Friday, December 30, 2005


I know from my work, new innovations usually hit the troops at the front last of all. Often even after customers hear of them. What do I mean? In my role as Telephone Support Engineer Sans Excellence, I have had people call me and say something like, “Can you tell me more about the Omnicrap OS?” To which I have replied that we have no such product only to be informed by said customer that only the day before no less a monster than our CEO had announced at a conference the imminent arrival of the Omnicrap OS. A little bit of searching around and fuel was added to that adage, “the customer is always right.” A week later, an email was sent round informing the support staff of the arrival of a new product, namely the Omnicrap OS, noting that we were expected to at least be aware of its existence. We should have been aware a week ago at least.

This is not a common occurrence at our company, it is in the world of travel that this sort of thing seems most common. I have twice tried new-fangled things endorsed by the airlines – most recently, checking in online. In this, you print your own boarding pass. But as you only have a bog-standard laser, inkjet or laser-jet printer, you cannot print anything that looks remotely like a boarding pass. It looks like a printout of a web site with some information about your flight on it. Consequently said piece of paper rather than being grasped with joy by all who encompass it, was stared at by the security guards at the gate as if I was trying to show a child’s drawing instead of my passport. The airline’s representative explained it to them but the fact was in the world of international passenger aviation, where security is supposed to THE NUMBER ONE THING OF IMPORTANCE after profits, people were not informed of a security-related change or addition which will affect them.

In the less rapidly-changing world of earth-bound transport, things are not much different. A local bus company, eager to get more people waiting at bus stops, issued free trial tickets to various surrounding businesses. Every single driver I (or any of my colleagues) showed these tickets to, stared at it. First as if I was mad; and then, having read what it said and seen his employer’s logo, he accepted it bemusedly. It seems that all it would have taken is one simple memo to the drivers’ Squadron Leader to inform his chaps to expect these things from customers and the whole thing would have been seamless. But consequently an attempt to improve the image of the company just made it look faintly incompetent.

But, of course, you are dying to know how online checking in worked for me? Aren’t you? Yes, of course you are...

Well, firstly it saves time once you arrive at the airport. You don’t queue up with the other plebs but go straight to the “Baggage Drop-Off Counter.” I went there to be told by a huffy girl, “this desk is closed.” But then she saw my printed boarding pass and that I was just dropping my luggage off. So she huffily took my bag and stuck the usual two metres of sticker to it, and told me where to go. Gate D22. But as that was all. It took slightly less time at the desk than normal. She also didn’t ask me whether I packed my bag myself or whether I had a knife, hand gun or explosive device. I assume that was stated on the website. Anyway, I had and I didn’t have any.

One nice feature of the online check-in is that you can change your seat using a little picture of the plane. Or at least it seemed a nice feature at the time. It didn’t work so well for me. I was allocated a window seat near the back, so I changed it for an aisle seat further forward. Unfortunately it didn’t give me any warning about who else was likely to take the seats around me, and I sat behind the kid who screamed all the way through the approach, setting off his sibling sitting next to him. I had placed myself in the kids section. It made the flight a little unpleasant, but it’ always good to remind yourself why breeding is best avoided. And it illustrated what I have always said, that there should be a clearly defined kids section on all flights. The hold springs to mind, but I am fine with just a cordoned off area of the plane. Seriously, I would rather sit in the smoking section than surrounded by screaming kids. Hell, I’d rather sit in the radioactive waste compartment.

To summarise: Employers, keep your staff informed; Airlines, all terrorists were once children, so don’t forget that kids are a security risk.

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