I used to be a Star Alliance Gold card holder from my extensive travel with BMI and other *A carriers. Eventually my travel tailed off a little and I dropped to Silver *just* before BA took over BMI and my *A status was converted to One World. Which was ok, because a BA Silver is in many ways similar to other airlines gold with all the lounge access I could need. The chances of getting or retaining a BA Gold card were about the same as those of me becoming a teetotal vegan, so I settled into my new position in life
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?
P.P.S. I was obviously delighted to get any seat on any plane going back to Singapore to be home again with Mads. So when I was asked whether I was happy to be downgraded to Economy it wasn't a long consideration, but I'll obviously be reclaiming the cost of that upgrade. I mean, the experience hasn't changed me *that* much!
P.P.P.S. ... and you would think that such a glowing tribute to such an amazing airline might, you know, increase my chances of an upgrade one day. (See? Ever the frequent flyer! LOL)