Archive for July 2011

What the Customer Really Wants? – Part 1

OK, I know I am becoming a grumpy old man. As my appointment with the ‘Grim Reaper’ gets closer the more things in corporate travel seem to rankle. For example my pet hate at present is the strap line used by ACTE to promote itself.

It seems the three key things that most attract new and current members are to ‘be smart, be hip and be seen’. Now I can go with the first one but I think there are a few other worthy aspirations slightly ahead of being ‘hip’ and ‘seen’. I mean what is all that about? But I digress!

My diatribe today is all about ‘the customer’ and what they truly want. Now this is not easy as, depending where you dip into the supply chain, you get a different definition of customer. It becomes clear that each definition of the customer is more linked to who we want them to be rather than who they really are.

If you go to an airline like say American they are likely to say the traveller. Go to an international corporation and they would say we, the company are. Go to a TMC and they will say either or both depending on who makes the decision to appoint us and who has the strength to get us sacked. Go to the GDS and they will say ‘we buy/sell segments from and to airlines and TMCs so we don’t need to know. However I think they do as the traveller is far more likely to book outside their service on direct websites.

Now let us assume for one moment that the traveller is the decision maker. In many cases this is fact. They may get influenced either strongly or weakly by their budget holding employers but hey, they can usually find a way around that. So what do they want? Simple you may think but I contend otherwise.

If you read the papers, magazines etc what everyone is interested in price. How do I get this cheap, who can give me the best price package, how can I get lower fares but better perks? The low cost carriers came along and thrived by undercutting the big established boys and the glory of cheapness became a reality. But hold on a minute, those low cost flights were on high density short haul routes and every time a transatlantic model was launched it failed. Does that say something?

It says to me that people are prepared to put up with most kinds of discomfort on little commuter routes but not when they are going any distance. Then the cabin gets cramped, the service poor and the food practically inedible. But despite all this the media and corporate hype is all about how all travel should be cheap and fares stripped down to their component parts.

The result is that although the truth of low fares is that they are in reality getting less available, the call for them is getting greater. It is also now on all routes not the one hour local shuttle service. So how do the mainstream airlines cope with this demand? They simply give the customer what they think they want in a base price but ‘nickel and dime’ the price up on ancillaries. Result? They are probably better off because they have also stripped out a load of service costs.

Unfortunately these extra services that have been removed out are the very things that differentiate them in the market place. They have also had a major impact on how they are perceived by ‘the traveller’. To me British Airways is a fine example of this although there are many more. BA has shed cost like a snake sheds skin. With all these customers supposedly wanting lower prices they either had to re-register as a charity or strip to the bone. They chose the latter and it is bearing dividends for them…in the short term, as the backlash is growing.

My mood was not improved last Sunday when I was reading the Sunday Times Colour Supplement. In it there was an article that was hugely critical of British Airways and its Heathrow hub. It self righteously condemned BA on everything from staff attitude to catering. I did not get a proper traditional English afternoon tea one interviewee bleated; another was depressed about meagre snacks and miserable staff.
Come on guys, you killed the airline BA was in order to create the one you say everyone wants.

BA simply charged too much for the modern world to stomach so what did they do?
They made themselves competitive by taking on the unions to reduce overheads, shed unprofitable routes, cut back on catering, and started charging for previously free services. And what do we do now they have become lean, mean and cheaper? We criticise them and mourn the demise of those dear little things we took for granted.

So is there a moral behind all this? I think there is. And the answer, in part was in the final paragraphs of that idiotic article. The piece listed all the things that passengers are supposed to want from an airline like BA (most were what BA used to do) and then it said on behalf of the traveller ‘We’ll pay – provided it’s good’ Wow!

So the traveller wants service after all? Maybe it is not universally about price? Could people really be prepared to ‘pay – provided it’s good? Your guess is as good as mine but in the meantime I suggest we could all take a good look at what we are turning this industry into and whether we are willing to pay to put part of it back together again – if it is good.

Entertaining Foreign Dignitaries - Part 1

At one stage a major part of my job was to meet and greet VIPs from abroad and escort them on special tours around the UK. These journeys were usually linked to the launch of a major new air service to their particular country and designed to ‘build relationships’ with those that could smooth our way.

Naturally these guests were very senior, very demanding and sometimes totally out of order in the things they did whilst staying as our guests. The people I was responsible for were mainly from West Africa. They were very wealthy in their own right, used to getting what they wanted and usually Muslim which meant that you had to be very careful about what food or drink they were offered.

These visits were often great fun and I made some strong friendships during that time. Needless to say there were other occasions where I, they or both combined caused such havoc that it could have resulted in some major international incidents. After all, the combination of differing races, religions, cultures and nationalities in a confined area is always going to make for a volatile mix. This blend can result in both offence and hilarity as my recollections will show.

I remember standing nervously at Gatwick’s arrivals area waiting for the first Nigerian group to arrive. They were very easy to recognise in that they were all enormous and wearing large flowing, mainly grey/white robes. I could see by their body language that they were not comfortable or used to travelling in groups or passing through the public areas of airports. The second thing I noticed was they had barely any baggage which I found strange until all was revealed later on.

I walked boldly up to the first guest and introduced myself as his host and escort. I held out my hand to shake his but instead he dropped his big black attaché case in it. Where is my car he demanded as I stood squirming trying to explain to them all that we had laid on a coach for all transfers. They looked aghast. No cars? One said he had not been in a coach in his life and another said he would lose face if he travelled in one.

Having finally got across to them that it was coach or nothing we took them to the parking area where our rather aged non air conditioned 52-seater coach was waiting to take them to their London hotel. It was the hottest day of the year so far but probably not as humid as downtown Lagos.

The real fun started when we tried to board them. You see each one had their own vision of where they featured in the tour’s ‘pecking’ order and, rather like cows at milking time, they would not get on out of sequence. The leader would insist on the front seat with the other less worthy individuals sat in their own chosen order behind. The jostling by these supposedly mature and wise men was something to behold. One particularly fat gentleman wearing what looked like a huge tent sat down in the front seat and refused to move despite shouted protestations of others.

Somehow we finally got them seated and off we went. The whole lot of them fell deeply asleep and we drove up to the hotel to the constant drone of snoring with the odd staccato fart in accompaniment. The air inside the coach was ‘steamy’ to say the least by the time we rolled up at the Cavendish hotel. On arrival I had to wake them up which earned me many reprimands and one slap in the face from a guest who thought for a moment that I was his wife….or one of them.

They were with us for only three days and we gave them all the free time they needed aside from official dinners, a trip to the theatre and a guided tour which was mandatory. I tried to tell them this at the hotel briefing but, by the time I had finished most were already on their way to the shops. It was soon after that I got my first complaint from the hotel management.

The mystery of the non existent baggage on arrival was solved. Why bring stuff from Lagos where there were shortages when you are flying to London and get anything. In the case of my group this included hi-fis, refrigerators, half of Selfridges, a touch of Harrods and the equivalent of a whole Marks and Spencer lingerie department. The hotel foyer was soon completely filled with boxes and even crates on wooden pallets. They had to turn (at a price) a whole conference room into a temporary store.

The trip to the theatre was a disaster. We went to see Phantom of the Opera and had seats at the front of the dress circle. Firstly the seats were too small and secondly they would not keep still or quiet. The first rumblings of snoring started shortly after the first song and it began to put the actors and their audience off. I started creeping around poking the perpetrators or sometimes squeezing their noses to try and stop them. Finally our giant in grey broke wind so powerfully that everybody thought it was a gunshot. Then the smell started.

The next day was set aside for the coach tour of London and I was dreading it. I had only just come off the phone from negotiating compensation with the theatre and now I had to escort these shopping-mad sleepyheads around the sights. I lost four entirely but managed to shuffle the rest on the coach. The running feud as to who sat where continued. The only undisputed seat was in the front row where our grey-clad giant sat as the group’s undisputed ‘top dog’.

We had a really enthusiastic guide who bragged to me that he always managed to keep peoples attention with his knowledge and humour. You have never met my boys I thought o myself. It started badly and ended worse as he spent the whole time talking while they slept noisily. They woke up briefly for lunch and then virtually passed out when back in the coach.

When we arrived back at the hotel and they were still comatose. I found myself hemmed in at the front by the guide and his driver who gave me a right earful. ‘These people are rude’ the guide said. ‘Yeah, no manners’, the driver pitched in. ‘I am warning you now’ the guide snarled. ‘If you ever again have a group of Nigerians like this do not under any circumstances expect me to guide them’!

He had started to shout and our guests were waking up. Having seen we were back they started to disembark in order to do a bit more shopping. When one guy demanded that the coach take him to Austin Reid in Regent Street I thought things might get violent.

As they left our grey giant grabbed each one as he went past and muttered to them for some money. He was the last to leave and by that time he had a fist full of cash. He added another fist full from his own wallet and dumped the lot into the hands of the driver and guide. He gave me a conspiritorial smile as he left which made me wonder if he had been asleep at all.

My two companions gazed at the notes and started counting. There was just short of seven hundred pounds and this was around thirty years ago. It was a fortune and it immediately created a different mindset. The guide said ‘maybe I was too hasty so if you have any such groups in future do not hesitate to ring me. Here is my direct number, I am always available’.

The next day I had to commission a removal van plus our coach to take their baggage to Gatwick Airport. The guests themselves got their way and went by individual taxi. They would not share with each other and the big guy had to be in the first one to leave! Me? I was shattered and fell asleep. I probably snored!

Who is the customer around here anyway?

OK, OK, I know. I said I was going to quit corporate travel and disappear into the mists of travel legend…or something like that. But it is so very hard! I am rather like Frank Sinatra was, or Michel Jordan is, where something happens which triggers off a new reason why the lure of starting again becomes too much.

The trigger for me was American Airlines president Tom Horton and a guest article he wrote for ‘The Beat’ on ‘Customizing the Travel Experience’. Right, it was the expected sanitized statement that had no doubt done the rounds of the AA public relations department before release but it made one thing screamingly clear to me. That is, who American Airlines think their customers are.

They are clearly playing their ‘customer’ card. In fact in a smallish statement of circa 800 words they had used the term (and derivatives) at least 15 times before I gave up counting. Reading the words of the article it is also clear that by customer they refer to travellers and the choices AA are offering these individuals. In contrast he used the word ‘corporate’ once (that I saw) and that was referring to ‘travel agents’ customers.

Does this matter? Is it a simple slip? Or does it show a complete lack of recognition, empathy, and understanding with the corporate travel world? After all, do corporations really want their travellers to have all these extra choices at an extra price? Do they want the lack of control that this brings to their travel policy? Do they want the extra expense taken out of their control for potentially both bookings and ancillaries?

Does it matter that the president of AA still thinks of such a key intermediary as a ‘travel agent’ when the corporate service provided is now Travel Management hence the correct and more accurate term TMCs. This may sound like splitting hairs but is it. Or is it more that? Is it AA demonstrating a worldwide apathy amongst airlines to accept that the corporate world is changing around them?

So what is this ‘customizing’ all about? To me it is about the airlines tweaking the evolving business market to their own advantage whilst ignoring the needs/demands of a major sector of their market. Is that such a surprising thing? Probably not but I cannot bear all this sugar coating around what is actually some very unpleasant tablets. Here are some examples:

We don’t want to pay the GDS any more even though it is the medium of choice for those ‘travel agents’ corporate customers. We do not seem to be able to renegotiate a deal with these GDS so let’s provide a direct product. OK it is not what corporates want but hey, think of the savings, the control, the MI and the ancillary selling opportunity.

We have been badly stung by the inroads ‘no frills’ airlines have made in our markets. Fares have gone down and their shares have increased, but hang on, there is an opportunity here. These airlines have reached critical mass to the point where they have to add more charges to maintain growth and survive. They are not the threat they were and we can now use their weapons against them. We too can offer basic core prices and then bolt on all those other ancillaries to mask the true cost.
It seems to me that corporations themselves are helping (or at least not hindering) such strategies. Corporations seem to like unbundling as it works in other spheres of procurement. But does it work in travel? Ah, that is far more complex and has greater ramifications in the supply chain. Cost has a habit of moving, not disappearing.

I suggest corporates need to have a much greater influence in the travel industry. Their associations need visibly shift away from their suppliers who they use to subsidise their costs through sponsorship and advertising. These bodies need to push their way to the table which is totally dominated by the major suppliers. They need to be heard and recognised.

Suppliers need to understand that the world has moved on and that the ‘customer’ in the corporate world is the company itself and not its employees. Those intermediaries such as TMCs are not simply booking travel agents but an outsourced arm of their corporate customer. Only then will we have a successful transition to a new model.

A Blogger in Paradise – Majorca Part 4

The main thing for me about this holiday was that it was in a villa not a hotel. I have done it on short stays twice but never a fortnight and I wondered whether the novelty would wear off… and it did. Yes, the novelty of it went but got replaced with far better feelings of relaxation and peaceful familiarity than I have ever felt in a hotel where I usually start climbing the walls by day ten.

To understand why I am now a villa convert one needs to know why me, and possibly others often feel let down when staying in hotels. To me the best word to explain my disappointment is freedom, or lack of it. In a hotel I feel too regulated. You end up eating what they want, when they want at a frequently unacceptable and unjustifiable price. Once you are there you operate under their rules alongside their guests using their dress code.

You cannot really get up when you want, have a light snack of your own choosing and pick your own environment to spend the day. For example you could go to the pool and not find a quiet, comfortable, shaded spot. The pool menu will serve portions big enough (and costly enough) for three. So you go back to the room and find housekeeping there. Some people even smuggle out food from breakfast purely because it gives them the kind of things they want to eat at lunch.

Later you decide to have a relaxed meal but can your wife really go down without washing, drying and straightening her hair? And what about the other guests who seem to think the whole thing is a fashion contest. Can you really face another full set meal of something you would never bother with at home? Can you do this at breakfast, lunch and dinner for 14 days and nights? We all seem to but I reckon the first hotel to come up with the alternatives people want will make a killing.

Right, that’s now off my chest. After all those years of holidays where I thought that if I ate another lunchtime shared club sandwich I would kill myself or the waiter…or both. I found a well planned villa holiday can save me this grief albeit at a cost. The cost? Well you better be sure it is the right villa for you or you have had it for the duration.

You have to buy your own food but the consolation is that you can eat what you want, when you want it and in the right portions. OK, you have to pay for the staples like pepper, salt, oils etc but it is all far cheaper than hotel dining and you can stock up on drinks, crisps, and nibbles etc at a fraction of the price. When you don’t want to cook? Well you go out!

Villa concerns for me were mostly not problematic. You have to have a car. You need to seriously consider security especially in some places. You need good easy means of contact with the owner or their agent in case of problems and you have to take location and the proximity of neighbours into account. I cannot imagine what it would be like to move into a place with screamers and loud music lovers over the fence. We did our research and we were fine…thankfully!

OK, there can be some niggles. For example there is a growing habit in Majorca of owners putting the air conditioning on a timer so you can only use it at night. They conveniently assume that everyone will either keep the doors and windows open all day or go out. So the sales pitch says air conditioning when it should say ‘part’ air conditioning. I think if you are paying for aircon you should get aircon when YOU want it rather than reduce the owner’s electricity bill. Others may be more eco minded than me. I found a little visit to the fuse box controlled solved my problem!

So, the headquarters of my Majorcan ‘paradise’ was the Villa Son Rotger in the hills 5kms from Pollensa. Our days panned out like this: Get up at around 9.30 a.m. , open the shutters and pad downstairs to pick up cereal, fresh fruit and tea and bring up to the balcony overlooking the sea. Then agonise over whether to have yet another fry up or salad. Then morning swim, sunbathe and read Kindle under the sun umbrella. Lunch is large or little depending on the fry-up decision. Afternoon? Repeat morning or possibly tour the area.

The evenings were great, particularly as they were warm and starry. A barbecue? A swim? An evening in front of the T.V watching UK programmes? Mostly we went out. The only unwelcome nocturnal noise was the neighbour’s dog who partook in bouts of barking. We solved this by bribing him with cat treats we had brought in from the UK in case there were local moggies!

As I said earlier there were not many neighbours. We had orchards and a farmhouse on one side. We always smiled and waived at the owners as they picked fruit from trees next to our driveway. I am not sure what they thought of us after we got caught ‘sampling’ their plums. It was made worse when I strode naked onto our balcony doing a mighty stretch only to lock eyes with grandma sitting on her tractor holding plums in her hands. She just looked, shrugged, muttered and drove away. Ah well.

So the end of the holiday came and unfortunately we had to vacate the villa by 10 a.m. which is pretty normal but a pain when your flight leaves in the evening. I had booked a day room at the Hilton near Palma airport. It is a lovely hotel but we ended up being reminded why we had chosen a villa. I simply could not have imagined staying there a fortnight.

The hotel was great, its staff were mainly great, but its guests were not. The pool was crowded, noisy and full of people tucking in tummies, running fingers through hair and indulging badly behaved kids. They had the usual snack menu that was only available through certain times and starred ‘club sandwich’. Yuk! The room was a snip at £160 (excluding food/drink) for six hours!

Finally we got to the airport. The car return was very efficient and we went to check in only to be asked for the £100 excess baggage for the extra case. I told them I was not charged on the way out so they said I had to pay them now for both! To be fair the check in was manned by Iberia Airlines staff and they called in the Thomson representative who agreed to ‘let us off this time’. A reason she gave was I had been polite when most people yell at her. Worth remembering as airline staff are the last people you should yell at, especially when they have you by the ba**s.

The flight this time was on a modern Thomson aircraft which was clean, comfortable and on time. The crew were courteous and by then I was used to paying for everything on board. The family we saw on the way out were just in front again and clearly. Dad, with the tattoos, looked like he was missing his ‘Forever Karen’ and mum and daughter looked like they wished he had stayed with her. ‘Did you have a nice time’ I asked the girl. Daddy says I can’t talk to you’ she replied morosely.

So there you have it. The villa life was paradise to us. Thomson was far better than expected and Majorca was everything we wanted it to be. And spoilt little me? I learned that first class travel and 5 star hotels is not necessary for holiday ‘paradise’
I hope you have been both informed and entertained by this 4 part report


I would really like to hear more from you!

Reason being that I want to know if what I write is worth reading.
I am not actively seeking compliments (although they would be nice) but also comment/criticism too.

So if you are pleased, annoyed or anything in between please use the comment facility on this or any of the relevant blogs

I would also welcome statements and particularly questions and suggestions on any topic. Is there anything you want me to write about?

Also I have kind of slowed down my industry blogs but I am thinking of starting again out of frustration that nobody seems to be resolving the main issues. What do you think?
Be watching out for you and you are welcome to remain anonymous if you wish
Take Care and thanks for reading.

RESPONSE to Who is the customer?
You bring up great perspectives in your comments Mike. Any business worth its salt can tell you who their highest yield customers are and who drives the decision making process for that customer. The TMC and the corporate travel department are key and if you don't count meetings and incentive travel, corporate travel makes up 25 percent of all travel in the US. When booked through the TMC, the average yield is significantly higher than when booked online direct with the airline.
With the order of so many new aircraft announced this week, you would think that American would be planning ahead on how to fill those planes profitably.
~ Chicke Fitzgerald, Founder and CEO, Solutionz


Warm regards,
Kevin Mitchell
Business Travel Coalition, Inc

I went through your blog today, read many posts and I found it very interesting and well written.
Keep up the good work
Kind regards
Daniel Zetík

Distribution Prediction Comments

Anonymous Comment:

Brilliant commentary. Mike has REALLY hit upon something important here.

Love the line about airlines wanting more control and less cost, "They try and dress it up differently by saying it is what the customer wants which of course is laughable if it wasn’t so serious. I wish they would just come out and say the truth which is that they intend to eradicate this cost or pass it elsewhere."

Again, brilliant analysis

Anonymous Comment

As ever Mike hits the nail on the head whilst other so called industry experts have a tendancy to hit their thumb with an oversize hammer. What is being described as more than likely to happen within the industry is in fact already work in progress; and perhaps further down the line than many (on all sides of the equation) would care to admit.

Love it - a couple of great stories in there - I think the Haggis throwing championship is a great read; I can just picture your giant Nigerian standing on the barrel and throwing the Haggis with one hand. Sounds like a fun day was had by all. Cheers
Posted by Peter

i still don't think we've even scratched the surface of how bad direct connect will be for airlines, tmcs and customers

Great post! Full of insight and very informative! Stumbled on this website while in the airport waiting for my flight. Will definitely check this out regularly. Thanks and more power to your blog! Cheers! Kevin Akins -

A Blogger in Paradise –Majorca Part 3

So we finally arrived at the villa which was to be our home for two weeks. “Don’t think I am going to be chained to the cooker all the time” said Judith as I tried to turn our small car into a smaller driveway before the electric gates closed. ‘No darling’ I replied thinking about 14 days of fried food, barbecues and cosy home suppers.

Now we get to the ‘paradise’ bit of title. The villa was beautiful and I would recommend it to anyone. We have used Villa Select before and they have never let us down so far. It had three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a bright and spacious living area.

The design was modern and the facilities were all there from the large infinity pool to the sunny barbecue area to the large balconies with views over the bay of Alcudia. There was a modern halogen hob, new looking cooker and washing machine and an excellent fridge freezer. You will be able to make great meals here I said to Judith as she gave me an icy stare. ‘No, let’s go out instead’ she snapped.

That first night we drove the short distance to Alcudia where we promptly got lost. ‘Left here’ she shouted after we passed the turning for the second time that day. We eventually ended up in the old town where we seemed to be the only tourists and came face to face with an eighteen inch penis. It was attached to an eight foot statue of a naked violinist that was ‘mounted’ in the forecourt of a small bar. Naturally we could not resist dining there.

We sat adjacent to the statue but we could not escape from its member as the setting sun threw its shadow right across our table. Rather unnerving when you are eating a ham baguette I can assure you. I placed the pepper and salt at one end and it looked quite lifelike! After being stared at by the locals, drinking beer and watching the sunset we drove home. Apparently our naked stone friend was called Javier San Pedro but I am not sure if the scale used was lifelike or wistful thinking.

We went out touring in the car a few of the days and found some really nice places that make mockery of the concept that Majorca is all crowded beaches, nightclubs and tourist dominated. There are such places for those that want them but they are mainly in the south, except for perhaps Port de Alcudia.

A great place to go is Port de Solier on the west coast. The drive is quite hair raising over mountains and around many tight bends but it is worth it for the views. We ended up behind a very nervous driver who panicked and nearly stopped at every bend and then shot off afterwards to stop you overtaking. He met his match when he met a bus driving psychopath on a particularly bad loop. They ended up bonnet to bonnet with neither able nor willing to give way. We nipped past whilst they screamed at each other.

We then ended up behind another bus which was aptly named ‘no frills bus tours’. An inspiring name and the people aboard looked wretched. By the look of it no frills meant no air conditioning, no shock absorbers and no windows that opened. It was dull rust red in colour (no paint) and the driver was wearing a vest (no shirt). Even Michael O’Leary would think that this bus had less frills than his Ryanair planes.

We went to a lot of the usual places like Formentor where you can climb down from little car parks to gorgeous little beaches and Cala San Vicente which is a very pretty little resort in a small bay that has some very nice cafes.

When we ate out we either drove in to Pollensa old town or Port de Pollensa depending on what mood we were in. If we wanted pretty and quaint it was the former where you could sit in the main square, eat good food and watch people who were probably watching you. Everybody eyes each other up on holiday; it is part of the ‘fun’. I think they particularly appreciated it when I got drunk with a Brazilian waiter who demonstrated (repeatedly) how to make an authentic caiprinha.

Port de Pollensa is at the seaside and full of cafes lined along the front. This place is great fun on any evening and you would be amazed by some of the sights that walk past. In June the local people are out in force too so it is quite a scramble of tourists and residents of all sizes, ages and dress sense as well as the local dogs which get taken walkies in the evenings. The latter provided great entertainment by escaping, tangling leads, fighting and occasionally defecating while you are trying to eat your paella.

Picking up dog litter seems an alien concept to the Majorcans. Very often they do not notice what their dogs are doing as one lady with a chihuahua demonstrated. It was on one of those extending leads so it got ahead of its owner and squatted down by a palm tree in an orderly manner. Sadly for him and everyone else his owner failed to notice and the next minute Fido was projected through the air when the lead tightened. It continued to ‘go’ as it flew dropping bombs like something out of the dam busters film.

What can you do? You cannot pick it up and you cannot tell ever passerby about it. So we decided to wait and watch while vast numbers of people came from either side all converging on these brown bombs. We felt so helpless but it was compelling viewing.
Eventually there was a bulls-eye by a local on a bike followed by a glancing blow from a lady in heels. We really did feel guilty!

Food at both these locations is of a reasonably high standard taking all into account although it is not particularly cheap. Wine costs far less than the UK and Majorcan grapes are quite acceptable. Food in the supermarkets is pretty extensive and you will find many international brands. The bigger the supermarket the bigger the range and the cheaper the price but that is the same the world over. You can use credit cards at most places but only if you can show ID like a passport or driving license.

More about villa life and the homeward journey in my final blog on this subject out later this week.

A Blogger in Paradise –Majorca Part 2

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, we were airborne and flying serenely to our holiday isle. We were getting slightly sizzled on champagne and considerably nauseous over the chocolate. My chunky neighbour had an itch and the guy behind seemed to be suffering from cramp judging by the number of times his leg jerked into my seat back.

I tried to focus on the entertainment system but the overhead screens were poor and the programme poorer. I watched in silence as you could only buy (not rent) headsets and nobody said before the flight you could bring your own. Funny that! At least I had the little girl in front to ‘amuse’ me as she lolled over her seat back and pulled faces. Are you a monster she asked? I am not sure I replied. Yes you are she said as the faces continued.

Her dad was a shaven head brute of a man in an athletic vest. He was covered in tattoos. He had ‘True’ and ‘Love’ across his knuckles, wrestling dragons, anchors and mermaids around his neck and back. All along one arm he had ‘Karen Forever’ which was rather strange as we later found out his wife next to him was called Dawn. He leaned over his seat and glared at me as though I was a pervert and said ‘Hanna (again not Karen), don’t talk to that man. Happy days I thought.

The plane touched down without further incident and I had to reflect on how painless it was. I had avoided DVT and sipped champagne which is a good combination. There was no queue to speak of at immigration and our bags popped up last as usual. Some kind soul in the baggage area had snipped my BA Executive Club labels in half but that was the only damage.

So all we had to do now was collect our car and drive to our villa in the northern part of the island near Pollensa and 55 minutes away. We used a company called 'Centauro' and I would recommend them. I found it best not to book the company that Thomson recommends as everybody else does it and the queue at their desk was horrendous.

They are located on the airport perimeter road and you get to them by their transfer bus. It should have been very easy except their printed directions to the bus stop had been written by someone facing customs not coming out of it; hence we wandered off in the opposite direction. Once this got sorted we found the lane we had to stand by but no ‘Centauro’ sign as there wasn’t one. I found waving and leaping in front of their vehicle had the desired effect

We got to their facility and were issued with the necessary contract and guides very quickly. Within less than 10 minutes we were sitting in our ‘violent blue’ Fiesta that groaned under the weight of three large suitcases and us. Why three large cases? Because I am a packaholic. All those years of travel and I still over-pack. Once I wrapped a large beach umbrella in bin liners and took it to Mauritius in case there was not enough shade for our young daughter!

This time I was slightly better and only packed double clothes, half a chemist shop, cling film, Marmite and a pair of swimming trunks for each day. I had however forgotten all my underpants and charging units for Ipod, camera (which went flat) and Kindle. Judith’s eyes rolled as she saw all the silly stuff falling out at the other end.

So we hit the road. Actually it nearly hit us as I judged my first roundabout rather inaccurately. Judith had the map and I had my short driving temper. Turn left she shrieked about twenty yards after the correct turn-off. Relations were strained but eventually we found the right road. By the way they have changed the motorway speed limit to 110 kph. I remind you as the Centauro maps are rather ancient (as are others) and still tell you it is 120 kph. Also be aware that most Majorcan coach drivers are suicidal psychopaths.

The motorways and roads in general are smooth and very well maintained. I am glad that Spain uses our huge EC subsidies to ensure we can glide to our destinations. The signage is also pretty good. Parking can be tricky especially in the busy months and around the old towns but places are very clearly marked. I would recommend driving to even the nervous except for the westerly coast road which is a bit of a switchback and sometimes inhabited by those bus driving psychopaths I mentioned.

The main part of our drive to the villa was uneventful. Having got on the main motorway to the north we simply cruised for 45 minutes until it became a two lane highway. The directions were spot on until this point but then we arrived at the road/track where our villa was located. Things then became confused as we drove in the fading light down a single lane track with dead ends, dodgy signage and blind corners. Having narrowly missed two chickens, a pig and the neighbours Daschund we arrived at the Villa Son Rotger.

How we got on with the villa, the shops, the resorts, cafes and restaurants will be in my next spellbinding blog.

A Blogger in Paradise –Majorca Part 1

I must admit I have never thought the words paradise and Majorca went together and maybe they don’t entirely. However I was surprised how close they got when I spent two weeks there very recently.

I am a self confessed travel snob who has been spoilt silly by first class travel and holiday destinations like The Maldives, Mustique, Mauritius and suchlike. But this time we wanted somewhere closer to home, cheaper and less hassle and we came up with Majorca which is just two hours flight away and sunny. So off I went online and booked Thompson flights, local car hire and a villa through Villa Select.

I was filled with a sense of foreboding as I found out more about the place. You have to get there by low cost airlines or holiday charters (what no special desks and premium cabins?). Then somebody in the pub told me about Palma Nova and Magaluf with their rowdy pubs, English cafes, nightclubs, big plasma sports screens and everything else I have not enjoyed since I was in my twenties. What have I done I thought as our departure date got nearer.

Finally the day came and off we went to Gatwick. We arrived at North Terminal and walked past our usual un-crowded BA Executive Club check in desk and into the people maelstrom called the Thomson check in area. It looked like pandemonium with milling crowds of young party people, families and old gits like me and there were hundreds of them. Not only that but they were checking in all flights at the same row of desks and my heart sank.

Using my vast travel experience I concluded this simply could not work…but it did. In no time we were herded by a team of Thomson staff into a huge ‘conga’ line of a queue that zigzagged at least eight times backwards and forwards across the whole width of the departure area. This will take years I snarled to Judith as we fitted in behind a group of young school leaver party girls and in front of a couple juggling 3 children, two bottles of water and an array of buggies. It took only 20 minutes. After much shuffling, bumping and tight turning we were at the front where we got politely manhandled by a couple of shouting marshals who pointed to one of the desks

. Check-in was seamless apart from one big but. I wanted extra baggage above our one case each allowance so I prepaid for an extra bag online by adding an extra £30 to our bill. I soon found out that yes, you can have an extra case but no, you could not have any extra weight. What is all that about? What is the point in paying for two bags if you can only carry stuff for one in them? Weird! Anyway they tried to charge me £100 in excess baggage and it took all my selling skills to talk them out of it.

We walked past our usual empty priority security channel and joined the rear of the busy general entrance and, to my surprise we were through in no time. OK I had to dress again having taken off my shoes, belt, jacket, watch etc but that would have happened anyway these days. It was unfortunate my trousers dropped to my knees as I walked through the metal detector but at least they could see I had no obvious secret weapon. I hope I have decent underwear I thought as I bent down to pick them up.

The thought of hanging around the main departures area was too much for my spoilt sensibilities so I had prepaid for the use of the No.1. Lounge when I was booking our Gatwick North Terminal valet parking. It cost £40 for the two of us and it was bright, airy and not overcrowded. For the £20 a head we could have lunch, watch a film, and drink what we wanted for up to 3 hours. When you think that on the aircraft the meal alone costs £12 each it is a cost effective way of lunching and drinking beforehand in comfort whilst getting away from the crowds.

Flight time loomed so off we went to the gate. The only trouble was that the advertised gate was incorrect. In fact I do not think it existed. This resulted in much milling around where the passengers reckoned it should be. Eventually a member of Thomson staff beckoned from a nearby desk (which said ‘closed’ above it) and off we strode.

Why we all do it I do not know but as soon as a flight is called for boarding it is something like the ‘charge of the light brigade’. The plane won’t go without us but we all make that undignified dash. Some people start queuing at the gate an hour beforehand. I can only think it is because everyone wants to be sure there is still room to stow their bags before others from surrounding seats chuck their stuff in first.

Finally we were on board this rather old looking Airbus with rather old looking and very small tight-packed seats. I had paid (£25) for extra leg room and got it in the emergency exit row. Unfortunately a rather enormous person had the same idea and squeezed in next to us. What would have happened in an emergency is anyone’s guess but folk would have had to scale the man mountain first to get out.

To my surprise the flight was really good. I had to get used to paying for everything but I could not fault it. If I had been anywhere in the rest of the plane I might have got claustrophobia but my little row was great even with the big guy alongside. Again I had pre-ordered champagne and chocolates (for £25) and a full size bottle arrived with no fuss. This is not at all bad I thought and certainly rivalled many a short-haul schedule flight I have been on in the past.

So we sat back, relaxed and waited for our arrival in Palma, What would the airport, car and villa be like? Would the island be one big hen party/stag tour? Would I live on a diet of egg and chips washed down with “tea like mum makes it”. If you can bear the tension stay tuned for the next thrilling episode on a screen near you soon!