Saturday, January 17, 2009

An odyssey at the airport of Venice: when outsourcing is not a good idea...

I spent a very relaxing week with my girlfriend in Venice: we enjoyed the Scottish-like misty environment of Veneto in December, we had a lot of typical Venetian dishes during our stay; we also had a race on the A4 motorway to arrive on time to the Concerto di Natale 2008 at Verona Philharmonic theater where Loreena McKennitt delighted us with two of her songs (and made us forget most of the other performers...)

It all began during our last trip to the airport. Twenty (usually...) insignificant kilometers, especially for a guy who spent years between Padova and Mogliano Veneto and who knows very well what the (in)famous Tangenziale di Mestre can be. We left from Treviso and we never put the second gear in 10 kilometers. Even with such a mist, it was inexplicable to me. When we arrived at the airport, we parked our rented car and ran, dragging all of our bags under the rain, to arrive at the terminal before our flight closed. As soon as we entered the airport we looked at the flight status on the first screen we found and the check-in counter number wasn't there. We ran throughout the relatively small hall of the Marco Polo Airport trying to find it and at the end we thought that our only hope would be the information desk. Which, actually, informed us that the flight was being checked in at desk 17, and that the flight was still open. Less than one minute later we were in front of desk 17 where a standing employee stole our last hope with a smile on her face. The flight had just closed. We tried to explain that we had to go to work, we tried also to ask about the flight status hoping it had been delayed. We had checked the flight status of every Iberia flight taking off to Madrid that day and all of them had an average delay between 1.5 and 2 hours. No, that flight was on schedule. No way. Not even a desperate phone call: those calls which many times saved my flight plan.

We retreated and went straight to the ticket office. Long story short: if I don't insist in that the ticket office emplyee calls Iberia, I would have paid two brand-new tickets for at least 280 EUR each. She also tried to convince me that, even if an Iberia ticket office is not present in Venice airport and no official information could be given, she knew that there was nothing to do. Why not even try? At the end, after insisting lot of times, she tried to make that call and guess what? We saved our ticket: we just paid a change commission. An invaluable ironic smile appeared in my face and didn't leave for at least 10 minutes. The call was unbelievable and I only explain the fact with the extreme laziness of the employee. As soon as she dialled Iberia number, she gave me the receiver (because she didn't speak Spanish...), and... went for a coffee. Yes, she left the counter and disappeared with a guy who asked her to have a coffee with him. As soon as the Iberia employee on the line asked me to speak with somebody at the ticket counter to issue the ticket, she couldn't believe my answer: "She's not here, she went for a coffee." Fortunately another employee, in the middle of a personal call at her cellular phone, was so gentle to come and rescue us and eventually the tickets were issued.

To top it off, our baggages were finally lost, but that's another story...

Why, then, outsourcing is a bad idea? Well, I imagine that if there had been at least one Iberia representative at the airport, things would have been different. The girls at the check in counters were looking forward to going away, they didn't even try to look for information, either to know if the airplane was not on schedule (a suspicion we had that was eventually confirmed) or if it was possible for us to board with or without luggage. I would also (like to) imagine that an Iberia representative wouldn't let me hang on a phone, alone on a ticket counter, because it was just time to have a break...

Sometimes uniforms matter and brand has its strength. After more than 7 years in which I went through lot of delays, overbookings and cancellations, nobody as these people had been, ever, less interested on resolving such an issue for not only an Iberia faithful traveler, but also a worker who had to arrive in time. The only difference I can see between this situation and the many others I lived is just that: the brand, the uniform the employee were wearing. In the other cases, I was interacting directly with employees of the airline, be it Alitalia, Iberia or whichever you prefer. In this case I was interacting with an employee of the enterprise which manages the Venice Airport (Save S.p.A.) and, probably, he has no interest pushing himself to give a better service. And the customer is just left with a bitter taste of impotence.

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