Like people, companies define their reputations not only by how they handle situations when all goes right but also by how they respond when all goes wrong. Such was the case yesterday when a mechanical issue delayed my flight from Lyon to Dubai by more than five hours. The late departure from Lyon set in motion a toppling of the dominoes that would result in a series of missed flights that could seriously jeopardize my entire trip.
Arriving in Dubai late meant that I would potentially miss an important event that I was particularly excited about, the christening of Silversea Expeditions’ new Silver Discoverer in Singapore. The late flight from Lyon, and the corresponding missed connection in Dubai, would put me in Singapore a full day later than planned. Still, if all went well, I would arrive just in the nick of time for christening festivities that kick off Monday evening at Singapore’s famed Raffles Hotel. As I write these words, however, I am not certain that I will make it in time — or at all.
Fortunately, I am not flying just any old airline. I am booked on a Business Class ticket on Emirates Airlines — at about half the cost of what a similar ticket would have cost me on Lufthansa (no knock on Lufthansa, which is another one of my favorite airlines).
There is some comfort in flying an airline that has racked up a number of “world’s best,” including World’s Best Business Class by a couple of influential magazines. Despite the uncertainty ahead and the missed connections, I am fairly confident that Emirates will deliver me to Singapore in time for Silver Discoverer’s christening and the receptions beforehand.
Admittedly, it will be a close call, and as with most situations of this nature, there are lessons from my experience this weekend for most any traveler — and for the other airlines. Let’s begin with what Emirates did right.
1. Communication — I was surprised by the email that I received upon landing in Lyon. It informed me that my Emirates flight was late — and more importantly, that I would not make my connection from Dubai to Singapore. This was unwelcome news, as I had been invited to cover Silver Discoverer’s christening with a prestigious group of industry influentials. When I walked up to the Emirates check-in counter in Lyon, I learned that indeed, my flight to Dubai would be arriving and departing nearly five hours behind schedule. Not to worry, said Emmanuel Byrne, Emirates’ Airport Services Officer in Lyon. He and his team had arranged for us to wait at the NH Hotel, a five-minute walk from the counter, where we would be provided with dinner. Because of the uncertainty of the mechanical issue, Byrne said he did not want us to pass immigration after dinner to the Emirates’ lounge, so he organized the opening of another small lounge near the ticket counter and stocked it with beverages and snacks. An hour before the 2 a.m. departure, Byrne returned to escort us through security and passport control and onto the Boeing 777-300ER.
2. Welcome Aboard — All during the boarding process, Emirates’ staff made apologies for the late departure. “It’s unusual for Emirates to be late,” a couple of British expats now living in Dubai told me. The plane’s purser, an immaculatey dressed young man from Paris who spoke impeccable English, greeted me by name, which surprised me. Of course, he had the passenger manifest, but the fact that he greeted me in such a way made me feel welcome. “Mr. Grizzle, welcome aboard,” he said, smiling. “I apologize for the delay, but I am going to make the trip as comfortable as possible.” He then explained that he would serve me dinner if I wished, arrange the mattress on the flat-bed seat for me when I was ready to sleep, and, important in these situations, return with a welcome glass of Veuve-Clicquot. Six hours later after arriving in Dubai, I concluded that Emirates, and that young man, had given me, by far, the best Business Class experience I’d ever had.
3. Welcome To Dubai — In Dubai, an Emirates’ employee greeted me and other Business Class travelers at the entrance to immigration. The employee explained that I had been reticketed for my flight to Singapore. The only problem: It was only noon, and my flight was scheduled for 2:35 a.m. That meant a layover in Dubai of more than 12 hours. Not to worry. The employee informed me that Emirates had arranged a private room at the Hotel Méridien. To get there, I would not need the hotel shuttle bus, because Emirates also had arranged a chauffered car. After clearing immigration and customs, I walked up to the “Emirates Chauffeur-Drive Service” counter and handed over my hotel voucher. A lady behind the counter took it, then escorted me to a car that took me to the hotel. I could not have been more impressed.
4. Hotel Méridien — As we approached the impressive hotel, the driver drove past the main entrance, taking me to a special entrance for Emirates Business Class and First Class travelers. A porter took my bags, and within five minutes, I was in room 2084, not quite 20 minutes after I had stood up from my Business Class seat back on the plane. I was given vouchers that allowed me to dine for lunch and dinner in any of the multiple dining venues. In my room was complimentary bottled water, coffee, a complimentary bottle of wine and fresh fruits. It was an excellent hotel for the long layover, included at no extra charge, courtesy of Emirates.
Certainly, airlines could learn a lot from the way Emirates handled a situation that went wrong. The late flight actually made my travel experience better than it would have been with an on-time flight. In fact, this has been quite a lucky week for me. It all began on St. Patrick’s Day, when “luck of the Irish,” United Airlines awarded me 30,000 bonus points for a mechanical issue that delayed departure of my flight from Washington to Marseille on Monday. Kudos to United. I value those points at around $500 or more. Fortunately, I still made it to my destination in time for the christening of the new Viking Longships, which I will be writing more about this week.
I also broke a camera lens this past week, which would have been bad luck had something special not happened in Bordeaux. Along with my colleague Aaron Saunders, I visited a camera shop to find a replacement lens. It was outrageously expensive, nearly $700. Overhearing Aaron and I talking about the cost, a customer whispered that a shop down the street would likely have similar lenses much cheaper than at this shop. At few doors down, I found the lens identical to the one I had broken, attached to a camera body, for less than $350. To sweeten the deal, I had wanted two camera bodies for shooting with wide-angle and telephoto lens without having to swap lenses, so this worked out to be a great solution at a bargain cost. To boot, I now had an extra charger and battery.
My good fortune continued. I flew on a chartered jet for christenings in Avignon, Bordeaux and Porto, joking that the jet was powered by Veuve-Clicquot because the flight attendant told us that there were 48 bottles for our flight — and 48 seats, not all occupied. I considered myself lucky to be part of a press group getting to experience the luxuries of a private jet.
My last bit of luck, or so I thought, was that I was upgraded to Business Class on a two-hour-plus commercial flight from Lisbon to Lyon. It was only when I landed in Lyon that I thought my luck had turned for the worse. Not so. The delay allowed me to experience stellar customer service.
Of course, I did a few things right myself.
1. Booked Business Class — Yes, Business Class does cost more than Economy Class, but flying Business Class makes for an experience rather than a tough day of travel. My ticket from Lyon to Singapore with a stop in Dubai went for around $3,200. That’s not bad for four flights that exceeded six hours each. Sweetening the deal, however, was that Emirates offers complimentary chauffeur-drive services to its Business Class and First Class travelers. Having someone meet you at the gate and take you to your hotel is a real treat, not to mention that the service saves you the often-exorbitant taxi fare. There are other Business Class bonuses: priority check-in, lounge access, extra loyalty points, fast-track immigration and, where available, priority lanes for security clearance. Of course, you get a larger seat than you would in Economy Class, and the food, drink, entertainment and sleeping arrangements are superb.
2. Packed My Bags For Delays — I love my luggage, especially the wide-body, expandable international carry-on by Briggs & Riley. Lifetime warranty aside, this bag carries a lot of clothes and gear. In fact, I pack the carry-on bag as if my checked-in luggage will be delayed or lost. I could survive, and with a bit of style, with the clothing and gear in my carry-on bag. The carry-on came in handy today when I did not have access to my checked luggage. I had everything I needed in my carry-on bag, from fitness gear to suits.
3. Planned To Arrive A Day Early — Whenever possible, I book my travel to arrive a day earlier than when I need to be in a destination. If I am on a cruise, I try to come in the day before embarkation. For Silver Discoverer’s christening event, fortunately, I had booked my travel to arrive a day before the events were to begin.
4. Charged To A Card With Travel Protection — I charged my Emirates flight to a card that offered Trip Delay and other travel insurance. Not only did I accumulate points but also I can be reimbursed for essential purchases, up to $600 per day.
There’s no guarantee that I’ll make it to Singapore in time for Silver Discoverer’s christening. Travel is fraught with delays and cancellations and the unexpected, but I’ve been lucky so far. My flight departs for Singapore in four hours, and as I write these words, I am hopeful. And being a bit superstitious that luck can fade, I am knocking on wood.
Still, I know from experience that part of being lucky is not how you respond when things go right but how you handle yourself — and others — when things go wrong. Take it in stride, and all will be okay in the end.