Several days into the production of this issue I made the journey from Paris to Berlin. One would assume that this is a well-served route but there’s little in the way of competition between legacy characters, with a Lufthansa low-cost spin-off having all but left the route open to Air France to own. The latter must be happy with the set-up as all flights were sold out on the day I wanted to travel; the next-best option was to grab a connecting flight via Amsterdam on its partner carrier KLM.
While not an ideal route, the flight via Schiphol offered a chance for our publisher Anders and me to check on monocle’s newsstand presence there before carrying on to Berlin’s Tegel. Walking on board KLM’s new-ish 737 was a bit of a novelty as neither of us fly via ams very often and we’d set our expectations on the low side. Once settled in our seats we discovered a remarkable amount of leg room on offer; short-haul European Business Class is normally much more cramped. “The benefit of flying on an airline that also happens to be the flag-carrier for the world’s tallest people,” I remarked.
As the boarding process continued we followed proceedings as some Japanese diplomats appeared with far too much hand luggage; the crew did everything they could to make their boarding procedure comfortable regardless. At the mic their announcements were to the point, in-flight the service was sharp and on landing the air bridge pulled up in seconds. Less than an hour later we were on another 737 bound for Berlin and the drill couldn’t have been more consistent. The woman leading the crew was warm but measured and her approach to service spoke of a proud professional. As the seatbelt signs lit up we thanked her for a wonderful flight. “Thank you,” she said, seeming surprised. “What’s different about what we do?”
“Pretty much everything,” said Anders. “This type of short-haul flight is so rare today. It’s not very often you interact with someone who is a proper representative of the brand and, as a result, makes all the difference.”
There are many companies that like to live by slogans suggesting that people make the difference but few actually deliver on it. In the world of travel, where there’s ever more focus on talking up technology and efficiency and little invested in improving the quality of staff and service, the numbers are fewer still. Sure, it’s easier to invest in dependable aircraft but the wheels, wings and façade all fall off if the right people aren’t in place to greet passengers, rebook missed flights and address complicated issues.
The KLM experience serves as a reminder that investment in staff can make all the difference in a sector where aircraft are the same, the seats generally come from one of three international manufacturers and there’s little difference in pricing. Had it not been for sold-out Air France flights I would never have considered KLM. Now I might try them long-haul and see if the sound service and superior people skills are also standard on their routes to Bangkok, Toronto and San Francisco.
Of course, the same goes for hotels, resorts, restaurants and rail networks. For this third edition of the escapist we dispatched our editors to meet the hoteliers and ceos setting the tone for the travel sector; we also spent time in places that we think you’ll want to jot into your agenda over the months to come. If you have any questions or tips, do drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy travels and thank you for your support.
Editor in chief, Monocle