Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tiger Airways is a disgrace

I just don't understand super cheap airlines. How exactly do they make any money? Is it from people booking a super cheap flight then getting stung for every single thing possible? How on earth do they get any repeat business? Presumably the Civil Aviation Authority and OH & S regulators set a minimum on how crappy their planes and terminals can be. They must be at least not dangerous or unhealthy for their staff, if not their passengers.

So how is it a viable business? I ask this as Elf flew back from Melbourne yesterday with Tiger Airways, after having flown over with Virgin Blue (it was booked for her by her work). The Virgin flight was unremarkable - the Tiger experience was irredeemably dreadful.

Her 3.45 flight finally took off at 5.15 - one of nine flights delayed (one other was cancelled). So the terminal was chock full of unhappy people. The bins were overflowing, the toilets were closed for maintenance. The cafe was outdoors, and occupied solidly by smokers also talking loudly on mobiles. Flights that were delayed came up on the board as "closed", adding to the mild hysteria. NOTE: there was no fog, snow or hail. Just no planes. Also the Tiger terminal is a stand-alone Third World shed at Tullamarine, 10 minutes walk from the relative comfort, security, fun and chuckles of the First World main terminal.

Elf said the general vibe was that none of the Tiger staff knew what was happening. Hobart passengers were called to the front at one stage, then told "As you know your flight is now leaving at 5.00..." No, they didn't know, and why were they now at the front of a queue where they were actually not allowed to check in yet?

At home I was trying to find out when to expect Elf to arrive. She doesn't have a mobile. Tiger are not in the phone book here although they fly into Hobart. (There is also not one single Tiger sign at Hobart Airport). When you call the Melbourne number a male voice says (more or less) "Dude, what do the think the website is for? Get off the phone..... [time passes] ... OK, so you're still here. Sigh. Press 1 for bookings, press 2..." And none of the options encompasses arrivals/departures. Their website has a section that looks like it will help, but rather than give information about individual flights it claims that "81% of our flights are on time" and goes on to gloat about how excellent that is.

Meanwhile Elf was now in the air. She decided to embrace the spirit of the new age of flight, and buy some M&Ms from the hostie. $3, credit card only. "Sorry, we don't handle any cash". At least the plane didn't crash into the sea. As they approached Hobart the captain said on the PA "We'll be in Hobart just a few minutes after the scheduled time". Met with rueful laughter from the passengers, I imagine.

It strikes me that every Tiger flight is a bit like a minor hostage crisis.
Anxious families wait for news. The group sit around on their possessions, in the clothes they were wearing when they were captured. Unlikely alliances are struck. Their captors use confusion as a tactic to divide and rule. Basic human requirements are denied. Once the hostages are strapped in they are faced with unreasonable demands (if you are thirsty you had better have a credit card) - which only the strongest can resist. The captors attempt brainwashing ("just a few minutes after the scheduled time"). The captors attempt to control the flow of information. Once their demands are granted, the captives are dumped in the dark at an anonymous location (no Tiger signs, no Tiger desk, no Tiger staff). Thank God everyone is reunited with their families, but what if this shadowy "airline" were to strike again?

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