Airline personality disorder

Is it anthropomorphism when we relate to a branded organization as if it were human?

An airline is not an inanimate object or an animal, it’s a human construct, branded like crazy to spark our emotional brain – to make us feel loyalty and affection – so we are less rational when making purchasing decisions. So it is human, in a sense.

Some airlines do this brilliantly, notably Southwest (who I’ve never flown with), Virgin Atlantic, and Norwegian who are doing this brilliantly at the low-cost end of the market – and, although controversial, I think Iberia are getting much better that this.


The idea of making your brand mean something as a way to increase customer loyalty is not a groundbreaking game-changing disruptive idea. It is a trusty rock-solid foundation stone in the building of a service organization, yet so many airlines seem to aspire to have all the personality of the local bus service, thinking that having a plane and a bag of nuts is enough.

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If you’ve missed a flight recently, you’re not spending enough time in airports

In this post I tackle three big issues facing the frequent flyer.

A lot of the advice for the business traveller is based on three assumptions: speed is king, you need to keep working all the time, and you don’t need clean pyjamas.

I disagree; I’m not that kind of traveller.

We work incredibly hard most of the time, have lengthy commutes, and often return to a busy house with a long list of responsibilities. Travel is an opportunity to take care of ourselves, to have some peace and quiet, to meditate, to escape the hurly-burly senseless busy-ness of most of our working days.

So don’t feel the need to spend every waking second of travel on your laptop working at breakneck speed, use the peace and solitude to reflect and take a step back.

Early or late?

If you haven’t missed a flight recently, you’re spending too much time in airports

(Dr Jordan Ellenberg)

I don’t agree; I’m not that kind of traveller.

Ellenberg says that I could be doing something better with my time rather than idling it away in an airport terminal, that the “opportunity cost” of my arriving early is subtracting from all this productive stuff I would have been doing otherwise.

Well, Dr E, there are some mighty big assumptions in there.

If I waited until the last minute to get to the airport I wouldn’t be doing anything productive, I’d be standing around, glancing at my watch, and anxiously thinking about needing to get to the airport. At least if I’m already there I can relax and read and drink coffee, which is all I really want to do anyway.


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Travel broadens the waistline

It’s a fairly long way to Vilnius from Spain.

You have to go via Warsaw or Helsinki or even Moscow, but Moscow involves a transit visa, and it means flying over Vilnius in order to come right back again, several hours later. Such graceless inefficiency offends me.

And … if there is one cast-iron rule of travel it is this: never take a route that requires a visa unless you have absolutely no choice.

I could have gone via London or Amsterdam. These options were somewhere north of 27 hours each way. My computer presented them anyway, with a straight face, as if I might seriously consider them.

No sense of the ridiculous – one of the many problems with Windows 10.


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Red rain and blue eyes

I slept well last night.

After 24 hours on buses, planes and taxis, and spending countless hours waiting around in airports, I got home and, despite the 7-hour timezone difference, managed to stay awake long enough to go to bed at the reasonably legal hour of 21:45

The next thing I knew it was morning, my trip to the Pearl River Delta already fading into the hazy distance.

It was a good trip. Fortunately my dry sarcastic wit was understood and appreciated by the people of Hong Kong. This was especially important to me as I hadn’t got anything else prepared.

In fact I don’t know how to operate in a world devoid of sarcasm, I simply don’t have the tools to survive in such a hostile environment.

I wonder if sarcasm is as human as laughter and other sorts of humour. Is it hard-wired into human DNA?

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First time on the rock

Last week I went to Gibraltar.

This was my first ever visit to the rock, and I was quite excited to see what it was like.

As a British resident of Spain I am often challenged as to when I might return Gibraltar to the Spanish crown. I usually patiently explain that that’s beyond the scope of my role, but also, quite aside from the legal status of the territory, I question why it is such a big deal anyway – there are anomalies all over the place for crying out loud: Ceuta and Melilla being two obvious ones.

Rock of Gibraltar

Having had these discussions (and plenty more) for many years, I was intrigued to see what the place was really like, and was interested to know if I was going to have to hide my Spain links and play up the Yorkshireman card just to get through the week unscathed!

I could not have been more wrong.

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The first time I’ve been tear-gassed … but worse than that, a smelly man with wayward elbows

I am flying high over north-left Turkey.

We took off about half-an-hour ago and we’re still over land, I’d expected to be over the sea by now. Countries are rarely the size you expect them to be, they’re almost always much bigger.

Istanbul was bigger than I’d expected too.

View of Beyoglu across the Golden Horn
View of Beyoglu across the Golden Horn

Hang on, the pilot has just spelt out the route: Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Italy, France, then Spain.

No self-respecting crow would fly such a circuitous route, but then routes on flat maps always look absurdly circular until you map them to a globe.

This is why ships from Southampton to New York bump into icebergs. On the flat page of an atlas, you’d expect them to be much further south, but the great circle from northern Europe has ships (and now planes) approaching the Big Apple from the north – down the Newfoundland coast. I once flew into New York from behind, we flew down the Hudson with Manhattan on the left. I longed to see a map to understand how this could be, but I was stuck on a plane and not even I am so geeky as to travel with a globe.

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High speed fake luxury

I had tortellini with gorgonzola and walnut sauce last night.

As I get older I get more appreciative of good food and less appreciative of business travel. I never used to look forward to a meal with such naked relish as I do these days, yet never did my heart sink so low upon entering yet another hotel room as it has done lately.

I used to love travel, every little bit of it.

I used to love the buzz of it, the excitement you feel in airports and train stations.

My heart used to beat faster as I walked through Victoria Station and saw giggly backpackers preparing to cross the channel. I envied their freedom.

I used to love the journey, the space of travel, the discovery of arrival of a new place with its bizarre little differences – at first perplexing – even insurmountable – but soon thrillingly familiar, but still excitingly foreign. I was amused by the meagre luxury of hotels, the silly little chocolates placed on the pillow to fool you into thinking that this was the high life, the faux quality of the accessories, like we wouldn’t notice it was all barely skin deep, a veneer no thicker than the toilet paper folded unnecessarily into a posh and pointy triangle.

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Very expensive post

I am in Madrid now.  Tired.  Sitting at a hotel Internet point, watching the money ticking up on my credit card in the bar at the bottom of the screen.

It’s €5.25 now.

That’s a lot of Euros.

I could go to my room and watch Sky News or Spanish TV or read my book, but I need to remain more vertical than horizontal to ensure my dinner goes down.

The bed in my room is on casters on a wooden floor, so if I sit there propped up on pillows, I slowly edge the bed away from the headboard and skid across the room.  I go to sleep in one place, and awake with the bed lodged in the opposite corner.  It’s a nice room otherwise, it’s just they didn’t think it through.

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