I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Australia. It’s an amazing place but has the drawback of being a very long way from the UK and getting there takes a long time. I’ve done this trip a few times and even travelling in relative comfort towards the front of the plane you can sometimes have the feeling of being held captive, at the mercy of the crew. A good crew can make the journey feel almost like a treat, being waited upon hand and foot. A disorganised crew can make you feel frustrated while you wait for your meal, your bottle of water or find you have finished your meal before wine has been served.
The most recent trip involved four long flights – two with Emirates and two with Qantas. The two airlines afforded completely different experiences, although both Emirates and Qantas flights were on A380s/777s. Emirates’ planes have the most comfortable seats, your own personal space – although the business cabin is large and probably more packed than Qantas. On our journey out, however, the service was slow and despite the comfort I found myself feeling slightly irritated because I wanted to sleep and the remains of my meal hadn’t been cleared away. There were a few other niggles and I know from experience these take on far more seriousness than they actually warrant, because one is essentially travelling in a metal tube far above the earth and can’t escape. The Qantas experience was utterly different. The plane was less comfortable – there was certainly less privacy – and in my view the food wasn’t good – but the service was faultless. For one veggie meal, I was presented with a rather awful soggy sandwich. I showed it to a member of the crew who took it away immediately with much apology and charm and said she would take a photo and report it as substandard. She managed to find something better for me to eat and I felt the incident had been handled well.
So I’m left thinking about product and service and which is most important to me when I fly. I don’t really know the answer to that. I should say service on my second flight with Emirates was very good – it is just a pity it wasn’t consistent on both flights.
From the airline’s perspective, the ideal of course is to have both high quality product and service, and you should strive for both. But good service can overcome the shortcomings of an inferior product and bad service can significantly undermine the experience, devaluing the offering. So if you are competing at the upper end of the market, you ignore service at your peril.