I am sure the airport in Lanzarote is not the only one to have this ‘policy’.
Who cares that passengers are queuing outside the terminal doors. Why should anyone worry about screaming children? It does not matter that there are so many people squeezing in to the airport that no-one can pass the queue to check in to other flights. Let alone the fact that queuing people are not spending money in shops the other side of the baggage check.
What I also fail to understand is why some airports (especially those outside of the UK) do not have a ‘snake’ queuing system – where everyone joins one queue and those at the front go to the next available desk. Not only does this make queuing easier, it significantly reduces stress levels as passengers fight each other to join the shortest queue.
All in all, and down to the ridiculous ‘jobsworths’ that deem it necessary to stick to the ‘two hour rule’, many holidaymakers who have ‘de-stressed’ during their holiday return to the stress levels that make a holiday necessary in the first place. The experience will make me think again about travelling to Lanzarote for a holiday – the airport is still very much a part of the customer journey that makes up the complete holiday. Going home is bad enough without having to face such a poor experience in the airport!
I asked the question earlier in this post of what could be done to change the behaviour of ‘jobsworths’? There are many professions that could be seen in the same light as the lady doing the baggage check. Police officers are just one of those professions. It is possible to ‘just do your job’ and treat the people you are serving in a friendly, courteous and engaging way. Many police forces use the ‘WOW Awards’ as a way of engaging their officers to treat ‘customers well’. The WOW awards is an employee recognition programme that encourages employees to do the right thing by their customers, thus encouraging customers to nominate them for recognition – perhaps this is what the companies now responsible for checking baggage in airports should consider doing. You can find out more about the WOW awards here – http://www.thewowawards.co.uk/
We all have a job to do. We all have procedures and processes to follow. Yet it is our ability to engage with our customers in a way that makes them feel as though they have been treated well and fairly that will make doing our jobs so much easier. Empowering, training and recognising the good things our people do will encourage peers to do the same.
What experiences have you had with ‘jobsworths?’ What do you think we could do to change behaviours? Your comments as usual are positively encourage!
The request by airport retailers to see a boarding pass at the till is to gather information on which products customers purchase related to which flight. Therefore the retailer can ensure correct stock levels are correct for each departing flight. It was wrong of WHSmith to allow the member of staff say she didn’t know, it was poor customer service training. To give the assistant the title of jobsworth was unfair and wrong.
Many thanks for clarifying Helen – it is very much appreciated. I also empathise with your point about ‘branding’ her in an unfair light. She was actually very pleasant – completely different to ‘baggage check lady’. However, poor training is no excuse for doing something ‘just because I have been told to do it’ – all employees should question why they are being asked to do things if it is not clear – although that is just my opinion
Unfortunately, your experience of airport security staff is not unusual. I travel regularly for business and I can confirm that the BAA security staff are pretty uniformly rude. I used to work at a large airport and had the pleasure of going ‘airside’ i.e. through security, every day; BAA are not any more polite to other airport workers. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is an element of one-upmanship where they delight in being rude and/or difficult to other staff.
In the ‘customer journey’ through the airport, security is a pain point. It is absolutely essential, I’m glad it’s there and is as thorough as it is. I applaud them for doing it rigourously. However, it would be nice if they dropped the Stasi style attitudes, came down a peg or two on the ladder of self importance and remembered how to smile at passengers.
They will argue that passengers are not their ‘customers’ since they provide a security service, not a conventional consumer/customer type service. I wonder though, how much they realise that once BAA no longer have the monopoly on airports, ‘customers’ will vote with their feet and choose a different airport for departure, which will ultimately affect the number of security personnel required.
I did meet a nice one once, so they’re not all the same, but given the ratio of nice:rude in the scheme of things, it’s a pretty poor outlook.
Thanks for your comments Kirsty. At the end of the day we are all people – I strongly believe that the way employees behave reflects the way they are managed. Individuals who operate in the way I described in this blog post need to ask a simple question – would I like to be treated that way myself? I would hope the answer is no!!