Tag Archives: Iberia

Flights to the US with Iberia – COVID-19

Not too long ago I called Iberia to ask about their position on flights to the US. Technically at the end of July I have a direct flight to Boston with my two young kids to see family for a few weeks. As of now I still have our tickets and haven’t yet cancelled anything; however, as the days go by I’m starting to think that, unfortunately, this is less and less likely.

Iberia informed me that all flights to the US had been cancelled for May, but as of now June and July flights are still on the calendar. The “good” news is that if I want to cancel the tickets I can either get a refund or voucher for a flight in the future. I have a feeling each airlines is handling flight availability and cancellation policies differently, but at least it’s reassuring to know that it wouldn’t be a total loss if we had to postpone this trip.

Just looking now on the Iberia web site, https://www.iberia.com, it seems that this is the case for flights through June 30th, but no news yet about flights for July. Hmmm.

On one hand I still have a glimmer of hope that by end of July things may be more “normal” and we could fly back home to see family (I have the feeling this is what Iberia is banking on as well). But on the other hand a part of me wonders if it would really be feasible to fly back to the US, for several reasons:

  • What would the actual plane trip be like? With security distance regulations, would it even be possible for us to maintain the same flight if they can only have a third of passengers on the flight? Would I have to maintain a distance of several seats between myself and my children (impossible)? If everyone who purchased tickets still wants to fly how will Iberia handle this?
  • Would it really be safe for us to be in a small, enclosed space for 8 hours where germs circulate around like crazy? There’s no way I see my little kids wearing a mask for 5 minutes, let alone 8 hours…
  • Would the overall trip experience be doable? I recently read an article in the Economist talking about a possible (albeit pessimistic) scenario about travel in the future – https://www.economist.com/business/2020/05/02/imagine-the-post-pandemic-misery-of-business-travel?fbclid=IwAR1Ua7QxmhVJ_pl7jNuAqIj5SSfqY9tqHmDAZtmri-NuhS-0CRntMF_InHI   If we’re talking about even longer delays in the airports, security, immigration, etc. on top of the current norm there’s no way I could handle that with two little hyper, jetlagged kids…

So, as with everything these days I have more doubts than answers. Also, as with everything there’s nothing I can do to get an answer faster or have a solution, so I just need to wait for time to go back and see how things progress before making a decision. Seeing the rate at which virtual learning and online life in general is exponentially increasing these days, and to a degree which I think many of us didn’t ever think would be possible, I’m just waiting for the news to come out that we’ll be able to virtually transport ourselves across the ocean without having to take a flight. Well, one can dream… who would have thought a few months ago that we would be where we are now?

Customer Experience during COVID-19 – more important than ever!

If you’ve followed my blog in the past and/or read some of my past entries you’ll know that Customer Experience is something I’m very passionate about. There are two main reasons for this: 1) I used to work on a research team at Forrester Research dedicated to the importance of Customer Experience and showing the real ($$) benefits of companies taking this seriously, and 2) when I moved to Spain I realized how I had really taken customer experience for granted in the US. Spain had a LONG way to go. Fourteen years later the whole Customer Experience “thing” has definitely gained importance over here, but the customer is still not always the priority. In general in Spain I usually go into “Atención al cliente” calls assuming that they will tell me I’m wrong or being the one to blame. Some companies are better than others, but overall it’s still not a priority. You can find a number of past articles in my blog about my experiences.

One thing I’m pretty clear about: customers don’t easily forget bad experiences! Now, as we’re on the brink of a severe economic crisis that is affecting and paralyzing almost all sectors, it’s the best time for companies to show customers that they care about them and give them something memorable. When the COVID-19 crisis is over and things get back to normal (yes they will), I can guarantee that people would be more than likely to do business again with a company that has treated them well and/or showed them care during the crisis than ones that have put their own priorities first or ignored customers during this time of uncertainty.

A couple of my experiences:

  • Hotels. I had 2 different trips that have completely gone out the window (and 2 possible out the windows) with this crisis. In both of the non-salvageable cases I wrote directly to the hotels that I had reserved to cancel. In one case I paid for a non-refundable weekend stay at a hotel in Barcelona. Given the situation I wrote asking to use the already-paid for weekend at a later date, not trying to get my money back. I was very happy to receive a personal note back a few days later saying that this wouldn’t be a problem. In the future if I have to make another trip I will definitely consider booking with Hotel Balmoral again. In the other case I had a hotel reserved in Marrakech with free cancellation; I’m still waiting for them to get back to me to confirm the change.
  • Airlines. This is a big one. The airline industry is being completely destroyed by this epidemic, and there’s not much that can be done with global travel restrictions. However, again, at some point in the future people will start traveling again and airlines will be back up and running. Although loyalty in the airline industry is pretty much limited to gaining points and not any real loyalty to the brand itself, I’m sure that a customer will be more likely to try to fly with an airline that has treated them well with any reservation cancellations or flight changes during this time than one that has not. I’ve spoken with quite a few friends that had trips that have been cancelled, and they’ve had pretty much a lack of response/clear answers from the airlines. Tomorrow I have to call Iberia to cancel a reservation I made with avios; since it’s not completely cancelling a full-cost flight, but rather one booked with points, it should be easier. Still I’ll be interested to see how they handle the call.
  • Online shopping. This is probably one of the few areas that is having an incredible boost these days. All I have to say is thank goodness for Amazon! We may not be able to leave the house, but I’ve been able to order a number of things to keep the kids entertained, and the delay has been minimum.
  • Also, another great experience with Mizuno (not related to the current crisis, but just a great example of customer experience): I bought some new running shoes a few weeks, a new style from Mizuno, a brand I love. Unfortunately for whatever reason the new style just didn’t work for me – I tried running with them 4 or 5 times, but every time afterwards ended up with pain in my legs. (I’m pretty sure I was straining some muscles that I wasn’t used to using.) Anyway, I contacted Mizuno to ask if I could return the shoes even though I had already used them a few times. Their response wasn’t 100% clear, but I tried anyway. If not it would have been 140€ thrown down the drain. After shipping the shoes back to Mizuno (with a pre-paid return label) I was happy to receive an email less than a week later acknowledging their receipt, apologies that I wasn’t 100% satisfied and telling me that a credit was already being processed to my account.

Now, as soon as I can actually leave the house and go outside to run again the first thing I will do is order new running shoes from Mizuno. They will definitely count on my business in the future.

 

 

Flying across the ocean with kids – leave the stroller at home or consider a cheap one

I was just looking back at some of my old posts, and I thought it could be a good idea to write a short, simple post about this to make a point – airlines don’t know how to handle strollers. Out of 4 international trips with kids that I’ve taken, my strollers have been broken twice – once with Delta/KLM and once with Iberia — and both times “conveniently” when I’ve been traveling alone. And don’t think the flight/ground attendants were so helpful when both times I was left with a baby/toddler asleep in my arms (and in one case a baby and another little one). Note that both strollers were left at the door of the airplane, not checked in previously.

If this happens to you the most important thing is to go directly to the airline counter when you land to fill out an incidence form (even if it is the last thing you want to do). Then you’ll probably have to go to the store where you purchased the stroller to get an estimate of how much it will cost to replace or fix it. In the case of Lufthansa I went through all of this since I had brought my expensive stroller with me. It was a bit of a headache, but in the end they paid to replace everything. (see: Delta/KLM and the broken stroller (continued)

In the case of Iberia, during my last trip I decided to purchase a cheap umbrella stroller online to have when I arrived since it wasn’t necessary for me to travel with one as my youngest was older. Iberia decided to break it (wheels and entire frame missing/destroyed) when I landed back in Madrid at 7am from Boston (direct flight by the way). In this case it was going to be more hassle for me to go to a store and get all of the necessary forms, and given the cost of the stroller I didn’t pursue it further. However, it doesn’t seem right to me that they can get away with it. In any case what Iberia should do is offer a voucher or gift card to be used at your discretion. The damaged items web site has a voucher as an option, but when you try to get this you get a strange error message which forces you to call Customer Service (not toll-free). When I did call it turns out that apparently they do this with bags, but in the case of baby strollers it’s not an option. So they shouldn’t even have this option on the site since it was clear it was a baby stroller…

I’m glad to finally be getting away from this phase of traveling with strollers, but I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences for those with upcoming trips. Airlines (Delta/KLM, Iberia, etc) need to be more careful with these kinds of items! And in the case that something happens the post-service reclamation should be a lot less headache-filled for those who already have enough headaches with little kids!

The Iberia Oro (Gold) Status upgrade – WIM. My customer experience.

So, what does it mean being upgraded from Plata (Silver) to Oro (Gold) Status with Iberia? Not too much really. It was more exciting for the colors to change from silver to gold on my phone app then anything else. I had the barometer forever showing that I was thisclose to upping my status. However, the one big difference I noticed was when I had to contact Customer Service…

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With Iberia Plus Plata (Silver) the best part is that you can check in at the business class counter (whether you’re traveling business or not), priority boarding (key if you don’t want a small suitcase to get involuntarily checked-in when there’s no overhead space left), ¡ and you can check in an extra bag for free, depending upon the flights. With the upgrade to Oro (which is not easy to get there as you need to have either a ton of flights or a number of business-class flights earning points), the only additional real tangible benefit is that you can use the VIP lounges at the airports.

The big difference was with the Customer Service when I called the Customer care line. Normally I tried to avoid as much as possible calling any Customer Service number here in Spain. Usually they don’t care and aren’t very friendly (not to generalize of course, but this has sadly been my experience). The best is being hung up on, which has happened to me several times, and Iberia is not out of the blame game here as they have hung up on me in the past. The reason I called was to look into booking a ticket with points (avios) and with kids – impossible to do this online. Granted I had done this in the past, but I remembered it was a painful process, speaking to different people, receiving different information, etc.

So I called the Iberia Plus Oro dedicated Customer Service number (different than the standard one). The woman who helped me out was very nice and efficient throughout the process. Of course the call didn’t come without complications – just as the tickets were being issued there was a technical problem, and it wasn’t possible for her to finalize the transaction. She said not to worry, she would complete this as soon as the system was back up, and then I would receive the emails. Granted to say I was more than skeptic. To reassure me she said she would call me once everything was finalized so that I would know it was all set. Right!

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Much to my disbelief, about a half hour later (after I received the confirmation emails) I got a call from the Iberia lady just to let me know that everything had gone through and was all set, saying she wanted to call just because she had agreed to do so. And to think in the past I had been hung up on by the normal Iberia Customer service people.

Even just this past summer when Iberia broke my baby stroller on a flight home from Boston, I was cursing them after their lack of help on the phone to deal with this (that’s another story in itself).

My learnings: 1. Iberia Plus Oro is great for the Customer Service and fringe benefits, although overall not significantly different than the Silver level 2. It makes me wonder how there can be such a difference between “normal” Customer service and that for elite customers. It seems to me like Iberia should be striving to improve their overall experience, not just for one level.

My Abusive Relationship with Iberia

I’ve written how my experience moving to a foreign country with a basic level of the language was humbling and made me more accepting of circumstances (and people) and more relaxed.

However, there is one thing that can always manage to make my blood boil. No matter how long I’ve been abroad I just cannot tolerate bad customer experience. There still exists a strong mentality, at least here in Spain, that the customer is wrong. After having worked for several years in the Customer Experience research team at Forrester Research (https://www.forrester.com/Customer-Experience) back in Boston and having researched and documented the high correlation between positive CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, consumer loyalty and positive business impact ($$), it still boggles me how there can exist this mentality and bad treatment of customers. Maybe there are still some businesses or sectors where consumers don’t have much of a choice, but with the way the world is changing so rapidly with digitalization, AI, paradigm breakers in existing sectors (think Uber, Amazon, Amazon Go, …) I don’t think this mentality will work forever.

Iberia and I have an abusive relationship. Sometimes I like being close to him to get to the end result (get from Madrid to Boston and vice versa without having to go through a layover). However, there are other times when I can’t even stand looking at him, when he disrespects me and even hangs up on me.

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Let’s be honest; people fly to get from one point to another. I’m not looking for miracles. However, I do expect to be treated with respect, especially when there are loyalty programs involved. So, what happened the other day? Well, it goes back to 6 months ago when I tried to use my frequent flyer “avios” to purchase tickets for Boston for the summer. I figured I had enough points that I could buy my ticket and one of my child’s. As it turns out it’s almost impossible to use avios to buy tickets during high travel season. Eight months prior to the planned travel dates there was only 1 seat available that could be purchase with avios (my husband called 5 minutes afer I did and there were no longer avios seats available). In the end I purchased my seat with avios and had to pay almost 200 euros in taxes. Makes you wonder to what point it’s really worth the avios…

For my two kids (ages 5 and 2) it was impossible to apply any of my avios. I purchased their tickets for almost 2000 euros, but in order to get assigned seats for them to be near me we’d have to pay another 200 euros. I said I think it would be their mistake to try to put a 2 year old screaming for his mom in a different aisle, but I think I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it in a few weeks. I’m pretty sure someone will prefer to switch with me if Iberia won’t give us seats together than suffer 8 hours of screaming…

On top of the kids’ tickets I also purchased some sort of travel insurance that wasn’t very clear at all over the phone but made to seem as though it was an essential part of the purchase. Next thing I know I had an extra 108 euro charge on my card. When I called a few days later to ask for more information about the insurance I had purchased I was told I’d receive it via email (the same email through which I received the tickets). Nothing came. Honestly out of pure laziness of having to call Iberia again and wait on hold I put it off for months.

The other day I called Iberia to ask about the insurance policy I had semi-consciously purchased. They confirmed that I had purchased a policy for both of my children with Allianz insurance, but to receive information about the coverage I would have to speak directly with Allianz. I asked what information I would need to provide to Allianz when calling (I’ve had enough experience with being bounced back and forth) and was told that with my ticket locator number that would be enough.

Next step- I called Allianz. Not surprisingly they were unable to find my information, policy, etc. They said that likely Iberia had made a mistake and that unless I had a separate payment on my account for the insurance that it was never purchased. They were unable to look up any more information with my name or personal data; I even tried repeating my email twice (another thing I’ve had enough experience with is people not understanding me on the phone with my accent) spelling out each letter like “M as in Madrid, A as in Alemania…” Nothing.

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Their solution: send an email to a generic Allianz sales email with a proof of payment from my bank account from January. That’s when I hit the table (literally) and tried to politely express my anger at their complete lack of efficiency as I had a ticket right in front of me. As I saw I was getting nowhere the conversation ended. I immediately found the information and sent an email titled “URGENT” with the information they requested. To my surprise they answered me within a couple of hours with the information I had requested and the full policy coverage. I have to say I was impressed with this part of the service, but was it really worth it for Iberia to put me through this hassle? Talk about making things not easy for the customer.

As it turns out, despite having repeated my email address twice and having the agent repeat it back to me, he somehow had managed to completely butcher it with about 3 letters and a period missing.

So, I’ll fly with Iberia in a few weeks, and maybe things will be smooth between us for a while, but at some point we’ll hit a bump and it will go back to rocky. For now I’m not going to end our relationship as I’m still getting the final results I’m looking for, but once something more attractive comes along with less hassle (and baggage) I will be first in line. My next challenge: try to understand the insurance policy.

To be continued…

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…

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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!