Let me start by acknowledging the many readers who sent me life affirming messages following reports of the debacle that was my recent cycling trip to Switzerland. A recurring theme has emerged. It seems that the prospect of me never travelling again has concerned a great many of you. The consensus is that if I curtail all future travel then the chances of misadventure become limited, resulting in less amusing stories to tell. Put simply, it would seem that a good laugh at my expense is the preferred option.

Well, fear not, I am back on the horse and write this month’s reflections from In Zid. The Land of the Long White Cloud. You know, the country where they eat fush and chups, have a party when they turn suxty sux and never, ever ask a colleague if she got a fax on the weekend.

The trip is a complicated affair. I arrive first, sort the hire car, set up the unit, do the groceries, ensure the managing director’s favourite champagne is in plentiful supply and sneak in a bit of skiing. The family arrive in dribs and drabs over the following couple of weeks and I run the shuttle service from Queenstown airport to our lodgings in Wanaka.

Needless to say, I was keen to see if travelling overseas again would come with any interesting consequences. Things started well. My son took me to Brisbane International at some ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, which is a miracle of itself. In order to do so he abstained from alcohol on a Saturday night! The airport felt busy and understaffed but Sean from Qantas was a top bloke and stepped up to assist with check in. I presented my documents as provided by my travel agent and some consternation ensued. Sean got to give me the good news. My travel agent had issued documents with outdated departure times and that noise overhead was my flight departing. Of course, if I had taken the managing director’s advice and arrived at the airport many hours early I might still have made the flight…….there is no chance of me ever hearing the end of that.

Quick call to my son Nic. Hey mate, have you gone far? Please come and get the old man. Quick call to the travel agent, who, to her credit, picked up on a Sunday. Flight for tomorrow sorted. Hire car guys in Queenstown notified of delay. I’m now leaving on Monday and everyone’s working except the managing director. Now, to say the MD is not a morning person is to understate things dramatically! If you’ve ever driven from Noosa to Brisbane at 5am in the company of someone who wishes you dead, you will understand.

Anyway, Sean of Qantas is on duty and greets me with a “Hey Brother, you’re back” and a high five. This interaction seemed to confuse those who observed it. You see, I am an old skinny white man and Sean is a solidly built gentleman of middle eastern appearance. If we are indeed brothers, the family tree must be a cracker. What a top bloke. Made my day although it was early, and much could still go wrong.

The flight was on time and passed uneventfully. No dramas in Queenstown, no Covid tests, typical laid back, friendly Kiwi reception. Like some player in a game of life and death all I had to do was pick up the hire car and I’m home free. Hire car, what hire car? Was supposed to be picked up yesterday so it’s been reallocated. Wrong flights, disappearing hire cars……this must be a test. I decide to evoke memories of our recently and very sadly departed Monarch and remain calm and carry on. The lady at the Europcar desk might be Sean’s sister. Same apparent ethnicity and just as helpful. How about an upgrade if you can wait half an hour while we wash the car? The calm approach worked. What a legend..…not me, her!

BTW, if noticing really nice qualities in cultures or ethnic groups is racist, guilty as charged. I hope the Woke will understand albeit feel free to cancel me……..…please.

I’m now in Wanaka which just might be one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. Even better, I’m staying in an apartment that is part of the NZ management rights model, so all this is tax deductable research. Yep, I finally found an accountant who’s not afraid to go to jail. Sorry PB.

The family start arriving tomorrow, and I’ve had some time to ski, drink beer and read the papers. I’ve also thought a lot about the travel industry. In fact, this article was going to be a pretty blunt analysis of an industry that I think needs a bloody good shake up. The manner in which airlines, hire car companies, travel agencies, tour companies, travel wholesalers and OTAs operate seems extraordinary to me. Talk about an unholy alliance.

Imagine a business model where you pay money, usually months in advance, for a service that can be cancelled via a short notice text with no consumer recourse for damages. Imagine a business that refuses to refund your money and instead gives you a credit, if you are lucky. That’s a credit to use on the same dodgy and unreliable service via the same dodgy and unreliable company. Imagine being able to modify or exclude features and benefits that were promoted as part of the service, again with complete impunity. Imagine being able to tell consumers misleading stories to ensure preferred suppliers get your business. If this was a bank they’d have an enquiry, and they did. There would be public and political outrage, and there was. So how come airlines and associated service providers can get away with conduct that in any other industry would be considered completely unacceptable? To quote Mark Twain, buggered if I know.

One could complain I suppose but like many industries the travel people have a new and brilliant strategy to reduce and potentially eliminate customer complaints. They make it pretty much impossible to contact them. Emails go unanswered by any human with automated responses blaming Covid.

Call centre queues are hours long and the constant messages confirming service commitment interspersed with truly terrible music are clearly designed to drive the customer away, or insane, or both. All this while reminding the customer that aggressive and angry conduct will not be tolerated. Have these idiots worked out why their customers are aggressive and angry? Talk about the self-fulfilling prophecy !!

If you are going to put customers in hour long queues at least have the decency to play the following recording “ Thank you for your call. This call will be recorded for coaching and quality purposes. Because our senior managers and board have zero respect for our clients and consider your time to be worthless we hope you will enjoy the next 2 hours of frustration interspersed with gratuitous messages regarding our wonderful service and amazing products. At the end of 2 hours you will be able to leave a message which we will not return. Please understand that aggressive and abusive messages will, in the interests of quality and coaching, be played to our board. They always get a laugh out of the cruder suggestions”.

Of course, once everything that could go wrong has……..there is always your travel insurer. Mine put me on a call centre queue for 2 hours the other day and then randomly hung up. They advise 10 business days to respond to emails and they seem to have a strategy of asking one question at a time. 10 questions x 10 business days each. The obvious plan is to drag out the process and perhaps even frustrate the client to the point of not pursuing the claim. If they think that will work, they’ve picked the wrong punter. The insurers name suggests they provide more cover, they don’t.

Anyway, I could rant on but thanks to Melbourne based retail manager Christopher Hassett I don’t have to. You see, Mr Hassett is currently suing Qantas for damages that seem to me to be a test case for the way airlines and the travel industry more broadly operates. Now, to be fair I’ve never had dramas with Qantas but clearly it would seem I’m in the minority. Anyway, if successful the case will set a legal precedent for the duty of care, or lack thereof, that airlines show customers. The history and circumstances of the case are easily available online but in a nutshell Mr Hassett and his husband (the irony is delicious) pretty much experienced all of what I have described above, and then some. Believe it or not I’d written this article before the news of Mr Hassett’s mission came to my attention. I’m sure his situation mirrors many others but more power to him for having the courage to take the matter to court. He also has more patience than I. If evidence is tested and found to be accurate, he spent more than 13 hours on the phone to Qantas call centres.

I think the court needs to hear those recordings for quality and assurance purposes. All 13 hours !!

Mike Phipps | Director | Mike Phipps Finance

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Mike Phipps

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