Cobblestone Flight Review CPH-EWR-(maybe)-DTW on Scandinavian & United

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Let me be frank: I will digress!

In literature terms, I am going to attempt to make this a frame story – while most certainly giving a review of today’s SK909 from Copenhagen to Newark with – if the travel gods allow – a United connection to Detroit, I will also try to spend little time on airlines, what they do and don’t in terms of offering what passengers may want and need and maybe even speculate on some ideas for the future of travel.

Sounds like a big bite – it certainly took a long sentence to get there. My apologies (“I cried when I wrote this song; Sue me if I played too long” as the song goes).

SAS and I came off to a bad start on this one. As I am recommending, I jumped at my phone right after check-in opened, found my itinerary in the SAS app already loaded and stating “Open for check-in”. So far, so good. Picked a seat – 27C, aisle seat middle-block – and, by the way, my usual seat picking strategy held up: empty seat next to me (that I of course gallantly have offered to share with the lady in the E seat) – voilá.

But – when I finally tapped “Check-in”, all I got was an orange error message on top: No can do. Hmmm. Start iMac, run the same process through a browser. Same result. Hmmm hmmmm hrmpf!

Called SAS – where a lady told me that she couldn’t help and that she could see that the ticket was not bought directly with SAS and that she believed that could be it. For the record, I don’t believe that one – the lady who checked me in at the airport (no kiosk/automat thing for me when I have access sans queue to a real live being) said that it was likely because the system couldn’t locate my ESTA registration. She could, it was all fine – and it sounds more plausible. And it doesn’t hide that the system has a cockup if not more. [Update: since this ticket was linked to my trip same place in February and it seems that the rebookings done then has – somehow – introduced multiple changes in this trip, the error may be deeper buried in Star Alliance cross-airline computer system and/or operator-introduced anormalies. Guess I’ll never know.]

From there, smooth as silk – nice curry soup in the lounge. With a small glass of beer – which is only relevant because of what follows later.

Until we sat in the plane. And sat. After a while, the captain explained that they had to have a thingumajig changed, 10-15 min probably. After that, an apology for the optimism and adding another 15 min. He didn’t apologise once per quarter – we got off an hour late and will land 45 minutes late.

This is where the travel gods come in – mixed with technology and a bit of my harebrained wild idea thinking. When the second delay update came, I consulted Tripit Pro for alternatives. Actually only to confirm what I knew – the only relevant one would be to get off the plane and across the terminal corridor and get a seat on SK943 to ORD and a United flight from there to Lansing, my ultimate goal.

(No, I am not Sherlock Holmes – a) that was the connection we got the last time things went seriously haywire, b) a colleague of mine actually would be on it, he told me Friday.)

See – I could look up alternative connections from an iPhone sitting right where I was. And the app on that phone holds my connection data. I would bet you that the same information resides in the airlines’ systems (as long as you have your travel on one continuous ticket – at your own peril if you don’t!). So, I am speculating, if an airline wanted to do stellar service to its customers, they could do as follows: whenever a delay as this happens that looks as if it may put connections at risk, somebody could move a mouse and click a button and run a program that did the analysis – these passengers have connections, these ones will be lost or too tight, here are the alternatives. Then buzz those up to the plane or the gate or wherever people are and personnel there could have a word with them if they’d want to chance it or be rebooked? Call it a premium service if you’d absolutely have to – or just use it as a differentiator? I’m sure it could be done – ok, maybe hard with luggage already onboard. But hey, you’ve listened here, haven’t you – so you’re having carry-on only and can be moved just like that. Smart, or?

You heard it here first 🙂

We’re now 1,718 km out from CPH and the meal service has just been cleared away. And here comes the next airline marketing thought. See, SAS has just jumped on the “no frills” wagon and decided that beer, wine and liquor along with the meal is for sale only. Reasons quoted in the press have been savings and extra revenues.

Well, let’s see. I acknowledge that this is anecdotal evidence – but looking around me, max. 10% of the passengers bought anything. One saving mentioned was that there would be less need for loading drinks – but as everybody seemed to be having a can of soft drink instead, I don’t see much of that. Amount of beer and wine goes down, amount of Coke Zero goes up – how big was that saving again? Unless, and I didn’t check that, soft drinks are for sales as well when it’s not connected to the meal service.

Of course, as the steward who ran the soft drinks trolley said, “enjoy those while you can – nobody knows how long that will last!” And there’s another effect of the change – the cabin crew clearly came across as hating having to be the frontline people who had to implement a downgrading of the service that they, I’d say, had been happy about being able to offer.

Revenues, then. Let’s say 20% buyers. 264 seats in total on a A330 – business class and SAS Plus gets served – say 200 pax in economy. Average purchase … 150DKK. That makes 40×150 = 6,000 DKK. Or the equal of just a few passenger tickets.

Given how much more alike airlines get – same prices, same planes, same seats, same time to destination, same, same, same – what are the differentiators that airlines can choose? They may be different from business travellers (though Bob knows that we also have to look for pricing) to holiday travellers – but I am actually starting to think that if I have a choice between two different airlines on a route and the price difference is not startling, then I may well start looking at the service level on board. And while I am a devout happy SAS flyer and Eurobonus member since 1992, let me just say that Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian – all Star Alliance – offer better onboard service. And so does British Airways – and the One World program seems to me to offer at least as good returns in terms of awards per flown mile.

So maybe these reductions “because people only look at the price of the ticket” is not what you want if you have a wish to keep a customer base. I do not have high thoughts of myself as a trend maker – but I am convinced that if that thought has come to me, it must have come to many, many others.

20140320-142144.jpgBack to the flight. Though the screens in the plane kept putting us on the ground 45 mins late, it was actually an hour later than scheduled when we touched down. And you should think that they’d had time to clean up for us but nevertheless there was another plane blocking our access to the gate as we taxied in. So all in all we probably were in the terminal at 17:25 or so. With an 18:19 departure, that was going to be fun…

I’d asked the crew – they’d told me that immigration in EWR was fast and efficient. A fellow passenger that I chatted with in the immigration queue – which was shorter by a good deal than in IAD a month ago but still took about half an hour – said that she’d be told that United would be alerted and aware and there to help. Well – we didn’t see any assistance. But United, in my experience, never does.

Security in the A terminal is a story all by itself – I’ll write that up as an airport review next. Suffice it to say that I made my connection against all odds.

So, my dear home airline – malfunctioning internet check-in, reduced onboard service, an hour’s delay plus connection advice and assistance well short of optimal. You can sort of tell that I am not impressed with you, I guess. It’ll be two Cobblestones only – and to be honest, you get one of them for our long relationship, not on performance this time.

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Photo by me. Screenshot of departure and arrival for the flight by FlightTrack Pro.
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