Category Archives: Travel

Iberia, how about a little logic over the rules?

Is Iberia a great airline? Not really. Does Iberia offer great prices? Not so much. Does Iberia have a good cross-channel experience? Eh. So, why do I keep coming back for more? Well, Iberia happens to be the only airline that offers direct flights to Boston from Madrid (during certain months of the year), and with a two year old in tow there really isn’t any other option. So this fact puts it on my “better than other options” list. Also, Iberia has an executive devoted to Customer Experience (Dimitris Bountolos), something which I think is great given my interest and sometimes annoying persistence with this topic here in Spain. (Note: after writing this post I’ve discovered that this VP of CxP no longer exists at Iberia. Go figure).

The other week I finally sat down to finalize my summer plans and buy tickets home. As usual I had to make things a little more complicated, just to challenge the system I guess – I wanted to use frequent flyer points for my flight and buy my son’s ticket separately.

Step 1: When I tried to do this on the web site it wasn’t possible since you can’t mix buying two tickets by different methods. And if you want to buy a separate ticket for a two year old you have no other choice but to pick up the phone and buy the ticket through an agent.

Step 2: So… I picked up the phone. When I spoke to an agent to try to buy both tickets, mine with points, he told me the only way to see my options and do this was through the web site. Then I would have to call after and buy my son’s ticket over the phone since there’s no way to buy a 2 year old ticket through the site.

Step 3: Back to the web. Buying my tickets using my avios through the site – easy enough.

Step 4: Right after that I called Iberia customer service to buy my son’s ticket to make sure there wouldn’t be any problem getting seats on the same flight. I didn’t have any problem doing this. And Iberia didn’t have any problem charging me 90% of an adult fare for his ticket (one of the things you don’t think about when you’re young and reckless and decide to move across the ocean…). I of course tried to be reasonable and say that I could have him sit on my lap for the 8 hour flight (no way would this be possible), but apparently age is the determining factor here. Between 2 and 12 years (no scaling) you get a fantastic discount of 10%. Good thing I already flew with him twice while he was younger…

I figured, well, at least everything is set and the tickets are now a sunk cost. After hanging up the phone and reviewing the tickets in my email (and happily seeing a 20€ fee for buying my son’s ticket over the phone even though there was no other option…) I remembered one very important thing – our seats.

Step 4: Back on the phone. And this is where it got amusing. The agent who attended my call informed me that it would be free for me to pick my seat now since I have a loyalty card, but I would have to pay over 40€ to assign my son’s seat next to me! She quietly suggested I could wait until checking-in at the airport. Talk about logic, Iberia…

Step 5: Time will tell. I’ve decided to take a “gamble” and see what happens at the check-in counter this summer. Call me crazy, but somehow I don’t think Iberia will put my 2 year old next to a random person, with his mother aisles away. And if this were to happen I can absolutely guarantee that Iberia itself would be willing to pay me to switch seats!

 

Note: I’m currently waiting for an Iberia Kids loyalty card. Maybe this will change the situation…

Captura de pantalla 2016-02-24 a la(s) 23.30.42

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Can airlines really deliver good experiences? Listen up Iberia Customer Experience!

Iberia, I know here in Spain you actually have a Customer Experience director (not a common job title in this country), so, read on…

Let’s face it – most airlines are pretty similar. Unless you’re taking advantage of frequent flier miles, the reason you pick one over the other is price, plain and simple. In my case, the only reason I might pick Iberia is because they have direct flights to Boston from Madrid, not because the service is great – or even that good. I think we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that flying is what it is – a means to get from one place to another and something that you have to put up with. (maybe you’ve seen one of my earlier airline experience posts).

So, is it possible to create a good experience?

Yes! I think it is possible to break old thinking and barriers and create something new with flying. Take a look at this article about a design consultancy’s idea “Poppi” for reinventing the airline experience:

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/07/design/airline-future-uber-airbnb/index.html

For example, instead of having customers be upset and complain for being stuck in a bad middle seat, why not let those who want a free gift choose  to go with that seat? Why not make the luggage experience more hassle-free? Why not think of ways to make the waiting time at the gate be better?  Poppi might not be a reality yet, but I hope it follows in Uber’s footsteps to shake things up.

Finale: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller

At the beginning of January I reported my experience traveling across the ocean with an infant alone and arriving in Amsterdam to a destroyed stroller (see: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller). At that point the customer experience with Delta/KLM was pretty good as they responded quickly to my official online claim and agreed to pay to repair the stroller or for a new one. Now, a month and a half later I can officially say that that this issue has successfully concluded, but, not without a little snafu of course.  We immediately went to the store where we had originally purchased the UppaBaby and were told that the damage was not repairable. We left our information as the distributor had to get back in touch to give the store an official cost estimate. Five days later when I still hadn’t heard anything back, I called the store and was told that the distributor was out of the office for a few days (or did they forget?). In any case, a few hours after the call I received by email the pro forma invoice totally the damage at 601€. I immediately forwarded everything to Delta/KLM, and a few days later received a pleasant email apologizing again for the damage and saying that I would be receiving 499€ in my bank account in a couple weeks. What a minute… I would have to pay the 100€ difference?! KLM email To this email I responded that this was not acceptable and again attached all documents as justification. Since Delta/KLM had been so efficient in responding to my online messages previously I was expecting a rapid response. However, two weeks later I had still not heard back and finally was forced to pick up the phone. Why hadn’t I just picked up the phone in the first place? Well, as the customer service game sometimes goes here in Spain, the number to call was not toll-free. And I was unable to find a free alternative number (See When It Doesn’t Pay to Call Customer Service). I was pretty adamant about not paying to call their customer service, but at the end of the day I had no choice as they were not responding. Fortunately, when I finally called, the customer service rep was extremely nice, apologized again, and within 5 minutes had reviewed my record, confirmed there was an error and immediately issued the processing of the remaining 100€ to my account. Phew. Final KL email Overall, there was a bit of a disconnect between the information sent to Delta/KLM and the final result, as well as the last email that didn’t receive a response…. however, in the end, I have to say that I’m pretty happy that the airline is taking responsibility and paying. Maybe they’ll be more careful in the future since, for them, they basically just paid back my plane ticket. Note: if something like this ever happens it’s very important to file the claim directly at the airline incident desk in the airport when it happens.

Delta-KLM broken stroller experience 3

Delta/KLM and the broken stroller (continued)

I must admit that I was quite skeptic about the response I would receive from the damage claim I filed with Delta/KLM. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Technically, there really shouldn’t have been any question since they broke the stroller during my transatlantic flight from Boston to Amsterdam. (see International Travel Alone with an Infant…) However, as I’m not used to what one would exactly call “good” customer service, I was expecting the worst and a 1000 euro loss.

In order to move the claim forward I had to fill out additional information on the Delta web site and was requested to upload additional information (images of boarding pass, stroller damage, original receipt). Strangely, there was no open comments space to write any additional information. I wanted to tell my side of the story, so I uploaded a pdf document titled “URGENT” with additional information to let them know that they destroyed the only stroller I have and the urgency of the matter.

Tip: whenever you travel, don’t throw away anything (boarding passes, tickets for checked  baggage, tickets for baggage checked at the plane door, etc.) until the entire trip is over and you’re sure you don’t need it anymore. And, if anything happens, make the damage claim asap, directly in the airport where it happened at the service desk, if possible.

First, I received an automated email from Delta/KLM thanking me for my claim and letting me know that usually they responded within 10 days, but due to delays I should expect a longer wait time. Wonderful. So much for my urgency.

Delta email 1

However, much to my surprise, five days (4 working days) later I received a personalized email apologizing for the damage and telling me how to go about getting the repair/replacement done and how Delta-KLM would pay for it! I’m now in the process of getting the necessary paperwork from the store to finish this claim and get reimbursed.

Delta email 2

Mistakes and problems happen. What is important is the way that the companies deal with these mistakes and the overall experience for the client. So far, Delta-KLM is getting a good grade in my book!

International travel alone with an infant, a layover, and a broken stroller (Part II – Delta/KLM)

Unfortunately, similar to the trip with my infant at 4 months, I had a negative experience on the trip back home to Spain that marked the entire trip.

The plane ride from Boston-Amsterdam went more or less smoothly after securing the baby bassinet. (Note: I was told at check-in in Boston that they couldn’t assign me the seat with the baby bassinet. Apparently the only way to do this was to go to the counter at the gate and request it. I still don’t understand why this was not possible as I was given the baby bassinet on the way going…) Tip: make sure to get to the gate early to be the first to request the bassinet. I was the first in line and was able to get my seat switched, but if I hadn’t been lucky… Also, note that the bassinet weight limit is 25 lbs (printed directly on the bassinet), although the flight attendants mistakenly told me it was 10 lbs before attaching it to the wall.

When I arrived in Amsterdam with my infant half asleep and my 3 carry-on bags in my arms, I stepped out of the plane to find my (not cheap) stroller completely broken (and dirty). Delta had completely broken the stroller frame on both sides, and I was unable to put my infant in it. Not the best way to be greeted when you’re traveling alone and have a layover to catch. Fortunately, the Delta/KLM agents in Amsterdam were helpful and accompanied me to the KLM desk to file a damage report on-site and helped me to tape up the stroller enough to be able to put my infant in it to walk to my next flight. Tip: buy a cheap stroller for traveling. We only have one expensive stroller and traveled with this one, but damage to a 200 euro stroller isn’t as bad as that to a 1000 euro one…

broken side 1Broken stroller frontBroken stroller side zoom

Now the next test will be the response to the detailed damage claim that I just filed online with Delta. Supposedly I should receive a response in 10 days. To be continued…

International travel and layover with an infant

Surviving international travel alone with an infant…and a layover (Part I- Delta/KLM)

Yes, it can be done! Back in June I traveled alone with my 4-month old son from Madrid to Boston on a direct flight. Since he was so little, he slept for most of the trip, but I said that in the future I would only travel when there were direct flights. However…due to a family emergency this all changed. I was dreading the 15 hour total trip alone with my 10-month old son, with a layover in NYC (JFK airport), but it turned out to be better than I was expecting. Probably the worst part was sitting there staring at the clock countdown with the little image of the plane on the screen in front of me during the 7 hour 25 minute flight from Madrid to New York.

Here are my travel tips for surviving the trip from my experience traveling with Delta/KLM from (1) Madrid-(2) New York JFK-(3)Boston:

Gate in Madrid

1. Try to avoid making the trip until your baby can sit up on his own. There were many times during the trip when I had to put the little guy on the floor. The first time was going through security in Madrid Barajas. The security personnel are not allowed to hold your baby nor can they help you fold up your stroller (especially when it’s a complicated UppaBaby like mine). It’s impossible to fold that up while you have a 10-month old in your arms, so I put him in a little playpen that they had set up at the security area and let him play for a minute while I got our bags, stroller, his food, etc. through security. Right before getting on the plane once again you have to fold up the stroller so you can leave it at the door. And once again the little guy was put on the floor for a minute. And going to the bathroom is another challenge. When he was 4 months old I could put him in the Baby Bjorn backpack, but at 10 months and 25 lbs sitting up is the only way to go.

Boarding in Madrid

2. Get to the airport early and ask everything 3 times. We departed from Terminal 1 in Madrid (not the huge international Terminal 4 with a satellite terminal and underground shuttle train), so this made the transit time a little easier. In any case, I would recommend getting there between 2 1/2-3 hours before your flight. Since I had bought the ticket last minute I had to pay for the infant ticket at the airport counter (not at the check-in desk like I was told on the phone). There wasn’t any line, but this whole process of the woman processing the infant ticket and getting it printed took almost a half hour. When I purchased the ticket over the phone  (calling the toll-free US number while in Madrid) I specifically requested a baby bassinet for the flight and was guaranteed this without any problem. I also specifically asked if I would have to go through security again in New York as security is a real pain in general with a baby and also to know whether I could buy water for the trip. I was guaranteed again that I would not have to go through security and that I would arrive at gate B30 and depart from gate B32. I would only have to pick up my bags and go through customs (no big deal). Don’t believe anything you’re guaranteed with the trip and the flight. If it doesn’t go according to what you were told protest. Why do I say this? Keep reading. When I got on the plane, I found that I was in a window seat with a person right next to me, and no baby bassinet in front of me… the baby bassinet space seemed to be in the same row, but a few seats over. I happily realized this as the pilot was announcing that it was a full flight while people were boarding. After asking the flight attendant about this and saying that I had been guaranteed a seat with the baby bassinet I was told that she was sorry, but that it was a full flight and there was nothing that could be done. She even asked me if I wanted to reschedule to a later flight as I had my 10 month old sitting in my arms. To this I replied that I was going home for a family emergency and never would have bought the ticket if I were not going to have a baby bassinet. Ten hours with a 10 month old in your arms in a little window seat was not going to happen…Fortunately a young girl who was traveling with her younger brother and sister switched seats with me so I was able to have the baby bassinet. And I definitely used it a few times!

Baby Bassinet Delta

When I landed in JFK I went through customs and followed signs to connecting flights, only to find that I was being redirected to go through security with all new passengers again. Even after asking both over the phone with Delta and at the check-in counter at Madrid and being guaranteed that I would not have to go through security again, as it turns out I did. At this point there was really nothing I could do about it and nothing that protesting could help, but I was at least not made to throw out 3 bottles of water and a hot thermos that I had purchased as I said that I had specifically bought this to make baby formula. Thank goodness for little things.

3. Take your time through security and let people help you. Going through security is usually where I get the most nervous as you have people rushing you and a million things that have to be taken off, taken out, then put back in and put back on. And add a little baby, a stroller, and baby food to it and you might as well add a partridge in a pear tree… my advice is to take your time. Most security areas have separate lines for people with babies, wheelchairs, etc. They won’t rush you, but you’ll still have to take off all belts, take out any liquids, etc. The most important thing is to take your time and make sure you keep an eye on all of your belongings (and your baby). Your little one will have to take off his coat too if he’s wearing a jacket. And if you’re traveling with cans of baby food and/or formula, you may have to have them tested in special machines. It doesn’t hurt, but it does add quite a bit of extra time to the whole trip process. I had several people offer to help me to hold my son while going through security and on the plane. The only time I actually took someone up on this offer was at the second security checkpoint in JFK when I had to fold up the stroller to go through security and really didn’t have anywhere to put my baby, and right before getting on the second plane to my final destination when I had to fold up the stroller again. I let two people hold him for about 20 seconds, and it definitely helped.

4. Prepare any food that’s possible for you and your baby ahead of time. As for you, don’t expect to be able to eat the meal they serve you on the flight…bring along a few sandwiches and snacks for when the little one decides to take a nap. As for the little one, bring single meal servings (fruit/veggie and meat jars) so that you don’t have to worry about preparing anything and put pre-measured formula in the plastic dispensers. Whenever you get a chance during the long flight fill up a thermos with boiling hot water that you can later mix whenever you need with cold or room-temperature water that you buy in the airport before the flight. Trust me; this is definitely helpful when all of a sudden your baby decides he/she is starving!

5. Take the little one out to play before the first flight and during the layover. I brought along a small roll-up towel that I put on the floor so my baby could play a bit before the first long flight and during our 2 hour layover. Once you’re on the plane he can’t move around much, so it’s best to let him get out as much energy playing as possible beforehand.

Layover time

6. There’s no easy way around jetlag, but trying to get food on a normal schedule asap helps. When traveling from Europe to the US expect to get up pretty early the first few nights and/or week until your baby gets used to the schedule. I remember the first night hearing my little one ready to play at 2am (8am his normal time). The only thing you can really do is play a little, but keep the lights off and the room dark. They should fall back to sleep a few times, so you can not really get up until close to their normal wake-up time. During the day, if they’re tired, let them sleep. However, when you notice that the late afternoon nap is turning into a nighttime sleep mode you’ll have to wake them up to avoid them sleeping 10 hours straight and waking up at 2 or 3am.

Good luck!

Making the international trip back to Spain with an infant Part II (Iberia)

The trip back to Madrid from Boston was “pretty simple” since it was a night flight and our baby chose to sleep for a good part of it. Plus not traveling alone definitely helps. Once again the attention we received with Iberia, from the check-in at the airport to the service on the flight was great. And once again we had a baby bassinet and a little gift box with baby items.

Overall, the entire customer experience should have been great. However, we ran into an issue after landing in Madrid that changed everything.

When you travel with a baby and a stroller, you have to check in your stroller right at the airplane door before you get on (you’ve probably seen a lineup of strollers at the door of an airplane before when you’ve flown). The strollers aren’t technically checked in; they’re put in a special area below the plane and then given to the parents right when they land at the destination so they aren’t without them.

When we arrived in Madrid at 7am Spain time (1am for us), there were 5 groups of parents waiting outside the plane door for the strollers. The strollers seemed to be taking a while… eventually an Iberia employee came up to tell us that Iberia in Boston had made a mistake and had checked in the strollers as normal baggage, not as stroller luggage, and that they were being brought to the baggage carousels with the rest of the luggage. How could a stroller that was literally checked in at the plane door all of a sudden have been classified as a regular suitcase and brought to the normal baggage carousel?

baggae carousel

In any case, we of course all complained that this was ridiculous. I said that this is not acceptable (as I had my 5 month old baby sound asleep in my arms). To all of these complaints the woman kept responding that Boston had made a mistake and that there was nothing she could do about it. No sorry. No possible solution. Nothing. So we were all forced to walk with our children or small babies in our arms, with our carry-on bags at least a mile (we had to take a bus from the satellite terminal to the regular terminal, go through immigration and then go to the baggage area).

To make matters worse when my husband and I arrived at the large immigration lines (with my 5 month old in my arms) there was a much longer line for the foreigners than for the Spanish nationals. We asked the woman that was controlling the traffic flow if we could all three go together through the Spanish line as we’re a family (I’m the only one who’s not Spanish), but she said no, impossible. I had to go through the foreigner line. I was ready to cry at this point. So I handed my now half-asleep and confused son to my husband who then proceeded toward the Spanish line, while I went to wait in the foreigner line. A few minutes later when my husband was already at the immigration officer booth (I still had about a half hour line in front of me), I saw the immigration officer wave his hand for me to go over there. I promptly rushed over (and right past the woman controlling the traffic) to pass through with my family. Of course I made it a point to tell the traffic control woman that the immigration offer was letting us go through together as a family as should have happened in the first place.

Overall, what had started out as a very pleasant experience ended poorly due to poor customer attention and problem solving.

Iberia does not have its hands tied behind its back; it’s simple enough as making a call to other Iberia employees to collect the strollers from wherever they are and bring them to the plane to avoid the inexcusable situation that entailed. Unfortunately, a great customer experience turned bad…

Tomorrow I’ll be traveling on an international flight with Delta from Madrid to Boston with a layover in NYC. And I’ll be traveling alone. I really am hoping to have a great Experience to report back!