The joy of intercontinental flights or let’s make Mr Khonaysser a web star

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I must admit, when I first entered flight UA901 at Frankfurt Airport bound for San Francisco, I did not have any high anticipations for the actual flight. It all started at check in. Apparently, which was very poorly communicated, you have to check in a secondary time in transit going to the US. Security checks […]

I must admit, when I first entered flight UA901 at Frankfurt Airport bound for San Francisco, I did not have any high anticipations for the actual flight. It all started at check in. Apparently, which was very poorly communicated, you have to check in a secondary time in transit going to the US. Security checks in the Nordics are obviously not sufficient for immigration in the land of the free. Accompanying the check-in I needed to state the address of residence in the US to the check-in personnel. Since I am digital native and inhabitant (as well as slightly naive!) I did not have the address of my beautiful motel written down on paper. Booting up the old Lenovo workhorse I thanked god that I installed Gmail offline at the computer some time back. With no need to access the airport’s WiFi I could swiftly search for my booking and boom I was boarding like the rest of the pack.
When finding my seat, not a very difficult task since rows come in sequential numerical order, it was occupied. Apparently someone didn’t learn 1st grade algebra very well. The usual shuffling and huffling that occurs with not so frequent travelers started and soon I could park in the best seat economy class can accommodate, in the center with isle access
So far, not a very pleasant flight. However, it did pick up quite quickly, food was being prepared in the slightly crowded kitchens and as you all know, airplane food is one of few things a gourmet really can trust on for a delightful time. As most airlines (well possibly even all) United serves food for people of all walks of life, kosher, vegetarian, vegetarian Asian and possibly every conceivable type of food you request. On this particular flight 55 persons requested food that was not a part of the (as always goumeish!) standard package. This is obviously great; everyone should enjoy the amenities of modern society, not only meat eating western white males in their mid forties. What was not so great was that some of these people were not in their designated seats. This presented the cabin crew with some logistical challenges. In particular there was one person, who I assume is an adorable person when not travelling on this particular flight, who they could not find. And this is where the fun begins. The great steward, Andre Khonaysser, which of course is the man in the picture, explained for us all the issue at hand. Not very unusual for a man in the service industry. But he was more than a intercontinental man of service, he reached beyond the normal phrases you all too often hear in a cabin, he was full of wit and warmth (but also with an ironic touch of sarcasm which is why he caught my attention) and said (and excuse me Mr Khonaysser if I fail to give you an exact quote):
“Could the person that ordered the Asian vegetarian please tell us where she sits within ten seconds or otherwise I will give your meal away to someone else. There are plenty of vegetarians on the flight that have overseen to order special meals who would love to get their hands on your. United is happy to meals to special people but you have to announce where you sit otherwise we can’t help you.
Of course I consider you all special people”
Massive laughter in the cabin of course, how could you not love a steward like that? But it didn’t stop here, of course not, you can’t turn humor like that on and off. After the delightful meal, and a very enjoyable movie about and inventor of intermittent wind shield wipers, he announced that the cabin crew had found a set of car keys belonging to an Opel (a Vauxhall for our UK readers). The keys had a pink key chain attached to them with an inscription of some sort. To claim the keys the owner had to describe the inscription. A fair thing if you want to reclaim a car of Opel’s stature in my opinion. And if no one knew the inscription, he told us all that he would have a nice little joyride on his next layover in Germany. It doesn’t translate well into text, as spoken words rarely do, but of course there was a massive roar of laughter once again going through the cabin.
What does this have to do with technology you might ask? After all this blog is called the “technology-blog” and not “the funny intercontinental flight anecdotes blog”. However, if there is one thing we have learned during the past decade, or even longer, is that technology and business, of which service is one of the key components, can’t be separated. They are intertwined in ways that we can’t always see. Let us move back in time, to let’s say 1998. Back then, United Airlines could only hope for that someone would tell their friends about their great service experience somewhere off the coast of Ireland, and that they in turn would tell some other friends. The effects withered off quite quickly.
Today, the situation is radically different. Radically. This blog have a couple of thousand readers on a monthly basis. Assuming that at least a few of our readers have their own blogs that repeat this story and link to this post a thing like this can go viral in no time. However, since this is a positive comment, a tribute to a man who not only does his job, but does it in a brilliant way, there is not much hope of that happening. Blogstorms usually happens when people are angry and a lot of other people recognize that anger because they have been in the same situation or when many people come together around a topic that they feel passionate about. A witty and excellent steward is normally neither of those things.
My point is that corporations have a lot to learn from these new means of communication. Too often discussions around the read write era revolve around issues that are quite technical in nature and at times even irrelevant. Should we have a company blog or not (in Capgemini’s case, yes, since we are in the business of selling ideas and innovation), who should blog, should we utilize the cloud, should we move our college recruitment to Facebook, should we allow for IM clients in our corporate infrastructure? As I wrote in my previous post at the blog, we need to understand the impacts of these technologies not only in the first order but in second and even third order. Don’t think of blogs merely as a way of communicating, think about how other people’s blogging could change you actions, don’t only read blogs about your favorite topic, analyse the meta data from the blogosphere to understand the real view of your company or market, don’t only see the web as a sales window towards the customers, use it to understand and communicate with your customers.
I have a call to arms! Let’s make Andre a hero of United Airlines. Let’s make him someone that is noticed by management, let’s see if we can make Andre a classic web hero. Then at least United Airlines will understand what a great asset he is and maybe, just maybe, they will understand that it is people like him that are the true marketers of their company and that they should be the bloggers. Help me, resend and blog about this as much as you can, if someone have similar experience, blog about, tell the world about this great person and employee.
By the way, Andre was not only a funny and witty man, we chatted for a while when I took his picture and then, from nowhere did I have two glasses of champagne, one vintage Henriot from 1996, and a Moet Chandon look-a-like from Napa Valley in San Francisco. Andre had raided the first class cabin for goodies.
Please, let us all share our stories about great experiences on flights. Write blogposts, write on the forum here, link back to here, twitter me on @johanbergelin and I will share with as many people as possible at w2e.

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