Tiger Airways - a lesson in how not to fail

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Executive Summary for any Tiger Airways management who might want to improve their service: mechanical failures happen in every industry - it is inconvenient for your passengers but it is how you respond that determines whether customers hate you or bear with you. When failures happen all customers want is information to help them re-assess their travel plans. Your biggest failure today was not a failed engine but failing to disseminate useful information in a timely manner.

To start with, announce the options available to would be passengers on your cancelled flights - don't make them stand in line for hours just to find out they have to fill in some forms. For your delayed flights - announce accurate information about re-scheduled flights. When you tell your passengers that their flight is delayed for 3 hours then 2 hours later you tell them it'll be another 3 hours, its hard to know what to believe. The academic reference here is the story of the boy who cried wolf.

Now the whole story ...

I was scheduled on Tiger Airways 2pm flight from Melbourne to Sydney today. Checked in just after 1pm as they are apparently quite strict about their 45 minute cut-off. There was a bit of a line up but it moved quickly with 4-5 check-in desks open, no dramas. We began boarding just after 1:30pm and I was quite impressed by the efficiency of it all - it looked like we were going to take off dead on 2pm.

Now I had heard several stories of appalling Tiger Airways travel experiences so I was, at this point, pleasantly surprised that we appeared to be taking off on-time with absolutely no incidents. At 1:50pm the captain announced there were engine issues which they hoped would be resolved by a "reset". I have to say as a computer guy its a little worrying that they are hoping to resolve an issue with an aircraft engine with a . Anyway we were to be off in 10 minutes, sweet!

Just after 2pm we see the ground staff start wheeling the staircase towards the plane ... the staircase we'd used to board the craft. Uh oh. We're told that the reset had failed and we were being re-scheduled to take off in 2-3 hours. Ok, whatever, mechanical failures happen.

I find a power point and setup the laptop & 3G USB dongle and start poking around for on-time performance statistics to try and get an understanding of how frequent these issues are - I'll post about that tomorrow.

It is announced that our flight will be re-scheduled for 4pm takeoff. Then its 5pm. Then 5.30pm. And finally 8pm. When the announcement of the 8pm takeoff occurs there is an almighty groan from the now full-to-the-brim terminal. They also announce that we'll get meal vouchers for our trouble - woo!

Now as they have re-scheduled my flight 4 times now, and I've become aware that Tiger only operates 7 aircraft in Australia and I don't see them magically producing spare planes any time soon I opt to start investigating alternatives. I end up buying a Qantas fare for their 7:45pm flight which is how I eventually got home.

After I'd sorted out my Qantas ticket and checked-in I re-visited the Tiger terminal. It is 6.15pm and there would've been several hundred people packed into the check-in area. You see Tiger had opted to cancel their 6:45pm and 8pm flights in order to accommodate the stranded 2pm and 3pm flights' customers. But I guess they didn't have time to notify any of these customers, say by SMS, so there's maybe 300 irate customers trying to figure out what a cancelled evening flight means exactly.

Out of interest I decide to line up to collect my meal voucher, and also to see if there is a way to "un-checkin" from my now 8pm scheduled flight. I stood in queue for 45 minutes watching the poor Tiger ground staff explain to each customer that their options were a) to accept a full refund of their ticket price, OR b) to accept re-imbursement for overnight accommodation and re-scheduling onto a Monday flight.

These options aren't rocket science so I can't understand why they didn't just announce them. In the 45 minutes I was there I heard it explained at least 10 times to individual customers, but not one public announcement. Tiger process fail.

When I got my meal voucher I discover its for $5. And its only valid at the cafe inside the departure lounge so I would have to go through the security check for the 3rd time this arvo to claim my $5 prize. LOL :D I opted for a souvenir instead.

The same staff member who awarded my meal voucher explained that I had to physically be at the check-in desk to un-checkin. I wasn't willing to un-checkin at 7pm just in case my alternate Qantas flight also ran into troubles so I do apologise to all the passengers in Terminal 4 who had to hear my name read out 30 times before TT674 finally took off. I tried to avoid it but Tiger doesn't like to make anything easy, apparently.

All in all it was a very interesting experience for someone who really enjoys understanding how systems work. The parallels with systems failures in other industries such as IT/web are uncanny. The lack of spare capacity available to Tiger was not apparent to me and I discovered it in the same manner a web user would when a highly trafficked website falls over because of a server failure. Keeping spare capacity costs and that aspect of a quality service is usually not appreciated until an incident occurs.

PS: I'm really not suggesting that everyone should avoid Tiger Airways. Tiger has an important role to play as a budget airline in generating competition in the domestic airline market. It's also important for customers to recognise that cheap isn't everything - there are quality factors which are not always immediately apparent which may be worth considering.

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This page contains a single entry by goosmurf published on October 25, 2009 10:35 PM.

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