Trottings: Failings – Lion, Tiger, Virgin.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.

October 29 2013

Trottings: Failings – Lion, Tiger, Virgin.

Trips on Indonesia’s Lion, Singapore’s Tiger, UK’s Virgin.

Lion’s ‘seamfull’ connecting service.

I have discovered what is the opposite of ‘seamless connection’. It is flying Lion Air from Singapore to Padang with a change in Jakarta.

On check-in at Singapore, I was given two boarding passes, and told I had to take my bag through customs. No surprise there as my next flight was domestic. But the agent also told me that I had to go outside the terminal building to catch the shuttle bus to another terminal. Oh, and I had to take my checked bag with me.

You are on your own. The shuttle bus stop is from another level at the terminal. The buses have 20 seats plus space for 15 standing, one 1-person-wide entrance/exit door, and 3 steep steps. It is perfectly designed – everything is wrong.

It trundles off, on to ordinary roads, joining the local traffic, and going past the safety barriers and speed bumps (sic; causing the bus to slow from 15kph to 1kph) for each terminal. We went T3 to T2 and then mine, T1, where there are at least 2 stops.

To get into the terminal you need to get past the security guard before the security check (yes). Then to a regular check-in desk after lining up as all local-boarding passengers. Then you are given a new boarding pass containing the same information as the Singapore-issued one.

Then off to departure gates. But past another set of desks where the agents want the airport tax for the domestic flight! My argument that that I was an international transit passenger had no value.

I had no local money. Where could I change money? No problem – there was a moneychanger in T2! So I gave them dollars at an exchange rate that would buy them a nice dinner for themselves and a friend.

Boarding was chaotic. A bus gate but with numerous passengers for other flights. No signs. Just ask.

Avoid this airline if you are doing anything other than point to point.

Giving The Tiger A Bad Name.

I presumed Tiger Air changed its name from Tiger Airways (yes!) because it wanted to escape the bad publicity the airline had attracted. Not much chance of that; most will not know there has been a change.

And my experience indicates that it is still that same old bad airline. If it were not for its Singapore Airlines’ link, it might even have gone extinct.

For my flight Singapore-Bangkok, I went to Tiger’s website to increase my baggage allowance. The bank charged me but the following day, my booking reference at Tiger showed no increase in the baggage allowance.

And I could no longer access my booking on the website and so I called the office.

They told me I had already used the web check-in and so I could not change any details, such as the baggage allowance. I had not used the web check-in. But I guess most of you have experienced the futility of arguing with airline staff.

I tried different approaches at different times. No luck. No one seemed to entertain the possibility that there might have been a technical fault and that it might be a good idea to report that. To them I was wrong, end of story.

At the airport I had only 4kg excess instead of the 10kg additional allowance I had tried to buy. Check-in staff, supervisors, everyone, were “in the box” – incapable of seeing that something seemed to have gone wrong, and making a gesture to correct the sentiment. The difference was substantial – US$12 over the internet for 10kg, US$70 at the airport for 4kg.

I was told to write in if I wanted to complain. But that would unlikely bring satisfaction. The reply would include the words “sorry” “unfortunately” “unable” “our records”. And they will keep the money they, in effect, cheated out of me.

I will of course fly Tiger again if it is the best option. But I will be very cautious, and I suggest others take care also. It seems to be an unreformed bad airline.

It is giving the tiger a bad name.

Virgin thinks ‘in-the-box’.

A typhoon delayed my Virgin flight Tokyo-London by eight hours. The storm had not arrived but I had checked the website before leaving for the airport; nothing there. I was told the delay information was on the website. I believe them; I didn’t find it so bad luck.

I was told I could claim for food etc during my wait.

Jump to my eventual claim – US$10 for a lounge, no food claim, but US$15 for a bus fare at my final destination – because the people meeting me could no longer be there at my new arrival time.

In London I obviously missed by connecting flight. As there were no others that night, I was given a hotel. After a short delay, I was taken with 15 other passengers to the hotel, a 15-minute drive in the middle of the night for a hotel “5 minutes from the airport”.

After 15 minutes we were told Virgin had not actually booked any rooms – and the hotel was full. After two hours another hotel was found, and then transport was found after a further 30 minutes. Off we went to the hotel – which was the wrong one. After 45 minutes we arrived at the right hotel, which was 5 minutes from the first hotel and also 5 minutes to the airport. It had taken over four hours from collecting my bag to getting into the hotel room.

Virgin’s offer was to refund the US$10 at Tokyo Narita airport – but not the bus fare at my destination, even though if I claimed for meals at Narita this would have been higher than the bus fare. I tried retroactively to claim for meals but Virgin was now reacting like an established bureaucracy.

Moral? That behind all the publicity flash of the airline’s leader, Richard Branson, this airline is like most others – an ‘in-the-box’ corporate operation.

Of course I would fly Virgin again, but with no illusions.

The Fox’s Friends

 

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Ryanair. Michael O’Leary needs new strategy.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

 

Ryanair. Michael O’Leary needs new strategy.

I have long praised Ryanair and the sound businessplan of its combative CEO, Michael O’Leary. Despite the jokes, the intellectual critics, etc, the public love its low fares. It has been a perfect no-frills-airline. Significantly, MOL once answered a new competitor by lowering its fares. Most other NFA managers would add ‘frills’. His point was that the low fares are the airline’s biggest attraction.

 

So I believe my past observations give additional credibility to my current comments.

 

I was not fooled by official observations last winter that a drop in seats sold was ‘planned’, in any way. I reckon it was a shock, possibly even to MOL. And if it wasn’t a shock, it was bad management.

 

At the time, I guessed some reasons. Ryanair’s growth and total traffic had become too dependent on summer-holiday passengers. They have always fallen away in the shoulder- and off-seasons, of course, but because recent summer growth was greater, the off-season difference became greater.

 

Unfortunately, that supports the businessplan of hated rival Easyjet. For some years Easyjet has been pushing for non-leisure business – including using or expanding more non-leisure airports. Ryanair has stuck with the (generally) cheaper leisure airports, or distant or small airports serving big centres.

 

Some figures I have just seen indicate I may be right.

 

Southwest is the US airline whose original businessplan Ryanair copied (Southwest copied it from a now-defunct Californian 1960s airline, PSA). Southwest is bigger than Ryanair – 110mn seats sold in 2012 compared with Ryanair’s 80mn.

 

Current data (Aug and Sep) shows that Ryanair’s monthly traffic counts (9mn, 8mn) are almost the same as Southwest’s (99%). But Ryanair’s YTD totals are still smaller – 75-77% of Southwest’s.

 

Ergo, Ryanair gets too big a share of its passenger traffic in the summer. In the slowest winter month (Feb), for instance, Ryanair gets only a little over half of Southwest’s total.

 

I have no idea if MOL knows all this – he may be in denial, believing the unending positive publicity about his airline’s strategy espoused for so long.

 

If he doesn’t he has some simple choices:

1. Hire me for a fat full-o-frills consultancy fee to make the changes. Or do what I would do:

2. Start converting aircraft purchases into lease arrangements, so he leases in the additional planes he needs for summer. Or:

3. Copy Easyjet (sorry!). And go for a more varied traffic mix, by targetting different travellers and/or adding locations that better serve a non-leisure clientele.

 

Ryanair should not drop its current extremely-successful businessplan. Just add some basic marketing activity.

 

The Fox

Remember, I’ll be famous after I’m dead.

Trottings: Touring Tokyo, Seeing Japan.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox’s Friends.

 

October 7 2013

Trottings: Touring Tokyo, Seeing Japan.

As our JATA Tabihaku Tour Bus pulled out of Shinagawa Prince hotel, our guide unfurled a metre-long scroll giving us the historical chronology of Japanese eras,

Nara, Heian, Kamakura, Muro Machi, Edo, Meiji, Taisho, Showa, Heisei periods.

This was our quick overview of Japanese history.

 

Our first tour stop was the exquisite KiyosumiTeien Gardens, a former private estate, once the home of a merchant in times past, and now under the guardianship of the Tokyo municipal government.

 

The tranquil manicured gardens seemed like a work of art in itself. It has a pavilion floating on the pond landscaped with lush greenery, bonsai-like trees, stones, rocks, boulders and a wooden bridge.

 

This is how I always imagined a Zen sanctuary would be like. That such a heavenly retreat existed in the centre of Tokyo, a bustling dense city of 13 million people was incredible. Our guide told us there were many similar temple gardens in Tokyo such as in the Meiji Shrine, Happoen, etc.

 

Our translator gave us a briefing on the history of the gardens and kimonos and the Tokyo Performing Arts Union, the tour sponsors. A selection of kimonos were laid out for us to try with kimono experts were on hand to help us to wear them.

 

After making a difficult choice, as they were all beautiful, I picked a vibrant orange kimono with cherry blossoms designs. We were then draped in our chosen kimono and were tied neatly at the waist with the obi sash.

 

It is astonishing how a garment can transform a person; I went from practical modern urbanite in trousers to instant regal traditional lady. Delighted with re-inventing ourselves for the hour, we wandered in the gardens, posing for photos to show folks back home. Wearing the kimono gave me a new sense of dignity, I felt far more demure and feminine than in my practical pants outfit.

 

After this delightful cultural experience in the Kiyosumi gardens, we boarded the Asakusabashi Miuraya pleasure boat for our bento lunch on the Sumida river. Sitting on low tables in the ‘Yakatabune’ riverboat, in the background, the impressive Tokyo skyline, we were given an introduction to the training and disciplined art of geishas, whilst we relished our bento lunches.

 

Two charming and elaborately costumed geishas were introduced and they came around to our tables to pose for pictures. I chatted to the younger one, who told us she gave up her graphic artist profession to fulfill her passion to be a geisha.

 

She had a twinkle in her eye, was very witty and answered our questions patiently and obligingly posed for our cameras. They told us it takes up to an hour to put on their geisha outfits and their theatrical make up.

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxed cruise lunch and the geisha’s graceful traditional harvest dance performance.

 

The tour then proceeded to the Mukojima Kenban-Geisha and Traditional Arts training school, managed by the Arts Union in Chiboya.

 

Walking on route, I saw a procession, locals accompanying a dozen able-bodied men carrying an elaborately carved and gold gilded portable shrine. I ran to follow the procession snaking its way into the side streets. It was random luck to witness this colourful traditional street procession and to see how the Japanese revered their traditions.

 

I was impressed, that here in the dense metropolis of Tokyo, we see mothers on bicycles, cycling unhurriedly with their mounted grocery baskets and kids in the midst of a traffic-full street.

 

As we entered a low rise nondescript union building in Chiboya to our “Omotenashi Experience” in the small theatre, more surprises were in store for us. We were ushered into a tatami room with a low modest stage with decked in gold brocade paneled walls. A refined woven tapestry adorned the sidewall.

 

There, a young magician gave an extraordinary performance. With stylised movements of his hands, his transformed his face with a stunning array of different masks, one moment he was Samurai warrior, next, he was Kabuki actor.

 

Mask after mask, he assumed different characters with deft quick movements, plucking the dozens of masks from nowhere. I was amazed by his artful staging of virtual illusion, trompe l’oeil.

 

Then his magician father, elegantly dressed in a bespoke kimono entertained us with a rare Edo period magic performance accompanied by a musician playing a traditional instrument. Even the most jaded in the audience were fascinated.

 

The sheer elegance and simplicity of the modest stage, with so few props added to the artistry of these skilled performances. This was a cultural insight of the Japan that visitors rarely see, as these ancient arts performers were a dying breed in this fast-paced city.

 

In these performances, we see the manifestation of the Japanese’s deep sense of identity, the strong preservation of their unique culture, and their exquisite crafts and eye for detail. Even our lunch bento boxes were so beautifully presented, they look like works of art.

 

Our last stop was the Kanda shrine, located in a hidden street in Chiyoda. Our guide told us, this Shinto shrine is frequented by many business people as they believe their prayers here bring luck and success to their business and finding a spouse. This well preserved shrine history dates to AD730.

 

One cannot help but be awed by this important shrine’s ornate architectural details, with an imposing entry gate arch, vermillion red pagoda roofs and eaves adorned with exquisite carvings. In here, I felt transported to a bygone era where I have seen only in movies. Despite its oriental grandeur, there was a serenity and peacefulness in the shrine.

 

A very cultured priest in traditional flowing robes guided us in fluent English, enlightening us on the main aspects of the complex Kanda shrine. We watched a Miko sacred dance by shrine maidens, accompanied by a trio of Shinto priests performing a harmony of flutes in distinguished lilac robes.

 

Then we were guided on a tour of the shrine museum with a pictorial history of the various temple icons. A very informative visual walk through the history gallery of Japan.

 

In the adjacent wooden Kanda house, a showcase for cultural activities, we saw a Japanese-style home built with no cement and architecturally designed to withstand an earthquake. We watched an interesting tea-caddy robot, powered only by a spring, designed to serve green tea to guests. How imaginative and innovative!

 

The temple guardian blessed us each with an amulet gift on our departure.

 

These well preserved ancient temples found in many hidden corners of Tokyo not only served as a place for worship, meditation and spiritual contemplation, they were also important retreats for quietude from the intensity of the fast-paced modern city.

 

Japan may be intimidating for a first-time visitor especially for those travelling on their own without translators, navigating the immense city in the complex metro system. To understand the Japanese, it takes time, insight and effort, as Japan reveals its fascinating resilient self when layer after layer is peeled off.

 

In this JATA tour, we saw another layer of classical, cultural and traditional Japan.

 

On my return to Singapore, my home base, I realised how pervasive Japanese products are in my daily life.

 

I live one block way from Takashimaya, the largest mall in Singapore. My favourite meals are yakitori, sushi and soba noodles in the mall’s basement food court. I shop in the $2 dollar Japanese Daiso store weekly, buy my clothes mostly from Uniglo and Muji. My camera is from Sony, my TV from Panasonic. My cousins are addicted to Nintendo and Mangga comics, my mother always bought us Shiseido and Kanebo toiletries and cosmetics.

 

After this glimpse of Japan, I became more fascinated by its unique culture, history and technological innovations. I am determined to return to explore the country leisurely on trains to the countryside, Kyoto, Nara, Sendai, Sapporo, Hokkaido etc and to experience all that I missed on this short trip, the onsen hot springs, ryokans, bullet trains, tsukiji fish market, sumo wrestling etc.

 

I am now immersed in learning the Japanese language with the language CDs I bought in Kinokuniya bookstore.

 

 

 

The Fox’s Friends; Renee Chew