I have mentioned before in my blogs my frequent irritations with air travel. The ever-increasing security queues, holding patterns and baggage reclaim delays give you ample time to reflect upon issues facing the industry.
On a flight down from Edinburgh to Birmingham this week I was given food for thought in two areas. After an uneventful flight, which for me fortunately meant no turbulence, we arrived at the gate at Birmingham airport bang on time. Then after waiting for 15 minutes with the aircraft doors wide open, we were told by the cabin crew that we had to wait for a bus to come and ferry us to the terminal.
A few of us cast confused glances at each other as we were effectively parked right next to the terminal at what appeared to be a fully functioning gate. The glances turned to sighs of irritation when the cabin crew then apologised for the fact that it would be another 20 minutes before a bus arrived. Finally our transport arrived and we all got off the plane, squashed into the bus and, to the collective horror of everyone on board, were then driven less than 50 feet to the gate door. People began shaking their heads in disbelief. Why had we been kept waiting for over half an hour for a bus to take us 50 feet? We could all have walked that distance in 20 seconds.
No doubt there was some important Health and Safety rules to be obeyed here. The 50 feet from aircraft to door was obviously perilously littered with traps for the unwary. Did we need to be protected from being blasted by the exhaust of a passing jet, or being run over by a baggage truck, or from having aviation fuel sprayed all over us? Surely the two airport staff on the bus and three in the gate could simply have linked hands and created a protective cordon for our 20 second dash from the aircraft?
There may have been good reasons for this inconvenient delay but they remained unexplained. And it is the unexplained that is so annoying. We were told that we needed a bus and that it would take a while to arrive - but why did we need a bus when we all obviously felt we didn't?
Protection companies often subject customers to delays while money laundering checks are run, or while we ask for further medical evidence to be gathered. And I think we are usually quite good at telling people WHAT we are doing during these delays. But after sitting on that aircraft waiting for that bus I wondered how good we are at telling people WHY we need this information - why it is important. There are many mysteries and myths surrounding the protection industry and customers must want to know not just what is happening, but why.
The second thing that grabbed my attention on that flight was a conversation between two American gentlemen sitting in front of me. When the shenanigans started, they began swapping stories about aircraft delays they had experienced in the past. One of them referred to leaving an aircraft as "DE-PLANING" - a dreadful phrase I’ve never heard before. What is wrong with "getting off" or even the actual accepted English phrase of disembarking (air travel has traditionally adopted the naval terminology - hence embarking, disembarking and Captains and First Officers). How do you come up with a word like "de-planing"? I have heard of Americans getting out of cars and busses but never, thankfully, heard them refer to it as de-carring or de-bussing.
I started to get quite grumpy listening to this conversation. But what finally put the tin lid on it was when the other American gentleman started to refer to getting off an aircraft as "DE-BOARDING". That was it! I wanted that bus to arrive quicker than ever. I wanted to board the bus, go to the terminal, debus, enter the terminal, de-enter the terminal grab a cab, de-grab a cab at my destination and get away from these abusers of the English language.
In the meantime, again my mind was drawn to our own industry and the words and phrases in everyday use. Many of these we take for granted but – let’s face it – they’re jargon and our customers would consider them a foreign language. Do you ever talk about "KICK"? We know it’s CIC, or the acronym for Critical Illness Cover, but our customers wouldn’t have a clue what “kick” is. Some companies offer TPD (total and permanent disability), some call it PTD (Permanent and Total Disability) - thank goodness no one calls it DTP (disability that is total and permanent).
Our industry sends people for Pee Em Ah Ars when they apply for Eye Pee. Often I receive letters and see brochures written in the passive voice - "A cheque has been sent to you today" instead of the active voice, "We sent you a cheque today". It seems ridiculous when you write it down - but as an industry we have a language all of our own.
Which is why it’s always worth sitting back and considering just how strange and confusing it can be for customers. So my day got off to a great start with some real food for thought about how we communicate as an industry. The return journey was no better. Why is it necessary to say "The LAST and FINAL call", for flights? Perhaps we'll leave that for another time - think I’d better De-blog!
Roger Edwards is product director at Bright Grey
‘Important to have an anchor’
Lack of innovation for solutions
Some 2,000 consumers affected
Achievements, charity work and other happy snippets