The summer holidays are upon us. Sun. Sea. Fabulous Food. Fun. Friends. I am sure there are many more words that spring to mind when thinking about holidays planned both at home and abroad. The words I have chosen to use are all positive ones – exactly what should be used when thinking about a time every year that we most look forward to. Holidays are a time when MEMORIES are made, captured on every digital device imaginable as well as hard wired into our brains.
Whilst we hope that the words ‘positive’ and ‘holiday’ live harmoniously together, for some, the very thought of the summer vacation sends shivers of fear down their spine. Can we afford it? How we will keep the kids amused? What if we don’t like our accommodation? The packing!! The washing!! Although holidays are one of life’s ultimate pleasures, they are also fraught with stress and uncertainty. There are so many things that could potentially go wrong. As children we do not tend to get caught up in the stress – Mum and Dad magically whisk us away to wonderful places. As adults, the experience is very different.
That is why when it comes to the summer holiday – or any holiday for that matter – we hope and expect that the organisations we choose to travel with are able to deliver an experience that takes away as much of the potential stress as possible. On our journeys all over the world, we need the ‘Customer Journey’ to be FUNCTIONAL (do what we need it to do; get us to where we need to go, when we need to get there); ACCESSIBLE (as simple and hassle free as is humanly possible); and EMOTIONAL (one that leaves us with positive memories).
In the Golding household, I count myself incredibly lucky to have an amazing (and I mean that very sincerely!!) wife. Naomi is our rock for so many reasons. When it comes to holidays, Naomi is the Queen of vacationing. The entire end to end journey is planned and managed by her expert mind. From browsing countless websites; to booking flights and accommodation; sorting out currency; to making sure that the kids have the right clothing and that the suitcases are packed. Every household needs Naomi to sort out their holidays for them! All I do is pack my own case (usually thirty minutes before we are due to leave the house)!!!
I do not take for granted how difficult it is to do what Naomi does. It is a stressful experience trying to piece everything together. Planning a holiday is a little like completing a 1000 word jigsaw puzzle. The package holiday is one way around that – leveraging a specialist travel company to plan the major elements of the holiday (transfers; flights; accommodation; entertainment) – is one way of making the customer journey slightly easier. However, package holidays do not work for everyone – the Goldings included.
This year Naomi found and planned an amazing 9 day getaway in the beautiful Croatian city of Dubrovnik. Flights with easyJet. Accommodation with Radisson Blu. Transfers from Dubrovnik airport with a local taxi firm. Everything was planned to perfection. We chose to fly with easyJet from London Gatwick – primarily because there were no suitable flights from the North West of England. We have flown with easyJet many times before and were very comfortable that they would more than meet our expectations.
I am going to fast forward now to the current day – the 4th August. We returned to the UK on the 31st July having had a wonderful holiday in a wonderful country. The weather was AMAZING – if not a little too hot sometimes!! The accommodation was fabulous and Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Our 11 day break created a number of delightful memories that will stick with us forever.
The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that there is a discrepancy in these two paragraphs. Naomi planned a 9 day holiday, yet I have just stated that we were away for 11 days. I know it has taken a while, but I now want to explain why the title of this blog post is not about our holiday as such – it is actually about the one big fat NEGATIVE memory that sadly will stick in the minds of family Golding for a very long time.
Our hotel was nestled on the edge of the Adriatic about 20 kilometers outside of Dubrovnik. Accessing the hotel was via the ONLY road that allows you to drive from Dubrovnik to the city of Split – 200 Kilometers away. For approximately 10 Kilometers, there is no other way to get to or from the airport. If something happens on that road, you are trapped – the only way out is by boat!
We were due to fly back to London Gatwick on the 29th July on the 11:20 easyJet flight. Having discussed the best time to drive back to the airport, our taxi driver and the hotel both agreed that leaving at 09:00 would give us PLENTY of time to get there. So as we ate breakfast for the ‘last’ time in Croatia soaking up the mesmerising view of the Adriatic, we felt relaxed (if not slightly sad) about the start of our journey home.
On reaching the reception of our hotel, we were advised that our taxi driver had called to say that there was a problem. A car accident had blocked the road and he would be about twenty minutes late. It was 08:45 – we were very grateful to have a thoughtful taxi driver who took the time to phone the hotel to advise us. A twenty minute delay in his arrival was not an issue – the hotel reassured us that this would not be a problem.
By 09:30, the hotel reception was filling up. As well us 9 of us travelling with easyJet, a group of 15 people was also waiting for their transfer to catch a British Airways flight at around the same time – also going to London Gatwick. As time ticked on, the pacing (by the men) started to increase. By 10:00 there was still no sign of any taxi – for anyone. Our driver was phoning with regular updates. The road was still closed, but the ambulances had arrived and the injured drivers were being taken to hospital. We also found out that our easyJet flight was due to arrive 20 minutes late – it’s estimated departure was now 11:44 – there was still hope!
At 10:20 our taxi was the first to arrive at the hotel. The poor man had been sitting about 500 metres from the accident for over 90 minutes – trapped and unable to do anything to get to us. Although he was not confident he could get us to the airport on time, he said he would do everything he could to get us there. So we bundled into the taxi with one of the other stranded families and started our drive to the airport. Naomi was still optimistic we may make it. The optimism drained away when just two kilometers from the hotel we came to a grinding halt.
The queue of traffic on the only road to the airport snaked away into the distance. The chances of us getting to the airport on time seemed to be getting slimmer by the minute. Still our taxi driver tried to do everything he could. Steven phoned the agent who looks after easyJet at Dubrovnik airport – they said they would inform the airline and the pilot of the situation when the plane arrived. At least the airport and the airline knew what was going on. Maybe there was hope after all.
I must make a quick point at this stage in proceedings. Missing a flight is one of my worst nightmares. I travel a lot – all over the world. Already in 2015 I have successfully boarded over 50 flights. Not once in my 42 years have I ever missed a flight. The thought of doing so had sent my pulse racing. Naomi remained completely calm as my blood pressure hit the roof!
At around 11:20 we cleared the traffic. Our flight was due to take off in 25 minutes, yet we were still 20 minutes away from the airport. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we were likely to miss the flight. We pulled up outside the small terminal building at Dubrovnik airport at around 11:40 – 4 minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off.
Naomi ran into the terminal while I packed our suitcases on to a trolley. As I wheeled the trolley into the building, it was clear that we were indeed to miss our very first flight. The plane was still there – it was still on Croatian soil. Yet the pilot had just ordered the doors to be closed – refusing to wait for the 13 passengers who were all trapped by the car accident that closed the only road to the airport. Whilst coming to terms with the fact that we had missed the flight, I noticed the other guests from our hotel who were booked in to the British Airways flight running from the check in desks to the departure gates. The British Airways flight had decided to wait – lucky them.
Have you ever missed a flight? It is not a nice feeling. Not a nice feeling at all. Even if it is as a result of your own making, it is still a horrible feeling no doubt. In this case, we missed our flight due to an unforeseen circumstance – something that was beyond our control. All the guidance and advice said that we had plenty of time to get to the airport. Little did we know that a car crash would change all that.
As I started to melt down, Naomi remained in control of the situation. We discovered that the easyJet pilot had been kept informed of what was happening. He knew that 13 passengers were affected by car accident AND that they were on their way. The pilot knew that we would arrive around 11:40. The pilot made the decision NOT to wait for us – the British Airways pilot was given the same information – that pilot decided to wait.
Did you know that easyJet have a customer charter? I did not – not until I investigated what they publicly promise their customers. Their promises sound great – I completely buy in to all of them. The key with a promise is that if you declare them, you must intend to keep them. I personally feel as though easyJet have FAILED on two of their promises in our experience. This failure has not only left a very sour taste in my mouth, it has also left a very big hole in our pockets. Allow me to explain why.
Firstly, I must make it clear that technically, easyJet have done absolutely NOTHING WRONG. They have done exactly what they promise to do – as per their 5th promise – open and upfront. Every passenger understands that if you are late for a flight, you will not be permitted to travel – it is in the RULES. We were late – that is down to us, not down to easyJet. So this being the case, why am I annoyed with the airline?
easyJet’s 2nd promise is ‘on your side’. ‘ We see it from your point of view. We don’t assume we know best and we make decisions with you in mind’. Did the pilot of our flight on the 29th July make his decision with us in mind? I do not think so. The pilot knew we were about to arrive at the airport. If you have ever been to Dubrovnik, you will know that the airport is tiny – it would not have taken long for the thirteen passengers to get from the check in desks to the aircraft. Would delaying the flight for a further twenty minutes really have been so difficult?
I must repeat that the British Airways pilot did do that. I do not know why, or even what makes their rules any different. What I do know is that this fact just made our situation feel even worse. So even though easyJet had completely stuck to their rules, in doing so, they had made thirteen paying passengers feel pretty damn awful about the situation.
easJet’s promise of a ‘big smile’ is also lost on me. In our situation, there was no-one from easyJet to even talk to. The only people that could help us were their Croatian agent. The lady was as helpful as she could be, yet completely unemotional and unempathetic. ‘This happens all the time’ were her only consoling words for us.
I do not know what a further twenty minute delay would have cost easyJet. What I do know is what the pilot’s actions of making a decision without us in mind COST the thirteen passengers who missed the flight. It cost £40 pounds per passenger to transfer us to a different flight. So straight away, we were hit with a 400 Euro bill. Secondly, the first flight they could fit the 5 Golding’s on to was two days later. There were other options – they could fly us to Newcastle later that day. We could drive to Split – 200 kilometers away on the same road that caused us the problem to catch a flight that evening. None of the options were ideal – all of them would cost us a lot of money.
We ultimately decided that the best option was to take the same flight, two days later – on the 31st July. We found a hotel in a town 5 kilometers away from the airport (we did not want the same thing to happen again). The total cost of the pilot’s decision to us as a family was well in excess of £1,000. Once you consider that I also lost two working days, the cost to us is considerably higher. When you are self employed, the effect of this kind of situation is extreme.
So thank you easyJet. I know you stuck to your well publicised rules. I know you technically did nothing wrong. However, I now also know that you do not really make decisions with your customers in mind. That makes me FEEL as you do not really care about your customers. What you care about is easyJet – and your rules. What would have happened if your CEO was one of the thirteen passengers? Would you have waited? If the pilot had been in the same situation as we found ourselves? Would the pilot have wanted the flight to wait? A failure to empathise with your customers makes it impossible for a business to understand the consequences of the decisions it makes on the very people they exist to serve.
I FEEL as though easyJet have demonstrated brilliantly the difference between delivering a rule based experience delivered through the execution of PROCESSES and a rule based experience that is delivered with EMPATHY. If you continually put yourselves in your customers shoes, your ability to make the RIGHT decisions for the company and the customer becomes easier and clearer. I will now think twice before booking with easyJet in the future. I want to interact with companies who do demonstrate that they treat their customers fairly and empathetically. I do not want to interact with businesses who rigidly stick to the rules…..whatever the circumstances.
Like everything I write, there may well be things that you disagree with – or indeed where you have a different perspective. What I write, I do so as my opinion – and my opinion alone. I actively encourage debate and differing perspectives and look forward to hearing your thoughts on this story.
Interesting one Ian and I’m very sympathetic to your plight! (The only flight I have ever missed in a work life of travelling was easyjet too – “sorry doors closed we are off”). However, perhaps the pilot made the decision for the greater good of a number of other easyjet customers rather than the 13. As you say it was early in the day, so a consideration of punctuality for the customers who had made that flight, plus the knock on effect of a delay to the other flights scheduled for that plane on that day. Who knows, but a bitter pill when the BA flight did decide to wait.
Many thanks for your sympathetic message Charlotte!! You may well be right – however, I am sure if the pilot had explained the situation to the passengers, the majority would have seen the decision to wait 20 minutes as a hugely positive thing! As you say, who knows!! Thanks as always for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.
I was going to relay exactly that which what Charlotte said, but she beat me to it! It’s not necessarily just the potential issues with the other 1-200 passengers, and the problems that they might have been caused with further delay, but also the 1000s of other passengers due to fly on the same plane later in its schedule. I wonder whether, in order to keep costs down, easyJet run much tighter margins, and demand a higher level of productivity from their planes as a result. BAs flights are more expensive, and they probably get a much better deal from Heathrow & Gatwick, and so they can simply afford to have more ‘down-time’ and have greater margins of error / delay between each flight.
All of this is very functional & commercial of course, and is the complete anathema to the customer service you demand.
You may well be right Mark – will we ever find out? easyJet have been in touch with me, so when I know more, I will update the blog. At the end of the day, it does not feel great as one of the unlucky 13!
It will be interesting to see what Easyjet say! (And also what BA say if you can get a response on the same issue). I agree with Mark, they definitely run on tighter margins and turnaround times, this no doubt was a factor in their decision. They may have had penalties to pay for late arrival/departure in the next slot. As you get what you target, if the pilot/staff are targeted on punctuality and not on a customer metric it also drives that behaviour. Finally it would be good to understand the price difference if you (or the lovely Naomi) had compared BA and easyjet flight prices originally. You might have had a more expensive BA flight with more ticket flexibility or a more generous customer promise.
I am really glad you enjoyed the extra 2 days holiday though 😉
Unfortunate end to your holiday. I hope it didn’t undo all the r&r you enjoyed during your stay. The comment ‘it happens all the time’ is interesting. It indicates that it’s a known problem, so both airlines must have made the link. Some signposting at booking stage, and support and flexibility at departure stage were needed. The hotel could have done more.
BA has decided it’s their responsibility to look out for customers and be flexible. Easyjet has abdicated responsibility. It all comes down to attitude, which in turn is cultural. The charter just sticks in your throat when things go so badly wrong. I do hope you get a response from both airlines. On the bright side, Dubrovnik looks incredible, and we now have the name of an excellent taxi driver if we ever need it!
Thank you Beth. Ironically, we ended up spending a day and a half in an incredibly beautiful town called Cavtat. Once I had calmed myself down, we realised what a wonderful (if not rather expensive) little bonus holiday we were experiencing!! I wholeheartedly recommend both Dubrovnik and Cavtat – if you ever decide to go, I will pass on the details of the taxi driver!
Beyond the original issue you write a great blog ! easyJet do run a very tight turnaround scheduled and sweat their aircraft assets – that plane would have been flying another two perhaps even three legs that day and before you know it a 30 min delay manifests into a flight being cancelled because of night curfews.
So I’m against the plane being held. I do believe that a simple review of the facts would see this was an event out of your control and they should have waived the flight change fees.
I’ll caveat this by saying I’m an incredibly obsessive traveller but when there is only one route to an airport I always allow extra time “just in case”.
Many thanks for your very kind words Mark – they are very much appreciated. I agree with your last point – and according to the advice of the taxi driver and the hotel, we had left (in their words) ‘more than enough time’ to catch our flight. Unfortunately for us, an event out of our control conspired against us. We can all do things differently in hindsight – in the future, I may ask if there is an alternative route to the airport….just in case!!
Meant to say – full service airlines like BA will look at the passenger composition and make a judgement call based on are they connecting onto long haul in a premium cabin for example. So a bit of commercial descretion. They also have more generous turnaround times.
You are flat wrong.
Why should the Captain delay the plane take off because you were late? For one, pilots have a schedule not just for the sake of a schedule…but because everyone plane in the air is coordinated to land and take off and there are only so many available slots. So delaying 20 minutes could mean their slot to park in Gatwick might be gone. There are airline logistics that you are not considering – which can have a massive knock on effect. You are only thinking of yourself without looking at the big picture.
As for security – once the crew locks the cabin doors, they are not reopened except in case of emergency. Every traveler knows this.
1) Why should other passengers who got there on time be delayed you were late?? If I had an 1120 flight with kids, I would be at the airport 2 hours prior to the pane leaving – or 0920. To me, taking into account traffic and unforeseen jams for a 20km trip, I would want to leave the hotel at 0830 at the latest. If you had done that, you would have made your flight.
2) You say – “Would delaying the flight for a further twenty minutes really have been so difficult?”. That 20 minutes might be a very bid deal to someone who has to make an airport transfer connection or needs to get into London to make a train connection . Have you ever thought of that?? Either you are on time or not. Planes cannot hold at the gate every time passengers are late.
3) How do you know what the pilot knew? I very much doubt he knew anything. I am skeptical of that. Not that it makes any difference.
You know what time the pane leaves. Next time plan to be there 2 hours prior to it leaving, leaving enough travel time to cushion any unforeseen events. It’s not Easy Jet’s fault you were late, and as you say “technically they did nothing wrong.”
Many thanks for taking the time to share your perspective on this Giles. I am sure there are others who agree with you. In fact I have found that there is quite a division of opinion related to this story. The bottom line is that my perception of the way easyJet dealt with this situation has meant that when I have a choice, I will no longer fly with them. That was brought to life today when I could have flown with them, but instead chose to fly with someone else. In my opinion (and I stress that is what it is), easyJet did not live up to their publicly stated promise and as such, they will be losing my business for the foreseeable future.
Ian – interesting episode. I’ve missed a flight once in my life so far, was lucky to be accommodated by the airline (Quantas) in their next flight 60 mins later, but left a scar on my record! My mother till this date insists that we arrive at the train station or airport at least 2 – 3 hours in advance. Her logic – you are there and then have to wait, thats alright. You can spend time at the airport, maybe call up a few friends or relatives and have a chat with them. I don’t always follow her advice, but do so at the smallest hint of a problem, say inclement weather, probability of landslides etc. Statistics too has an important role here. The airline is committed to punctuality and revenues. They took off on time, without 14 passengers (out of 200?) which is 10% less passengers, for which they had already been paid, the passengers were late and hence by airline rules they are not at fault, sadly you may have missed any travel insurance claim too! did you? The fact that the flag carrier of England decided to wait says a lot about flag carriers, they seem to be more sympathetic. This was my experience too recently with a flag carrier. Am sharing it on LI and will let you know when its published.
Many thanks for sharing Harish – I would love to read your story when it is published – let me know.
Hi Ian…I’m doing some research for work on Customer Service and came upon your story. So sorry to hear that this happened to you on vacation..I also read the follow up from the CEO of EasyJet….so delightful and refreshing to know that there are still HUMANS behind some large companies.
All the best to you and your family 🙂
Many thanks Raqz – I appreciate your kind words.