Monday, March 31, 2008

Geniuses in aviation

People don't call customer support if they're happy with a service. Right? If everything is going as planned, they're getting what they need done, they're not gonna call someone up. Especially not in Estonia, a country infamous for its dearth of social interaction.

So it takes a very special person to put a recording at the start of every support call to Estonian Air, saying "We're having a Good Service month! Please call this number and tell them about the good service you've received from us!"

Now, when you're calling to find out if you're due any compensation for a flight delayed by FIVE FUCKING HOURS - a flight from Stockholm, which only takes about 50 minutes each way - it takes all your patience not to hurl the handset across the room.

I was at Stockholm Arlanda nice and early, too; I checked the flight status at the Arlanda Express office in the downtown train station (good tip if you're flying - it's convenient because it shows the terminal you need to go to), and I was at the ticket agent's as soon as they opened. The nice lady who worked for a company contracted to represent about a dozen minor airlines (as opposed to using the fucking SAS agent, who obviously have a massive base of operations in Stockholm - but since SAS only owns half of Estonian Air, that would have made too much sense) spent fifteen minutes on hold with EA's internal support, then about twenty seconds to receive a flat-out "no" to rerouting me through Helsinki, which would have cost me maybe half an hour from the original flight plan.

Jesus. Fucking. Christ. Am I happy with their service today? What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Just came back from an Easter weekend to Tallinn. Estonian Air flight from London delayed hour and a half, flight going back delayed an hour. In both cases I was there exceptionally early, only to get the news at the last minute. At least they're consistent.

The cause of the delay from London was a cracker: "Oh we are just waiting for some passengers in transit." Apparently the captain had made this decision. Fine, but then it becomes clear that the passengers are not "transiting" in the same airport (Gatwick) but coming all the way down from Heathrow. Meaning not only do they have to get through pretty bad traffic (the Easter weekend holiday rush had started) across 25 miles - but that they would still have to check in and clear security at Gatwick.

Of course they told us all this after we had gone through the gate and were waiting in the lounge. I'm a smoker, but I don't mind long gaps provided things are in motion - spent 7 hours on a flight to Dubai recently without a puff, no problem - but to sit there an extra hour doing f-all really winds me up.

Finally after 45 minutes this bunch of teenagers rushes in prompting the Estonian businessman next to me to mutter disgustedly, "Kids. Probably some minister's daughter."

So we board, but of course at an airport like Gatwick, if you miss your take-off slot... you have to wait till one becomes available again. So we then spend another 45 minutes sitting in the plane, our legs cramping up, until the flight finally takes off.

The captain mutters something about thinking it would only be a 20-30 minute delay, and even I, a layman knows about missing take-off slots, etc. And the thing that really annoys me about Est Air, they don't even make a token attempt at minor compensation - a voucher for a free sandwich, a free coffee, whatever - which isn't much, but at least makes you feel a little like they care if you fly with them again.

I'm starting to think I may start taking the British Airways/Finnair combination to Tallinn via Helsinki. Granted it gets in later, but it works out to be the same time as I got in with Estonian Air. And at least they have a better reputation for punctuality (and if they're late it's not because 7 or 8 teenagers are late) and I can get sloshed for free on the flight over!

This has been on my mind for a week and I thank you for providing a forum for me to get it off my chest!

antyx said...

Oddly enough I'd recommend the Sleazyjet to London. Say what you will about them, but they bloody well will keep to their schedule - and have the fleet to substitute an aircraft that's got a technical fault.

I did get a meal voucher, but I had to overtly ask for it from the SAS check-in people.

space_maze said...

Sleazyjet (hah - I love it) has always been on time for me.

Problem there with the London flight for me was that "on time" meant 6 AM. Eek.

Estonian Air was awfully late for me both times I flew with them this last year - not 9 hours late, but .. late. Which is odd, considering how simple Tallinn airport is - how could you possibly get disorganised there?

Effects of SAS management, or are these of the Airport renovation? Or are they simply wankers?

antyx said...

They're wankers regardless, but that's not the root of the problem.

Estonian Air only has about six planes, and two of those are turboprop Saab 340s that can't do long hops. Their schedule is pretty tight; but they do have a buffer built into it. The thing is that they also insist on serving charter flights, and charters never leave on time, especially not at the destination airports. So when one plane has a malfunction, and it's meant to be replaced by another one that's just returning from a charter, you really have no idea when a flight is going to happen.

With the likes of Sleazyjet, if the problem begins at the hub, they've got the fleet and manpower to scrounge up a working flight and stop it from snowballing into a massive disruption of the whole schedule; they simply have to, because their margins are tighter than even EA's, and if they fuck up once, it can radiate into a gigantic clusterfuck.

Anonymous said...

Easyjet is fine for most destinations and despite it being called a "no-frills airline" I don't really see a major difference between it and a supposedly "mainstream" one like Est Air.

But I abhor the 6.45 am flight time to Tallinn. Unless you take a cab to the airport (expensive unless a few of you are sharing the cost) it's a very early start to manoeuvre through London and then to the airport.

And flying back from Tallinn - it leaves just early enough in the day that effectively you can't really get anything done in Tallinn that morning, yet arrives just late enough in London that it's not really worth going to the office. Meaning you have to take a whole day off for a 3 hour flight. Whereas with Est Air's afternoon flight, you can at least take your time and be out and about for a while before heading to the airport.

But in terms of price and reliability, EJ does come out on top. Christ, if Estonian Air has been losing market share now, imagine what would happen if Easy Jet adjusted their flight schedules to more convenient times, say even 8.30 am from London? They would wipe the floor up with Est Air!

Here is something that really annoys me about Est Air, especially as it's the national airline of such an e-savvy country. WHY DO THEY STILL NOT ISSUE ELECTRONIC TICKETS? This is a ludicrous state of affairs. I mean I just came back from a trip to the Indian subcontinent and even the second-rate local airlines I used issued e-tickets.

Kristopher said...

I liked Easyjet, but getting from Gatwick to Stansted was an adventure. It had been the biggest snowfall in a decade, and when my train came in, I decided to walk from Victoria to a place called "Stratford", which on my very simplified map of the transport system looked like the best place to catch a bus to Stansted. I saw some sights but got lost somewhere past Brick Lane in a very dodgy area and never found Stratford. I bought a ticket to Stansted from a machine and it cost something like 500 EEK. There was a black guy waiting there (by the machine), and he spoke with a British accent, which I thought was novel, and he actually said into his mobile phone to his girlfriend, "I was smoking crack last night", but there was no feeling of danger as there would have been in DC, even though I was inserting massive amounts of money into the machine. A very pleasant country.

I slept on the floor at Stansted as everybody else was doing so. The plane was full of stag party people, but they were all really polite and sober, and one charmed the middle-aged Estonian lady sitting next to me. Easyjet wouldn't take EEK but would take euros, odd since neither the destination nor the origin use that currency.

It couldn't hold a candle to the BA flight from Innsbruck to Gatwick -- still the best economy flight I have ever been on. Leather seats, snacks, meals etc. The flight attendants had public school accents.

Anyway, that has absolutely nothing to do with anything.

Estonian Air -- needs a copy editor for its in-flight magazine and, agree, it needs e-tickets, and to provide a simple free meal. I take the ship to Stockholm if I have a connecting flight to catch, otherwise I trust their mechanics to fix the old planes for one more flight.

Alex said...

Estonia Air could teach their flight attendants to be friendly, assuming they could find someone that knows how to be friendly in the first place to teach it.

As a side note. If you're flying to/from the U.S., try and get on a Malaysian Airlines flight. Those planes rock 'cause they're decked out for long haul 20+ hour flights to Asia after they fly through Helsinki. Each seat has it's own video monitor and remote control that is loaded with movies, TV shows, video games and music. Plenty to keep you busy for 8 hours, plus the staff is super nice and wear cool uniforms, especially the ladies. :-) Seats in coach are roomier too than most.

Ain Kendra said...

What do you think about Tartu airport? Anything - what lines have to be opened and expectedly will have enough passengers?
What about housing areas in the side of runway and under the eastern runway (close to railway)...

antyx said...

The obvious choice for Tartu Airport is the thing they've talked about - a Riga-Tartu-Kuressaare-Stockholm cityhopper using the Saab turboprops. There seems to be a business case for each of the legs individually.

As for the housing - this isn't Terminal 5 we're talking about; the people knew the airport was there when they were buying the property. Anyway, I don't think Tartu airport will ever have the sort of traffic density to be a genuine hassle to the residents.


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