I HATE airports, where people are treated like cattle being herded into their pens and the prevailing ethos seems to be animal management rather than customer service and satisfaction.
Recently on arrival at the airport I encountered a man in a uniform blocking my way to the check-in counter. He was a serious looking fellow, obviously a bodybuilder and about as welcoming as Joan “the Freak” Ferguson from “Prisoner”.
He wanted to know my business. Self-evident, I would have thought, as I arrived with bag trailing behind me and a travel itinerary clutched in my hand.
“Unless you are flying international, you must use the automated check-in system,” he informed me.
Only a handful of people were waiting at the check-in counter, but the airline was determined to avoid any personal service for its local passengers.
“You can do all of that yourself,” he assured me as he turned to stare down another passenger hoping to approach the service desk.
I know that much information technology is designed to make life easier, but more often than not it seems to be aimed more at the efficiency and cost-cutting for companies than the convenience of their customers.
After a struggle with “customer interface”, I did manage to print my boarding pass, but predictably the self-service baggage check-in procedure went horribly wrong.
After waiting what seemed like an eternity for assistance grudgingly provided by staff not well endowed with interpersonal skills, I was pretty grumpy by the time I had made it to the security checkpoint.
There, as expected, I had to remove my shoes and reveal to the world my mismatched socks in order to pass through the metal detector.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to explain the odd-shaped though harmless items my kids often leave in my handbag; nor did I get swabbed for explosives. Maybe the security team weren’t at the top of their game that day because unpacking the entire contents of my handbag and being treated like a terrorist suspect are a normal part of my travel experience.
After a rush to the boarding gate, I breathlessly struggled into my seat and braced myself for the flight. Inflight entertainment amounted to an inaudible sitcom and a few unappetising biscuits were handed out with a choice of water and some rather strong smelling wine.
My husband nostalgically recalls the long-gone experience of the Ansett shuttles between Canberra and Sydney where even a short flight came with friendly and attentive staff, comfy lambs wool seats, real cutlery, edible food and a rather nice drop. As he says: “Those were the days!”
I know that efficiency and security are essential elements of modern air travel and that the more-relaxed world before September 11 will never return. But I do wistfully recall when arriving at the airport and boarding a flight was a rather less stressful and friendlier experience, even for people like me who absolutely hate flying.
Maybe, just maybe, our airlines and airports could give a bit more thought to once again treating their customers like people.