Archive for 2010

Blog Update

I was sitting here nursing my bloated Christmas stomach and regretting that final glass of Port last night and I started to wonder if there is anything I could do to improve my blog.
I am pleased as punch to have recieved over 2000 page views from all over the world but I got to think that I might be confusing too many people by trying to inject humorous memoires alongside serious industry comment.
As a result I have introduced two new blog sites to cover each story type. These can be found on:
If you would like to read both types I am continuing with this address which will still feature everything I produce.

Thanks so much for reading and PLEASE tell me if there is anything you would like me to pontificate about. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A secure life Abroad 2 - Zambia

Zambia was my main overseas posting and I stayed there for 2 years. It was around 1973 which was the time when the battle for independence was in full swing in neighbouring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). That did not bother me much as I was posted to the Zambian ‘city’ of Kitwe up on the Copper Belt and a long way from the border conflict. Or so I thought.

What I failed to grasp was that although the actual fighting was taking place in the south the fighters themselves had many reserve and base camps around Kitwe. This meant that not only did residents have to cope with the numerous local gangsters but also raw army recruits who had no money or food but plenty of assault rifles and grenades. Unfortunately it was not rare to see troops selling Kalashnikovs to the local bad guys for money and food thus increasing their dangerousness by 1000%

We looked after ourselves as best we could. Most houses had razor wire around their gardens, barred windows, alarms and fierce dogs. We had our fierce cat called Sooty which I told you about in an earlier story. At least he had hospitalised the next door Dobermans once which was a pretty good reference!

People also hired night security cards from a local company to patrol their perimeters until dawn. These guys were supposed to be there as protection and to scare off intruders but in actuality they spent most of the time asleep. Unlike the murderous guard I had in Ghana these people were mainly weak, hungry and very poor and, in some ways, I could understand why they were not willing to risk their lives for a bunch of wealthy Europeans. I used to recognise this so I paid mine extra, gave them food and said that all I wanted was for them to scream a warning before running. That and to stay awake and not smoke the local drug called Dagga.

The security company recognised the problem of guards sleeping on the job and they employed supervisors to cycle around the neighbourhood tinkling their bells and calling ‘guard’ until they got an answer. More often than not they used to get no reply so the volume kept on increasing until they were shrieking ‘GUARD! GUARD!’ at the top of their voices. By this time everybody in the house was awake…except the guard.

Our most regular guard was called Greatson. He was a little better than the rest so I ended up pampering him quite a lot. It got to the point that I would play his favourite ABBA record every night. He used to lean back on his patio guard chair until his head half entered the lounge window and join in with a baritone drone. I also gave him a case load of my dad’s old clothes and told him to help himself.
Unfortunately the better I treated him the more complacent he got and the less reliable. Things came to a head when he turned up one evening drunk and dressed in an old silk smoking jacket/dressing gown which he had found in the case of cloths. He flopped in his chair looking like Noel Coward on a bad day and started singing Chiqitita from ABBA’s greatest hits. I went to bed in disgust.

About 2 in the morning I was woken from an uneasy sleep. As I regained consciousness I started to hear tinkling of bells, loud shouts of GUARD, GUARD and the loudest snoring possible. Clearly Greatson was out cold and his employer had lost patience. The next thing I knew a stone crashed through the bedroom window. It had come from the security supervisor and been aimed at Greatson but missed him by yards.

‘That’s it’ I cried and stormed outside to confront Noel Greatson Coward who was tucked up in his dressing gown smiling angelically in his sleep. I shook him again and again with no success. He is not going to beat me I thought. This man is going to wake up the hard way I thought and I picked him up. I held him for a moment in my arms and was about to drop him on the patio when he started nuzzling his head up against my neck still with that daft smile on his face.

No, I decided, the patio is too good for you my friend, and I carried him around to the swimming pool. It was well illuminated by the security lights and I lurched to the edge of the deep end. I dropped him. Well actually not dropped, more stumbled. We both went over and crashed into the water. Greatson woke up when he was about 3 feet under. His eyes dilated and his mouth opened discharging a large bubble of water. My face which was about 2 inches from his was being held in a panicked and vice like grip.

With a little bit of help we finally managed to get out. We looked sorry figures. Him in his soggy smoking jacket and me in my now transparent pyjamas. Greatson kept saying he had not been sleeping. ‘I was resting my eyes Bwana’ he said. Yes, and ears and senses I thought. His supervisor who had managed to climb over the garden gate to help pull us out started hitting him over the head with a stick and it took 10 minutes to throw them both out.

I heard they had sacked Greatson and I was very sorry. After all he had only let us down once and I felt responsible for him being thrown back on the streets. A couple of weeks later I went a nearby friend’s house for dinner. It was a great evening and we sat in his lounge drinking brandy and listening to the African night sounds. Suddenly I could hear some faint deep singing from around the corner. Someone was singing ‘Super Trooper’ by ABBA. I peeped around the corner and yes, it was Greatson reclining in his new security guard uniform and smoking something suspicious!

Loyalty Cards – What value?

There have been a growing number of reports recently about airlines reducing the number of ‘ex gratia’ cards negotiable within corporate agreements and I have no doubt whatsoever this will increase in future. There are a few possible reasons for this trend.

These cards started as a way of keeping the loyalty of regular travellers by giving a range of benefits from comfortable lounges and ‘free’ flights to priority for upgrades. They became a major instrument for wooing business people away from their competition, and possibly company policy by making the travellers feel special in a rapidly comoditising market.

Some corporations hated them and went to great lengths to try and cancel out their allure. A few tried with little success to confiscate the travel element (miles) for company use. Others took a different view and used the attraction of these loyalty clubs to underline and support the use of their chosen policy carrier. It was then that such awards became a significant beneficial component within corporate deal negotiations.

So all of a sudden airline loyalty clubs became valuable to corporates and a tool to sweeten a change in policy. This whole change thing became a great deal easier if you were able to hand out membership cards with substantial benefits to key travellers. As important were the top tier cards which appealed to status conscious senior executives. These Platinum/Black/Premier cards were usually allocated in very small numbers and linked to the company’s volume potential. Often you would see joint CEOs scrapping like alley cats as to who should get ‘The Card’ and TMCs being pestered to broker more of them.

Much of the above still happens now but the mood of the airlines is changing for a number of key reasons. Firstly the number of cards at high status (gold etc) has grown alarmingly causing lounges to become too full for comfort. The cost of these lounges and other benefits has risen correspondingly whilst their exclusivity has declined. I have been in some lounges which are busier and noisier than the seats outside them.
Equally there are fewer seats available for purchase with loyalty points which can cause problems.

The airlines in their quest to reduce distribution costs are now looking very closely at the value, and importantly, the cost of these schemes. They have gone from seeing these clubs as less of a marketing ploy and more of an out of control overhead. As a result they have identified the value and put a budget cost against it. This means that every time an airline salesman gives a card their budget gets debited accordingly. They now have to manage this cost in the same way that they do discount pricing and other overheads.

This state of affairs has reduced the number of cards being awarded within deals. Incidentally the same thing works within the airlines themselves. Senior airline management are having their own travel cards downgraded too and they are probably just as aggrieved as the corporate buyer. The problem is that if you take something away from someone it has at least twice the effect as giving it to them in the first place. What you never have you never miss!

I guess what everybody will have to realise is that if you drive mainstream airlines to behave like, and compete with low cost carriers you will see the continuing decline in such ‘luxuries’. Also, if you manage to finally be successful in mandating policy to your travellers then the need for such loyalty inducements disappear anyway.

A Christmas Tale of Travel Distribution – 2

Cast of Characters:

Air Schizophrenia Services (ASS Air) – A major airline from Never Never Land.
Pass it on Travel (Past Travel) - A neurotic TMC who misses the old days
Scrooge Global Inc (Scroogey Inc) - A global corporation that hates travel budgets
Vera Merchant Fee ( VeraCard) - A credit/charge card that does not add up
Online Travel Agency (Ollie OTA) – Illegitimate love child of Air Schizophrenia.
IATAmania (Colin Cartel) - An airline association that interprets
the rules as they go along.

Globally Dysfunctional (Gordon GDS) – A misunderstood much maligned cog in
the Distribution wheel who nobody wants to pay

(Again, a work of absolute fiction and all the characters are simply a result of my overactive imagination)

It was a quiet peaceful Christmas Eve. It was mainly quiet because half a teaspoonful of snow had landed on the tarmac at London Heathrow causing the entire airport and access road infrastructure to go into meltdown and stop completely.

ASS Air barricaded himself in his office, switched off the passenger information announcements and tried to turn his mind away from the groaning, lamentation and anger coming from those selfish passengers in the departure hall. After all he had given them foil blankets so what were they moaning about?

Finally he decided to think back over the last year and consider what he might do in 2011. He tried to focus on all the fun things and the new friends he had made which lasted about 20 seconds so he then moved onto the progress he was beginning to make on distribution matters. He had quite a busy year in this area but he considered it mere positioning for what was planned for the coming year. He would show those vultures (I mean ‘partners’) a thing or two.

He started ticking off the successes and failures of the past. He congratulated himself for his success in transferring a major chunk of his own selling costs down the line. Who would have thought it could be so easy! Just put the squeeze and expense onto Past Travel and watch them ricochet onwards to Scrooge Inc. Job done! Except Scrooge being a savvy customer had let it happen in order to commoditise and claw back.

He was however beginning to understand Scrooge a lot better. It was difficult to start with but when he realised that old Scroogy played by different rules and was not impressed by his arrogance he found more subtle ways to play him at his own game. He discovered that as long as the up front price made Scrooge look good he could tinker away with the ancillaries rather like those ‘ghastly and common’ No Frills guys do.

It had been a shame about the black sheep of his family. After the wild euphoria of creating his very own online travel agency Ollie OTA had ultimately disappointed him. Now he had to try and undo the damage by putting him down in as humane way as possible. So off he had gone with his ‘content club’ and bludgeoned poor old Ollie as if he was a seal pup. Trouble was Ollie had a tougher infrastructure than he realised. ‘Memo to me’, he thought. Get in touch with Colin Cartel in IATA land and get him to come up with some kind of ‘creative’ rule interpretation to help me. After all good old Colin will do exactly what I say if he knows what is good for him. I am after all his boss.

That left just VeraCard and Gordon GDS to sort out. Both were thorns in his distribution sides but he was beginning to make serious progress. All he had to do was close his eyes to what travellers want and appeal to Scrooges desire for cheap nets and he would be nearly there. Vera would be much easier than Gordon. All he had to do was introduce a premium for using Vera (preferably higher than she cost) and watch old Past Travel do the rest. Scrooge would have to accept, especially if his competitor chums followed suit and they sure would like they always do.

Gordon GDS is another prospect entirely. Yes, Gordon is as anti change as he is and yes, he wants it all his way and yes, Gordon wants to increase his wealth not to diminish it. But like AssAir, Gordon does not appear to be able to come up with any more positive solution than more deep-seated intransigence. “Everything must change”, they cry, but not me! So Gordon hides behind the walls of Fortress Full Content while poor old AssAir tries to bash it down access brick by access brick. Meanwhile Scrooge and Pass It On shout for him to stop before they get hurt by the aftermath..

What a lovely time of the year Ass Air mused as he snuggled deeper into the ego massage machine chair that had been installed behind the double-locked steel door of his airport office. Have those damn passengers stopped snivelling he thought as he eyed the lovely looking ‘humble pie’ his cabin crew had cooked for him. No, he thought, I can always eat that when I absolutely have to and it will be Spring by then.

He reclined his lounger into bed mode and drifted into a blameless sleep.’ Oh what fun I will have next year’ he thought in his last moment of consciousness. But then he had a terrible dream. It involved all his antagonists sitting with him in a room sponsored by corporate travel trade associations and he was being made to cut a deal that would be fair for all and serving to the travel community.

But that really would be a fairy story….

A Christmas Distribution Story - Timmy TMC

I wrote this sweet little story last Christmas and it is back 'by popular demmand' while I write the next one about GDSs which will be out in a few days.

Tales of Timmy TMC and his search for value– A Christmas Pantomime and work of utter fiction!

Timmy was sad. He had just returned from Agencies Anonymous and admitted to all of them that he was a TMC. He was looking for help to cure this terrible affliction but all the other sad souls took one look at him and agreed he was clearly past his sell by date and revoked his membership.

It had all started so very well for Timmy those years ago when his two benevolent uncles, Colin Commission and Oscar Override, used to send him cheques for doing very little. However recently, having used him for their horrible data mining purposes, they walked out leaving him a penniless orphan. Then even stranger things started to happen as his few pals started disappearing, changing their names and, worst of all, reverting to cannibalism and eating each other up. The stress of it all got to little Timmy and he started wondering if there would be a future role for him in this wacky and homicidal travel supply chain. He was sure he was useful but a little bit sketchy on the detail.

But Timmy was made of stronger stuff and knew, with a little sage advice from his supply chain colleagues, he would discover his value. “I know” he thought. “I will go and see my dear old benefactor Client Hardup”. “Sorry Timmy” said Hardup whilst absently massaging his EBIT, “but I have lost all my profits. I gave them to a nice man from the Fat Cat Investment Bank and he said they had been magiced away by millions of little elves wanting to feed their sub prime mortgages. However he also said that he was prepared to travel the length and breadth of Las Vegas to get it back if Timmy could donate a ticket”. “Sorry” said Timmy “I don’t get free tickets and upgrades any more. In fact the last ones were those First class round the world tickets which went to Mrs Hardup when she coincidently won your office grand draw”.

Hardup was sorry for Timmy. He remembered the days when Timmy used to give him good service, rebate cheques and upgrades. “Go and see my two sisters Pammy Procurement and Charmaine Cheaper-Thanyu” he said. “They may think of something valuable for you to do, although don’t hold your breath as I have just cut their travel allowance again.

Now these two girls hated each other something ugly. Charmaine thought she could do and get things better than Pammy. Pammy thought Charmaine was an undisciplined tart hawking herself around the web without any thought of the infections she could catch like cancellation flu and card chargeitus. The only thing they had in common was they both thought they could do anything better than Timmy who, to them, was an unnecessary downward pull on their sagging assets. They had enough budget stretch marks between the already.

Poor old Timmy. Little sustainable income and not the sharpest pencil in the commercial box. He trudged back to his lonely BTC and implanted himself in front of his PC. He aimlessly rubbed his mouse even though his fairy god mother had warned him his eyesight would be impaired when POOF! Out from the PC sprang the GDS Genie. “I will grant you one wish” she cried. “oh Genie” he wailed “You have told everyone that you know everything so please tell me what I need to do to find my value and make Pammie and Charmaine respect me like they used to when I bribed them.
“Blooming Heck” said Genie, “that’s a tricky question. How should I know? I have enough problems of my own dealing with that terrible ogre Amerimonster from IATAland. He wants me to get my sectors off for next to nothing. And then there is that green monster Olearymouth. He has been clambering down his beanstalk lately threatening you, me, in fact everyone he claps eyes on. So don’t bother me with your pathetic questions! And leave that mouse alone.”

Timmy was shocked and saddened. He had tried his colleagues, his clients, suppliers and even a fellow intermediary without a sniff of finding his value. Off he wandered into the pre Christmas recessionary gloom. Even his Blackberry had stopped talking to him and his Mobile phone, instead of saying “how are you” when switched on now said “Book Direct” instead. It was almost enough to make Timmy give up and become a consultant like everyone else.

Just as all seemed lost a jolly faced lumbering giant in a Santa outfit scooped Timmy up, clutched him warmly to his chest and squeezed him tenderly by the throat. “Giant Major Airline Timmy wheezed”. “Never fear Timmy” boomed Major. “You can trust me and I will look after you just sign this binding agreement and all your troubles will be over - well at least for a month or two”. “But that is what you said last time” said Timmy, “before you started smacking me about”. “Now, now” said Major “let’s forget about the past”. “That is also what you said last time” replied Timmy.
“NOW SEE HERE” boomed the Major with an inscrutable look on his face, Have you got any other options?

“Oh Major” said Timmy, “it is so good to be home. I’m hungry. Got any commission?!”

And they all lived happily every after – Or did they?

A Secure Life Abroad 1

Having been born and raised in foreign parts I had no qualms about working and living abroad when I became an adult. After all, what could possibly happen to a strong and smart young man? I was invulnerable wasn’t I? And I knew exactly what to expect. Didn’t I? Err…no I am afraid not. I got mugged twice by the same person, shot at and even seduced (allegedly) by a Zambian ‘Mata Hari’. I had a suspected revolutionary in the office and a pet maniac in my garden.

It all started when I got a job working for an airline called British Caledonian. They retained a pool of individuals whose job was to travel around the world taking over from overseas managers when they took their annual leave. This meant I ended up travelling from one place to another spending four weeks in each location which was great work for a single young man.

My first trip was to Accra in Ghana. It was a jolly nice stable place I was told and so it seemed. The local folk were very nice and very efficient. I was granted temporary membership to the sailing club, polo club, rugby club and various private drinking establishments so I felt pretty smug.

The only problem was my night watchman. He was a one-eyed giant of a man in long white robes and he took his job very seriously indeed. I nicknamed him Cyclops which suited him well. I mischievously told him my name was Mr Heracles so we seemed to fit together quite well! Only trouble was that I began to wonder whether I was his employer or his prey.

He would arrive in the evening with a large sack containing the tools of his trade. These consisted of stones (specially selected to fly further) knives (yes plural) and a range of clubs. His two spears he left in the garage for safe keeping. On arrival he would slink around the garden hiding his weapons under bushes so that he was never 2 metres from anything sharp or lethal. You only had to look at his eyes to see he longed to use them and I even saw him once leave the garden gate open as bait for opportunist thieves.

The trouble was he used to consider himself my personal bodyguard. He literally shadowed me and when I looked out of any window his form brandishing a spear would rear up from the undergrowth in front of me. If I went in the garden he would ghost around about five paces behind me and occasionally flatten himself against the wall. ‘Mr Heracles, I think I see something’ he said.’Rubbish Cyclops’ I would say but it did not stop him leaping forward spear raised.

It really is unnerving to be watched that closely. I would brush my teeth at night to see him in the mirror with his nose flattened against the window. He would not allow me to get into bed without him checking under the bed and in the wardrobe. I finally had enough when he held two of my dinner guests at spear point until I vouched for their good intent.

Then one day the army arrived. There was apparently a coup against the then president Kwame Nkrumah and the army was securing their position. This included digging a large circular machine gun trench in the middle of the garden. The hole was dug out, surrounded by sandbags and occupied by two armed soldiers and an enormous antique looking Bren gun.

Imagine what this did to Cyclops when he arrived for his night shift. First he was startled, then he was enraged and finally a tight lipped grimace of anticipation spread over his face. ‘Oh, new toys’ I could imagine him thinking as he started walking around this new ‘flower bed’ while two nervous faces looked out.

I went to bed around about eleven after saying goodnight to Cyclops in the bathroom mirror and slept like a baby. After all, what could go wrong with two soldiers and Cyclops to protect me? However, when I woke up there was only Cyclops and an abandoned machine gun nest . What have you done with them I demanded to know but he just squinted devilishly at me through his one eye.

I received a visit from the military later that morning. The guards had endured Cyclops for only around 3 hours before they fled. It had been something like the Blair Witch project with strange sounds, shadows and rasping breath from every direction. The clincher was when ‘somebody’ had thrown a snake in there with them. The trench was never occupied again. Cyclops was bereft. Who had stolen his toys he seemed to ask.

Night guards can sometimes be nearly as problematic as the people they are supposed to save you from. The police can often be worse as my sequel will tell.

You don’t get ‘owt for nowt’ in travel distribution.

For those that do not speak Yorkshire English that means anything for nothing and never has that been truer than in corporate travel. The only trouble is that this is exactly what many stakeholders are trying to achieve with alarming and inharmonious results.

Now people sometimes call this the pain of change or evolution but I think it is much more basic than that. I believe very little is changing other than people trying to offload cost to others as they rightly (or wrongly) believe that it no longer belongs with them. This has only recently started because now they cannot increase their charges to absorb this expense as the end customer wont stand for it. Lead price now seems to be everything so everything has to be stripped to the bone. This type of commoditisation is fine if you are prepared to do without something but not if you still demand your content, your credit, your data and all.

So everybody tries to find cheaper and more self serving alternatives. Some even see it as an opportunity to make more money by separating out a product and charging more for it than it costs. For example those suppliers who are now charging extra for GDS booking options and credit card usage. Is the price they are currently paying more or less than what they are going to charge the rest of the supply chain who want these services? Just look at TMCs and you will see how many turned a potentially disastrous commission cut into a more profitable business model.

I think we all have to go back to basics again and ask ourselves what we want and essentially, what we really do not need. Having done this we should look at all these component parts and ascertain who is currently paying for them and whether we could do it cheaper and more efficiently if we took control and accountability ourselves. I definitely think TMCs could play a broader role in managing these costs for corporations than they do at present. They are after all supposed to be an outsourced consultancy arm of their clients.

The travel distribution model is in a mess and stuck in a previous era. Low cost airlines and commoditisation completely shook up the market but the original infrastructure still remains despite attempts to shift it. Cartels like IATA still hold sway and bodies such as ACTE/NBTA/ITM have not really yet driven constructive dialogue to broker a badly needed repositioning. To my mind these groups need to get together and call a proper summit on these issues which would surely be more constructive than the same old glad handing bi annual conferences.

Everyone is in defence mode. Some people’s idea of defence is by attacking first. Others try the old head in the sand technique favoured by Ostriches. Most have tunnel vision. We need some clear thinking before we all end up as aggressive poor sighted flightless birds!

BA dispute – Pride and promises

I did not think I would be commenting on this subject again but, instead of fading into apathy and compromise it is back again. BA made another of its final offers and the union involved was expected to ballot the cabin crew. But the unions did an about turn and has delayed the ballot despite admitting that it was the best deal they could achieve through negotiation. Why? Because I believe they think it would be too damaging for the union.

The crazy thing is that the main disagreements that caused the strike have mainly gone away in that BA has won the essential core of disputed issues. All that is left is the argument concerning staff travel perks. What is the problem? Well, in précis BA gave advance notice that all striking cabin crew would lose these perks. From what I understand the union went to the crew and told them to take no notice as they would get the concessions back for them within the dispute settlement. Partly on this basis enough of the crew voted to strike.

We now have a very large, proud and, in my view, arrogant union that promised something they are having difficulty delivering. Initially BA said a firm no to any kind of renewal of perks to strikers. They pointed out that they told the union at the time they would not move on this once the discounts were forfeited. This silly issue involving a reasonably small number of cabin crew now reached a disproportionate level of intensity purely because the union had dug itself a big negotiating hole and jumped in it. A perfect example of the expression ‘pride comes before a fall’.

And then BA relented. Well, not exactly relented but at least came up with a compromise of sorts. They offered to give the perks back to strikers. But there is a catch as they were not going to give this up for nothing further in return. BA have demanded a guarantee of no industrial action for at least 3 years and also any current legal action by the unions to be stopped.

They then went further to say all strikers would lose their seniority status for these discount and standby tickets until 2013. This is quite ‘serious’ as seniority and years served determines where you are in the queue for these tickets. To places like Barbados there can be scores of crew standing by. In fact, on one memorable occasion BA had to send a 747 to Barbados purely to pick up stranded standby staff. The strikers do not want to lose their status but BA knows that this is the only thing they can do to appease all those majority of staff who did not strike. After all these loyal staff would be pretty mad if they saw the strikers getting away with it by winning this point.

So, the soap opera continues. The argument that led to the strike have to a great extent gone. Instead a bi-product of the negotiations may cause yet another strike possibly some time in March 2011. At least Christmas is safe…I think. The union will ultimately ballot the staff once more but will not recommend the latest BA offer which they are now saying is “a step too far.” This sounds a bit different to their earlier comment about it being “the very best available through negotiation”.

What a fuss over a few cheap staff tickets. However daft I do not see where resolution will come from without a major and damaging stand down by the union. They know that this is no longer really about tickets. It is about the credibility of the union movement in the UK. What a mighty hole they dug for themselves over such an unimportant argument

My life in Toilets - Part 2

Not only did I risk a criminal record and incarceration in Australia as a result of a pressing need to relieve myself but I have also found such a simple function nearly disastrous elsewhere too.

A prime example was when I travelled to the north of England to meet my future wife’s family for the first time. I knew it was going to be difficult anyway because they viewed anybody born south of Sheffield with acute suspicion and prejudice. I, having not even been born in the UK let alone Yorkshire was not considered human by them let alone suitable marriage material for their daughter.

I had to make a good impression so I rehearsed the things I would say and the complements I would pay to her mother. We arranged to make our arrival gradual by stopping off first at her sister in Malvern so she could phone ahead and say how nice I was. Or that was the plan anyway.

We arrived in Malvern to a warm welcome which immediately put me at my ease. However, shortly after arriving I felt the need to pay a visit to the smallest room in the house. They had kids and their main toilet was full of their stuff so I was led to the newly decorated en-suite bedroom and invited to use that one and, having paid the right complements about the decor and carpeting I settled down.

How can I explain this? It was a ‘big’ visit is all I will say. Having finished I pulled the flush and went to the basin to wash my hands. Suddenly in the mirror I saw water. The toilet had blocked. There was water and everything else pouring onto the carpet.

How do you go to someone you have just met and explain that you have made their toilet overflow? Well I had to and mine host spent the next hour or so with a coat. hanger, mop and rubber gloves clearing things up. The news had spread by the time we reached Judith’s parents and I saw the look of fear on their faces when I asked where their toilet was. Relations deteriorated even further during our short stay.

You get toilets in all shapes and sizes as you travel around the world on business and many are strange indeed. Like the rotating, self cleaning seat in Athens and the Tokyo Karaoke bar whose loo had cowboy saloon type doors so anybody walking by could see all of you sitting there apart from your groin area. Made it hard to concentrate especially when having a wipe!

Then there are those hotel toilets they insist on placing directly behind the door. I came back to my hotel from a late dinner in Paris not that long ago and went straight into such a bathroom. I hung my jacket on the hook behind the door and, after my bath went to bed. On opening the door the next morning I found my jacket had fallen off the shallow knob on the door and dropped into the open toilet. My first thought was 'had I pulled the handle before going to bed'. Thankfully I had and after 45 minutes with the hotel hair dryer I made my meeting although I did get some very funny looks.

I got some even stranger looks a few weeks later. I had got a job with the AA and was meeting a new and very formidable senior director at their Bristol regional headquarters. He was an ex military man and liked everything in its place including more junior visitors. On arrival some of my colleagues arranged a buffet lunch for me which was very kind. We loaded our plates from the table and sat on chairs to eat from our laps. Unbeknown to me a portion of butter was stuck to the bottom of my plate and had transferred in a greasy mess to my trousers.

Oh no I thought. What am I going to do? 10 minutes away from meeting someone even fiercer than my mother-in-law and my trousers were a mess. I shot into the nearby gentlemen’s toilet, soaked my handkerchief in scalding soapy water and rubbed the stain as hard as I could. It mainly spread the problem but then worse was going to come. There were no linen or paper towels but I needed to get it dry.

All they had was a wall mounted warm air hand dryer. I could not take my trousers off in such a public place so I tried to think of another solution. I found out that if I put my dry leg over the top of the dryer, an elbow on the sink next to it and a hand gripping a sink tap I could raise my body off the ground and dangle the wet trouser leg under the dryer. I was in the process of adopting this position when the door opened.

A very distinguished man walked in. he stopped mid stride, his jaw dropped and he muttered ‘what the hell?’ before turning on his heel and walking out. When I finished I went to the regional director’s office and met the great man. I had met him a few minutes earlier. He was the man who quite literally had nearly caught me with my pants down!

Pets Abroad 2 – Carnage in Kitwe

You may remember I told you about our Kent farm cat Sooty (he was black) and how we took him with us when we got posted to Kitwe in Zambia. I explained how this small dinky looking fiend incarnate made himself quickly at home by terrorising our house staff and laying waste to the neighbourhood. In the next few paragraphs I will tell you more of his antics and how he became known within the community as ‘Madam’s Devil Cat’.

I preffered ‘devil cat’ to our house servants name for him which was ‘Madam’s pussy’. It started to get embarrassing as Silas would frequently burst into the lounge in front of guests and say “I cannot find Madam’s pussy” which raised many a guffaw. “I last saw it in Madam’s bedroom” he would continue.

Silas and I had a number of issues about who he should call what. For instance he would insist on calling me Bwana which made me feel like some kind of ancient white hunter. I frequently had conversations with him about it which went something like this:

Silas I cannot find Madam’s pussy Bwana.
Me. How many times have I told you? Stop calling me Bwana.
Silas. Ya Bwana
Me. I want you to call me sir.
Silas. Ya Bwana sir.
Me. No! Not Bwana sir. Just sir.
Do you understand?
Silas. Ya Bwana!
Me. Give me strength.

After a couple of weeks Sooty was beginning to feel at home. Despite being black and furry he seemed completely oblivious to the incredible heat although he did start to pant like a dog. He set about establishing himself as the top cat in the neighbourhood and rarely a day went past without hearing the sound of yowling, spitting and barking as he wreaked his havoc. He further amused himself by ambushing our gardener Patrick by lying on top of the garden archways and hurling himself on Patrick’s head as he walked underneath. The poor man would then run around the garden shrieking until Sooty stopped chewing and jumped off.

Another problem Sooty caused involved venomous snakes. I remember he found one in the garden where it had nested under the pool pump cover. He used to kill them but sometimes, as in this case, he wanted to show off by bringing it in and dropping the live and angry serpent on the lounge rug. Everybody jumped up onto the furniture as the thing thrashed around while Sooty sat a safe distance away licking his bottom and grooming himself in general.

The uproar brought Silas in. “Oh Bwana” he cried. Before I could say ‘don’t call me Bwana’ he was out the door. He returned a few seconds later with Patrick’s machete and chopped its head off. We had to live with a stained rug with a four inch cut through it for the rest of our stay

When he was not eating creatures such as insects, spiders, geckos, snakes (he always left the head) and other such things he insisted on Whiskas tinned cat food which we brought in on our trips back from holidays in England. It created great interest at customs. The officials saw the pictures on the tin and became convinced that it was tinned cat. “What does cat taste like they asked? I had trouble getting through to them that it was tuna jelly meat Whiskas for cats not of cat but with little success. In order to get it through customs I had to leave a few tins for them. They told me afterwards that cat tasted delicious and quite a bit like fish!

We only actually lost Sooty once. I reminded Silas of our agreement which was effectively ‘no cat equals no job’ for him and the neighbourhood was mobilised. Things looked bleak and we became resigned to the likelihood that Sooty was probably in some cooking pot or had fallen prey to one of the local guard dogs who harboured a grudge against him.

Suddenly we heard some ghostly wailing and an urgent cry of “Bwana, Bwana I have found Madam’s pussy!” We ran around the side of the house to find Silas leaping up and down pointing to a large diameter storm drainpipe where the yowling was coming from. Sooty was stuck in the ‘U’ bend. We had to tear the pipe off the wall to get to him. When it was horizontal a large lizard shot out with Sooty in hot pursuit. It ran up the wall and so did Sooty and the lizard was no more. He ran up the slope of the roof with the lizard’s tail hanging out the side of his mouth and on reaching the peak evacuated his bowels in shock.

In all the years we had Sooty it was his one and only showing of fear. Unfortunately it was one to remember as, for the next six months the pyramid of excrement stayed there until the monsoons washed it away. Despite everything he was a lovely cat and one you could definitely call a ‘character’, although many in Zambia did not share my admiration for the ‘Devil Cat’.

My Life in Toilets – Part 1

Yes I know…a strange title but stay with me.
In the process of writing these blog ‘memoires' I started to realise how often the word toilet was coming up. This sounds odd to me too but I began to realise that toilets had played an important (albeit traumatic) part in my career over the years.

Some of you who may have read my rambling will remember how I fought an Australian in a Sydney W.C. and a large female attendant in a toilet next to the Paris perimeter motorway but these are just small skirmishes in my war with public conveniences of the world. I have fought with and in toilets across all continents and I feel I owe it to posterity to clear my conscience now as I lurch towards my twilight years. After all, how many people can say they have lost business, ruined relationships and been arrested whilst simply trying to relieve myself.

My most disastrous first memory was when I got arrested for indecent exposure in Perth, Western Australia. It was an awful misunderstanding. I had flown to the other side of the world to visit my then girlfriend who had been ‘forced’ to emigrate with her parents a few weeks previously. I travelled on airline staff tickets and it took me two sleepless days to make the journey. I found her address which was in the suburbs of the city and presented myself on her doorstep unannounced. Her new boyfriend answered the door!

What has this terrible tale of a jetlagged and broken heart got to do with toilets? That came later when she, her new boyfriend and her parents felt obliged to take me along to a dinner dance they were about to leave for. I was clearly as welcome as haemarrhoids .We sat at a big table with huge flagons of cold Swan Lager in the middle and I sat and watched the lovely Sue dancing with her new love so closely that you could not squeeze a cigarette paper between them.

There was nothing for it so I turned to drink. After consuming one flagon by myself I felt the most excruciating need to relieve myself so I stood up and made my way unsteadily across to the corner of the room where the toilets were. It was all a blur to me but apparently I first went into the ladies and got ejected. I went through another door which said ‘MEN’ and there was a further plain door on the left going into the toilet itself and another on the right that provided access to another entertainment room.

By this stage I really feared I was not going to make it in time so I started unzipping and preparing as I walked. I was out and ready as I turned right and fell into the other function room where they were celebrating a golden wedding. There was uproar. One of the people there was an off duty police officer and he immediately pinned me to the wall, read me my rights and arrested me for indecent exposure.

He phoned for back-up and a car and marched me out onto the pub forecourt whilst I continued trying to pull up my zip. The zip got caught (some of my male readers may understand the pain) which made things even worse. To cap it all they would not let me go back in so I had to pee against the wall which added another charge to my sheet.

My lovely ex and her family knew nothing of this until they got a call from the police station and an order to come and collect me. By this time I had been able to explain my jet lag, tiredness and misery and they took pity on me after having a good laugh at my expense. Needless to say I was disowned by my reluctant hosts who drove me to Perth Airport where I spent the night in the departures hall.

Whenever I go back to Australia I always wonder if one day I will stand at the immigration desk and this arrest with reason will flash up on the screen. So far so good but there is more to come in ‘Toilets 2’ the sequel!

GDS/Airline issue. Coming to a head?

This whole issue is not only becoming a little tedious but also beginning to build like a volcano about to erupt. We have had quite a few years of the dormant stage but now the tremors are getting longer, bigger and more frequent.

The first sign of life started 5/6 years ago when airlines like British Airways started charging TMCs fees for booking their lower promotional or short haul flights via the GDS. Their logic seemed to be that, as their profit margins were lower then so should their cost of sale. The point having been made most of those airlines then went to their top TMCs and found a way of giving most of the charges back. Meanwhile the GDS also went to the same all important TMCs and compensated them for the cost through their incentive agreements.

Are there GDS/TMC incentive agreements? Yes there are. Or certainly were and I am practically sure this has not changed in the last couple of years. You see, despite what you may read in the AA Distribution Blog the GDS are locked in a battle with not just the airlines but each other as they make sorties into others markets and buy themselves in. Alongside this all GDS want to be sure that they preserve their near monopoly over unbiased content within the business travel sector, and they are prepared to pay to do so.

These GDS incentives must drive the airlines mad. A key reason for taking commissions and some incentives away from TMCs was because those TMCs used the money to pay their own incentives to clients as well as subsidise necessary unprofitable transactions (rail, car etc.) elsewhere. Now they are dealing with the same thing with the GDS to whom they pay a very large fee only to see big chunks of it passed down the supply chain in incentives to win/keep business.

The problem is how they solve the problem. Like commissions and everything else whatever they do is going to have implications down the line. If you take something away from any intermediary the balance will be rectified somewhere else. Rather like pressing a balloon full of water and finding it bulges elsewhere to compensate for the displacement. The only way cost can be truly saved is if what is taken away does not need to be replaced and we are not quite there yet in travel however much the airlines wish it so.

There has been one major tremor which happened shortly before I retired. The not so shy and retiring Lufthansa decided to break the mould but only in their home market where they enjoyed an unusually dominant position. Much to the howls of GDS, TMCs, corporations et al they started making bookings more expensive if they were not transacted direct or through the certain GDS who had reduced their fees. They ‘enjoyed’ mixed fortunes and their success, or otherwise, depends on who you talk to. From what I saw they lost significant business in certain sectors, antagonised people who were once partners and ended up paying much back in different ways. Talk to them and I am sure they will say it was all wonderful!

As soon as I saw that American Airlines had introduced their own distribution blog I knew that something was going to happen. It is certainly a tremor and could possibly become a significant eruption. To do something like they are planning they had to have an outlet to put out their justifications and propaganda. It started relatively brightly but now anybody can see it for what it is.

From my observations the first rumble has come with AA removing the ability for Orbitz to issue their tickets. In a strange way it made me smile. After all it was not that long ago that airlines around the world seemed to see these OTAs as the answer to combat TMCs. They persuaded themselves that it was just what corporations wanted and expected vast volumes of business to transfer over to these new players. It simply did not, and will not happen for all sorts of good reasons. Now, having lovingly introduced and supported these OTAs they are trying to damage them. Rather like a female praying mantis with it’s mate Make love then eat it.

So. Back to our volcano. Is it going to erupt or not? I think it will but not immediately. Something has to happen as these airlines cannot go on paying this level of fees to the GDS indefinitely and there are now growing alternatives, however basic (and costly to others) they may be. Every other part of the supply chain has reinvented themselves so as to respond to enabling technology, new players and changing clients but not (that I can see) the GDS. They have to adjust prices and action new ways of making money just like the TMCs did. Staying as they are is not an option. Meanwhile they should brace themselves for some variations of the Lufthansa model.

To end with my volcano analogy I would say that there will be no big explosion but more a growing flow of lava that will cover and impact the rest of the chain. GDS cost will be taken away, or at least significantly reduced but will pop up again elsewhere until it finally rests with the customer and their employers. They won’t like it and will probably use their power to demand compensation from the ‘offending’ airline. The end result? Rather like the removal of TMC commission the airlines will make a saving in one area only to find a corresponding cost in another. You see what they need to realise is you can only make a lasting saving by improving on the status quo not just changing it.


The British do not like to be separated from their pets and you might be surprised if you knew just how many of us tuck our little Fidos and Felixes in wooden boxes and take them with us if we get posted to foreign lands. I was no exception and, when we were posted to Zambia my wife gave me a non negotiable ultimatum. “Either me AND the cat or you go on your own”. The decision was made and Judith, me and a small bundle of furry hell prepared for our big adventure.

Sooty was his name and he was mad. We bought him from a farmer in Kent and he was clearly half feral(the cat that is not the farmer). He made his mark on the way home from collecting him when he broke out of his transportation box and ran amok in the car whilst I was trying to navigate through heavy traffic. Anybody nearby would have seen flailing arms and flashes of fur as we tried to catch him until finally he jumped on my head, stuck all four sets of claws in my scalp and refused to move. I had to drive to the nearest pet shop looking like Davy Crocket in order to buy a ‘Sooty proof’ wicker box. The guy behind the counter barely kept a straight face as he helped peel the spitting cat off me.

I went out ahead of Judith and Sooty to ensure everything in the house and garden was ready for their arrival. Having located our new house which was in the north of the country on the outskirts of the Copper belt town of Kitwe I started to prepare. The house had a servant called Silas and a gardener called Patrick. Silas was a giant of a man with a nasty bottle scar across his face. I took him aside and told him the raw facts of life

I explained that Madame was bringing her cat. I then told him he had two choices. He could protect little Sooty and make sure he did not end up maimed, poisoned or eaten and, in return he would be the best fed, best paid house servant in Kitwe. Alternatively he could let something happen to Madame’s cat and become instantly out of work.

He took the point so well that I started getting complaints. Apparently Silas, supported by Patrick had been touring the area beating all the other house servants to a pulp and explaining that if anything ever happened to ‘Madame’s pussy’ he would be back to finish the job. Not quite what I had in mind but very effective. Not only did Sooty remain undamaged and uneaten but, if he disappeared for the shortest of time the neighbourhood would echo to the sound of searching servants calling ‘here pussy pussy’.

Zambia Airways lost Sooty. Unfortunately they found him again in his box on the tarmac next to some pallets destined for Abu Dhabi. Apparently someone tried to stroke him by poking a finger through the bars only to have it shredded. So, off he went and finally arrived with us after two flights and a 24 hour delay. He was not happy and resorted to tormenting Silas by leaping on his head and tangling his claws into the curly hair. Our bar-room brawling giant was absolutely terrified and remained so for the two years we were there.

The average life expectancy of an English cat in the snake infested, hungry and wild area we were living in could be measured in weeks. Clearly they had not seen a cat like Sooty before. He laid waste to a wide area around the house, neighbouring gardens and the surrounding scrubland. After a couple of weeks there was nothing left to crawl or slither around the place.

He got bored and started new games like taunting the next door Doberman guard dogs. He would sit on an overhanging tree branch just high enough that the dogs could not quite reach him. They tried and tried until finally Sooty lowered himself a little further. The dogs never knew what hit them. As their slavering jaws strained upwards he simply raised his paw and slashed his claws across their noses. The neighbour presented me with the vet’s bill and had to admit that our three kilo cat had hospitalised his two guard dogs that both needed stitches. We did not speak much after that.

Sooty had loads of adventures in Zambia before we returned with him to the UK. He got stuck in drains, choked on a preying mantis; fell into the pool and everything in between. I will describe some of the mayhem he caused in another episode! Finally we had to get him out in a hurry because of a spreading outbreak of rabies and he ended up with his own seat on a light aircraft out of the country. Only the best for Madame’s cat!

He died a few years later at our home in Hampshire. The vet said it was feline leukaemia. I reckon it was more likely to have been boredom. He had a great life as his passport will testify!

As I said at the very beginning the British are mainly very attached to their pets but that can equally be said of a German I met in Zambia. He had bought a local German Shepherd as a guard dog and fell in love with it. He went on leave back to Germany and returned with a young and very attractive bride. Unfortunately the dog did not think so.

Every morning he would set off to work and his wife would have to lock herself in the house as the dog would try and set about her as soon as the car was around the corner. When he came home again the dog would be sweetness personified and go to her to be stroked. This went on for over a week until one day the dog got in to the house and bit the poor girl quite badly. Enough was enough and she gave him an ultimatum. It was her or the dog. He thought for the briefest moment and she caught the next flight to Germany.

A Take on AA Distribution Issues

Isn’t the American Airlines distribution blog interesting? No I mean it without the slightest hint of sarcasm. Obviously it is a propoganda vehicle for getting their point across to all sectors of the market but it does make some good and credible (albeit biased) comment on this key issue.

I find the language they use fascinating as it mirrors their strategy at this particular moment in time. For example they are currently referring to TMCs as ‘Travel Agency Partners’ so one can assume that the very zigzag line that represents their TMC love/hate relationship must be on the ascendancy as they focus on those dastardly GDS. No point in having a go at TMCs and GDS at the same time.

The only downer I have on this blog is that it fails to identify or even pay any lip service to the broader issues and seems rather 'me' centric. What their corporate end customer’s true needs, objectives and arguments do not seem to get much coverage. Perhaps if they focussed more on these and put forward some proposed solutions for debate it might help both their cause and the industry they work in. Mind you this might become a double edged sword as their arguments would need to be compelling.They would also need to think outside their own box which they and most major airlines find far too vexing.

Let me try and give you an example. In the last of their blogs I read on ‘The Beat’ they were trying to say that TMCs choice of GDS was predictable and closely linked to their original owning airline. This is a far too simple assumption and somewhat dated. TMCs choose GDSs for much broader reasons than that although, in the past, there is more credibility in that argument. Now it is more a matter finance, other non air products, trained staff availability, support, global reach, and yes, full content and fares. The GDS have exploited their broader strengths in the markets they were dominant in to maintain that position. They provide things like broader choice, comparison and ancillaries that airlines don't.

Corporates demand that their TMC is kitted out with a booking engine that can provide a total regional and global focussed product for all services including that continental train or local hotel. The TMC responds by searching for a system that meets as many of those demands as possible and then bolts on any extras through their own technology. Preferably a one-stop shop covering as many core products as possible. Not just American Airlines bookings. They need to do this cost effectively and as seamlessly as possible.

What the corporate and their TMCs do not want is to find airlines who cherry pick what fares they put on which GDS thus depriving their travellers from the best prices, availability and choice. Any airline who does this is basically saying that they alone will decide which booking system you will use. Even worse some then impose fee penalties on those TMCs and corporates who have the effrontery not to comply.

So the distribution battle is getting hotter. AA in their blog, are now talking about a test of ‘global’ reach with the GDS. It reminds me of a ‘dare’ game I enjoyed with my friends in the playground all those years ago. I cannot see much benefit for the customer while these two forces slug it out and I am not sure either would come out without a very bloody nose.

Meanwhile what is the TMC doing? Are they just sitting their in a ring side seat or in the corner of their favourite with a towel and gum-shield. No, they cannot afford to do either and you will find the bigger ones are already building alternatives. Their issue is that direct links with numerous different suppliers (there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of them) is a poor but increasingly necessary option to the current few well chosen interfaces, but they need to do it.

One very likely scenario for the future will be the further development and release of these mega multi linked TMC platforms. Sounds familiar? Yes, such an entity is currently called a ‘GDS’.What will that do? It will enable TMCs to put (or deny) whatever content they want in front of whoever they want to see it. It will give them power. It will enable them to go to suppliers and negotiate deals and incentives.Deja vu?

So by trying to destroy one type of GDS the airlines will be creating other, possibly stronger ones. The same way they found removing TMC commissions meant they had to charge lower prices. Good luck to them. I suspect they will need it!

Corporate entertaining 3 – Could end in divorce!

My relationship with my wife has been tested sorely twice in my years of being corporately entertained. It could have so easily gone the wrong way twice but thankfully Judith and I are still together. The occasions were even worse than the time I murmured “Oh yes Valerie” in my sleep. A terrible thing to happen, especially as I do not know anyone called Valerie.

The first occasion was when I was invited by British Airways to fly to Australia to see the rugby world cup semi final match between France and England. A fabulous opportunity which I could not turn down even though we would only be there for less than four days.

Anyway, we went to the fantastic Telstra stadium which makes our Twickenham ground look like a public toilet and sat just above the half way line in some of the best seats in the place. Marvellous, and to complete our joy England won, thanks mainly to the boot of Johnny Wilkinson. After the game we went into one of the ground’s hospitality suites and imbibed in copious quantities of the amber nectar (Australian for beer).

The need to make more room for the next pint(s) became irresistible so I went back into the main stand to find the lavatories. In the nick of time I found one and as I did what comes naturally at such times the loudest, drunkest and rudest Australian jubilantly staggered into the convenience. “Is that all you have got” he crowed as he relieved himself in the middle of the room. We are going to thrash you bstrds in the final next week. I disagreed and we had a little undignified pushing and wrestling.

The argument was settled by me during a pause in grappling. “Look” I said. Why don’t we swap phone numbers and agree that whoever loses next week phones the other to apologies”. He agreed and we parted and I frankly thought nothing further about it.

The following week I sat down back home with my wife and watched the final and, thanks to the boot of Johnny Wilkinson, we won. I went ballistic and jumped all over the room screaming “YES, YES” rather like that famous scene in the film ‘When Harry Met Sally’. I did not hear the phone ring but Judith did.

The first thing I noticed was the shocked look on her face. She asked me if there was something I needed to tell her about my sexuality. The question rather shook me so I asked why she should enquire. “Well” she said “I have just spoken to a drunken Australian. He was crying. He said he met you in a toilet in Sydney and that you had been rough with each other. He says he feels sad and ill but wants to say sorry. Hard to explain convincingly, I am sure you will agree.

The second time was far more local. It was at a supplier’s evening summer garden party near Windsor Castle. It was ‘finger buffet’ style and I was standing on his patio with a glass in one hand and a plate in another talking to other guests.

I suddenly felt something hard (and sharp) pressing into my groin. I looked down to find the host’s Doberman dog showing an enormous interest in my private parts to the point of chewing them. I tried to move him but every time he growled and snarled and continued with his fetish. By this time I was desperate and fortunately mine host arrived to drag the hound away, but not before my whole crutch area was covered in doggy drool and also a couple of trouser tears.

There were huge apologies all round and, after an extended visit to the cloakroom I came out with some of my trousers, and dignity intact. I did not want to hang around with such a wet patch so I went straight home.

Judith was in bed reading a book when I walked into the room. “Looks like you have been having a nice time” she muttered. I followed her eyes down to discover that what was initially a clean wet patch had turned dry, crusty and stained. “I know what you are thinking but you are wrong” I said. “Really” she replied with eyebrows arched. “Yes” I said. “It was a dog”. “They all are” she responded cryptically, and switched off the light as I stood there.

Corporate entertaining 2 - A few painful lessons learned

Now the whole thing about entertaining or being entertained is one networks, enjoys oneself, meets people and forms relationships beyond pure negotiation. If you are lucky you get all these things each and every time. If you are gaffe prone like me you can get into all sorts of trouble as I will explain by way of a few examples.

Hosting Golf:
My company used to invite its key clients to a golf day at one of the main prestigious courses every year. I got to front them as nobody else on the board played. The last one I hosted was at Moore Park in Hertfordshire and we spared no expense in making sure it went well. The trouble was that everything seemed to conspire to go wrong.

It was just one of those days. It started when the Chief Exec of one of our top clients got locked in the ancient toilet cubicles in the old manor house. It turns out he suffered horribly from claustrophobia and he went berserk in the tiny cubicle unable to climb out (he was large) and was finally rescued when we kicked in the door. He went straight home.

We had arranged for a chap to do our clubhouse scoring for us. He had a lot of kit including computers and TV monitors that he somehow managed to jamb into a small hatchback. We did not want him to disturb our guest so we told him to go behind the manor and reverse up to the sweeping outside staircase so that we could discretely unload through the French windows of our allocated room. I idly watched as he arrived and started reversing, and reversing, and reversing.

He must stop I thought otherwise he would back into the huge old and rare urn planter that was standing on a tall concrete plinth at the side of the staircase. But no. It all seemed to happen in slow motion as first the crunch and second the sight of the ancient urn fragmenting as it went through his back window and then his monitors. Horrendous and very expensive to put right.

Finally the guests all arrived and a good day’s golf was enjoyed by all. Well perhaps not everybody. One team of guests fell out badly with each other because of alleged cheating and another got bitten by the only venomous snake in the British Isles. Oh and one broke his buggy and another fell down a small ravine. Not bad really considering everything.

After the golf we all sat down to dinner. My board colleagues turned up including my own chief executive. He had never played golf and clearly was not a fan. He was most put out when he saw the table plan and wanted to know why he did not have all the most senior people at his table. I tried to explain that after golf guests always sit with the team members they played with but to no avail. He clearly felt slighted especially as the only subject talked about at his table was golf.

At the end of the dinner it was his turn to take centre stage and address the guests. I had been announcing the winners and prizes and it was all very relaxed and jolly. My final task was to introduce a more and more impatient CEO. Let’s keep it relaxed and fun I thought so I said “I would like to introduce my CEO who some people describe as like a lighthouse in the desert. Brilliant, but absolutely useless”. Much chuckling took place and the great man spoke

The event finished and goodbyes were spoken. Everybody said they had a good time (including the wounded) and two chaps told me that one of the reasons they use us is the approachability of our directors and the way we could ‘have fun’ together.

I was pretty pleased with things and thought quite fondly of the last remark until my mobile phone rang as I drove home. It was my CEO. He said that if I ever humiliated him like that again my days in the company were numbered!

What did I learn? Apart from checking toilets, avoiding urns and maybe having a medic around I guess the main thing was never to expect your boss to automatically have a sense of humour similar to yours!

Corporate Entertaining, a Good Thing? - Part 1

Some would say I have been blessed in that I worked in an era where corporate entertaining in the travel business was frequent and lavish. Because of the positions I held I was either entertaining our clients or being entertained by suppliers. Great you may think, Wimbledon, Twickenham, Ascot, and Wentworth here we come. But things did not always run that smoothly especially when times became tougher.

You see, once you give someone something one year and don’t the next things get sticky. Even worse when a spouse is involved An example would be a very major car hire company that had a huge facility at Wimbledon every year for the tennis with vast numbers of corporate seats at the main courts right up to finals day. You might imagine that anybody would be thrilled to be invited but think for a minute. OK, the invites are great but for what day have you been invited? Was it earlier or later in the tournament than last year? Is it for the main courts? Is your spouse invited like last year?

I have known people get quite vengeful if they have been downgraded in the pecking order, offered tickets to secondary matches or even ignored entirely. The worst happening at Wimbledon was the fateful day when VIPs spouses were not invited for the first time. Senior industry figures were apoplectic to the extreme that many cancelled or, even worse, failed to turn up. Then the next year they had more invitations for hospitality than Centre Court seats. Imagine the scene as mine hosts walked around the tables dishing out envelopes on finals day and the varying expressions ranging from smugness to outrage as the tickets were pulled out. Not pretty. In fact slightly reminiscent of a TV talent show.

So there you are. Sometimes offering somebody something fantastic is only OK if you are going to do it again, and again and again otherwise your generosity backfires to a point where your money has bought an ‘insulted enemy’ not a loyal friend.

But should corporate hospitality be offered or accepted anyway? Many corporations ban their people from attending now and I wonder if they are right? Why is it being offered? Are suppliers working on the basis that if one accepts they are going to get your business? Are they trying to bribe you? Maybe some may be attempting just that but I think most are not that naïve.

You need to ask yourself what happens at these events apart from everyone hopefully having a good time. I think it means that people end up in close proximity with suppliers and fellow buyers in an environment where you can take their measure. Very often you can get to their bosses as well. So unless one is so weak and without scruples that you are prepared to take the wrong product at the wrong price in order to watch some tennis then I can only see value in it from both sides. Many I know will disagree.

Beware the bearded Scotsman – SPA Dinners

In my long and varied travel career I have been fortunate and unfortunate enough to have attended many an industry dinner. Some have been smug, self congratulatory affairs; others thinly veiled sales promotion and others downright boring. There have been times of the year when I think if I see another lamb chop I will start baah-ing and others when there is so much salmon around I fear an outbreak of spawning.

But there is one annual event that stands out in the crowd. Surprisingly so as it never changes its format, menu or entertainment yet it has not once failed to deliver a surprise. I am of course talking about the Scottish Passenger Agents Annual Dinner which takes place close to Burns night in Glasgow every year. If you ever want to experience a mixture of Scottishness, comedy, eccentricity and life in the raw this is the place to be.

If I was a blackmailer this particular evening would be a must to attend because never do you see so many prominent industry names let their guards slip anywhere else. In fact all one would have had to do is position oneself outside the lifts of the 10th floor (where the ‘hospitality’ rooms where) of the Albany Hotel and watch the great and the good fall in and out. It was at this very place that I experience the ‘Bearded Scotsman’ of my title but more of that later.

The invitations and allocation of tickets come out a few weeks in advance and it is here that you get your first inkling of how the association or your Scottish regional staff view you. Between them they decide who outside Scotland is to be invited, where you are going to sit and what hospitality you are to be offered by the sponsoring suppliers. It can be quite informative. For example when I first attended the dinner I was placed somewhere like seat 36 in row Z where the top table was like a tiny peck in the corner of one’s vision and the food was blood temperature by the time it got to you. Strangely I got invitations to all the hospitality so somebody clearly wanted me to get drunk. In some cases the invitations were photocopies which highlighted the afterthought or counterfeit of their availability

As I said earlier the format never changed. One would fly into Glasgow airport the afternoon of the event along with all the other Sassenachs where there would be a bizarre dance around the taxi rank as people tried to secure or avoid shared taxis with each other. Arrival at the then Albany Hotel would be equally fascinating as people jockeyed for position at check-in whilst hailing friends and associates across an already crowded bar. It was also here that you would have your first encounter with various supplier sales reps that saw it as the best opportunity to make friends with you as, once in the queue you could not really escape.

Once in you room (which again highlighted your status or lack of it) you changed into your dinner jacket, sorted out your invitations and observed the complimentary mouth freshener, Alka-Seltzer and miniature whiskey on your bed and prepared for the onslaught. My preparation included a ham sandwich, glass of milk and two aspirins in anticipation of their need. Then it was into the fray!

Arriving back at the ground floor was like walking into a vast bear pit. By this time the place was packed and many looked and behaved like it was the end rather than the beginning of a long and boozy evening. The noise level is immense as people jostled for drinks, introductions and access to the various sponsored rooms. It is the only event I remember where the sponsors had to provide bouncers to keep uninvited customers out. Even at this stage one could not be but impressed by the hotel management and staff who somehow managed to control this seething mass of black and tartan that seemed to be everywhere they should, and should not, be. Their ability to turn out so many drinks so quickly to so many guests is also a testament to their skills and desire to avoid abuse.

The first moment of crisis arrives. Somehow they have to get these hundreds of partying folk into the vast banqueting hall ready for dinner. It is not easy. They do it in a way similar to airports. It starts by making a statement that dinner is served and they do this 15/20 minutes before. They then go through the repertoire of second call, final call, ‘gate closing’ and finally the threats start and the team reminiscent of Tokyo train pushers move in. Eventually the vast herd is in, the doors shut and the next phase of getting everybody to sit down and shut up starts.

It is then that you look around to see who you are going to spend the next few hours with. And I do mean hours as this has to be the longest dinner in the travel calendar involving mainly interesting and funny speeches…but not always. All the time the tables are plied with sponsored drink and pre-ordered bottles of wine. Your table guests are a mixed bunch as you were not then allowed to choose them yourself. Sometimes this was good and others catastrophic.

I soon discovered that as ones status increased and the move up the table plan starts the quality of the guests and the evening diminished rather than increased. But not always as there were always ways to make your own entertainment during any boring bits. I remember one particular occasion when the guy opposite me fell asleep during the speeches. As time progressed his eyes closed, his head started falling back and his mouth opened like a stranded fish. The snoring then began and the rest of us collapsed in giggles like a bunch of school kids. In the end we devised an impromptu game which involved throwing peas scavanged from our main course at his gaping mouth until one made him choke and he woke up.He then glared at us saying he could not hear the speeches for our giggling.

The food was always great. They had a brilliant chef who somehow turned out hot and tasty food for the massed ranks of guests and he never failed at any of the dinners I attended. I was always a little worried as his name was something like ‘Bogey’(sp) which I have to admit put me off eating any desert with currents in ‘just in case’.

After the dinner the pipes started up again which heralded the beginning of the serious drinking on the infamous 10th floor. Just time to check my invitations, swig down another couple of Aspirins and up in the lift I went to meet whatever fate was going to dish out on this occasion. Like everywhere else the place was a seething mass of humanity with guests, hosts, bouncers and barmen all vying to make themselves heard. Being hard of hearing I just grinned inanely at everyone and it seemed to work.

The rest was just a blur until my meeting with the bearded Scotsman. I had just slunk off from bumping into one of my first bosses. He was a very proper, well spoken chap who marched up to me and said “Ah Platt isn’t it”? I replied in the affirmative and he gave me a withering look. “You’re MD of Hogg Robinson now aren’t you”. Again I answered in the affirmative. "Good God” he uttered “None of us thought you would get anywhere” he said and stalked off. Time for bed my bruised mind told me, especially as my flight was due to leave Glasgow in four hours time.

It was three in the morning and the evening had started at five the previous evening and I was not in my full flush of health and strength. Is it time for another Asprin I thought as I walked towards the 10th floor lift. Before me a door crashed open and the biggest ginger bearded man in a kilt fell out. He made that big guy in the ‘Brave heart’ film look like a midget. He stood there and I cowered dwarfed before him. He then collapsed on me and passed out.

A wrestler could not have done it better. I was pinned flat underneath him and could not move. My lungs were squashed under his bulk and I could barely breathe let alone cry for help. I then lay there for what felt like hours but was probably minutes. During this time people stepped over us to go to the lift like it was the normal thing to encounter in a Glasgow hotel corridor. Eventually the bouncer from the British Midland lounge took pity on me and managed to drag the giant off me. Unfortunately not before ‘Brave heart’ was sick.

I missed my morning flight and got chucked out of my room at midday with a bruised face and sore ego. I was sitting on the plane going home when I noticed something. It was a long, curly ginger hair on my handkerchief. A fine memento of a pretty typical SPAA Dinner. How the hell did it get there I mused!

Just how much would you disclose?

For some time various corporations have been asking their intermediaries exactly how they make their money and what positive impact their company’s business has on their income. This interest has expanded further and bodies like the Institute of Travel and Meetings (ITM) have been calling for Travel Management Companies (TMC) to provide a ‘register of interests’. The request is made within its report on ‘Remuneration and Transparency’, the second part of which has recently been published.

The chairman of the ITM said “Our goal at ITM is to create better relationships to further professionalise this industry for the benefit of all” Baloney! How would disclosure of confidential business agreements do that? I would suggest perhaps it is more about checking that their intermediaries are not making extra money out of their client’s business and not trying to influence client behaviour in the process for their own gain. Let’s not be coy about this.

Some of you may have read my blogs on how TMCs still make money from the suppliers. This can be viewed in two main ways. Either ‘Why not, they do a lot of work for the supplier and should be rewarded for it’ or ‘If my expenditure is earning extra money from the supplier then that belongs to me’. There are strong arguments for both points of view but first lets look closer at the mechanics and principle involved.

Let’s say Platt Inc has a considerable air spend and much of it is with Air Limey. He suspects that his TMC not only has a commercial agreement of some sort with Air Limey but also a better one with Yank Air who is Limey’s biggest competitor. Platt Inc has a fee relationship with his TMC where any direct income should be credited to him and it is also in his interest to ensure that Yank Air is not going to be offered to his travellers even though it might earn extra money for the TMC. Shame about the mistrust but ‘I demand Disclosure’ he screams.

First there is a principle to be addressed. Any such agreements are usually made under strict letters of confidentiality. They are often agreed only on the basis that any benefits remain with the recipient as suppliers clearly wish to delineate who is being rewarded and for what. Their view is that they already incentivise the end corporation so why do so again. Also there is one big question which is, apart from the confidentiality issue, what right does any commercial company have to demand their suppliers and intermediaries provide company sensitive and strategic contracts that encompass their whole business and not just that one organisation.

From a more practical perspective what would such disclosures reveal? There are as many different deals out there as grains of sand but here are a few of the more prevalent features.. Most are built around a Service Level Agreement (SLA). These were introduced at the time of commission removal as a more targeted way of ensuring suppliers still got what they needed now that particular payment had gone. The core of such agreements are about paying for all the things they used to get like access to staff, account managers, basic client information etc. A payment is fixed for this section and followed by others that can sometimes be linked to performance in overall volume and share. Within this the supplier may include benefits such as special competitive fares, sponsorship and partnership opportunities.

So, in many cases volume and share do come into it so some corporations still might say they deserve a slice of that even though the contracts clearly do not allow it. But, for the sake of argument let us look closer at this because it might not all be one way traffic. For example Platt Inc discovers that its TMC has a deal with both Air Limey (AL) and Yank Air (YA) and both of them involve incentives around growth (AL) and share (YA). They sit around the table to discuss it.

From Platt Inc’s point of view it is simple. According to the data they flew 500 sectors on AL last year and they want the incentive. The same applies for YA where they know they must have sent at least 80 travellers but only have booked revenue (not actual flown) to measure the exact details.

Ah says TMC. Firstly Mr Platt Inc you may not know it but you have been ‘red ringed’ by AL. this means our contract says your volume can be used for measuring performance but not for payment. Not only did we not earn money on you but your year on year performance was down so in fact you cost us on what rewards we did get for other customers. By the way similar will apply to YA. We cannot track your true flown revenue but even if we did it will do no good as we signed another corporation who pulled our share higher than your likely achievement.

I hope you are still all bearing with me but I wanted to demonstrate exactly how big a can of worms such disclosures can be and what lack of earning potential there is. For every ‘winner’ there will be ‘losers’ and if I was a TMC I would simply devise a system to negate such nonsense that would ultimately offset any losses by gains.

So the questions are do you really want to dig and delve into other people’s business. Do you trust your business partners so little? Is it really worth the pain? Does anyone honestly think such activity ‘will create better business relationships’? Well certainly the chairman of ITM purports to think so. I can but disagree. What about you?

Data Provision - Sounds easy?

There was an interesting blog recently called "Stairsteps to Heaven" written by Scot Gillespie and I identified with it very closely. He eloquently expressed the frustration of us all as to why it seems so difficult to get even the most basic data in an accurate, efficient and user-friendly way.

I agree with Scot that surely the travel industry should be able to provide decent data and goodness knows there is a huge amount of the stuff floating about. In fact a day rarely passes when some new data mining tool or MI gizmo does not get an airing. The tools are not the problem and probably never were. The issue is the quality and clarity of the initial information that goes into them and the ability of those who manage what comes out of other end. Yes I agree that the travel industry is large but I am afraid it has not matured very well as it still uses out dated, diverse and badly coordinated systems at the supplier end

Take for example a company that sends it’s travellers across the length and breadth of their own country and all over the world. Their travellers sit on planes, travel by car and rail, stay in hotels and need to comply with a travel policy built around the optimum use of resources at the best prices. But what is the right policy for them? How can it be best optimised? How can you be truly sure it is being complied with? Obviously this company needs both the data to make informed decisions and someone to interpret the data in order to provide quality analysis and recommendations.

The first port of call has to be the origin of the data and how it can be placed in the right format into the right data warehouse. This is where the issues start. Why? Because each supplier uses systems different to each other that were created many years ago and not built for export into other systems. They also interpret their own data differently with respect to prorating sector costs of tickets that contain more than one airline, commission rates and, more latterly, ancillary charges. Many tickets do not have the true price (or in fact any price) on them due to corporate deals etc.

The hotel industry is far worse and they have to split out more cost to get down to basic bed price. There are literally millions of hotel and precious little fiscal commonality. Even the big chain hotels can be misleading as they are not all owned (and therefore consolidated) by that brand company. You will also rarely find them consolidated in any GDS as GDSs charge too much.

Rail too is a law unto itself with vast numbers of different train companies and tariffs for the same journey as well as more sectors and low prices than all the others put together. Car hire and ferries ditto.

OK, so you may have to accept that it is virtually impossible to have totally clean data in the same format from the same source but there should still be value in trying to get travel consolidated. For instance you have the GDS and all the other companies created for this purpose. Trouble is many global organisations use different GDS in different countries which still need to be brought together. Another key airline only source (and possible solution) is IATA and ARC who are the companies that do all the pulling together and reconciliation for the air suppliers across the globe. This possibly has the best data in the sense that it is standardised. The algorithms they use and the assumptions they make are quite scary but at least like for like.

I am really quite surprised that more effort has not been made to explore this source from a corporate perspective. Maybe it is because IATA was formed by the airlines for the airlines and I am not sure of their overall willingness to open up such transparency. You see this data is being sold and used within the airline community already A bit worrying really but airlines can buy from IATA enough to identify what deals a corporation has with a competitor right down to traveller numbers and price paid.

I think the solution such as it is lies with the TMC. They are the only intermediary within the chain that does enough to bring together all the elements. The big ones are already well advanced in devising systems and frameworks and have the capability of working with all players…at a price.

So, if the happy day comes where you have enough data to work with reasonably accurately. What next? Well I think even now corporations have spent far too much on getting the data and far too little on interpretation and use of it. In the modern day I think it far more important to get a TMC to provide a data consolidator/analyst/strategist than a standard Account Manager.

So my brief conclusion? You cannot get truly great data because, whilst the systems are there, the initial information is not available in a manageable format. You can however pick up the best bits (mainly air) and compare like with like. But before that make sure you have a professional who is fascinated by data and able to read it and make recommendations.

Finally I think organisations such as NBTA, ACTE, IATA and the like should spend less time on conferences, self justification and money making and more on working together to create a global multi-disciplined solution

Would you believe it? Ryanair accepts facts of life.

I promise I am not becoming obsessed with Ryanair or Michael O'Leary but I just had to share this with you if you missed it first time around. The article is a direct quote from TTG and was written by their excelent reporter called Rob Gill so the credit for it (as well as acuracy or otherwise) goes direct to him and his publication.
Who would have ever thought he would utter such words and how much humble pie will he need to eat? It is probably correct too and has wider implications for other similar low cost airlines. After all how else can he grow except by entering new market sectors like business travel. Despite all their noise Ryanair has only around 3% of business people on their routes.

O'Leary sees end to low fares

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rob Gill

The era of low airline fares could soon be coming to an end according to Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary.

The outspoken chief executive of the no-frills carrier said the company had to move away from its “pile it high and sell it cheap” strategy because current average fares of £33 were unsustainable as costs increased.

O’Leary, who last week suggested that aircraft should be allowed to fly with a single pilot instead of two, admitted that Ryanair would have to look at a more “sophisticated” business model in the coming years.

“We have to move away from being obsessed with having the lowest fares in the market,” he said.

O’Leary admitted the airline might need a less controversial chief executive as the business matures over the next few years. But he added that he was unlikely to leave until the carrier doubles in size to around 400 aircraft.

Brushes with the rich and famous – Frank Sinatra

Ok, so this one will be brief, but so was my brush with the great man. Well actually it was not so much a brush than an assault!

It was in Buenos Aires and just before the Falklands war. I had been sent over to meet our folk and say all the ‘right things’ one says just before war is declared between countries.

I sat in the taxi thinking of Churchillian like things to say before deciding that might not be a good idea as our local staff were all Argentinean except for the country manager who was Welsh (same thing really!). It was rather surreal as I was driven down the main streets of Buenos Aires which all seemed to be named after Irishmen including the Avenida O’Higgins. And even more surreal when I saw a cinema showing ‘Chariots of Fire' with subtitles which had queues of locals waiting to go in. Maybe they were looking for tips on how to defeat the imperialist oppressors?

On arriving at the Sheraton Buenos Aires I wondered what the hell was going on. The entire place was totally packed with over-excited, mainly female, Argentineans Who shrieked and whooped in a way I have not heard since. I elbowed my way through the swaying crowd and checked in. I asked the guy at the desk what was going on and he said “have a nice stay Mr Platt” He clearly did not understand so I asked again in the British way (loudly and slowly in English) and he smiled sweetly in feigned understanding and said “have a nice stay Mr Platt”.

It was all getting too much after such a long flight so I grabbed my key and fought my way to the lift. It fairly throbbed around that area so I lowered my shoulder and fought my way through. It was worse than playing hooker for East Grinstead third rugby team. Finally I saw a lift with the doors closing and I dived through the gap at the last minute.

The lift started almost simultaneously and I felt myself being grabbed. There were three others there. Two were enormous thug like creatures and the third was Frank Sinatra. The next movements happened in a seamless blur. First I was lifted off my feet by ‘thug one’, secondly ‘thug two’ frisked me and thirdly Frank (I like to think we were on first name terms by then) pressed the button of the next floor. Lift door opened, I was propelled out and against the hall wall with my feet still not touching ground and immediately the door shut. Welcome to Argentina I thought.

I got up without part of my shirt and a large chunk of dignity and got the next elevator too my room. To be 'frank' I was bloody annoyed so I rang and asked for the General Manager. “Have a nice stay” the operator started to say until I stopped him with certain words that need no introduction anywhere in the world. He said he would phone Frank Sinatra’s personal assistant and report back.

How did it end? Nothing until the next morning. I got up and saw that under the door had been posted two items. First was the local English written newspaper saying Sinatra was in town. The second was a clearly printed mass produced photograph of the great man with the word “sincerely Frank Sinatra”. Sincerely I thought? Was he sincerely sorry or was he sincere about chucking me out of his lift?
I guess I will never know now but I have my suspicions!

Brushes with the rich and famous – Michael O’Leary

What a man Michael O’Leary is. Mind you I cannot make up my mind whether he should have been more appropriately named Michael O’Loony or perhaps Michael O’Lucky. Then I decided the word luck does not really feature in either his profile or vocabulary so that one can be quickly discounted. This leaves us with the loony possibility and I think this option needs more careful thought.

When you see Michael you can almost be tempted to wonder what all the fuss is about. He does not particularly stand out in the crowd and is very often disarmingly charming in his soft Irish accented way. When I saw him I wondered if he was really the beast of Ryanair and the airline reincarnation of Rasputin the mad monk of Imperial Russian that I had heard about.

We were both invited to speak to a group of city analysts at a day conference sponsored by one of the large investment houses and it was his turn to go first. We had sat through some pretty dry stuff delivered by well meaning but character challenged airline CEOs which were received in a rather stony and impolite fashion by the audience. This audience was pretty typical of most city analyst groups i.e. average age 25, average experience 1 year, average IQ 150 and average manners 0.

When O’Leary stood up there was an expectant rumble of muted mutterings in the audience. Up to the podium he marched, looked at the audience and took a great swig of water direct from the neck of a large bottle whilst ignoring the glasses set alongside for his use. That really did silence the expectant audience and some even stopped tapping away on their blackberries.

He started talking gently and lucidly about Ryanair, their achievements and plans and it was really rather impressive. You could see the audience being wooed and I could not fail to notice the look of total relief on the faces of his advisers who had no doubt tried to school him about keeping to the script they had spent hours writing for him. Apart from the odd witty aside delivered in his soft Irish bur he looked word perfect.
And then something seemed to click in his brain.

He was talking about airport charges and suddenly he spoke the words ‘Stanstead Airport’ off his script and his eyes seemed to glaze and a red mist gathered in front of them. I heard a muttered “Oh shit” coming from the direction of his advisers and Michael was off into a wild tirade of abuse levelled at the leadership of that airport who happened to be in the audience. It was not pretty and it was not nice and it definitely was not in his script. It ended as abruptly as it started with O’Leary staring balefully and challenging at the Stanstead guys as he stalked off the stage. You could have heard a pin drop.

Follow that I thought. So up I got and took my place on the podium. I could see that the audience had not joined me. Most were on their blackberries having seen the ‘main event’ and those that weren’t were chatting, slipping out or leaning over to pat Michael on the back. So I decided to join them by subtly picking up where Michael had left off, after all I had little to lose by that stage. First thing was the bottle, or should I say bottles as I grabbed each one of the four on the table and took a deep drink out of all of them By this time I had some of their attention. This was followed by my delivering a much abridged version of what I was going to say and then I got on to Stanstead airport and Ryanair. I then gave what I thought was cunning but scathing comments that were a barely concealed attack on Ryanair and the way they work with/against the rest of the industry and finished to a reasonable spatter of applause.

Back to my seat in front of Michael I went and I could sense his eyes boring into the back of my head. At the end of the conference I decided to take the bull by the horns and introduce myself to the man and round I turned. He was very gracious and to my surprise thanked me quite profusely for the support I gave in my speech. Did he not realise I thought? Did he not see I was taking the Mickey I wondered? No I thought, this man is so vain he did not notice. Goodbye I said and walked away. I turned at the door and our eyes met across the room. His eyes looked glazed and I thought I detected a red mist in front of them.

So what do I think? Is he mad or very clever? Well there is little doubt he is very rich and very successful. He also has found a way to perpetuate this by being as unpleasant as possible to the industry and some would argue, his customers. In fact the worse he gets the better he does. Alongside this you have a man who is clearly a loose cannon. A man who says you should pay to go to the toilet on board and that air hostesses should learn to land planes in order to get rid of second pilots. I mean that is mad, or is it. Nobody, including him I suspect, believes either of these will happen but look at the press he has achieved for saying both. Remember, the worse he gets the better he does.

So my verdict is that he is a very clever man, a possibly dangerous man, but hopefully not one with a long memory as I would not like to see the outcome of that red mist!