If your wondering what all this is about, then you should probably go here before proceeding further.
For the first profile of my most ambitious blog series yet, I wanted to have someone who straddles the aviation, travel as well as digital marketing aspects together and really sets the benchmark for this initiative. Luckily enough for me I did not have to look around hard as Shashank kindly agreed to be featured as a “GlobeTrotter on Twitter”.
Shashank Nigam of course is much more than just that. He is the Founder/CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s leading aviation marketing consultancies, which advises over 25 airlines. airports and even aircraft manufacturers on profitable customer engagement strategies. On top of that, SimpliFlying.com is one of the Top 2 blogs on aviation, and their Twitter handle (@simpliflying ) is also one of the Top 5 most influential on airlines.
Excerpts from my geek-out with him
- Air Travel used to be a breeze back in the day but not anymore. What is your greatest motivation to travel?
Shashank – I love watching planes, being on planes, just being near them. And I realise that I, like many others, have jet-fuel running through my veins. I get excited each time I need to search for a new flight, go through the booking process, in anticipation of the flight itself. The joy of flying is greater than any hassles. And through all this, I’ve now been to 51 countries!
- 51 countries is impressive indeed. But tell me do you enjoy the flying part of your travel more or the city sightseeing? Of all the thousands of flights that you may have taken, any particularly memorable experience you recount?
Shashank – I cherish the flying part of travel as much as sightseeing, and meeting people from different cultures. There are a few in-flight memories that have left an impact. My first flight – it was on an Aeroflot Illyushin in 1994, from Delhi to Singapore. Everyone was drinking, playing cards and I smelled like an ashtray when I stepped out. But my first flight, nevertheless. My first ultra-long haul flight was on Thai Airways, from Bangkok to New York, non-stop, over 17 hours! The first time I flew Business Class – it was on Cathay Pacific, from New York to Singapore, via Hong Kong. Loved the experience and service. The first time I flew the 787 Dreamliner, on a private invite-only flight at the Singapore Airshow was unforgettable. And as recently as last week, when I flew from Dar-e-salam to Zanzibar on a 17-seater, and the Captain was kind enough to let me sit in the cockpit, next to him for the full flight!
- Which is your favourite airport and which is your favourite airline? and tell us why?
Shashank – Favourite airport has to be Singapore Changi Airport – there’s so much to do, and if you want to get out, you go from plane to taxi in 10 mins.
Favorite airline differs depending on the class. My favourite First Class experiences has been on Emirates – the Suites are very private and luxurious and you get treated like a king. Their lounges in Dubai are superb too. The best Business Class experience has been on Turkish Airlines, long haul – where you get your own butler in-flight, and their lounge in Istanbul is possibly the best Star Alliance lounge in the world. The best Economy Class is on Singapore Airlines – true value for the premium you pay. Among LCCs, I love Virgin America, jetBlue and Volaris, for treating us like real people and offering a differentiated service!
- Alright, that makes me ask you your favourite aircraft?
- Couldn’t agree more with you there. In fact A340 is my favourite aircraft as well. Pity its not as popular among airlines now. Which city you’re particularly fond of?
Shashank – Istanbul is my favourite city – the perfect mix of culture and modernity. Though, from an #avgeek perspective, I love London and Los Angeles, with the huge variety of aircraft flying low, throughout the day, prior to landing.
- Leaving aside wifi, what would you like to see airports world over to adopt?
Shashank – “Quiet zones” will be welcome, where travellers with longer lay overs can just relax.
- Which website, guide book etc. you consult before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?
Shashank – I always check seatguru.com to select the best seat before I check-in, Tripadvisor is a must for the hotels and Hipmunk for flight bookings. Most of my research on a city is last minute – a tweet or Facebook message to friends before I take off ensures I have 2-3 solid recommendations of things to do in a city.
- You run a successful consultancy and of course have jet-fuel running through your veins 😉 but what would you to tell the average guy who wants to travel but is afraid of the expenses associated with it?
Shashank – With the advent of LCCs, anyone can fly. So look out for those cheap deals and book a ticket. You might score one that’s cheaper than the train or the bus too. It’s never too late to fly!
- and finally, what role do you think twitter has played in encouraging people to travel? Also, as this is “GlobeTrotters on Twitter”, your 3 favourite twitter user accounts?
Shashank – I love to meet my Twitter friends at airports while I’m in transit, or in the city that I’m visiting. Social media, especially Facebook and Pinterest are great for seeking inspiration on where to go next too!
My top 3 favourite Twitter users –
@ApexMary – she is the girlgeek of travel, who knows everything there is to know inside the cabin.
Thanks Shashank, That’s little more than 3 but because you mentioned one certain Vishal Mehra, we would let that pass.
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter – an Introduction (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Gary Leff (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Johnny Jet (vishal1mehra.com)
- GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Ben Schlappig (One Mile at a Time) (vishal1mehra.com)
This is the second part of the ongoing piece about Flying Iberia & experiencing it’s lounges in Barcelona and Madrid.
The first part detailed my experience at Iberia’s Domestic Business Lounge in Barcelona. In this piece I finally get some flying and report my experience of flying in Business class (my first time ever) with Iberia on two legs, Barcelona – Madrid and then after a layover of almost three hours, Madrid – Lisbon.
Flight 1, IB2713
Barcelona El Prat – Madrid Barajas
Departure – 1850, on-time
Seat – 5F, Business Class
All Iberia domestic flights, flights to Europe, North Africa operate with the same configuration. In Europe, most airlines don’t have a separate cabin for business class passengers. Instead, they use a mobile curtain that is moved after each flight in order to separate both according to the number of passengers flying business class in each flight. This allows airlines to be more flexible, since an Economy class seat can be converted into a business class seat just by moving the curtain.
My business class seat was an upgraded economy seat with increased seat pitch (34 inches, instead of 31 in economy) and an empty middle seat for increased comfort.
As I settled into my seat I was offered water and something to munch on, while the cabin was getting ready for our on-time departure to Madrid.
Our departure was smooth, and looking down at Barcelona I saw the beauty of the city once more albeit with an aerial view, bathed in sunshine.
Soon after reaching cruising height, a purser came over and asked for my choice of drink. As this was a short 1-hour flight, and it was early evening, there was no specific meal service. Looking through the magazine I chanced upon Iberia giving out Pizza at 36000 feet to its passengers, which I thought was pretty unique.
I woke up while we were on our landing approach to Madrid Barajas and I never got my drink, and considering we were on approach, I did not bother reminding the crew of their slip-up. Humans tend to forget things and considering it was my first ever outing in semi business class, I was in good enough humour to forgive as well, but Iberia should take note of such slip-ups, which while minor, have large impact on passenger impression when they occur in the premium cabin.
Soon enough the landing gear was down and we landed in Madrid on time. Disembarkation was quick and I was off to explore Madrid’s famous wavy terminal and the flagship Iberia lounge.
Flight 2, IB3118
Madrid Barajas – Lisbon Portela International
Departure 2245, on-time
Seat 1A, Business Class
After spending considerable time at Madrid’s Terminal 4 & the Iberia Dali Lounge (Schengen area) I proceeded to the gate for the second part of my journey. This was going to be my first ever time sitting in 1A, that magical number in airline seating wanted by enthusiasts, which was automatically allotted to me by Iberia.
I boarded the aircraft to similar seating arrangement, but this time the curtains were drawn further from the second row itself, so there was just two rows of business class seats on this flight, and two out of the eight available seats remained unoccupied. Including the aisle seat in my row.
Flipping through Iberia’s magazine, I came across this print ad featuring the Taj Mahal and promoting Incredible India. Bought a big smile to my face. At least MoT babus are working somewhere.
The pre-departure service consisted of a drink and nuts. I chose to go for a tried and tested beer. I was also relieved to see that the cabin crew were well versed in English, just like the last flight.
Service on this flight was better, may be because it was a Schengen flight and I was surprised to find a full-blown dinner served during this short 1-hour hop to Lisbon.
Service in Business class was taken care by the chief purser on both the flights. I finished my dessert but the fish & salad did not appeal to my taste buds.
As soon as I finished dinner we were descending to Lisbon & the beautiful city came in the view with bright lights & hills around it. The landing again was a smooth affair and within five minutes we were at the disembarkation point.
The only negative aspect of this flight was the exit through stairs and buses ferrying passengers to the main terminal. For a full service airline like Iberia, these are inexcusable points, which need to be taken care of in this day and age. Aerobridges are basic hygiene of air travel especially when you’re not traveling in a budget airline. I do remember seeing some empty aerobridge gates on our left before we parked at a remote bay.
The level of service on both flights was professional, yet missing that touch of warmth, which as Indians we expect and something which most of the Asian carriers do very well.
Will I fly Iberia again, may be in economy? Yes, if the price is cheaper or at-par with low cost carriers.
The third and the final part of this piece will highlight my report of Iberia’s flagship business class lounge at Madrid Airport (for Schengen passengers).
A slightly modified version of this piece is featured on Bangalore Aviation, a leading International website on Aviation.
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This post was supposed to be your typical trip report until I heard Tim Clark (President, CEO) talk about future of Emirates and his view about airline alliances among many other things within that 30 minute podcast/interview on Emirates IFE (known as ICE) channel no #1500, the default start on the home screen.
Let me take you back to where this all began. I was flying from New Delhi to Barcelona in early May and during the DXB-BCN leg this post took a life of its own.
I was completely mesmerized by the sheer beauty of this Boeing 777-300, regal on the outside & luxurious on the inside. (Barring the bone crunching 3-4-3 seating arrangement of Emirates).
The IFE on this aircraft was state of the art in its truest sense and I can safely say the best IFE I have experienced till date on all 32 airlines I have flown in. The system is based on 3000i from Panasonic Avionics Corporation.
Even the handset had a small touch screen on it, and was capable of displaying information on its own without interrupting content on the main screen. We were served breakfast and lunch on this flight by a very efficient crew, both meals were good and above par.
& It was during this flight I had my eureka moment. Hearing Tim Clark talk about Emirates future plans, their new destinations, that even with current network they are only half done & of course why Emirates is averse to joining any Airline Alliance.
The meat of his answer revolved around the fact that Emirates was averse to joining any alliance because alliances never helped an airline much, and Emirates feared that transferring your pax from one airline to the other may give them inconsistent experiences, completely opposite to their vision of seamless, comfortable and world-class hospitality that Emirates wants its customers to feel across their network & at their home in Dubai International Airport, Terminal 3.
Fair enough I thought & agreed with his thought process in my mind as I disembarked.
The LIS-DXB flight of this trip was also on a B773.
I had an Open-jaw ticket & was returning to Delhi via Lisbon. The security and immigration was pretty painless, but the walk to the flight gate, which was actually the last of the airport, was quite a walk. Dare I say, it would have dwarfed the walk at Delhi Airport’s T3.
After an efficient boarding process I moved to my seat to see the same world-class IFE greeting me & I remember thinking to myself, “consistently world class indeed”.
But the biggest surprise of the flight was when Cabin crew armed & cross checked doors and I was sitting next to 2 empty seats.
Suddenly the Aviation Geek in me woke up & I stood up to have a look around the cabin to check for loads. It was a Saturday evening flight, with just about 50% occupancy in economy. The guy in the next middle row had all 4 seats for himself.
As we rose up over the balmy and beautiful evening of Lisbon, I fired up ICE and got to hear Tim Clark again. I must admit I loved hearing him speak; his voice was like a gentle massage to my eardrums with a soothing accent. He had me completely sold on Emirates vision and their reasoning for it.
Our crew for the flight was nice and chatty, and the meal service for this flight served as Dinner, was yummy. I had my first Indian meal in 8 days & the chicken tikka masala did not disappoint at all.
The crew also served drinks just before landing into DXB. Overall a flawless flight from Emirates.
AT DXB T3
But then we landed into DXB. We arrived slightly before time & I had 5 hours & 45 minutes left for my early morning connecting flight to New Delhi. Transfer and security was much better this time compared to my outward leg.
Here’s my take on Dubai International T3 after been there 6 times now. I find DXB as one of the world’s most boring airport/terminal. DXB sadly offers nothing for the traveler but shopping. I think that’s where it should take a cue from airports like Munich, Zurich, Amsterdam, Seoul and Changi. Shopping is just ONE part of the experience, not the ENTIRE experience. Being a hub airport for one of the largest airlines in the world should carry responsibilities with it & so far DXB T3 has failed on my watch in many aspects.
With my tired limbs & stressed mind I hopped on the train towards B Gates. I reach our scheduled gate only to hear an emirates employee shouting loudly that our flight is delayed by an hour and 30 minutes, with a gate change.
Later on an Emirates employee tells me all delays at the airport were due to unseasonal fog, which enveloped DXB in the morning & has had a knock on effect on flights throughout the day. Our aircraft was scheduled to arrive from Dammam & its arrival was delayed by 2 hours due to the same problem.
But there’s another dimension to this thought. As the disruptions have been on since morning, Emirates must have known about possible delays for our flight to DEL as well, then why it decided to inform passengers at the very last minute, at their boarding gate?
Also, from my point of view, If Emirates knew about this 2 hour delay much earlier, they could have even given me a hotel accommodation at DXB. Emirates has a policy of granting all economy passengers with a layover of more than 8 hours at DXB, a complimentary hotel stay. Needless to say I was physically exhausted after almost 15 hours of travel & would have loved some shuteye, even for couple of hours. My decision of not going to the Lounge at T1 came to haunt me.
I reach the new gate as per the re-scheduled departure time only to find that the gate has been changed again. So, I reach the 3rd gate of this journey & it finally seems to be the correct one. We start boarding 15 minutes after the re-scheduled departure time, and are already running late. Again. And there is no explanation from the airline staff as well. And to top it all of, we are transferred to buses. It seems our Airbus A330-200 has chosen to park remotely.
Certainly not the world-class consistent experience that Tim Clark promised.
By the time I boarded my DXB-DEL flight, I had lost all sense of time, but it would be safe to say that the flight took off at least 2 hours and 15 minutes post-scheduled departure.
The boarding for this flight was completely mismanaged by the Emirates crew/ground staff. First and Business class passengers were requested to use the front staircase understandably but the entire economy class passengers were required to board the aircraft from the rear.
Even those with early economy seats were turned away from the front door to board from rear. Naturally that had many passengers agitated, as they had to carry their hand baggage from the back of the aircraft, almost to the front.
One of the few positives about the flight I immediately noticed was the 2-4-2 seating arrangement, with a window seat It seemed ideal for me. My luck continued with this flight as well as the seat next to me remained vacant.
But as I sat down, I immediately saw this staring back at me.
From the best to the worst, Emirates had provided me two extreme IFE options & the voice of Tim Clark talking about consistent world-class experience for passengers started ringing in my ears. You see having a mediocre IFE system is one thing, but this was the worst.
Just as we were all set for the taxi to runway, the captain informed us of another 20-minute delay. Apparently the control tower wanted us to wait, if we hadn’t waited enough already. Meanwhile I also took notice of one of the most uncomfortable seats I have been on in an aircraft (not as bad as my Ryan Air flight but close enough) with weird lower back support settings which made a thick uncomfortable cushion pop out & the seat itself was not the best.
Tim Clark & his voice came back to my mind & ears. Shouting.
We were served lunch on this flight & the butter chicken I opted for was very well prepared. The crew of the flight, barring the initial boarding process, was also very friendly and professional.
Did I mention that the IFE on this flight was almost repulsive & I never bothered to even use it once, preferring to read FT on Sunday, provided gratis by Emirates at the boarding gate.
Nothing else of much note in the flight as we had a smooth landing at Delhi and the captain apologized in the end for multiple delays.
One big question lords over my mind after these extreme experiences
Where is the consistent world class seamless (and other adjectives) experience that Emirates loves to boast about? This is not a one-off thing as Emirates operates this very A332 daily to Delhi? I haven’t documented my first flight, DEL-DXB in detail, again on A330-200, but if it wasn’t for catching up on sleep or a chatty co-passenger, I would have been horrified about that as well.
India is supposed to be Emirates biggest market, then why this huge inconsistency? Emirates flies more Indian passengers abroad than any other Indian carrier, Why the Indian passenger is almost taken for granted? Especially considering other global players like Lufthansa fly their top the line aircraft, the Boeing 747-8, to Indian cities.
And it’s just not me pointing out their inconsistencies; plenty of others are talking about it as well. Just that nobody else has devoted such detail to it.
I won’t be surprised if the more nimble (and smaller as of now) gulf carriers like Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways attract more Indian travelers to their much superior product in time to come. For Emirates, I only wish for a consistent passenger experience, only to live up to their own promise, which should be good enough for now.
Overall I would rate my 4 flights with Emirates as the following:
DEL-DXB – 6.5/10
DXB-BCN – 8.5/10
LIS-DXB – 9.5/10
DXB-DEL – 3.5/10
- Emirates delayed me for 24 hours on flight to Sydney (guardian.co.uk)
- Trip Report – YYZ-DXB on Emirates’s Airbus A380 (June 2009) (av8radi.wordpress.com)
- Codeshares and alliances for dummies – Part 2 (rewardingtravels.wordpress.com)
Photo Courtesy : Airliners.net
With my last post, The Social Dutchman, I reached readers from 24 countries with inspiring feedback, providing me the urge to do better with my next. A benchmark was set for me & for over 2 weeks I thought about how to engage with more geeks like me, whether those are Social Media, Digital Marketing, Technology or in the case of this post, Aviation Geeks, or as they are called on twitter, #AVGeek.
There would have been other lists done before, maybe yes, then what value addition I bring to the table (& as a Digital Marketer, I get asked this question on daily basis) Well my simple answer is, I bring my own experience of being an ardent aviation reader for over 3 years to the table, during which I have been to over 120 aviation websites and blogs.
I have been fond of airplanes for as long as I remember, being in awe of pilots walking to their craft, clicking pictures with crappy cellphone cameras, reading every word of safety manuals in seat pocket, hell I probably was the biggest fan of Pan Am, the show which abc dropped, nerdy stuff like that but I delved more into the industry with the arrival of twitter, my favorite social network as I mentioned in the last post as well.
So this list compiles 7 of the best commercial aviation related web resources (listed alphabetically) that I know of, hopefully enthusiasts, from noob to pro level, all of them would find something they like. Your comments are welcome at the bottom of this post.
Although Airline Business is a monthly international magazine for senior airline management, it also has a blog on the flightglobal blog page, focusing on “a sideways look at the airline industry”.
13 other blogs jostle for attention on the same page, including the famous FlightBlogger. With such rich content & renowned contributors, Airline Business Blog has carved a loyal following for itself by providing unparalleled coverage on Airline News, Interviews, Infographics & well researched opinion pieces.
Max Kingsley-Jones article on Boeing’s 787 at this years Farnborough show has been 1 of my favorite off late, summing up the Blog for me by being precise, studied & descriptive.
Although Arun’s blog is full of marvelous information about aviation & his trip reports (Read this with a tissue: His report on last kingfisher international flight), this article, more so a plane spotter’s guide, as Arun explained me himself, has been “one of the best things I have ever done in my life”
Differentiating between an Airbus & a Boeing aircraft is one of the most important things for an enthusiast, a conversation starter & a handy way to show off among your friends, I can vouch for the last one.
Arun wanted to know more himself & realized there wasn’t any resource online suitable enough for him, so he wrote his own guide, took him 2 weeks but clearly it was well worth it & we can consume those 2 weeks of hard work, complete with explanatory pictures, in less than 40 minutes.
This is where I come when I need commentaries on issues pertaining to Asian aviation scene in large. Their location, Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest aviation hubs, certainly helps in their coverage of stories.
Although Aspire Aviation is primary an aerospace consultancy business, their analysis section piques my interest with every visit, Daniel Tsang, the founder & chief analyst of the site told me he wanted to start a blog where he could express his views about industry developments & with time they added editors increasing the diversity offered.
Daniel also realized that Aspire could provide qualitative analysis for free, instead of hefty fees charged by others, as information cost fell significantly & they were in a unique position to provide Asian perspective to issues.
Since that day, without a shadow of a doubt, Bangalore Aviation has been my first stop for everything related to Indian Aviation news & analysis; turns out hundreds of thousands of other enthusiasts feel the same way.
Devesh, joined off late by Vinay Bhaskara, has this uncanny way of making the industry approachable for newbies, as well as make the pros feel at home, with their concise approach & detailed analysis. I, especially look forward to Airlines financial analysis, which Vinay undertakes for the site.
As Devesh mentioned during our interaction, Aviation has been in his blood since childhood, he has flown aircraft for 24 years himself & advised Ministry of Civil Aviation on BIAL airport, giving him an edge which very few can boast of in this beat.
I’m not at all surprised that Crankyflier.com usually figures in the top aviation blogs list everywhere, as Brett Snyder has been responsible for one of the world’s best online destination for people’s thrust (literally) for aviation industry.
My regular lunchtime reading aviation tweets usually have a link to a latest piece on cranky & I marvel at the ease with which the articles envelop the reader with excitement & information.
Brett calls himself the President & Chief Airline Dork for Cranky Flier LLC, & that dorkiness has been with him since he was a kid, like going to LAX to pick up airline timetables & birthday gifts which led to plane spotting. He has worked with airlines, travel companies & now consults on various projects, along with running a personal concierge service.
You should visit crankyflier for insights & happenings in American aviation industry, & checking up on Brett’s regular articles for Conde Nast Daily Traveler & other blogs.
Simpliflying is probably the world’s best combination of marketing & aviation for me. Shashank Nigam’s (CEO, SimpliFlying) quote during our discussion explains it best, “Our brand engagement with a can of Coke is about 10 minutes. With Starbucks, it’s about 2 hours. But with an airline, it’s anywhere from 2-24 hours. And that’s just within the cabin. So why do airlines keep applying the same marketing principles as Coke and Starbucks, despite seldom turning a profit?”
& That’s why we have Simpliflying today, right from explaining how weather problems are airline brand business, to key influencers making a difference, Shashank & his team have explained all this & more through easy to understand infographics, video content, presentations, interviews, webinars, articles & even an iPhone app.
I came across thepointsguy while I was preparing myself for a business trip to US & it has quickly become my go-to site for information on frequent flyer programs, credit card & hotel deals.
Although I would admit that the site is mainly focused on American readers, it still has some great resources for overall understanding about collection points, like The Beginners Guide, which has step-by-step instructions to become an addict.
For my travel, I was able to extract two important links concerning my hotel bookings, for example: I got to know how I could earn up to 5x air miles (in my case, it was KLM Flying Blue) by staying at Hyatt Reston, & another link helped me in deciding between going for Hotels.com free nights or Hotel Points offered at their sites. (I went with the latter of course).
During my communication with Brian Kelly’s office, the founder of the site, I was able to clearly see that unlike other similar sites, he disseminates information to his readers in a more intuitive, easy to understand & most importantly street smart way to work effectively with the system.
It has inspired me to travel one day in J class with a bag full of miles & points, instead of cash.
I would like to mention Live From A Lounge, hosted as part of Boarding Area, an India dedicated site for Credit Card, Airport Lounges, Hotel & Airline miles, run by AJ, I certainly enjoy reading his reports & he answers reader questions frequently as well.
Update: I have received an email from AJ, requesting for some additions to this summary :
LFAL is an India-dedicated site covering Indian aviation and hotels, focusing on how to travel smart and in style from India by making the best use of deals, miles, points and credit cards offered in India. Live From A Lounge frequently features in the Top 20 travel blogs worldwide as per Technorati, the global authority on blog rankings.
This Post is also featured on Bangalore Aviation, as a slightly altered Guest Post.