Archives for posts with tag: Transportation

Since I went away with the extended family for a warm weather break a few weeks ago, this is the first in a 3-post series on holiday travel. I was tempted to call this post the Ryanair Scam part 2, since they have recently introduced a rule by which you can only have your cabin bag in the overhead locker if you’ve booked priority boarding. Otherwise it goes in the hold. This is fine if you already have a large bag in the hold, but a pain if you’re travelling light, since you have to factor in extra time and effort to retrieve your bag from the destination baggage belts.

I recently experienced this policy at first hand. The reality is that it works pretty well if, as I mentioned, you already have large holiday bags checked in, at additional expense of course. We did, so it was a no brainer and it means less to carry on and off the plane. However, it’s a ton more work for the hard-worked, exasperated gate crew – the check-in/boarding staff and baggage handlers – who now have to manually tag and load around 100 additional non-priority bags per holiday flight.

As it happened, our flight was delayed leaving. The conveyor belt into the plane from the baggage carts broke, presumably under the workload of having to deal with many more bags than it was used to. This turned a useful conveying device into a shelf, so the bags had to be manually carried into the hold.

This is what often happens to a process which you’re constantly tweaking and looking to improve. You pinch here, you feel it somewhere else. Ryanair do keep moving, changing, innovating though. Fair play to them for that.

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Just when you thought Ryanair were getting better and becoming a little more customer intimate – not too much mind you, because that would cost money, ask the pilots – Ryanair pulls what it probably considers to be a master stroke, and what passengers will feel is a low blow they can’t do much about.

We booked a family holiday a few months ago, towards the end of last year, paying for 2 check-in bags and planning to carry a cabin bag each, and a small bag to fit under the seat in front of us. There was no mention that I saw that the regulations were about to change.

A couple of weeks ago we started to get emails about a change in cabin bags, effective shortly and before we actually take our holiday. From this date, unless you have priority booking you can only bring on one bag that fits under the seat in front; you can’t use the overhead storage at all.

WTF! I went back and checked my original confirmation email and there’s no mention of a new cabin bag restriction. Ryanair has gone back to its policy of only one cabin bag, except that now it has to be smaller than before. Clearly pesky customers have been using all the overhead storage and that will not do.

As always, what’s at stake here is the principle. I’ve written before about how Ryanair competes primarily on operational excellence – and this is about operationally squeezing the last cent out of passengers, making them pack even lighter and still avoiding baggage check-in, thereby guaranteeing Ryanair comfortable flight turnarounds – rather than product leadership or customer intimacy. Presumably they’re allowed to hide behind small print that says ‘we can change the terms any time we like’, but to enforce it from the date of travel, rather than the date of booking, when they’ve got pre-booked passengers over the proverbial barrel, is petty, inconsiderate and will probably net them an extra few hundred grand.

Why do they do it? Because they can. For now.

I’m sitting on a train which is theoretically on its way from Galway to Dublin. I have a 2 o’clock meeting in Dublin, and then I’m back home on the train. I’m coming in just for this meeting, but my train is due in 2 and 1/2 hours before my meeting, so I’ve arranged to meet a couple ex-work pals for lunch. I’d decided on the train because my back is a bit sore and I could also get some work done.

The lunch appointment time is just passing now. We’ve been stationery for about 50 minutes. Ever since we rolled over something hard and metallic about 25 KMs outside Dublin, trundling to a stop about a kilometre further on. The on-board wifi is taking a terrible beating.

There are emergency response teams on the scene, presumably for both the incident and our train. I’m not sure if I’ll make my meeting, or whether we’ll eventually roll into Dublin and I’ll hop on the next train back to Galway, which will probably be delayed.

On Twitter Irish Rail has announced the suspension of all services in both directions due to a ‘tragic incident’. It is what it is. You can’t legislate for this kind of thing. You can’t manage away all of these possibilities and percentages. But when you have any single point of failure you run the risk of running into problems which inconvenience thousands of people.

I’ve written about the unreliability of public transportation for work-related meetings on numerous occasions. This is, of course, extremely traumatic for anyone directly affected by the incident. But for those of us indirectly affected, what it all boils down to is the usual: the loss of two important and related factors, namely time and productivity. This meeting I’m supposed to be attending is a dry-run for the real thing I’m running in 2 days time, for which I was also going to take the train. Decisions…

Work and public transport don’t really play nice, do they? At least in rural Ireland, as I discovered to my cost the other day.

I needed to go and see the company that was doing the accounts for my limited company and for me and her ladyship as individuals. We only keep one car between us, and as MGL (aka My Good Lady) needed it to go further than me, into Galway city, I decided that I would use my legs, combined with public transport to go from my town, to the neighbouring town for the meeting, a mere 15km away.

Now I say town, but by English standards these would be 2 villages, with about 3 and 5 thousand people respectively in them. Although I don’t think there’s a bus service between the 2 places, on paper it was easy: walk to the train station, take a 10 minute train journey, and walk to the company’s office for a 2pm meeting.

I ambled down to my local station with the insouciance of a man on a day’s holiday, and collected my pre-booked ticket from the machine. So far so good. My train was an inter-city train, and my destination was the one stop before the train’s final destination.

The train was half an hour late. Apparently a train had problems earlier in the day and all subsequent services were backed up. This had the effect of depositing me at my destination station at 2pm, the time I needed to be at my meeting. This train station used to be located right in the town, but 5 or 10 years ago had been rebuilt in a new location which was – literally – in the middle of nowhere. It was laughable. It was almost as if the location had been picked precisely for its maximum inconvenience. No-one except those with oodles of time on their hands could do anything but drive to the station to use it.

A half hour’s walk later I was at the office for my meeting, 2:30 instead of 2pm. Fortunately it was a nice day, and double fortunately I was able to put my meeting back. What struck me, however, was how difficult it would be to work or run a business where I live without a car. Public transportation here is too unreliable and too skeleton, not does it make financial sense for the powers that be to lay on more of a service.

I don’t have the answer. I do have an answer, which is that work and public transport don’t mix well. Not until we move to a society where you can pick up a driverless car or a Coke Car locally, rather like a Coke Bike, and leave it at a handy communal destination. For now though, 90 minutes from door to door to go 15 km does not go…

Business travel – in the sense of employed business travel – is fundamentally different to self-employed business travel. This is obvious in one way, since it’s the company’s money as opposed to your money, even if you have your own limited company.

In another way, though, in employed business travel you’re essentially getting reimbursed for everything you’re entitled to within the parameters of your employer’s expenses policy. You’re reimbursed for all expenses you reasonably incur.

When it’s your own money, and your own business, you’re more frugal, both with your customer’s budget and with your own budget, those expenditure items you don’t pass on to your customer.

As a self-employed worker you want to remain competitive, so charging significantly higher day rates to cover all your expenses is sometimes not a viable strategy. This manifests itself in the difference between, for example, charging an employer mileage for car use, as opposed to charging a customer the fuel and absorbing the quasi-hidden depreciation costs of putting miles on your own, self-employed car.

My self-employed business travel is not a life of taxis to the airport, airport executive lounges, ticket upgrades and so on. For me, a typical overseas journey can be a short walk to the train station, a train to the city, a short walk to the coach station, a coach to the airport, a flight with a budget airline, a lift to a cheaper – and therefore off-campus – car rental facility for getting to meetings, following by the reverse on the way home. Some of the expenses I absorb, some of them I pass on to my customers. This agreement keeps me competitive and more importantly fosters long-term relationships.

Everyone realises sooner or later that business travel is not the glamorous pastime we thought it was before we did it repeatedly. With self-employed business travel the sheen wears off even more quickly.

A recurrent theme in this blog is personal productivity. Sometimes it also takes in with it environmental productivity, by which I mean a judicious use of the finite resources at our disposal to get around our place in the world.

This is something we can all do pretty well in the city, where the infrastructure is there to help us. It’s much harder to pull it off in those more sparsely populated areas.

A friend of mine that I work with from time to time has what I would call a slender footprint – in the sense of his carbon footprint rather than the mark his shoe leaves.

He lives in a city, in the nicest part in his city. Most of what he needs on the weekends is within a few minutes’ walk. When he’s working in the office, he has a 5-minute walk to the bus, a 20-minute bus ride into the centre, and a 5-minute walk to the office. A door-to-door commute of 30 minutes, where he can work for 20 of them, is just about perfect.

When he has to travel internationally for work, he can take the train or else a very affordable taxi to the airport. He has a car, but reckons he does no more than 1,000 miles a year in it, taken up by the occasional trip to the golf course or a trip to see the folks.

That’s what I call a slender footprint. Personal and environmental productivity at its finest.

I wrote recently about how the most simple, innocuous, 2-letter words can cause palpitations in non-English native speakers.

I was reminded of this recently when I was complaining to my son – who is a fluent Irish speaker, schooled through the Gaelic tongue – about how hard it is to pronounce Irish words.

‘It’s much harder than English,’ I said.

To which my son replied, ‘Oh yeah, Dad, like Rough, Cough, Dough and Plough…’ He has a fair point; 4 words spelled with the same last 3 letters, all pronounced differently – uff, off, oh and ow.

Rough indeed. Regardless of our native language, we take its idiosyncracies and querks for granted.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I’m all about productivity. Sometimes our productivity can be stretched over a long working day, and sometimes a shorter one.

If I’ve got a ton of work on or I have to travel a long distance to get to a meeting, I’m fine with getting up early, sometimes really early, and cranking out a very long day. I can’t do it every day, but I can when I need to.

Except when the time begins with a 4, as in 4-something am. 5am onwards is not a problem. There’s something barbaric about setting the alarm and having to get up when the time begins with a 4. It has a crushing effect on my productivity and staying power.

This doesn’t seem to apply when I’m heading off on holidays. Getting up at 2 or 3am for a a 6am flight to the sun, sea or slopes doesn’t seem so bad.

But when the getting up time begins wth a 4, and the effort is for work, then the mental tiredness and productivity plummet – rather than the physical tiredness necessarily – kicks in way earlier than leaving it until after 5.

I’ve spoken before about how the world’s airports have a lot to learn from Irish airports, in terms of their free wifi, free drinking water and general welcoming ambience.

Well, you can add to that the speed with which they expedite people.

Recently, I landed on an arriving flight at 8:59am. We taxied to the gate, got off and I walked swiftly down the travelators through to passport control. I then went to baggage claim, used the bathroom and picked up my checked-in bag. I walked out of the terminal to the coach to take me home.

Nothing unusual in that. Except that it was 9:17am. 18 minutes had passed from runway to coach. This was during rush hour in the country’s biggest airport. It means that my bags were unloaded and moved from the plane to the baggage conveyor in no more than 10 minutes, probably 7 or 8.

In a world where we often moan about the time it take us to get from outside the terminal to the runway, and vice versa, my 18 minutes stands in stark contrast.

Phenomenal stuff.

As I’m sure you’re aware, a single point of failure is a bad thing. If the single point fails, the whole system fails. That’s why we try to build in contingencies.

I was reminded of this – and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that transportation and travel are recurrent themes – on a recent train journey into England’s capital. I was joining the train at Didcot, a 45-minute run into London and favoured as a daily commute by thousands of residents in the Didcot area.

The trains to London run every 15 minutes, and so they need to, to get the volume of people to London for work. A signal failure in the west of country cancelled one of these services and delayed another. This led to passengers being 5- and 6-deep on the platform edge. Because of the delay the train then had to drop anchor at another platform, which necessitated about a thousand people having to change platform.

Not for me. I stayed where I was, took a later train and was able to sit down and get some work done.

It seems amazing, though, that in 2016 a network and thousands of passengers can be compromised by a single point of failure, on this occasion a single point of signal failure.