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October 2012 travel news 59
the inside edge
Steve Shelley is a management and
training consultant with his own company,
Tack International. He lives in Nairobi.
It was a bit ironic that I chose to fy on
Qatar Airlines to a conference on customer
service. After all, if you've seen their ads
on TV, this looks like an airline who's got
it pinned down, performing in a different
league. Unfortunately, it's their ad agency
that's great, not the airline. This story
shows just how dangerous it can be for a
company to say one thing and do another.
It started with the online check-in, when
the seat allocation software refused to
let me sit anywhere other than the rear-
most row. You know, the place where the
crew fll the baggage lockers with their
own kit, where everyone stands in line for
the toilets, whose doors open every few
minutes wafting dubious odours into the
cabin, fushing with a powerful whoosh.
It's also the row where elbow room is the
most squeezed due to the tapering of the
Well, never mind, it's only a four-hour trip
to Doha. But there's a strange feature of
the Airbus A319 that no-one sings about.
Every window seat has a metal box riveted
in the foot-well, so that you can only stretch
one leg at a time. Four hours begins to
seem like a long time. I begin to think
the designer was that same CIA-trained
engineer who devised the economy seat
in the 747-400, the one whose reclining
angle was guaranteed to pop your lower
vertabra, the same guy who devised water-
boarding, I suspect.
In fact, it was the issue of seat back
reclining that popped Qatar's reputation on
my way home. I had carefully chosen an
aisle seat near the front. But the seat ahead
was occupied by a rather large lady who,
immediately after take off, fell backwards
almost into my lap. Her seat back was so
close to my nose that I couldn't open the
tray table, nor see the TV screen. If I didn't
suffer from claustrophobia, now I did!
I pressed the call button. No-one came. I
stood up, something of a challenge in itself,
and called out to the nearest stewardess.
“See if you can fnd another seat”, she
Wait a minute, this was my chosen seat,
and the plane is full. How about asking this
passenger to pull the seat up to a more
reasonable angle. Or escorting me up to
business class with an apology. No, she
founced off with her trolley, with more
important things to do.
A more senior lady passed, I stopped her.
"Please do something about this seat", I
asked. "It's positively dangerous like this."
"Thank you for the information", she said.
"It's not information", I responded. "It's a
complaint. This is a danger, you must do
"Oh, then I must write it down and give it
to my supervisor". And that was the end of
No action, no supervisor, nothing. Four
hours with a seat back ten centimetres
from the bridge of my nose. Can't eat the
food, can't watch the screen.
This is truly terrible service on any
measure. But it was made worse by
the announcement earlier to the effect
that we're here for you and we welcome
any feedback. No, they don't welcome
feedback! There is no mechanism for
giving it and none for acting on it.
It was a miserable fight. Thanks, Qatar.
We’d been staying at a really terrifc
hotel in Kuala Lumpur, amazing food and
incredible service. At every turn, lovely
ladies dressed in silk kimonos insisted we
have an amazing day. And mostly we did.
Until it was time to check out.
It seems so many staff were busy meeting,
greeting and smiling that there were none
left to man the front desk. I waited and
waited. Finally, I was presented with my
"But this is more than I was told when I
checked in", I exclaimed. I had been
hoarding just enough cash and was now
faced with a bill about 50% more than
expected. The guy disappeared behind a
screen and went silent. Finally he popped
up again with another bill, this one for an
even greater amount.
"What's going on?" I demanded. "Every
time I try to pay, you tell me it's more!"
By the time I had drained my last reserves
and settled up, the memories of those
'amazing days' had rather waned. Now I
needed a taxi. But there was still no-one
at the desk.
Moral of the story? If you can't deliver what
you claim, your credibility goes out of the
window. And if your service is not seamless
across the entire operation, don't expect
people to come back.
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