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.

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The Dutch Stereotype

Dutch StereotypesThis has been doing the rounds on the interweb, and I thought it was quite amusing, if not true for many regions/towns. Designed by a Dutchman, VictorVan, he posted it on reddit and it’s now gone viral.

Not sure if many of my Dutch friends will agree, but I know many of my expat friends living in the Netherlands will no doubt agree and even have a chuckle or two also.

Emotional Speech from NL Foreign Minister

Frans Timmermans UN Security CouncilThe Dutch Foreign Minister, Mr. Frans Timmermans, addressed the United Nations Security Council, and gave an emotional and embittered speech denouncing the treatment of the remains of the victims in the downing of flight MH17 and the political gamesmanship undertaken by the Kremlin and pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, who almost a week since the disaster have still not handed the remains over to Dutch investigators for repatriation to the Netherlands and beyond.

It speaks volumes that the Minister, usually a master of understatement and diplomacy, broke with protocol and gave such an emotionally charged and moving speech to the UN. It’s fair to say that the tone of his speech mirrors that of many of my own Dutch friends and colleagues. Their anger at the images of bodies being ransacked for valuables and the crash site being trampled on, whilst their own investigators and members of the OSCE are bared from entering and can only look on, is palpable.

KLM Tweet Exemplifies Dutch Racism And Arrogance

KLM Mexico Jibe

This is the tweet that has set the twittersphere alight with anger over the Dutch win against Mexico. What was supposedly meant as a joke has turned into a PR disaster for the Dutch national airline, KLM. It’s a lesson on how social media can instantly ruin a brand with just one click.

The tweet was deleted without apology or explanation after outraged fans began retweeting it in anger. Among the offended was Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who managed to swear twice in the space of 140 characters to criticize the airline and vow never to fly on it again.

Mexican Outrage KLM

It quickly sparked a social media storm of criticism with many saying it was racist.

“Planning your exit out of South America soon, slave traders,” said one angry Twitter user of the picture.

But it’s not funny. It’s typical Dutch arrogance masked as “humour”. Of course, many Cloggies (and yes, if they’re gonna use a sombrero, then I’m within my right to continue calling them cloggies) simply do not even recognise the racist stereotyping, as evidenced by this reply on Twitter

KLM Nadine Koppers Response

It’s offensive, politically incorrect and opportunistic. It only serves to highlight the ingrained, but hugely suppressed, racism that exists in a country that has regularly failed to publically acknowledge or apologise for its historical hand in the slave trading industry and whom, to this very day, preys on minorities in its own country every chance they get demanding that they “conform” to the Dutch way of life.

In fact, once a year they even revel in their slaver past. Take “Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete) for example. A blackened slave helper who is the “cheeky” and “mischievous” helper of the Dutch Sinterklaas – they are the Dutch equivalent of Santa’s helpers. Of course, the Dutch think it perfectly normal to have the remnants of the slave era as perfectly acceptable form of endearment for their children.

If these are the values that the Dutch and their government insist that newcomers should integrate with, and that way of life is comfortable with openly offending other races, nationalities, religions and reverting to stereotypes, then its no wonder that immigrants to the Netherlands generally prefer to retain their own people oriented values, rather than adopting those of an arrogant fool.

KLM has clearly stepped on a landmine. Will it greatly impact the airline? Probably not, and the rebuke on Twitter will probably not do anything to reverse the insularly suppressed racism that exists in the Netherlands, but at least the cat is now out of the bag. I’ve always believed that the Dutch are closet racists. This myth of a tolerant society is exactly that, a myth. Live here long enough and you’ll discover a hotbed of hatred for anyone who does not conform or follow their rules – usually manifested in a form of “Clogic”™.

As for the football? For me personally, I’m waiting for the Argentina game to see the Dutch get their just-desserts.

KLM Tweet Screengrab

KLM Have Created A New Country

Southern IrishAccording to KLM’s marketing team, I am a citizen of Southern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland. Not merely content with flying people across the globe, but they’re not busy renaming its countries and citizenships of said globe.

I discovered this when I was asked to fill in a questionnaire regarding my most recent trip to Moscow. Well, you can imagine my delight when I saw that I’m not really Irish, but rather Southern Irish.

I’d best inform an Taoiseach and an Uachtarán na hÉireann about the changes thrust upon us by those crazshy Cloggies.

In the meantime, I’ve off to rename this blog www.southernirishmanabroad.com!!

Dutch Customer Service – A New Low

head-in-sand

Anyone who has lived in Holland for more than a week will tell you straight away that their first bugbear of the Dutch is their complete ineptitude and empathy for anyone whom they consider a customer and the severe lack of anything that remotely resembles proper customer service.

It’s the first thing that annoys people of the Dutch, even before the swathes of red tape and bureaucracy makes their lives unbearable during the whole registration debacle that accompanies any move to Holland. And one could even consider that this exercise of registering with the authorities would also appropriately fall under the guise of customer service, albeit performed by the overpaid Dutch civil servants who perform this mind numbingly, but oh so important to the Dutch local government, registration process. But the tactic akin to the fabled Ostrich head-in-sand approach to customer relationship management is a talent that the Dutch have made all their own.

I’ve slowly, but still unwillingly, grown to accept the slowness of Dutch waitresses, her getting the order wrong, the cold meal served at my table because she was too fucking busy updating her Facebook to deliver it to my table, or the fact that I have to ask her eight fucking times for a refill of beer, or when she tells me to go and order it myself at the bar because she’s too busy!

I’ve slowly, yet temperamentally, gotten used to the fact that every fucking shop the length and breadth of the country shuts its doors at 6pm every weekday evening. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a large city, you are then lucky that you can avail of a meagrely stocked Albert Heijn (Dutch supermarket chain) whose doors remain open until 8pm on a weekday. But woe betide you if you forgot to do your weekly shop on a Saturday, when the shops are usually jam packed with Cloggies, fighting like buck toothed monkey’s over the last sliced pans of bread, because everything is shut on a Sunday and you’re shit out of luck if you’ve no food in the house!

I’ve slowly, and grudgingly, grappled with the oh so Dutch concepts of ONLY being able to make a hair appointment ON THE SAME DAY that I want my hair cut. Clogic (Cloggy Logic) is clearly at work here, because it seems to make perfect sense to Cloggies that one should only make one’s hair appointment on the day one wants it cut, and seems to perplex them something no end when one suggests that perhaps it would be more convenient for ME if I could choose the date and time in advance and have them ensure that someone is available and that I don’t have to wait around for ages for my turn. And this is but one such example of Cloggy Calendar Management.

For a nation that never does anything spontaneously, like going for some beers with your mates at the drop of a hat, and who lives and dies by their diary, how they fail to see the need or even acknowledge the need to be able to plan around a customer’s needs is mind boggling!

And I’ve slowly accepted – and choose treatment anywhere BUT the Netherlands – the piss-poor customer service associated with anything that involves a doctor, or healthcare in general, in this country. Pharmacies that shut on weekends, preventing any way of refilling a prescription until they reopen on Monday, or that they follow the same prescribed rules associated with shopping hours along with the rest of their shopkeeper brethren. Doctors who prescribe paracetamol as a cure-all for everything, including, but not limited to, Cancer, HIV/AIDS, detached retina’s, broken limbs and the H1N1 Bird Flu.

But I literally exploded this morning after an event that was the last straw on this camels back. You see, Herself and I returned from a wonderful trip from the very beautiful city of Valencia. A city that is not only beautiful to behold, but whose residents are warm, friendly and only too ready, willing and able to help out their fellow man, and provide said man (or woman) with prompt, friendly service, at what I must add importantly, are VERY reasonable prices.

Upon our return, we had to pick up our furry family member from the kennels. He’d been incarcerated there for the length of our short but relaxing holiday, and it was time we broke him out of the joint. The only problem was, the Joint he was staying at had a collection time which expired at 12:00. I arrived three (count them, one, two, three) minutes late to which I was informed that they were closed, they refused point blank to even entertain the idea of allowing me to collect the dog because they were too busy having lunch (a crappy cheese sandwich eaten with a fucking knife and fork no doubt) and I could collect said dog at 13:00 when they would start working again.

I flipped! It was the proverbial final straw on this particular camel’s back. I was like a caldera whose pressure has reached maximum and went fucking nuts. Finally, one hour later, Herself went in, exuding her usual grace and gravitas and collected the dog. Except that these fuckers decided to add insult to injury and had the audacity to charge us for a FULL EXTRA DAY, because I was three minutes late. Can you fucking believe it?

What grates on me is the fact that we are NEW CUSTOMERS. In every other civilised country, companies do everything they can to build up a good relationship with their clientele in the hope that their customers will return time and time again. For a new customer, a one-time minor offence like being three minutes late would normally be tolerated. Hell, I’d even hold my hands up and welcome a mild chastising and apologise over my tardiness. But no. The Dutch, in their typical Cloggyminded “Customer is always WRONG” mindset decided that ours was not a customer relationship which they value, and let’s fuck with the newbies!

Which says a lot about why prices are so fucking sky-high in this country in the first place. It’s as though companies here couldn’t care less if customers come and go, because they’ll compensate for the lack of a constant customer base by ripping everyone else off on a one time event only. So because a Dutch company is so incompetent, or has chosen to hire fucking morons who’ve been tasked with job of being the living, breathing corporate face of whatever the brand image they are purportedly marketing, everyone else gets the runaround and fucked royally in the ass, both on price and on the sheer harrowing experience of it all.

It’s small wonder how this fuckwit infested country even manages to keep afloat in the first place. Oh, I remember how…..because the government is in on the act too. They charge 52% income tax for fuck all in return, all the while rip-off merchants like those palming off horsemeat as beef steaks or hiring Eastern Europeans as modern day slaves on asparagus farms get nothing more than a slap on the wrist whilst being told Punch and Judy style that “You’re a very naughty boy” and health insurance executives announce profits increases of 500% year over year, all the while the health insurance coverage for your average Jan is reduced further and further each and every year.

Fuck Me!!!! Honey, book us a flight back to Spain, will you?