Alistair’s “Random Rambles” (7)
By Kathy Martin…
Further rambles written by Alistair for initially the “The KibKom Times” then “The KibKom Forum”
Written February 2014
I understand that some people are shocked that disabled passengers travelling through our airport (Ercan) are now being charged for “Wheelchair” facilities and handling.
At the risk of being regarded as unpopular with my readers I ask two questions
- why not?
- why have these charges taken so long to be introduced?
I want to reassure readers that I am very sympathetic to any person who suffers from a disability, in any form. Indeed, although I gave up smoking five years ago, my lungs have suffered slight damage, and in a few years time I may welcome a wheelchair, if travelling long distances!
My point is not that disabled passengers are now being discriminated against, but that for years “able-bodied” passengers have been discriminated against by being charged more than necessary!
There are three levels of “wheelchair assistance”, each with its own an acronym.
WHCR – wheelchair “ramp” –assistance to the bottom of the aircraft stairs
WHCS – assistance to the top of the aircraft stairs
WHCC – assistance through the aircraft cabin as far as the passenger’s seat.
For the word “assistance” in the last two categories read “carry”, in respect of the stairs and cabin!
The initial purchase of a wheelchair, either a simple “canvas or metal” manually operated one or a large electric-powered “buggy”, may be a one-off expense on the books. However, the continuing need to employ staff to operate the equipment and provide the required service is an on-going cost that has to be met by the airline, handling agent or airport authority!
Admittedly, jetties that allow direct access to the aircraft cabin from the terminal do reduce the physical effort in wheelchair handling, but a lot of aircraft parking areas are still “remote”, so steps or scissor lifts are still required.
With my (cold?), (cynical?) logical brain, if “disabled” passengers are not charged for the use of expensive staff and equipment, surely “able-bodied” passengers should be entitled to a discount or partial refund of their travel costs? Permanent or “long term” disabled passengers would normally have their own equipment and companion/helper, so would, like an able bodied passenger, be entitled to a refund!
Here are a couple of items regarding future developments in flights between here, and the UK, planned for the near future.
The first is that Atlasjet will start direct flights (via Istanbul) to and from Ercan and London (Luton) airports in May this year. As Atlasjet is a well-established and reliable airline, I am confident that this will take place. The existence of a “direct” flight (i.e. a flight that does not involve an en-route aircraft/airline change) will be welcomed by both passengers and importers/exporters alike.
There is also widespread and high-profile publicity about plans to establish a new “flag” airline for North Cyprus.
I am not a business man, but the majority of my working life has been spent in both the operational and commercial fields of aviation. An airline isn’t formed by someone who pops into the office at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning and completes the entire package before going home at 5 o’clock.
When I was on an aviation studies course, I completed whilst working with Dan-Air, I had to, theoretically, form a new airline and the many complexities were, well, many and complex! I won’t bore you with all the requirements, now, but I have two major concerns.
- The first is cost. All contracts including the purchase or lease of aircraft will be in a “foreign” currency, Dollars, Pounds, Euros or whatever, when “our” currency, the Turkish Lira, is at its lowest level “since records began” and still falling! This will mean the new airline will have direct operating costs that are far higher than any airline already in existence and, therefore, will be economically unattractive to the public.
- The other concern is North Cyprus’ reputation in the opinions of both the travelling public and travel industry. There are still hundreds, if not thousands of CTA/KTHY (the previous flag carrier) ticket holders who have not yet been compensated after the collapse in June 2010! As this was some 3½ years ago, any such grievances are unlikely to be at the forefront of these would-be passengers minds, but the publicity that would be part of the inauguration of a “new” airline would be a sharp reminder!
Whilst it may not be fair in these circumstances for the “sins of the father” to be “visited upon the son”, some of the “mud” will stick, if I can mix metaphors!
To explain my concern that the views of possibly only a couple of hundred disgruntled people may be damaging, I must refer (again) to my earlier life.
Whilst doing research for a customer service management course, I came across an American survey. This survey asserted that, in the event of someone getting good service, 12 people would know about it by the end of the week. However, should a person get poor service, 112 people would know about it by the end of a week!
It can be seen that any bad publicity (justifiable or not) which starts with only a few hundred people, who would probably not realise that the fledgling airline would be totally different from its predecessor, could adversely affect the intended travel plans of literally thousands of potential passengers.
Another stumbling block in the development of a “new” North Cyprus airline is the trust that travel agents and airport handling agents may regard it! When CTA/KTHY collapsed, the management and TRNC government ministers simply took to their beds, pulled duvets over their heads, stuck fingers in their ears, and only emerged after the “shouting and tumult” had died down!
As a result, the front-line airport staff, and later travel agency clerks, without any management support or even being able to offer any advice, had to face the abuse of would-be passengers. Under these circumstances the anger is justifiable. After all, if anyone spends hundreds of pounds (or lira) on a product, only to be told that not only is the product unavailable, but also that a refund is impossible or, at best unlikely, anger is a natural reaction!
I mentioned travel agents and the trust (or lack of it!) that they may put in a “new” North Cyprus airline, because they have long memories! In the 1980s, under the chairmanship of Lord King, British Airways started a smear and “dirty tricks” campaign against competing airlines. Among the victims were Air Europe and British Caledonian, both airlines were forced to cease operations, without a moment’s notice to their passengers or front-line staff.
Dan-Air, which was at that time mainly a “bucket and spade” charter airline, applied for, and was granted many of the vacant scheduled service licences to operate to airports within Europe, as well as Istanbul! Dan-Air was so successful, as a scheduled service airline, that the 1992 Which? Airline magazine named it the “best scheduled service airline in Europe”!
This was to prove to be the downfall of Dan-Air!
A short time later, a friend of mine said that his travel agent had advised him against travelling to Paris on Dan-Air. In my position in customer services (Scheduled Services) I had recently made a courtesy visit to that travel agency and had met the manageress. I phoned her to ask her why this advice had been given out. She apologised, but said that she had heard through the grapevine that Dan-Air was about to “go bust”! She then explained that when other airlines (such as Air Europe and British Caledonian) had ceased operating, years earlier, that she and her staff had suffered so much extra work and expenses that her small independent agency almost became bankrupt. Naturally she was not prepared to take that risk again!
What happens when a supplier can’t sell its product? It is forced to cease trading!
So, new North Cyprus airline, don’t expect any enthusiastic support from travel agencies either in UK or Kibris!
Incidentally, it was only when British Airways tried its “dirty tricks” campaign on Virgin Airlines that Richard Branson had the courage, initiative and, Indeed, the small spherical objects to take British Airways to court. There British Airways suffered a humiliating defeat, but alas, it was too late for Dan-Air and the other victims!