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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Pick up the Phone

The more long-distance travel I do for business, the more I develop the routines and plans that we all have in our lives to help us be successful and productive. Things like working out when and how to sleep better on planes, what I actually need to take with me for trips and the most comfortable outfits to wear when travelling have all evolved and when I flew to Melbourne for my second of three trips there this year, I felt like I'd got a really nice routine developed to travel as lightly as possible and be as efficient in getting through the many security checks, but without foregoing the convenience and comfort of having the things I needed with me.

Initially when I made trips abroad, I found myself taking my laptop in my carry-on luggage, so that I could do some bits of work in airports during layovers, but through experience I found that those windows are typically too short and it just meant carrying additional weight through airports and having to constantly unpack it for baggage scanners, without actually using it, so over time, it's been moved back into my check-in luggage. This proved, on my most recent trip, to be an error!

The trip in question involved flying from Edinburgh > London Heathrow > Singapore > Sydney > Melbourne. 12,500 miles of flying, to get to the other side of the world for what was ultimately one day's work, before flying home, another 12,500 miles, 40 hours later. A pretty gruelling schedule! Speaking to the client earlier this year, we discussed delivering this work remotely or whether there was someone local who could pick this up, but the key factor which they were focussed on was consistency with all of the other geographies, and so it was decided that as I was delivering the London, Newcastle, Barcelona and New York sessions, I was the person best placed to make this trip. And I like an adventure, so I packed my bags and off I went!

Things started well, as I cruised through check-in and security and enjoyed a very tasty burrito and a cup of tea in Edinburgh Airport, but as I ate my dinner, I could see the bad news starting to emerge from the departures board. Flight delayed 10 mins, 20 mins, 21 mins. Not great, but there was plenty of time to make my connection, plus the entire trip was a single booking with British Airways, which always gives a bit more comfort that they can communicate between the aircraft and help you make the leap if things are tight. Eventually I went to gate 9 as instructed, but the re-scheduled departure time came and went without us even boarding the plane and by now, things were looking a bit desperate.

When I worked for a bank, travel was relatively rare for me and when it did happen, it typically involved flying from Edinburgh to London for a day or two of meetings. Those flights are normally quite painless and, in the worst case, if a flight is delayed or cancelled, it's the most popular route out of Edinburgh and so you can change flights, even changing airlines or taking the train in a pinch, to get to where you need to be. Melbourne, however, is a different beast entirely. If I didn't make my connection, the trip was so long, the time in-country so short and the route flown so much less frequently, that the entire journey would effectively become pointless.

Eventually, after watching the ground staff teaching people how to queue for about 15 mins rather than actually getting us on the plane, we finally boarded. The flight is short but by the time I exited the aircraft in Heathrow, it was nineteen minutes until the scheduled departure of my second leg, from a different part of Terminal Five! The crew on the aeroplane knew about our connection so let nine of us who had to make it, exit the plane first, but a sprint through the airport was not what any of us needed, turning up sweaty and dishevelled ahead of a mammoth flight! Thankfully, we all made the connection, settled in to watch Top Gun: Maverick for the fifteenth time, and off we went.

So, all was well! Or so we thought. But of course, the shortness of the turnaround time between arrival and departure from Heathrow brought with it another problem, which didn't come to light until we were in the baggage collection in Sydney airport - our bags had never made it onto the plane out of London! A tannoy announcement called me to the baggage enquiries counter, where the gentleman was polite, apologetic and helpful but explained that my bag wouldn't arrive until the middle of the following day. That's never great, but what it actually meant on this occasion is that my laptop, shaving kit and clothing would not be arriving with me until the day's work which I was there to do was effectively over. By this point I had one final flight of around 90 mins, from Sydney to Melbourne. I was standing in Sydney airport, wearing an Ice Cube t-shirt, a pair of basketball shorts and Vans on my feet, badly in need of a shower and a shave, and without any of the things that I needed to do my job the following day!

So I did the only thing I could do, I got on the final flight to Melbourne and immediately headed into town to the Bourke St shopping mall to buy toiletries and clothes to wear the following day. That took an hour or two which I'd hoped to spend grabbing breakfast and seeing more of the city. Then I headed to the hotel who, very generously, allowed me to check in early and freshen up for the day. On both visits, the Courtyard by Marriott, Flagstaff Gardens have gone out of their way to help me, with early check-ins and it's always hugely appreciated. After that, it was off on an adventure to St Kilda and a scooter ride down the seafront. I'd planned to do some work for other clients during the downtime but without my laptop I was unable to do any of it, besides some brainstorming and planning in my notebook.

The man at the baggage desk had taken all of my contact details and told me that he'd be in touch the following day, once my baggage arrived in Melbourne, about where to send it to. He said that the missing bag would arrive on the same flight I'd been on, only the following day, meaning it'd arrive in Melbourne around 09:30. I had explained my circumstances so they knew the window of time I was in country for was small, but despite this, it got to the end of the work day and I'd heard nothing. I'd phoned a few times and sent an email and nothing had been responded to. At this point, I was transporting my newly bought possessions in a series of carrier bags and had little expectation of getting my luggage back before I got home, so I went out to the shops again to purchase a suitcase to allow me to check them in. Then I had some dinner and headed back to the airport for my flights home.

On arrival at the airport and on a whim, I asked someone where the Menzies office was. Menzies are the company who do all the baggage handling for BA and I wanted to try and get an understanding of where my bag had got to and when I might expect to see it again. The man there was a bit nippy, but he eventually took me to the Virgin baggage desk (bear in mind, none of the flights I was was on had been operated by Virgin) where he helped the lady look up my bag. She told me that, incredibly, it was in transit from Sydney to Melbourne and that it should be on the carousel shortly. Thankfully I'd arrived at the airport about 3 hours before the flight, so I had some time to spare and after waiting for three separate flights to land, over 90 minutes, incredibly my bag materialised! Now bear in mind, nobody from Menzies or BA had ever been in touch to let me know where it was or the fact that it was coming. At the point it arrived on the carousel, I shoud really have been checked in, through security and on the other side of the airport and if I hadn't thought to speak to someone at the Menzies office, I'd have been heading west while my bag continued it's journey east!

Delighted to have my bag back, I then had the challenge of having two check-in bags on a reservation where only one had been paid for, so with some luggage Tetris, I rammed all of my stuff into one, checked it in, and put my hand luggage inside the other. Not ideal, but it'd get me home. And this time I moved my laptop back into hand luggage, along with my car keys, so I could get home from the airport! Onto the flights I went; Melbourne > Doha > London Heathrow > Edinburgh.

Or, at least, that's the trip I made. And would you like to take a guess at what didn't take that trip? You've got it - my checked-in bag! Once again, I arrived at my destination and my bag didn't. As I write this, it's 10:30 the following day and I've seen nor heard anything about where my bag is. I presume it'll turn up at my door today, but I presumed it'd make the journey with me, so time will tell!

Mistakes happen in business, just as in life. And I'm a pretty laid back guy who can generally find a way around most things. A bit of shopping and accessing my cloud drive from my phone allowed me to do the job I was there to do, in a way that was pretty reflective of how I'd have done it had my bag made the trip. But I, like many others, hate being left in the dark. If I'm on one side of the world and my bag is on the other, I can adapt, but what I can't deal with is sitting around guessing where my possessions are. I expected to be reunited with my bag around lunchtime and was promised a call to find out where I was. Instead, the bag arrived in Melbourne airport around 21:30 and the only reason I found that out is because I went hunting for it. All it would have taken was a call, as promised. I'm sorry Mr Davies, your bag is currently in x location. What are your movements and what's the best way to get it to you? Tell me it'll be waiting at the airport - Melbourne, Heathrow or Edinburgh. Tell me it'll be shipped directly to my home. Just tell me ANYTHING at all, don't leave me sitting there wondering whether I'll have a set of car keys when I get to the airport or if I'll have to get my wife to meet me with the spares or find another way home!

When something goes wrong, being the bearer of bad news is a tough spot, especially if you're not the person whose mistake caused the problem. But on every occasion, the outcome is much better if you're proactive than if you sit and wait for the victim of poor service to catch up with you. It might not be your fault, but it's become your problem. Just pick up the phone.

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