However, it was a little disappointing and strange that I switched over to One World just before I landed a job in Singapore. In my *A days, everyone knew that Singapore Airlines were *the* top *A carrier (honourable mention to Air New Zealand) and so they always cropped up in any forum conversation about how best to use miles. Now I was in the perfect place to earn and redeem miles well, my new employer always uses SQ for travel but I was kind of stuck with my BA Silver and a whole bunch of miles and partner vouchers and the rest. To give you an example, when my new employer was helping me book our business class flights to move out to Singapore, you could tell they were a little confused as to why we weren't choosing SQ. Tier points, of course!
Don't get me wrong, BA are great and I've had some good rewards over the past few years, but my choice of loyalty program suddenly felt out of step with my life so I was considering a gradual cutover to KrisFlyer. But SQ never do status matches (as far as I know), so it was going to take a while. Making it worse was the fact that I've grown to like Cathay Pacific and so the temptation to stay put in OneWorld is stronger.
Anyway, I've said enough to merely touch on my intense geekery about airline loyalty programs and, for that matter, airlines and air travel in general.
However, the experience of last week has convinced me that Singapore Airlines are unparalleled in their customer service. The fleet and on-board service are already great, even in Economy (really - Europeans should try a dose of Far Eastern mid-haul travel to see the difference), but Customer Service is such a difficult thing to get right and SQ absolutely knocked the ball out of the park!
I'm terrible with names and remembering them but, in any case, there was such a large team of people over the course of 3 and a half days that were almost uniformly excellent, professional and warm that I'm not sure I want to single anyone out. I will pick out a few small examples (in order of the time they happened) but I'm not sure that will communicate just how happy everyone I know was with the customer service.
- I was constantly having struggles getting out of the terminal for a smoke and, on one occasion, I asked one of the senior ground crew how I could get out and he walked me out personally, dealt with security and stood there while I had a smoke, so he could then help me back into the terminal. He was a smoker too, so he understood, but he didn't have one himself. Absolutely not his job, but just caring about different passengers needs.
- At every single turn (and the passengers discussed this several times amongst ourselves), the airline made the right decision, at just the right time and so it always felt like we were ahead of the game. They couldn't change the situation or unblock the blockages but once they realised there was a blockage, they simply found a way around it. They didn't pussy-foot about and there was only very rarely a sense of "what's happening here?". Even in those moments, it was really just about the airline trying to work out for themselves what was happening.
- There were very few changes in team members. Where we went, they went. When we were able to sleep, even if it was on the floor of the terminal, they weren't. When we were able to sit and relax in the hotel, they were still chasing around trying to make plans for us despite having no sleep themselves. Whatever challenges we experienced, they experienced worse because they couldn't have a seat, grab a nap, get a shower or whatever either and not once did I get any sense that it bothered them. They must have been *shattered* with tiredness and they never let it show or gave even a hint of this not being their favourite work experience!
- When the Regional Manager turns up to deliver a short speech to passengers who haven't seen a bed or a shower in over 50 hours and is basically telling them that there's no quick end in sight and they *applaud* you spontaneously during your speech and at the end, you know you're doing this thing right. Embarassing though it is to admit it, and I suspect my extreme tiredness was a factor, I was practically wiping away a tear! In retrospect, I realise that it was because they seemed to genuinely care about our predicament. It's difficult to define the difference between this and fake customer care but it was clear as day if you were there. He then hung around until every single passenger had asked whatever weird and wonderful questions they had and answered them with calm authority and honesty.
- The free food was endless and of great quality, despite my personal preferences. Not your European - here's a voucher for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Instead - here are three proper meals a day at the right time. I'm guessing this was very important to most people, particularly the large number of families among the passengers and in the end (as you'll see in another blog post), they moved us at one point from one hotel to another, just so people could eat and wash.
- As soon as it became clear that MAA was shut down for days, they made a (heavily caveated) promise that they would try to organise some extra capacity out of Bangalore as the fastest way to get us home. They had to work with the air authorities on this, they were in the midst of every airline trying to do the same, were operating to tight timescales and were honest with us that it was starting to look unlikely and so spent hours trying to rebook people on to other flights to Mumbai and other routes. But they came through. They promised they would try something for us, they worked on it and worked on it until they made it happen and they got people home.
I can't emphasise enough how fantastic SQ were over my 85 hour (read that again - 85 hour) trip home. If it was just me saying this, then it would be personal taste, but a bunch of extremely tired passengers with a wide demographic all seemed to agree whenever we discussed it or I heard others discussing it. The interesting (but really unsurprising thing), is that I also found my fellow passengers understanding and behaviour far above what I've ever experienced in a situation like this. Mmmmm ... maybe when you treat people well, they behave well?
So, Seah Chee Chian and your team ... You should be extremely proud of yourselves! But I mean the whole team, working selflessly over hours and days and showing genuine care for your customers, which is so rare. I'm not a fan of low cost airlines in general - each to their own - so the small difference in fares has never been a question for me and it's at times like this you remember you get what you pay for! However, I can put Singapore's efforts up against any full-fare airline I've ever flown with and I can't think of one that would have handled things as impressively. I just always knew I could count on SQ to take care of me.
You have a fan for life!
P.S. All of this and having the best airport on the planet (SIN) as your hub. What more could I ask for?
Dec 9: My Indian Adventure - Part 1
Sitting in my final meeting before travelling to the airport, one of the attendees suggested that we break up the meeting as people were getting calls from home to tell them that their homes were being flooded! So we broke up, the office cleared out and we phoned for the car to come from our hotel 25 minutes away. Estimated time of arrival 1-2 hours! Oh well. I'd be pushing it to make my flight, but would probably be fine.
We waited and after the first hour I stood outside with an umbrella, sheltering under a concrete archway until I'd venture out with the brolly at each possible hotel car sighting. It also gave me an opportunity to smoke outside but under the brolly. However, after an hour of this, I was absolutely drenched and my feet and trousers were soaking. Just me being an idiot as usual, but I would come to regret this more and more as time passed later. Soaking clothes were not ideal for the trip to come and I'd packed extremely lightly!
Though the blanket was ok, sleeping on the marble floor of an airport terminal with your rucksack as a pillow and a thin blanket is never going to be an enjoyable experience and I think I managed about an hour. Others who had managed to commandeer seats and benches seemed to fair better. Here was my slot - always go Business Class, folks!
I wandered up and down the terminal aimlessly (and there really isn't much else to do in MAA), occasionally trying to get out of the terminal building through security so I could have a smoke. Did I mention how I feel about Indian Security guys? Really, just don't get me started on them!
Over time I came to realise it was a great move when I started hearing reports of what a car crash the MAA terminal had become. We also had wifi for a few hours, which meant I was able to contact Mads so she could start rebooking our trip to Phuket for the next day, in case I was going to get back to Singapore in time. Our original Wednesday departure was clearly a no-go by this stage.
It also helped that we could now get some decent coffee and biscuits and Singapore and the Hilton could start serving up some really pretty good hot buffet lunch. All South Indian food, of course! But then, what else should I expect really? LOL
But at least there were chairs, and power sockets, and some wifi and even occasionally a little 3G, but Chennai's communications infrastructure was slowly but surely disappearing into the surrounding water! I could go outside, try to find reception, smoke, chat to the Singapore Airlines staff who were taking care of us and two of those trips outside will stay with me for a while. (Note that although the flooding doesn't look too bad here, this was definitely one of the better streets and it got much worse later ...)
Besides, the next visit outside cheered me up no end. As I was passing the time, smoking and day-dreaming, a commotion broke out in the crowd in the street with people running and pushing and laughing and shouting and I genuinely thought there was a mini-riot breaking out.
We all rushed over to see what was going on and then I realised, but I didn't get a photo of it! The crowd were grappling with a large fish! It must have been a good 2.5-3 feet long and fat. Absolutely not a tiddler! As they caught it, they all ran back up the street, laughing and celebrating with their prize.
Catching fish in the street with your hands. Now *that's* flooding!
More to follow ....
Thanks to Hemant and Lucas for offering to present and to Vikki Lira of the OTN Oracle ACE team for agreeing to sponsor the event. As Hemant is an Oracle ACE and Lucas an Oracle ACE Director, the evening will have a truly ACE feel added to the usual Singapore vibe.
P.S. Yes, I never did post a review of SOS II. That's how busy I've been lately
Last Monday evening we had the first Singapore Oracle Sessions - an informal meetup of Oracle professionals thrown together at the last minute by a few of us.
Morten Egan (or as I believe he is called in Denmark now - The Traitor ) mentioned to me months ago that if there was no user group when we arrived in Singapore, then we should start one. At the time he was the current (now retired) chairman of the Danish Oracle User Group (DOUG, strangely enough) and, as I've presented at and supported various Oracle user events over the years and am an ACE Director, it seemed fitting that we should try to build something for the Singapore Oracle community.
The fact that the Oracle ACE Hemant Chitale works for the same company and that the ACE Director Bjoern Rost would be spending a few days at my place before continuing on to the OTN APAC Tour was too much of an opportunity. After a short chat on Twitter we decided to bite the bullet and I started researching venues and contacted some of the locals. We only had 6 days to arrange it so it was either brave or stupid!
As it came together and (through a few very good contacts) we had more and more attendees registering it started to seem like a reality and eventually Bjoern, Madeleine and I found ourselves walking along to the Bugis area on Monday, hoping for the best. Despite some initial problems finding the venue, we arrived to find the extremely helpful Sean Low of Seminar Room who took excellent care of us.
Within the matter of 15 minutes or so, 33 of the 36 or so who had registered were safely settled in their seats (including my other half Madeleine who *never* attends Oracle stuff!) for my brief introduction during which Sean insisted I try out the hand-held microphone.
My big Sinatra moment (not).
First up was Bjoern Rost of Portrix with "Change the way you think about tuning with SQL Plan Management" which, as those who've seen me present on the subject at Openworld, BGOUG or UKOUG would know is a subject dear to my heart. However, Bjoern seems to have had much more success with it than my failed attempts that were damned by literal values and Dynamic SQL. (I've since had a little more success, but mainly as a narrow solution to very specific problems.)
As you can see, the room was pretty full and the audience very attentive (except for a few people who appear to be mucking around with their phones!). They weren't afraid to ask some interesting and challenging questions too, which I always find very encouraging.
Early in Bjoern's presentation we suffered what I would say was the only significant disappointment of the night as both the drinks and the pizza turned up early! It was nice of the delivery companies not to be late, but my stupid expectation that 7pm meant 7pm ensured that I was standing at the back of the room surrounded by obviously gorgeous pizza that was slowly going cold, not knowing whether I should stop Bjoern in his tracks or not. Manners dictated not (particularly as there were so many people in a small room) but the pizza experience later suggests I was wrong. Lesson learned! (Note that I had to ask others about the pizza as it's on my extensive list of things I don't eat.)
What obviously didn't go wrong at all was the social interaction between all of the attendees and speakers. It probably helped that there were a few attendees from some organisations and that people from different organisations had worked with each other in the past but it's a *long* time since I've felt such a vibrant energy during a break.
I was on next, presenting on "Real Time SQL Monitoring" and apart from a few hiccups with the clicker I borrowed from Bjoern and a couple of slide corrections I need to make, I think it went reasonably well and people seemed as enthused by SQL Mon reports as I've come to expect! With that done, and a quick smoke (I *love* organising an agenda ), it was time for Morten with his "Big Data Primer"
I think this might have been lots of peoples favourite presentation because it wasn't just about Oracle and Morten packed in plenty of the humour I've come to expect from him. Better still, it seemed to work for a quite cosmopolitan audience, so good work!
Afterwards he said a few words asking for people's feedback and whether there was a desire to setup a local user group or just continue with these informal sessions (sponsors permitting) and all of the feedback I heard later showed that people are very keen for a repeat run.
Overall, Monday night felt like a great success.
The passion and enthusiasm of the attendees was very encouraging and reflected in the subsequent feedback which has been consistently positive but also thoughtful so far. There's no question that a decent minority of the local Oracle community are looking for regular opportunities to hear decent speakers on subjects that interest them, meet and discuss issues with each other and also offer to present themselves, which is a great start for any Oracle User Group.
Strangely, I discovered a day or so later that there are already plans for a User Group and the Singapore launch event is next Wednesday. Coincidentally this is only 9 days after SOS! You can look into the APOUG website here and a number of colleagues and I will attend the launch event. I suppose it's a small shame that it's an APAC-wide user group, rather than specific to Singapore, which the number of attendees at such short notice would suggest Singapore can justify, but I'll be interested to see what APOUG has planned.
Big thanks for Alvin from Oracle for endless supplies of fine pizza and Bjoern Rost of Portrix Systems for the room hire (I bought the drinks, which some would say was appropriate but I couldn't possibly comment) and thanks again to all the attendees for making it a fun night!
I didn't notice until I was about to post this that Bjoern had already blogged about the evening and I think he's captured it perfectly.
Then a thought occurred to me. While he was here, why not setup an informal Oracle users meetup, much like the various ones at cities around the world like Sydney, Birmingham and London (to name but three I'm aware of). Morten Egan, my new colleague and Oak Table luminary had already suggested to me months ago that we should get something going in Singapore, so why not start now?
Well, in a matter of a few days, we've put together an agenda, a room, we will be having pizza and beer and other drinks and three hopefully useful sessions from experienced speakers.
Here is the agenda (SingaporeOracleSessions.pdf) and a map (SOSMap.pdf) to help you get to the venue which is very handily placed near Bugis MRT. All that's required to register is to email me at dougburns at Yahoo. There are currently 21 people registered but the room holds (believe it or not) 42, so spread the word!
Hopefully, it's just the beginning ....