Thursday, September 18, 2008

There really is hope for the airlines

I have despaired of the future for U.S. airlines. They have seemed to be in an uninterruptible downward spiral. But today's experiences seems to reverse this trend.

I have several theories on the cause of this effect. The first is the greediness of CEOs and management. I am well acquainted with their abilities to suck the life out of golden eggs.

But mathematics suggest something else is afoot.

At first you want to blame fuel, unions, and the employees.

But a recent experience shows me that some of this emerges as a consequence of the
airline being embedded in the airport culture. The airports of course hire the lowest capable people who are enmired in a very negative frame of mind.

So perhaps, the airline people, who are a bit of a cut above, are being dragged down by their environment.


Today's experience started to put flight to these miserable thoughts: In short, I was amazed at, and delighted by, the cheerful professionalism and attention rendered by a host of people in the transportation industry, including Logan International Airport in Boston, U.S. Airways, and the Sheraton Crystal City in Arlington, VA:
+ I was amazed at how efficient Logan is for parking and checking in for the USAIR Shuttle at Terminal B. They seem to be picking up on the Dutch (AMS) system of having smaller distributed security checks for individual airlines - the Dutch have a mini security for each *gate*. Makes life MUCH easier.

+ I was amazed at how courteous, cheerful, and attentive the USAIR desk people were. A huge change from previous experience, indicating a huge change in leadership. They have been, in my experience, the most offensive, surly, and dismissive crew I'd seen. This is a HUGE change.

+ I was prepared to snarl at their nickel and diming fees (ok, $5-15 fees), but the apparently sincere courtesy defused that. Yes, I know they just want my money, but they did a good job of pretending they were actually pleased to have us there.

+ I was pleased to be able to get a Caesar salad that was not all stalks, pepper, and dried out chicken. The Terminal B Creative Host actually had minimal stalks and still moist chicken and a glass of Cabernet. Good. (Although the only beers they had were Bud, Bud Light and something else Light. Yuk.)

+ I was amazed to see that the boarding agent actually was enforcing the "take your turn, board by row" rules and actually turning away queue jumpers. I thanked her for this when it came to be my turn.

+ I was amazed to see the flight not packed elbow to armpit. There was actually an empty seat between me and the lady next to the window.

+ I do continue to be amazed at the size of a large number of passengers and their luggage. I had a short discussion of this with the flight attendant. She sighed and said, yes I know, you must be the millionth person to mention this to me... If the fuel is so dear then I think my weight and size footprint (half the size of others) deserves a break. But I digress.

+ I was really amazed to find that despite the dire reports of nickel-dime fees, beer and wine are *free* on the shuttle. I don't know if that was just this flight attendant thumbing her nose at management, but it is what it is. A free glass of wine.

+ I was delighted to find that the hotel has a free door-to-door shuttle from door #9 (luggage rack #9) and a very cheerful and helpful driver who offered maps and all kinds of tips. Including where to go best for dinner (23rd street, a couple of blocks south from the hotel). Am I really in DC? Not Amsterdam????

+ I was amused to find that the lady answering the hotel phone had a curious accent that I identified as being Nederlandse. And indeed she is. :-)

+ 23rd Street is indeed a diner's nirvana. Easily a couple of dozen outside sitting Italian (mostly but also:), Thai, Korean, Japanese, sports bar, and others.

I met one of my colleagues and had a lovely dinner at
Cucina Vivace
509 23rd St S
Arlington, VA 22202

+ My other colleague, who will not arrive until about an hour from now will be disappointed to find that he is at the Sheraton National, in the boondocks of Pentagon City, not Crystal City. These are two quite separate Sheratons in this area. So I am glad my agent did not book me there. My colleague will need a shuttle just to get to the Metro.

So I think for future flights we should always investigate the BOS connection, not only PVD.
So all in all, a good day. There is hope for the U.S. Airlines.

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