Friday, October 5, 2012

$60 Discount on Lufthansa from the USA

Lufthansa is offering a $60 discount on travel originating in the USA: Happy Friday!!!
Lufthansa A319 at Frankfurt

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Denver Has TSA Pre-Check Finally!

I won the TSA Pre-Check lottery this morning, it's a 1 in 3 random chance of using it on any given attempt.  Pre-Check was empty (the main process was packed) and the whole security process took less than a minute.  Laptop stayed in my bag, shoes stayed on, no naked pictures taken.  The TSA agents are still snarky, but you don't have to put up with them too long.  The process improved my customer experience, but the people are doing their best to keep you miserable (see Helsinki for a good customer experience program).

TSA Guy:  "Popular program, had 144 people use it in 8 hours yesterday."
Enjoy a United Express CRJ-200 Picture Today

Monday, October 1, 2012

Helsinki Airport Customer Experience Management Program

What feelings do airports create?  Frustration, anger, stress, nervousness, confusion, and discomfort are common answers.  Most airports don’t see the customer experience as their first priority, but focus on operations, costs, regulations, or revenue.  Even though a lack of interest in the customer experience is common in airports today, it should be the next big area for innovation in airports and Helsinki Airport is on the leading edge.
Departures Board in Terminal 2
Helsinki Airport is in a difficult position, faced with strong competition and limited resources; they can’t outspend the Middle East governments, can’t expand their existing footprint very much, and don’t serve a giant city.  Helsinki, like most airports, cannot compete for passengers based simply on grandeur and opulence; instead it competes based on the total customer experience.  Customer experience management (CEM) is an area where every airport, no matter the size, can compete for customers. 
Terminal 2 Lobby with Self Check In and Self Bag Tagging
Finavia, the government owned firm that operates 21 civil airports in Finland including Helsinki, has the goal to own the entire customer experience.  This goal goes beyond just the 600 employees they have at Helsinki, but encompasses the customer’s entire travel experience, from booking, transit to the airport, ground experience, and inflight experience.  Their CEM goal is to create “Smooth Traveling.”  This supports the larger business goal to be Europe’s number one transfer airport. 
Terminal 1 Check In Lobby
Helsinki’s customer experience initiatives attempt to cover the complete “customer path.”  There are multiple customer types, and depending on the trip, the same individual can be a different customer type.  For example, 6,500 “first timers” (haven’t flown in more than a year) visit each day; some first timers ever go to the airport on the day before to practice.  Their needs differ greatly from frequent travels, families, pensioners, etc., but each group needs to have their needs addressed to create a positive experience.  Mindsets are further influenced by why the trip is being taken.  What influences customer experience varies greatly, so CEM isn’t a simple proposition.
One of Many Art Pieces Around the Airport
Helsinki Airport has three basic focus areas for CEM, premises, processes, and people. If these three items are done well, everything should run smoothly.  Processes are complex and difficult to observe when passing through.  Finavia has worked to redesign processes, self check in and bag tagging for example, to improve the customer experience and make things run smoother for passengers. 
Wireless Phone Charging Built into Tables
The second focus area is the premises and the goal is to create a comfortable atmosphere.  The first thing I noticed is the terminal is very quiet, just soft conversation.  There are no recurring announcements (absent are Homeland Security threat level style reminders), no one screaming in their phones, no carts beeping, and no hum from the HVAC system, luggage belts, or other sources.  The signage is large, clear, well placed, and helpful.  It is a simple idea, but not well executed in most airports.  Work centers are available and promoted with signage.  Ample seating is provided in many forms.  There are many different restaurants, shops, and large windows to look out on the field.  Power outlets and phone charging (including wireless PowerKiss charging) opportunities abound.  There is even a space with chairs designed by famous Finns to showcase Finnish design.  The airport has an open and Finnish feel to the layout and decor; creating a calm and comfortable atmosphere. 
Finish Designs' Chair Examples
The terminals are well lit and a comfortable temperature.  The WiFi is fast and free; it isn’t even advertising supported.  Free luggage carts are available curbside and by baggage claim, they look to be clean and in good shape.  The terminal building has many open spaces, long sight lines, and comfortable colors and materials.  There is a pervasive Scandinavian design idea in all areas.  T1 and T2 have a modern feel to them, while the original terminal building has hard wood floors and timeless jet set 1960's style atmosphere (even with a banner promoting the wifi and self check-in kiosks). 
Large and Clear Signage Right After Security
Employees at the airport treats passengers as guests.  The staff, regardless of who they work for, is sharply dressed and friendly.  There seems to be a positive and hospitable culture at the airport.  It also self-reinforces with coworkers complementing others when they go that extra step to help passengers (I saw this at the security screening and was dumbfounded).
Work Area, Finnish Style
My favorite example of these three focus areas coming together is the security process.  The T1 checkpoint was engaged in a pilot program to test new customer experience design improvements.  They want the security process to reflect Finnish design by including light wood paneling, more sound absorbing materials, clear explanations, and a softer feel.  They are also working to eliminate the “metal taste” from the experience by silencing the belt rollers and other metal on metal contact points in the process.
Helsinki Airport's Timeless Old Terminal
T2 uses an older design, yet still miles ahead of the standard US experience.  There are plenty of bins, free baggies at the entrance of the line, right next to recycling bins, and a sign explaining the process and what is not allowed.  The line moves orderly, the staff is helpful, sharply dressed, and pleasant.  The different touch points, bins, rollers, floor, benches, are clean too.  It’s relaxed experience from start to finish.
T1 Security Explanation Sign
Helsinki Airport tracks and measures the customer experience (measure what you want to improve).  They use a combination of feedback mechanisms (much more than just a postcard like at BOS) including customer surveys, web forms, Twitter, Facebook, and customer interviews. Time through the security line is tracked too (implied is there is an unacceptably long time, the TSA would disagree). Staff also attends seminars with airlines and other airports to share ideas.  International airport surveys are also used to independently compare different aspects against their peers.  The Quality Hunters 2 program, run in conjunction with Finnair, provided customer suggestions, 25 of which are being implemented, like the Book Swap room.  All these sources of information are used to create a comprehensive view into customer thoughts and feelings.
Book Swap Room in T2
Customer experience management is an area that all airports could improve.  It will also help airports of any size compete for customers and improve loyalty.  Passengers will appreciate the changes tthat transform flying into a fun experience, not a chore.  

I'd like to thank Johanna Metsälä, Finavia's CEM lead, for discussing the intricacies of CEM at Helsinki Airport with me.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Denver to Frankfurt and Helsinki - Lufthansa A340 & A320 Business Class

“I flew around the world last week” is fun to say. Give it a try, I’ll wait. Earlier in the year I booked US Airways’ around the world award (on the award chart as a round trip to North Asia) and ever since I was patiently waiting for this trip. Once my departure date finally came, I arrived at Denver International Airport early and I was almost jumping with excitement when I saw the aircraft taxi to the gate in Denver.
My Trip Map, from
The first flight was on Lufthansa’s A340-600 aircraft from Denver to Frankfurt.  I was eager to fly a new airplane model (for me) and this one is special; it is the longest Airbus made.  It looks cool from the outside, but the plane feels crowded, even in business class.  I took a lap of coach and it seemed to be a never ending expanse of seats, all filled. 
Pretzel Roll and Tender Steak Appetizer 
Back in business class, the seat is flat, but at a noticeable angle, 30ish degrees, to the floor (more detail in my MUC-NRT post).  It is more than six feet long and has decent, but not great, padding.  Each seat has its own video on demand system with a mix of music, movies, and tv shows.  A bottled water and amenity kit are waiting at each seat when boarding.  Lufthansa knows this business class seat (First class is a large recliner, even more dated) is at least one generation behind the current marketplace standard and will be upgrading their fleet with the new seats similar to those on the 747-800.  There are a few A340's with these new seats, but I didn’t luck out.
Business Class Steak Entree
Cheese Plate and Another Pretzel Roll
I didn’t sleep well on my flight; I tossed and turned for a while then just watched a few movies before breakfast.  Sun rise came quickly and I had an omelet.  It was a little bland, but the tater-tots and coffee were both great and picked me up.  
Lufthansa's Business Class Breakfast
Once on the ground, I quickly cleared customs (thank you Irish passport) and went straight to the arrivals lounge.  Lufthansa has an welcome lounge for business and first class passengers on the ground floor in FRA (Lufthansa and SWISS passengers only, Star Alliance Gold won’t help).  It has showers, good food spread, and comfortable seating.  It is on the ground side of security, so you’ll need to leave early to clear security and find your gate.  I left a little premature and went to the business class lounge by my gate.  It was crowded, but had a hot dog cart with good German mustard, so I didn’t care.  I also had an ice cream cone and a Scotch.  Not a bad lounge really and not a bad way to circle the globe.
Lufthansa FRA Business Class Lounge Hot Dog Cart
Crowded Lounge in Frankfurt
Lufthansa has invested in their intra-Europe inflight experience with new seats and upgraded meals.  European business class seats are just coach seats with the middle seat empty.  The seats are comfortable for a 3 hour or shorter flight too.  The flight attendants were friendly and very attentive on this flight.  The meal was a delicious currywurst paired with a salmon something and mint chocolate dessert.  It was a very enjoyable flight and I read up on Helsinki on the way. 
All Delicious, But No Pretzel Rolls
Once the flight landed, I headed straight for the tourist information desk to buy a Helsinki Card and then catch the Finnair City bus into town.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tips for Reaching the Minimum Spend for a Credit Card Sign Up Bonus

The fastest way to boost your mileage balance is with credit card sign up bonuses.  I get three or more every year and it helps me travel as often as I do.  The problem here is that some cards have a minimum spend before the miles are awarded.  Hitting $500 in three months isn't a problem, but $5,000 in three months (Chase Ink) is a serious challenge.  Here are some tips to boost your credit card spending, without buying anything more than you would already purchase.
  • Use your new card whenever possible.  The more you spend with it, the faster you reach the minimum spend mark.  Simple first step that may be all you need.
  • Prepay your cell phone / internet / cable / etc. bills for a month or two.  AT&T et al won't mind if they get your money early.  This lets you move spending forward; you aren't spending more.
  • Buy gift cards to places you shop regularly to move spending forward.  Grocery stores and other retailers with large gift card displays are great locations to pick up a bunch of cards in one stop.  Safeway lets you buy gift cards with Safeway gift cards, so you can retain some flexibility.
  • Car insurance is an opportunity.  If you are up for renewal, pay the six month rate; it is usually cheaper and you bring all that spending forward.
  • Buy American Express Gift Cards.  Accepted everywhere Amex is taken.  Some cards don't have a purchase fee.  It works out as and even trade, so you are just turning part of your savings account into Amex gift cards while earning points and moving closer to the minimum spend mark.
  • Do your Christmas and birthday shopping early or treat yourself to that thing you want, but are waiting for.  If you were going to buy it anyway, it's not really an extra cost.
  • Put dinner with friends on your card.  Lots of people just toss down cash for their part of the check, you can put the bill on your card and pocket the cash.  It also saves on trips to ATMs. (I also hate to see those potential points vanish)
Keep track of how close you are to the spending mark.  Returns are deducted from your total, so remember to subtract that from your tracking spreadsheet.  Remember, if you carry a balance on your credit cards, this game is not for you.  Rates on rewards cards are much higher than other cards.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pretty Picture, Just Because

Enjoy this United Airlines 737-900 picture I grabbed with my iPhone when I was on an early flight out of Denver.  "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." - F. Bueller
United 737-900 at DEN
I'm working on a series of posts for my round the world trip and a weighty discussion on customer experience, both just around the corner.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Buy US Airways Miles with a 100% Bonus

US Airways is selling miles with a 100% bonus again.  You can earn an extra 50,000 miles with this offer until September 30th.  This is a common offer from US, so do feel rushed to buy.  It is a good way to top off the account for a specific award you have in mind, like the RTW trip I took for 90,000 miles in business class.
US Airways E195 Jet