There Is An Airline Doing It Right!

PorterThis post is in praise of airline customer service and an overall EXCELLENT air travel experience.  Yes, really.  A positive one.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were looking for an easy, seamless ski vacation that didn’t involve driving 8 hours to Vermont or flying out west and battling the altitude, the time change and a cross-country flight.  We decided on the ski resort Mont Tremblant which looked to be just the right fit for us, but what sealed the deal was that a small Canadian airline called Porter flew direct between Newark and the local Tremblant International airport.  I liked their tagline, “Flying Refined,” and the price was comparable to other commercial airlines, so we pulled the trigger.

I have never had a more pleasurable flying experience.

Porter flights don’t have a business or first-class section, which means no priority boarding (unless you are infirm or travelling with small kids) and their in-airport customer lounges are open to all customers.  Here you can relax with FREE wifi, a bottle of water, some yummy snacks and even make yourself a coffee, cappuccino or espresso – in a real cup.  Like in Italy.  My husband and I slugged two each before hopping on board.

Once airborne, we had a very short flight to Tremblant (1:10), except that we had to take three approaches to land in what looked like a shoveled driveway in the middle of the snowy wilderness.  (Pretty standard for the more remote airports in Quebec, or so I’ve been told.)  After each of two failed attempts to land, there was a brief announcement from the pilot about visibility and then the stewardess came down the aisle with additional information, including a contingency plan to go to another airport should visibility not improve.  We all felt informed and even the nervous fliers on board weren’t alarmed because we knew exactly what was going on.  Very civilized.

Fortunately, the third time was the charm and we landed easily on our final approach, hopped a shuttle to the resort and had a great vacation.  But then, another inevitable polar vortex of weather was threatening to hit Newark airport on Sunday, so we made the decision to try and get on an earlier flight home, just in case.

When placing the call early Sunday morning, I steeled myself for a long wait, inevitable extra charges and possibly a flat out “no.”  I mean, this was a small airline with limited flights.  After approximately 8 minutes we were booked on a new flight with a short layover in Toronto – no extra charges, no drama.  The nice Canadian lady even apologized that our trip would be cut short by a few hours.  (Really?)

I’m not a fan of layovers, but Porter flies out of Billy Bishop International Airport in downtown Toronto (with regular shuttles to downtown Toronto, which is just a few hundred yards across the water) and is the only airline to use that airport, making international transfers as easy as walking down the hallway.  This also means that the whole airport is actually a Porter lounge, including a huge business center with computers, free wifi and an even nicer snack spread than Newark.  Porter is currently petitioning to have an ultra-quiet jet approved for landing at Billy Bishop (they currently fly only prop planes), which would allow the airline to fly to further destinations, including the Caribbean.  My fingers are crossed that this will go through – and that they will stop in Newark along the way…

I know it may seem silly that I was so floored by Porter’s cute lounges, good customer service and seamless flying experience.  I’m also not alone in recognizing that Porter is kicking butt in the airline space – they were awarded best small airline in the world according to Condé Nast Traveler’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards.

The thing is, flying has become torture for all of us in recent years, so when things go RIGHT, it feels like being given a gift.  This is a sad state of affairs, but it’s also an opportunity for airlines – should they deign to care about their silly customers – to set themselves apart from the pack with small, yet very important details.  Porter has certainly done that in spades.

Oh – and onboard snacks and wine were free…  What’s better than that?

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Mom 2.0 with 500+ bloggers, brands and yes, a few brave men.  Why was it a pleasure of an experience?  Let me count the ways.

1.       I had the opportunity to make authentic connections with like-minded individuals from around the country. This includes bloggers and brands like Bissell and Starbucks and those in between.
Confession: I am 100% obsessed with a certain brand’s steam mop.View

2.       Spending time with people you typically only interact with electronically is invaluable.  (Great to see you Meagan Francis!)

3.       Ideas, ideas, ideas!  From Raising America’s Shark-Tank style pitchfest to Dove’s fabulosity, I came back with tons of ideas, not only for clients but for Peppercomm.

4.       Did I mention the fabulous accommodations, view and event staff at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel?

5.       Watching the Mom 2.0 Summit evolve over the years and truly adapt to the current marketing environment and participants needs shows that Laura Mayes and crew really get it.

By Sarah Sanzari

As I prepare to embark on a two-week European adventure, there is still one part of the trip that I am dreading – the eight hour flight.  Cramped spaces, crying babies, and security lines are not my idea of a good time.  Luckily, I have pulled together a guide with some great, and wacky, inventions to help ease the pain of flying.

If you’re worried about the latest in x-ray technology you can purchase flying pasties which protect you from TSA’s eyes.  The orange pasties include the slogan “Only my husband sees me naked,” and can be purchased for about $15.

Once you make it past security you have to deal with the flight.  A must-have is Bose noise cancelling headphones, no more crying baby or chain-saw like snoring from my seatmate.  Of course, don’t forget to bring your iPod along for the flight as well.

Tired of having your space infringed on? Get the Knee Guard which prevents the person in front of you from reclining.  You might have to deal with an angry passenger but that’s ok because you can just put on your Privacy Scarf. The scarf envelopes your head and laptop so people can’t creep on you while doing work or taking a nap.

Now that I have packed all the essentials, I’m ready! Will you be taking any of these gadgets with you on your next flight?

 

It’s been awhile since my last blog but travel tends to inspire me to write, or maybe it’s just the ridiculous things that occur when on the road.  Last week, several colleagues and I flew to Chicago for a meeting.  I am typically a United (formerly Continental) gal but someone in the group (read: the boss) is none too pleased with United since the merger so we flew American. I was more than happy to go along for the ride particularly since the cost for a first class seat was marginally more expensive than a coach fare.  The trip out was uneventful although first class was lacking.  The trip home, however, was another story altogether.

Our meetings concluded a bit early so we bolted for the airport in hopes that we could hop on an earlier flight. During our two hour drive, a few back in the office were kind enough to help us research and rebook on an earlier flight. All was well or so we thought.  Upon arrival and check-in we learned that we were not only no longer in first class (allegedly there were no seats available which we later learned was untrue) but that we now owed American $300 EACH to move back to coach.  Wait, it gets better. Our esteemed colleague who had purchased an economy fare checked in and was upgraded and received a refund of $10 on his original ticket.  WHAT!?!?  In what universe does this make sense?

Now, I have absolutely no problem flying economy, in fact, 9 out 10 times, that’s where I am seated. The premium security access is what I am after.  American had no explanation for this except for “It’s how you booked. We don’t know why but we can’t help you.”  Well, American, the customer experience here was in no way “first class” but did have one redeeming quality. Gwen at the First Class ticketing counter at least attempted to assist us and ensured me that although we had now paid a small fortune to be downgraded we could enter through  premium security. Thank you, Gwen!  I will be flying United for the foreseeable future.  It’s not perfect but at least they make sense.

Last week I traveled to a small town in Tennessee.  The easiest way to get there was to fly into Atlanta and drive two and a half hours. Fun right?  On the night we were to fly home  home, we were delayed departing said small town
and had to stay overnight at a hotel close to the airport in Atlanta.  My only request?  That we stay at a “real” hotel.  By real hotel, I mean a hotel with dining and imbibing options that extend beyond powdered continental breakfast eggs and vending machines.  Someone back in the office booked us into the Hyatt which was much appreciated.  I was thrilled – until we pulled up and saw that this was a Hyatt Place. Now, I do not have anything against convenient and affordable options a la Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Suites but it had been a long two days and I was looking forward to a decent meal and a glass or two of drinkable vino.  Well imagine my delight when I walked into a shockingly stylish lobby which boasted 24 hour food options and a small bar. Who knew? Someone apparently did because the place was packed and a post stay search revealed that Hyatt Place boasts more than 58,000 likes on Facebook.

Perhaps I just haven’t noticed the marketing associated with Hyatt Place before, but I was not only satisfied with what I found, but feel that the brand’s messaging was spot on – Welcome to a different place. Because you deserve to have access to everything you need 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The café’s signage and menus catered to the business traveler touting that just because you arrive and depart at off-peak hours you don’t have to eat chips from the vending machine, dream about a cold beer or wait until you arrive at the airport for a hot cup of coffee on your way to a 6am flight.

Keep up the good work, Hyatt Place – I will be back!  Two suggestions:

  1. While the front desk/wait staff are personable and efficient, managing front desk duties, take-out orders and the bar can be challenging and somewhat frustrating for bar/café patrons.  Give these guys some help!
  2. Continue to differentiate yourselves from the pack with great amenities, stylish surroundings and your marketing communications. As a frequent business traveler, I was unaware of what was available to me and wrongly assumed you were just like everyone else.

I recently spent some time in Seattle. While there (and actually, while on my way there via some lovely outdoor advertising at the Montgomery Street BART station) I noticed a new tourism campaign called 2 Days in Seattle. As someone who enjoys traveling, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to work on a marketing campaign for a destination: a resort, city or country. If you look closely, though, you may notice that two destinations can be completely different – but promote themselves in almost the exact same way.

Go on. Take a look.

What did you see? You likely came across a beautiful website with stunning photography, a rave review from an elected official or celebrity (ahem, California. You know I love you, but it’s time for a re-fresh) and an exhaustive list of hotels, restaurants and attractions. Before your vacation has begun, it’s possible the folks trying to get you there have already overwhelmed you.

Then there’s Seattle. The crew in charge of getting people like you to visit created a new way to let people explore the city on their own. It’s all about being able to customize your own itinerary by hearing from other visitors. The site centers on an interactive map that features not only selected hot spots but tweets, photos and other feedback from real visitors. Sure, these visitors were food, wine, arts and culture experts who received a free trip to the Emerald City, but according to the site there were no organized events, press junkets or other forced tours anywhere. The goal is that this interactive map acts as a “living, breathing insiders’ guide to Seattle.” You can scroll through previous visitors’ tweets and take inspiration from previous visitors’ experiences. When you’re ready, you can jump to Seattle’s official tourism site at VisitSeattle.org and look at the shiny pictures and get more information. And, what’s really cool is that you can add your own tweets after your visit.

I like this idea and hope some of the destinations I have on my list soon follow suit.

2 (more) days in Seattle? Yes, please.

As a die-hard Giants fan, I was overjoyed on January 22nd, 2011 when the Giants beat the 49ers and it was confirmed that the 9-7 Giants would be playing in Super Bowl XLVI. The team’s hard work, predominantly towards the end of the season, had paid off and their efforts, once again, landed them in the championships. This year’s game was the much anticipated rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl between the New York Giants vs. New England Patriots; Tom Brady was coming back for revenge.

All season long I had been joking with my Dad that if the Giants make it to Indy, we would have to go. Luckily, he made good on his promise and off to Indy we went. Eli would play in the “House His Brother (Peyton Manning) Built,” and as a direct result almost everyone in Indy was rooting for the Giants. Walking around Super Bowl Village everyone was wearing Giants fan gear. You felt it the air that this was the Giant’s game for the taking … and take it they did!

Super Bowl Sunday really seemed to go off without a hitch in Indianapolis. The weather was perfect for February, 50 degrees and sunny. The host city’s planning was well-executed. Most importantly, the spirit of the city captivated visitors. New York certainly has a lot to live up to in 2014, when they have the chance to host Super Bowl XLVIII at Met Life Stadium.

I was particularly impressed with every single event staff person I interacted with in Indy. With the amount of typical fast-paced New Yorkers and New Englanders that made it out to the game, never once did the staffers seem stressed, overwhelmed or annoyed; a welcome change from my past experience most event staffers, especially in New York. Not only did they end every conversation with (and not sarcastically) “Have a Super Day,” but they all were so grateful and excited for the Super Bowl to be at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was their job to ensure that your stay and experience at Super Bowl XLVI was a positive one.

As a Giants fan, in a different city/state I felt very welcomed in Indy. At one point I even telling a member of the event staff how nervous I was for the game to begin. Rather than dismissing or ignoring me, as I would expect, she responded, with a huge smile on her face, “Don’t be, you have all Colt’s fans behind you and we are super excited for Eli to kick Tom’s butt…Let’s Go Giants!”

The Super Bowl staff in Indianapolis really was not your typical event staff; they truly made the day’s events successful.  All day Sunday, you really felt that there were an army of people happily gave their time and effort to help stage this week’s events, and to make sure things went well. The Hoosiers really demonstrated that although in a smaller city, they really could play in the “Big Leagues.”

 

Business travel can be a real pain in the you know what.

That said, sometimes during a lengthy flight delay one can uncover a hidden airport gem. During a recent delay at O’Hare I discovered Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless in Terminal 1 (near gate B11). Not only do they offer a great menu and some truly tasty margaritas – the entire menu is available for takeout, including the drinks!  Why should you care?  Two reasons: 1.) plane food stinks and if I am going to pay for it, I would like to enjoy it. 2.) If you have to sit at your gate and wait out a delay, a drink helps.

I ordered chips and salsa and, of course, a margarita.  All came tastefully packaged in travel-friendly containers for me to take on-board. Too bad my flight was delayed so long that I polished it off before boarding!

I’m not the only one who’s a fan. Frommer’s named Tortas Frontera one of the top 10 airport restaurants. Quoted in a March USA Today article about the top 10 list, Bayless said wanted to “set a new standard for what airport food should taste like.”   I, for one, think he has succeeded.  He’s also a smart marketer: the take-out window is front and center with an easy to read menu that makes it clear it’s all about me – the consumer. My stomach thanks you, Rick!

Tortas Frontera To-go Margarita fits snugly on my armrest.

Contributed by RepMan – http://www.repmanblog.com/

I’m not sure why every new parent in the world feels compelled to show off her son or daughter, but they do. They must. It’s been mandated by someone or something on high. It’s also been mandated that we must respond with an “Oh, how gorgeous, little Alex is! He has your eyes!”  

 Also, ALL new moms feel compelled to bring their infants and toddlers to their erstwhile place of work. Why? Beats me.

But, in the spirit of About You, I think it’s important for new parents – and especially you moms out there – know that many men (and, I suspect, some women), simply aren’t that interested in meeting your newborns. I know it’s heresy to say, but there it is.

Don’t get me wrong. Dads love kids. I love mine. But, most of us just don’t love everyone else’s kids. It may be a gender thing, but I’m reminded of the classic Seinfeld episode in which Jerry, Kramer, Elaine and George are introduced to what is obviously one very ugly baby. Kramer’s non-verbal reaction is just classic. As is Elaine’s ‘The dingo ate your baby’ comment. Trust me, ladies. There are lots of ugly kids out there and we guys don’t like to have them shoved in our face.

The same holds true for kids on planes. Ever notice how parents expect their fellow passengers to think their screaming, kicking and vomiting kids are just absolutely adorable? Well, guess what? They’re not. Nor are the toddlers who run pell-mell up and down the aisle. If it were up to me, moms and dads with infants and toddlers would be roped off in special sections of the plane (preferably as far away from this guest blogger as possible).

Lest you think me some sort of latter-day Ebenezer Scrooge, though, let me tell parents everywhere that I absolutely adore meeting your dogs. I love any and all canines. Big ones. Small ones. Ugly ones. It doesn’t matter. I can even warm up to a cat. But, getting back to the human side of the story, please don’t shove your newborn in my face and expect me to fawn all over little Eddie or Kirstin. Because while this post may seem all about me, it’s not.  And when it comes to your kids, it’s so not about you.

My name is Rebecca and I have an obsession with frequent flier programs. Yes, I admit it: I have a problem. Call it what you will – a passion, an addiction – it’s the only way to fly. I am enrolled in at least eight different programs and refuse to fly unless I’m a recognized loyalty member. And let’s be honest: it’s (sadly) not really about the loyalty of it all. It’s about the points. Correction: it’s about the game you play to get those points, which leads to status and the eternal promise of free flights.

A recent article in USA Today asks if frequent flier programs are losing their luster. As if the airlines don’t have enough problems, here comes more bad publicity. Turns out some folks are bothered by the fact that most airlines allow consumers to earn points not by flying, but by making purchases on a shiny, airline-branded credit card. Oh, the horror of it all. Me, I’m fine with that policy. I recently redeemed miles on US Airways to fly to Philadelphia for my brother’s wedding later this month. Most of those points were earned in the air, but my US Airways Visa certainly pushed me over the edge to get those points I needed for that sought-after, nonstop coast-to-coast flight (and first class on the way home to boot!). Another example: on a recent trip with my mom, who is a Delta Gold Medallion member, we were able to check all four of our suitcases for free, thanks to her status which she achieves mostly through her AmEx).

Of course, the airlines are not without problems; money, of course, being one of the biggest. So, what’s the harm in partnering with those credit card companies, reaching an entirely new audience and, yes, getting more butts in those 30,000-high seats?

What do you think?