Monday, February 28, 2005

GNER == Great New Expresses, Ridiculous rule enforcement.

OK, time for another customer service gaff. Before I start, a quick appology, this is pretty long, mainly because my customer complaint will be just a link to this entry (and partly because I have a 5 hour train journey to kill).

I was travelling by train from Edinburgh to London the other day, and since travelling on a Sunday, decided to upgrade to First Class (bigger seats, fewer kids, at seat power supplies, it's £15 at the weekend). In the last few years, the upgrade has been restricted to only 1 or two carriages (there are normally 3 first on the trains I get). So, being the good passenger, not hearing any announcements and having failed to see any staff on the platform prior to boarding, to dropped my stuff (4 items) off at a suitably vacant seat and went to search for a staff member to ask.

I found a female staffer several coaches down the platform who said, and confirmed when double checked, that coach M was to be used for the upgrade. I went off to move my stuff (from coach L). Prior to actually moving it I checked that there was space (due to having multiple items with me) -- there was, though I thought it was a smoking carriage. This deduction was due to the fact that for the last 20 years, a non-smoking carriage has been indicated by having non-smoking stickers on every window -- this carriage had none (it was actually a prett new train, so default non-smoking - other than a small sign at the end must be the new fashion). Thinking perhaps that only smoking upgrades were available (and I don't mean that in a Jim Carey way) - I looked along the platform to check again (I'd rather go to standard class than sit for hours in a smokey carriage). This time I found a guy who again confirmed, that it was coach M and that only part of it was smoking (there was in fact a partition to keep the cancer threat under control).

OK, time to move the gear. The coach only had a few people in it, so I found a table at which the reservations had not been kept -- excellent, this makes it likely I'll get the whole table for the journey. Shortly after departure I'd just settled with my paper spread, the laptop out and set up, drink out on the table etc, when the guard comes through doing a ticket inspection. Ok, ticket and wallet out, ready to buy the upgrade.

The girl sitting one row in front of me asked for an upgrade, only to be told that only coach K was available for upgrades. Err...? The girl said, she'd asked, and had been told to go to coach M. I mentioned, since in ear-shot, that I'd also been told by two platform staff that coach M should be used. I asked, that since we'd settled (the girl has also unpacked somewhat, with a laptop and papers out) could we just stay where we were? No. No way. Against the rules. I asked, since I really couldn't be bothered moving all my stuff (again), could the guard possibly check with a supervisor? "Already have", promptly came back, "he said you've got to move to coach K." At that, another girl, who'd been sitting farther up the carriage, passed by, at which the guard He then went on to ask if I wanted an upgrade, I replied I would if I found a suitable seat in coach K (not knowing how busy it'd be). Time to move.

A couple of journeys up the train each (since neither myself nor the other girl could be bothered packing up completely, just to unpack it again) I was ready to settle in the grandness of coach K (which looked remarkably similar to coach M). When the guard caught up with us, and I was paying for my upgrade, I asked for the name of the supervisor (always handy if making a complaint I think), only to be told that I was not to be informed of such a fact. Hmm, protecting a supervisor, seems the wrong way round - sounds an awful lot like it was a fictitious manager check. He said I could take his name though, which was awful decent -- though the badge on his jacket was a bit of a give away (perhaps if it wasn't, I wouldn't have got his name either?). He stated that he'd announced on the tannoy system which coach to use several times. Well, I must have missed most of these since I was trying to find staff to ask, and the one announcement I was aware of was very garbled (but see ****).

I asked what the reasoning for the rule was; apparently the passengers who have booked seats (which today, though not typically means that upgrade passengers are in a different coach *) don't like upgrade passengers being allowed in their coach. They don't like the fact that some people pay less for their tickets (err, see **). Whatever, the basis for the rule, that fact that the
train was so quiet, and that about 50% of the people in the carriage apparently got it wrong, seems to suggests that a little common sense and customer courtesy would've been reasonable. This debacle reminds me (partly of how old I am for remembering this..) of the Jobsworth Award that used to be given on the That's Life tv show. Maybe a 'net version of this is due. It could be just a vote page pointing at blog entries of corporate madness -- maybe the lazy web will sort/find it for me.

Ah... *****

OK time to wrap it up, got other things to read / do on this trip.

I won't (at this point at least) name the train guard on the web (it will go in the complaint reference though), not least because he very politely (which he was, to be fair, mostly*****) delivered a complaint form for me to send. He commented that he'd asked another passenger in K about the announcements, and they'd said they were clear. I'm sure a few of said K passengers had GNER badges on though...

* In fact, there's normally a different level of exclusivity. One coach is often reserved for full ticket price paying customers
rather than those who are on some sort of saver ticket, advance purchase etc.

** Which is insane, since on this instance, any first ticket other than a weekend upgrade was allowed, and there are BIG differences
in price. The trains from GNER still practice the old BR trick of making a standard fair, stupidly expensive (like an open
single***/return is something like double the "real" standard fare, available at any time for any train from the ticket office,
just to discourage people from getting on the train without a ticket. Fines by any other name. I think these days, pretty much
everyone expects a range in fares based on any number of factors, from availabilty, advanced purchase, group bookings, special
offers / bundles, etc etc.

*** Ok, I know it gets silly when footnotes have footnotes, but come on, what does open single mean?

**** In coach K the announcement that just came on while I was typing this, was pretty clear -- the previous ones I
heard were not remotely as clear -- maybe some dud speakers / naff ones in the vestibules? Anyway, that doesn't affect the
rigidity of enforcement silliness.

***** Just heard another announcement, not at all clear (and that's being generous), evidently from the buffet car (given the
content) -- maybe this was used for the garbled one I didn't hear properly earlier.

****** other than his quip that he's "looking forward to reading my letter"

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