Russian Airport Security – A Myth

vnukovo-airport-at-nightI’ve written several times before already about how security at Russian airports is a joke. Like all things Russian, it is a Potemkin village designed to provide the proletariat with the illusion that the State has their best interest at heart and takes their lives and well-being seriously.

So imagine my feigned surprise when I read this morning of the story about an unaccompanied 11-year-old girl who managed to slip through security checks at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and then managed to board a flight to St. Petersburg without a ticket or ID. There are so many failures here, not just with the airport security, but also with the airline itself.

According to the newsru.com website, the unnamed girl said that she had never flown by plane before and decided to go to Vnukovo after school where she mingled with crowds, slipped passed the security checks (see the security video footage below) and managed to get on-board a plane. As she boarded the Rossiya Airlines plane, the girl said she told the flight attendant she was travelling alone but was never asked by cabin crew to present any travel documents.

It is a sad but undeniable truth that Russia has for many years fabricated the illusion to its own citizens that it is both security concious and mindful of potential security issues, particularly in the wake of dozens of bombings and targeted attacks in Russian in recent years. The reality though is very different. This perceived blanket of security is non-existent. Security checks across Russia’s transport infrastructure are either never performed, or if they are, they’re done in a perfunctory and cursory fashion by a person who earns a pittance in salary and simply can’t be arsed to do their job professionally or properly.

Take for example the metal detector when entering the Airport Express train station. Every time ANYONE goes through it, the detector is set-off, but the security guards wave you through. The same is said of the security screening at the airport entrances. Sure, they have large x-ray machines scanning my bags before I even get through to the check-in hall. But 99% of the time the staff are chatting amongst each other barely glancing at the screen to see what’s inside passenger’s bags. It’s a joke! And don’t event get me started on the kid they employ whose sole function in life is to stamp my boarding pass before immigration!

Given the continued spate of bombings that have taken place at a variety of Russian airports and train/metro stations, you would think that if anywhere, Russia would take the idea of airport security seriously. That being said, it’s also not above the Russian security services to manipulate and manufacture “terrorist” attacks as was demonstrated with the apartment bombings in the September of 1999. Here it was proven that the FSB, in an effort to justify a war in Chechnya, and thus facilitate the apparatchik and military establishment to steal left right and centre under the guise of a civil war as well as enabling a newly installed Putin to demonstrate his hard-man image to the Russian proletariat.

Of course, the easiest way to resolve such issues is to assign blame. And it’s absolutely normal in Putin’s Russia that the blame rests, not with the state, but in this instance the parents of this little girl and the airport and airline whom she managed to slip past on on to said airplane. I have a hard time trying to understand why the parents should be blamed. Sure, an 11-year-old should have come straight home from school. But looking back to when I was that age, it was perfectly normal to go to and from school by oneself without the need to be chaperoned by your parents. No doubt her parents were worried sick when she hadn’t arrived home. Slapping them with a fine is just another way for Putin’s government to avoid criticism for a failure on the government’s part i.e. to provide fit-for-purpose state services by competently trained staff and properly organised institutions.

The longer I deal with Russia, the more Kafkaesque the country becomes over time.

KLM Airlines – When An Upgrade Is Really A Downgrade

KLM Seat Map KLM Seat PitchFor those of us who fly frequently for work or business, there seem to be fewer and fewer perks afforded these days to frequent flyers these days. The entire experience of business travel is often a stressful and soul destroying one, fraught with long queues at the security, lost passengers, cancelled/delayed flights and very little in the way of edible food or on board perks once you get on board your flight. And with airlines these days maximising load factors with flights nearing full capacity by way of selling more Economy seats and having fewer Business Class seats, the days of a freebie upgrade have all but diminished.

So imagine the joy experienced by one KLM passenger who was told he was being upgraded on a flight from Prague to Amsterdam, only to have that jubilant feeling dashed immediately when he was told by the ground crew that although he was being bumped up to Business Class, he wasn’t allowed to avail of the creature comforts everyone else was to enjoy near the pointy end of the flight. WHAT?!

This is what happened to a passenger who wrote about his experience in a complaint to KLM. KLM’s new preferred method of dealing with customer queries, compliments and complaints is via their Facebook and Twitter social media tools. Given the very public nature of social media, it means that the airline’s dirty laundry is aired in public for all and sundry to see, and this one makes for interesting reading.

I managed to reach out to the passenger in question to find out more. It turns that on his return flight back to Amsterdam, he was told he was being “upgraded”. BUT, he was told he wouldn’t be served a business class meal and wouldn’t be getting the frequent flyer points either. To make matters worse, when he was nearing the plane, it was only then that he realised that his preferred seat – which was a window seat in the Economy Comfort section in KLM’s premium economy cabin – was substituted for an aisle seat. Not only that, but the aircraft in question has no difference in seat pitch or seat comfort between the Business Class and the Economy Comfort. So he was effectively moved from a seat he paid extra for to a seat he didn’t want and has clearly stated in his passenger profile on KLM’s frequent flyer programme that he doesn’t like.

But wait, it gets better. Because whilst he knew he wasn’t getting a Business Class meal, the cabin crew made doubly sure that both he AND his fellow passengers knew that he was “upgraded” by way on blabbing out loud to him during the cabin service that he was only entitled to an economy meal. It was at this stage, he explained, that he reached boiling point, because in his eyes, he had not been “upgraded”, despite the ground staff and cabin crew repeatedly using that phrase to him. If anything, he explained, he had received a “seat reassignment”.

When he arrived home, he wrote a complaint to KLM, expecting the airline to acknowledge the error of their ways, and offer up a remedy or token of apology, but their responses only further served to rankle him. His biggest frustration, he emailed to me, was that the airline continued to reply scripted responses feigning platitudes of insipid and insincere apologies over his experience during the flight, and never once offering anything at all to make-up for the fact that his “upgrade” wasn’t an “upgrade”, but rather a “downgrade”.

In his original opening complaint, he wrote to KLM explaining the dictionary definition of an upgrade, i.e. the definition of an upgrade is “an occurrence in which one thing is replaced by something better, newer, more valuable, etc”, and further explaining that being moved from a preferred seat, to a worse location AND not being treated the same as your fellow passengers in Business Class does not, by definition, meet the criteria of an “upgrade” and therefore should not be referred to as such. It’s hard to disagree with the man.

From their replies (see the attached conversation), however, it’s pretty self evident that the customer services people either didn’t understand his point, didn’t care about his point, or weren’t empowered/inclined to do something to make it up to him. Even when he pointed out to KLM that Business Class is not just a seat, it’s a service – a selling point that the likes of Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Emirates, Virgin and Cathay capitalise on – the airline failed to acknowledge the issue.

I know many of you will look at this and think it’s another one of these “First World Problems”. That it’s merely someone being difficult. However, there is a valid point to his argument, which is that if an airline sells the concept of a frequent flyer programme to customers, with one of those benefits being upgrades and preferential treatment for it’s most revered passengers. When they treat that loyal customer like a second class citizen, that same passenger who has helped keep that airline in business, then maybe it’s time to start thinking about flying with someone else.

The differences in customer service, quality of product offerings on-board with Asian/Middle Eastern airlines versus European Flag Carriers and US airlines has long been discussed in travel forums across the internet. Everyone knows that the Gold Standard of in-flight service and customer service on the ground is held by the likes of Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates Airlines.It’s the principle concept of good customer service in any business and in any industry, and these three lead the way. And they have proven that if you treat your customers well, they will come back time and again. But treat them with contempt and you’ve lost not just one, but perhaps hundreds of potential customers, new and old. A lesson KLM’s latest financials would suggest that they cannot afford to ignore.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, KLM will do regarding this issue. They had made noises about offering our weary traveller a “surprise” on his next flight. But it appears that doing their “utmost” meant doing nothing at all. It’s one thing to ignore and shrug off a complaint, it’s quite another to promise you’ll resolve it, and then break that same promise. My guess is that this wasn’t the first passenger KLM have done this to, and it will most likely not be the last. And scripted false apologies on Facebook are also not the way to handle such things either. But if you, like me, travel a lot for business, you might might find yourself also getting a “downgrade” soon.

KLM_FB_1 KLM_FB_2 KLM_FB_3 KLM_FB_4 KLM_FB_6

KLM_FB_7 KLM_FB_8KLM_FB_9