Just a travel agent

Relatives booked flights to Hong Kong on a Very Famous Hong Kong Airline (VFHKA). 

Next we booked a package (flights and hotels), also with VFHKA - so that we could all go together to another city in Asia. 

Then last week VFHKA cancelled relative’s flights to Hong Kong, so we have to cancel the package.  I called VFHKA and provided them with all the details and told them we need to cancel.

When I finally got through, the conversation went something like this:

VFHKA: Yes, that’s OK, but there’s a 50% cancellation fee.
Me: But your airline cancelled the flights to Hong Kong.
VFHKA: We are just a travel agent.
Me: But…..it’s the same company!
VFHKA: No, we are a separate company within VFHKA group.
Me: (laughs)   (gets a bit shouty)  (calms down)
VFHKA Sorry, this is company policy.  There’s a 50% cancellation fee.
Me: Can I speak to your supervisor?
VFHKA OK (long wait).
VFHKA We’ll call you back later.

So the next day we had another call.  Some “highlights’:

VFHKA: We didn’t cancel the flight to (Asian City).
Me: Correct, but this is a family holiday.  If they can’t get to Hong Kong we can’t all go to (Asian City).
VFHKA: Can you give me the flight details?
Me: I did give you all this information yesterday, but, sure, I can read out this random collection of letters and numbers one more time.  Hang on, is that a ‘B’ or a ‘5’ in the Booking Reference? 
VFHKA: Yes, that’s the same people.  We need to check with the airline and the hotel.  We’ll call you back.

They did call me back, but still only partial success.

VFHKA: We can give you a full refund for the hotel but there will be a cancellation fee for the flights.
Me: But your airline cancelled the flights to Hong Kong.  We only need to cancel this package because of that!
VFHKA: I need to check with my supervisor.  We’ll call you back.

Of course after all this nonsense they did call me back and offer a full refund (though it will take 4-6 weeks).  

imageI suppose it’s not really any worse than most so-called “customer service” in Hong Kong.  If you are persistent you can probably get what you want, but you need to wait for your call to be answered (and listen to the repeated announcements that most things can be done on the website).

Having said, it’s a special kind of audacious for them to claim that they are “just a travel agent” when (amongst other major clues) bookings are made through exactly the same website as the airline.  That’s a very high standard of disingenuous nonsense.     

We are just a travel agent.  No you’re not.

Your consistently loyalty

I received this email after a recent brief hotel stay in China:

Firstly, Thanks for your consistently loyalty with our hotel and [group] as a [loyalty program] member!

Our management team have paid more attention to your staying experience.  If there anything happened on  you and makes you feel dissatisfied stay experience. Please do not be hesitate to contact with us.  We will make arduous efforts to our vission- [fatuous slogan]. Finnaly, I wish you have a good and safety time day by day! We looking forward your come back soon.

Hmmmm…this was my first stay in this hotel, and I only joined their loyalty program at check-in.

Hong Kong not so good- HKIA North Satellite Concourse

There’s not too much wrong with Hong Kong International Airport.  Apart from the North Satellite Concourse, that is.

It was opened more than 5 years ago (for smaller planes such as the Airbus A320 / A321), and yet the only way to get there (or back) is by taking a shuttle bus across the apron….

…which is also used by large planes.

As the planes take priority, the buses often get delayed on the tarmac.  And it doesn’t take much for the whole system to grind to a halt.  Recently I had a lengthy wait for a bus to arrive, and then, once it departed, it moved just a few hundred metres - and we had to wait for another 7-8 minutes before it could continue the short journey to the North Satellite Concourse.  Total delay – around 20 minutes, and too much time spent standing on a crowded bus.  

The best solution from the smart people at HKIA is advice to passengers to allow extra time to get there.  Thanks a lot. 

Needless to say, it doesn’t have a lounge (there is a Starbucks if you want to pay for food and drink, which I don’t - thanks all the same).

Is this really an improvement on buses that go directly to planes parked a little further away (which they also still do)?

A hotel somewhere in SE Asia

Me: Can I have a cheese omelette?

Chef-type man: Yes.  [Turns to assistant].  Cheese Omelette

Assistant chef:  What do you want in it?

Me: Onions and tomato [Assistant Chef starts cooking].

Me: What about the cheese?

Assistant chef:  [ignores question, continues cooking]

Me: I want a cheese omelette  

Chef-type man: He asked for a Cheese Omelette.

[Assistant throws cheese-free omelette away and starts again]

Not so baffling

Big headline on the front page of the ‘City’ section of the South China Morning Post today, but it turns out to be the usual load of nonsense:

Pictures baffle Dragonair workers

Three mysterious branding-type photos are raising questions on whether the airline is moving to align its image with parent Cathay

Phila Siu and Keith Wallis | South China Morning Post | 2 March 2013

A new image may be in the works for Dragonair, judging from three photographs that appear to herald a brand relaunch.

One of the pictures shows a model standing in front of a plane with the words "Cathay Dragon" emblazoned across it. Industry insiders say the images are part of a genuine effort to sort out the future relationship between Cathay Pacific and its wholly owned subsidiary.

The pictures have been circulating among Dragonair employees. The airline said: "The photos are not from us," but would not say if it had commissioned the photography.

When Cathay Pacific bought Dragonair for HK$8.22 billion in 2006, it said it would allow Dragonair to operate under its own brand for six years. The deadline passed last year.

So Cathay is now allowed to re-brand Dragonair.  Which makes it neither baffling nor mysterious that it should be looking into the possibility of doing just that.

And it is somewhat strange that the Dragonair name is still used outside China.  For example, Cathay flies to Ho Chi Minh City, whilst Dragonair flies to Hanoi (and soon to Danang).  Dragonair flies to Bangalore whilst all other destinations in India are served by Cathay (though I think they are going to do something about that). 

Hong Kong Airlines follows Oasis out of Gatwick

Not a big surprise.  It was an interesting concept, but the combination of being known as a budget airline (and one that is owned by a PRC company) and flying to Gatwick (rather than Heathrow) appears not to have been a winner.  

Hong Kong Airlines abandons Gatwick

London's business-class-only link to Hong Kong is to be axed after just six months – providing more evidence that insufficient numbers of airline passengers are prepared to pay a premium to avoid the riff-raff.

Hong Kong Airlines launched the luxury flight from Gatwick in March. But this week the company said flights would end on 10 September. A statement blamed "the continuing weak economic outlook in Europe". In recent weeks, many flights on the route have been cancelled.

The aviation consultant, John Strickland, said: "It reflects the highly competitive nature of the Hong Kong-London market, one where there is substantial capacity from established players and not enough premium traffic to support the dedicated business service of a newcomer."

Cathay Pacific alone has four flights a day each way between Heathrow and Hong Kong, offering business travellers flexibility. It competes with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand from Heathrow, a route with two million passengers annually.

Hong Kong Airlines' service was launched with much fanfare in March, using new Airbus A330 aircraft configured with just 112 seats – 78 in "Club Classic", roughly between premium economy and business, and 34 in "Club Premier", with lie-flat beds.

Fares were set to undercut rival carriers, at less than £2,000 for the cheaper class and £3,000 for the top grade. But many seats have flown empty, and the schedule obliges an aircraft to stand idle on the ground at Gatwick for 15 hours between arrival and departure.

This was the same problem Oasis had, of course. 

It is the second time a Gatwick-Hong Kong venture has failed; Oasis Hong Kong Airlines went bust four years ago after flying the route from Sussex to the Far East for 18 months. But unlike Oasis, Hong Kong Airlines is still very mch a going concern, and no passenger with a forward booking will lose out. They will either be rebooked on Air New Zealand, BA or Virgin, or given a full refund. Juliette White, from Jersey, is booked to fly with Hong Kong Airlines from Gatwick in October. She said: "I'm hoping for a replacement ticket on another airline. I do not see me getting a business-class flight as cheaply if I have to rebook."

Yang Jian Hong, president of Hong Kong Airlines, said: "Our plan is to re-deploy the three specially equipped, all-business-class A330s which currently service the London route to charter flights."

How others live

Turns out that if you are a royal princess flying on your country’s national airline you only have to get on board the plane about a minute before the doors close - and the flight takes off on time.  And your luggage gets tagged with VVIP and is on the luggage belt super fast.  But do you get the same terrible food, I wonder?

All fingers and thumbs

What is with people and their mobile phones?  There was a crazy woman in the airport today, chattering away on her phone whilst trying to complete the normally unchallenging business of getting through the automated immigration channel.

You might think that putting your thumb on the reader would be easy enough, but this half-wit put her index finger down instead.  Not just once, but three times.  And with long pauses inbetween, whilst she talked on her phone.

Eventually the Immigration Officer came and escorted her out.  I think they should refuse entry to anyone without the wit to know the difference between their thumb and forefinger.

All business to London

Oasis tried to convince us that it was the world’s first long-haul budget airline.  It wasn’t, and it went bust.

The one area where Oasis had a competitive product was Business Class.  Substantially cheaper than its competitors, for a perfectly reasonable old-style seat and good service.

Enter Hong Kong Airlines with a new service from Hong Kong to London Gatwick.  They are operating Airbus A330s with 116 seats in two classes: “Club Classic” is old-style business class with fares roughly equivalent to Premium Economy; and “Club Premier” which provides flat-bed seats at a lower price than Business Class on BA, Cathay or Virgin.

The airline is well-established and has much stronger financial backing than Oasis, so there is no risk of them going bankrupt, but it remains to be seen whether it will be successful.  Gatwick is a smaller airport than Heathrow, which can be good (less time spent in the airport) or bad (if you want a big choice of connecting flights). 

If you are travelling to Central London there’s no big difference – both airports have fast train services to a London terminus (and slower, cheaper, stopping services).  Heathrow is on the tube network, but Gatwick has direct train services to various locations to the south.  Both are next to motorways (M25 & M4 for Heathrow, M23 for Gatwick), so it really depends where you want to go.

Meanwhile, Cathay has started adding Premium Economy cabins to its long-haul flights.  Virgin Atlantic has been offering Premium Economy between Hong Kong and London for 18 years, and British Airways has also been offering it for many years, so what took Cathay so long?