SIA does not have a nut-free environment

From ‘Airline should take peanut allergy seriously’, 1 Feb 2011, ST Forum online

(Ai-Leng Hong): ON A Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight from Auckland to Singapore on Dec 13, my seven-year-old son experienced an anaphylactic reaction by inhaling peanut dust released when peanut snack packs were opened during the flight.

Despite earlier requests to not serve peanuts on board, SIA would not accommodate our request as it had stopped its “nut-free environment on board” policy.

Fortunately, my son did not die from that anaphylactic reaction as we had an adrenalin injection pen which we administered to him.

Following advice given by a senior crew member, we lodged another request to SIA to not serve peanut snacks on our scheduled return trip on Jan 11. Unfortunately, the airline refused to not serve peanuts on board.

…The commercial imperative is clear: Serve peanuts and neglect the duty of care that the airline has to provide a safe environment for all its passengers – including those suffering from allergies.

It would take a philosopher to distill the moral ambiguity in this situation, whether it is ethical for airlines to deprive hundreds of passengers of peanuts in order to prevent one child of unnecessary suffering or even death.  This peanut problem is confounded by locality and circumstance, namely passengers bounded by a common recycled breathing space, with barely elbow room between each other and complicit in the knowledge that slightest disturbance could affect every single person on board. Now, hypothetically, if I had a rare disease, not unlike the prevalence of anaphylactic peanut allergy, which  predisposes me to shock and epileptic fits whenever I smell life jackets,  wouldn’t it then be utterly unreasonable of me to request the airlines to remove all life jackets on board? All kinds of fatal hazards may occur on a plane which may not necessarily involve peanut allergens. Stagnant legspace may have a blood clot shuttling to my lungs while watching inflight Lord of the Rings trilogy. I may choke on a fish bone, or a baby could get smothered purple by a pillow while sleeping, does that give people the right to demand for wider aisles, ban all food with bones, or pillows?

The question then, is how preventable we deem peanut allergy to be such that appropriate precautions can be taken without inconveniencing others, and if it happens that someone on board is hypersensitive short of putting him in an aseptic bubble, I’m sure some understanding and sacrifice on the part of passengers, out of a simple concern for a fellow traveller, to open their peanut packs carefully in vacuum sealed bags or just keep them for later, would probably make the flight pleasant and hazard free for everyone without calling for a total nutty ban altogether. Still, it’s probably unfair of the complainant to blame SIA for not fostering a safe environment just because they expose passengers to peanuts, when they are so many other safety checks in place to ensure the damn plane doesn’t go up in flames and kill everyone, not just allergy sufferers. So, in the grand scheme of things, for hiring competent pilots, for having a decent ventilation system, for making sure the wings don’t fall apart, I would say that SIA is already taking good care of the majority of passengers, in terms of preventing what kills MOST people, whether or not they ban peanuts on board. They may have to do something about serving business class hysteria-causing drunken chicken though.

Postcript: In a SIA response on 3 Feb 2011, ST Forum online ‘SIA does offer nut-free meals’ (The first day of Chinese New Year mind you), Senior Vice President of Products and Services Tan Pee Teck stated that ‘…from 2002 to mid-2009, we offered to remove nuts and meals containing nuts and nut-derivatives from the class of travel the requesting passenger was on. However, we received numerous feedback from customers questioning this policy.’ i.e we tried to but got complaints by passengers who insist on peanuts. You just can’t please everyone really, and all this fuss over some nuts on a plane.

 

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Appetiser for destruction

From ‘ 新航提供‘醉鸡’ 乘客担心坠机’, 12 Dec 2010, article in omy.sg (LHWB)

一名新加坡航空公司乘客申诉,在从新加坡飞往上海的班机,所提供的开胃菜“醉鸡”与“坠机”谐音,让他一路大感不吉利,足足5小时起鸡皮疙瘩、忐忑不安,直到飞机安然降陆才放心!

卓佳强是在本月3日搭乘SQ836到上海。他在投给《联合早报》的函件中,叙述这段经历。他说,飞机起飞后,他翻阅菜单的中餐部分,惊见“醉鸡”是开胃菜,“吓了一跳”。根据他的说法,“醉鸡”与“坠机”谐音,一般上华人为朋友饯行时,都避开这道江南小菜“醉鸡”。

卓佳强指出,这个航班服务的主要是中国旅客,用如此“不吉利”的菜肴为开胃菜很不恰当。

They served this on 9/11

Translation: A business class passenger with SIA got the shock of his life upon being served a drunken chicken appetiser on board, which in Chinese is the phonetic equivalent of ‘dropping out of an airplane’. The very inauspiciousness of the dish turned the writer into a nervous wreck for the remaining 5 hours of the flight, suggesting that, with a clientele of mostly Chinese passengers, SIA should take this har-winger of ultimate disaster off the menu.

And all this while I thought SIA’s business class caters to intelligent men of exquisite taste and discerning pleasures, not country bumpkin soothsayers who subscribe to pagan superstitions, numerology and the belief that a poorly named poultry dish will wrench the stars out of their alignment and lay an infernal curse on the engines of an airplane. Imagine the sheer pants-wetting anxiety of such complainants whenever they encounter something on a menu that foreshadows imminent death wherever they go, be it a Swensen’s ‘Earthquake’ ice cream on the top floor of a shopping mall or ‘Shark’s Fin’ on a sailboat. Even if you serve them rice and soggy cabbage instead to ward off any evil lurking in those inflight food trolleys, such people will see patterns emerging from the remnants of their meal that resemble nothing less than skull and crossbones, or a apocalyptic picture of biblical devastation, hellish fire, brimstone and all. We already have passengers complaining that inflight food is too boring, yet when you style it up a bit and give it fancy gourmet names, they blame you for portending doom for all on board. Superstitious passengers should just spend the entirety of their flight time with their eye-masks on, headsets tuned to the spa channel and starve themselves, preferably to death before suffering a far worse fate of a crash orchestrated by an evil drunken chicken. Top contender of the Most Kiasi complaint award.

Rowdy children make parents happy

From ‘Only way to signal civil consideration’, 8 Jan 2010, St Forum

(Pat  Gan): Before alleging intolerance and discrimination against children, parents must realise that the ban (on children from casual eateries)  is largely a consequence of rowdy behaviour by some children and their inconsiderate parents.

… I have seen inconsiderate parents who blithely stay put in the restaurant, content with letting their babies cry and disrupt the mood of other diners. Increasingly too, I have noticed more acts of misbehaviour and rowdiness by children that are unchecked by parents.

Are children spoilt or are more parents becoming overindulgent, and assume that because their world revolves around their children, other diners should accept the misbehaviour.

I agree with the ban because it sends a clear message to such parents to ensure their children behave in public.

What is unfortunate is that considerate parents with properly mannered children are the innocent victims.

But the logic is irrefutably sound: One rowdy child makes a pair of parents happy while the absence of a noisy brat makes a roomful of diners happy.

I’m not sure about the ‘irrefutable’ logic of rowdy children making parents happy, but there’s really nothing much we can do about misbehaving children, kids being kids and some parents, well, being completely hapless in instilling discipline and would rather neutralise their hyperactive children with mummy’s iPhone instead of imparting actual social skills. We have to deal with such social conveniences all the time, whether it’s kids stepping all over our MRT seats, giving running commentaries at Harry Potter films or doing nothing but just blocking our paths in prams, but the real question here is whether the business decision of banning kids from eateries is really necessary. What exactly went into the calculations of the probability of encountering little hooligans correlating with loss of clientele? If I were a regular patron of a diner, service and food excellent otherwise, having the misfortune of being in the vicinity of a noisy family resembling more like trailer-park menagerie who just can’t be bothered won’t deter me from coming back, unless by sheer arse luck I’m there with the offensive family at the same time and day EVERY single time.

One possible danger of wielding this short-term blunt instrument of blanket banning is the overspill of nuisance kids to other eateries, which would then encourage owners to follow suit in fear of patrons being terrorised, and eventually the only places where we’ll see kids eating in public is at McDonalds, stuffing their faces with Happy Meals and contributing to the obesity epidemic just because some hoity-toity people like their fine ambience child-proofed. All it takes really, is a little patience, some stern glancing, a silent prayer that rowdy children are an anomaly and if you’re a couple trying for a kid, the benefit of free life lessons in the importance of not ‘sparing the rod’. That’s if you don’t change your mind about even having any kids at all.

 

 

Louis Vuitton doesn’t accept Taka vouchers

From ‘Poor customer service at Takashimaya’, 3 Jan 2011, ST Forum online

(Sih Yen Cheng):ON DEC 27, my husband went to Takashimaya to purchase gift vouchers worth $2,000 as a surprise gift for me.

He asked the staff if the vouchers could be used at the Louis Vuitton shop in Ngee Ann City and was told yes. So he went ahead with the purchase.

However, when I presented the vouchers at the Louis Vuitton shop, they were not accepted. So last Wednesday, I called Takashimaya’s customer service hotline to explain the situation and request for a refund as it was their staff who had given my husband the wrong information.

Customer service manager Melina said she could try to appeal to the top management for a refund, but they usually did not give refunds on vouchers. Instead of calming an upset customer like me, she came across as firm and rude. She did not even bother to check with her staff or investigate the matter.

It was a very poor attitude coming from a Japanese company which is supposed to be well known for excellent customer service.

Not only are Taka vouchers the most unromantic surprise gifts a man could possibly get for his wife, but it’s also a lazy gesture considering that a loving husband ought to make the extra effort to figure out what his wife specifically wants from LV instead of buying $2000 worth of  perishable cash. Even if he makes the less idiotic move of purchasing the present directly from LV and it turns out to be something she doesn’t like, there’s always room to negotiate an exchange or other. Better still, get gift vouchers direct from LV instead. The Taka staff may have given the wrong information, but surely common sense and anyone who has the faintest idea of the allure of LV would be skeptical of a world-renown luxury brand willing to engage in a transaction that comes across more like dinosaur-sticker trading than anything involving actual money. I mean, shopping mall vouchers are practically NTUC auntie currency, and you have the audacity of flashing them in a, gasp, LV store? That’s as insulting as bringing a six-pack cup noodles to the host of a bow-tie party.

And my sympathies to poor ‘Melina’ for being a target of vicious name-calling in a national paper from some fussy, irate woman venting her frustration on the entire mall just because she can’t use $2000 vouchers at LV when they’re so many other ways of spending that kind of money, especially during the Christmas season. The problem here isn’t bad customer service, it’s terms and conditions, and no amount of groveling and smiling will deter someone the likes of Ms Sih here from making Christmas less merry for everyone involved.  Tip to husband from this experience: Just give her $2000 cash already, saves all the trouble. And watch out especially for free vouchers, as seen in the letter dated 23 July 1986 ‘Gift that came with a catch, or how string of pearls came without clasp’. I don’t know if it’s kiasuism or thriftiness that makes Singaporeans insist on using any voucher presented to them, whether it’s for a free string of beads or woolly mufflers, even if it means queuing up and  ironically paying for the catch in the process. You can actually reject ‘free’ stuff you know.

 

Those sad Tom Thumb sandwiches

From ‘Disappointed with same meals served on board SIA’, 30 Dec 2010, Today online

(Alessandro Santise): I have been a regular customer of Singapore Airlines, which is reputed for its service.

But after flying the Paris-Singapore route several times over the years, I noticed that the meals served on board have been always the same. I do not even need to look at the menu to know what I will be eating.

This is very disappointing as I expect SIA would continually strive to improve its service. In fact, upon discussing with other frequent travellers who fly on the same route, I discovered that they too have the same complaint as I do.

I hope to see an improvement the next time I fly SIA.

I think business travellers tend to forget that SIA is not a flying gourmet restaurant, where one would expect promotional variety and a inflight chef to cater to one’s gastronomic whims like how you would like your steak medium or rare. They probably also forget that they’re not alone on a plane,  and with  other picky eaters on board it only makes sense for the catering unit to keep SIA’s inflight menu stable and safe enough for general consumption so that we won’t have passengers clogging the lavatories with their retching and excrement, or have wasted food weighing the plane down. Just think of all the resources spent on additional stringent quality checks just because some passenger decided that he would like his pork fried in tempura batter instead of pan-fried every once in a while. Most passengers aren’t frequent flyers either, so really, what’s monotonous prison food to you may be a culinary revelation to others. In fact, you should be thankful you have something decent to eat at all, unlike what SIA (previously MSA, or Malaysia-Singapore Airlines) had to show for in the past, as seen in this letter below dated 22 Aug 1970 ‘The food on MSA’s domestic flights’, ST.  But what’s more intriguing about the letter is how the level of sarcasm 40 years ago is almost indistinguishable from what we dish out nowadays.

 

They had all bought a beverage from Starbucks

From ‘Courtesy and the Starbucks syndrome’, 27 Dec 2010, ST Forum

(Virdi Bhupinder): AFTER watching a movie at the The Cathay Cineplex recently, my family and I wanted to grab a quick coffee at Starbucks.

However, the tables were occupied by teenagers with open laptops, chatting away loudly; some had their feet settled on the sofas and had literally ‘dug in’ for long sessions of free surfing.

After I had waited for about 10 minutes, I asked the manager if she could request a few teenagers to make way for other customers.

Her reply was that she could not because they had all bought a beverage from Starbucks.

It was a strange reply to me as I do not think that buying a single drink entitles a customer to park himself at an outlet for hours and deprive others of a seat.

…Food and beverage outlets like Starbucks should stop this system, where a customer need buy only one drink and he can stay as long as he likes, and adopt a policy that is reasonable and shows consideration to all customers.

Perhaps limit free wi-fi to half an hour of surfing by issuing a time-limit coupon when customers buy drinks. Or install a sign stating that those studying or hogging tables should show consideration to other customers.

Such behaviour also suggests an innate lack of graciousness, which as a society we should try to change.

If the writer intended to have a ‘quick coffee’, perhaps instead of hanging around for 10 minutes urging the management to chase regular customers away (even if they only bought 1 drink), there’s another system in place which he/she may consider commonly known as the ‘take-away’. Coffeehouses are not hawker centres. The whole marketing concept, the air-con comfort, the interior decor, the piped music, are all designed specifically to sustain long periods of not just studying over a freshly brewed cuppa but also idle chatter, first dates and informal business meetings, and it applies not just here but anywhere else in the world where people are conned into buying coffee that costs as much as  a McDonald’s Value Meal. The success of Starbucks strives on it, and either this writer is new to the whole coffeehouse concept, or is the sort who looms over occupied tables at kopitiams watch-gazing and foot-tapping patrons into submission.

Surely it’s unfair to blame students for hogging seats when others are doing likewise, be it playing with their iPhones, reading a thick novel from start to finish, or trying to sell insurance plans whilst doping clients with caffeine, which the writer does not notice simply because they make less noise than the kids. It’s also unfair to extrapolate such behaviour to society in general, and as an advocate for a gracious society, one should also exercise the virtues of patience and tolerance, but more importantly the economy of common sense to get around the ‘system’ and go somewhere else (perhaps another Starbucks 100m away) if you don’t like what you see instead of telling a giant coffee conglomerate how to run a business just because you can’t have things your way. Other than Starbucks, studying, even in the early 70′s,  has never been well received in libraries as well,  as seen in this 16 October 1973 article ‘Students occupy all the seats in the library’ below. Which suggests, that for close to 40 years, study rooms in Singaporean homes have been used for every other purpose than actual studying.

 

Jetstar is an ostrich

From ‘Passengers forgotten after flight delay’, 16 Nov 2010, ST Forum

(Marcus Lim): MY GIRLFRIEND and I were booked to fly on Jetstar Asia’s flight 3K695 from Singapore to Hong Kong on Oct 31. At the departure gates, we were informed that the flight had been delayed by seven hours.

As reasonable budget air travellers, this wasn’t a disaster for us. What came after, however, was.

The airline’s ground staff were clueless about crowd control and disseminating information. The crush at the counter threatened the safety of some children who were caught in it.

…It has been more than two weeks since I lodged my complaint with Jetstar and true to form, I have not received a word in reply.

On the other hand, it should not be surprising as Jetstar does not provide a proper address or contact details of customer service executives. Jetstar, it seems, is the corporate equivalent of an ostrich.

Is it alright to be ‘reasonable’ when one’s flight has been delayed by seven hours, even if you’re taking a budget flight? I don’t know about the writer but most people have a schedule, or people to meet when they travel, and half a day of wasted time to me, is an unacceptable horror. The public should not be misled into thinking that something unprofessional and contrary to any business ethic as budget carrier delays is a given. It’s fine if the flight attendants are sour faced, rude or toss peanuts at you, but unless the pilot has been asphyxiated to death in the cockpit, the minimum standard I would expect from any form of paid transport is that I get to my desired destination within a tolerable timeframe. The public should also not be misled into thinking that ostriches really bury their heads in the sand. Any random google will tell you it’s a myth, though it would make more sense to say that like ostriches, Jetstar planes have wings but can’t take off, an analogy that Tiger Airways only know too well. Another Score for SIA.

Low-cost carrier’s low blow

From ‘Air Asia should live up to its tag’ 25 Oct 2010, St Forum online

(Jonathan Goh):… I booked a flight to Bali for a retreat in November. With the flight confirmed, I made plans for the trip. The airline recently informed me via SMS that the flight will be pushed back by two hours, with no explanation for the rescheduling. The timing of the SMS broadcast couldn’t have been worse – the message arrived on my cellphone minutes away from midnight.

…AirAsia charges passengers who amend their flight bookings a ‘change fee’. As this rescheduling of flight timing was not requested by me, I wrote to AirAsia requesting that the company compensate me reasonably for the inconvenience caused through no fault of mine…To date I have not heard from AirAsia.

Recently AirAsia ran full-page advertisements in the print media that were thinly veiled attempts to mock its competitors’ current problems.

Instead of spending money and energy on such activities that do customers no good, the airline should invest more time and effort in caring for its passengers – and living up to the tag of being Asia’s best low-cost carrier.

 

At least they're cute

Lesson learned in advertising, don’t start ribbing your rival before you even clean up your act yourself. Airasia probably deserved this for poking fun at Tiger airways first, like a school bully pulling down the pants of the resident nerd only to rip his own pair in the process. Such corny malice doesn’t sell tickets, in fact, the heat is on the instigator to ensure that the joke doesn’t backfire, like how it did in this instance.  I  do wonder, though, if it’s even reasonable to seek compensation for a couple of hours delay on any airline, be it budget or premium, especially if they actually bothered to notify you beforehand, which does at least give you some lead time to make other arrangements.  There’s also the tricky question of the nature of the grievance inflicted. How do you compensate a distraught son for flying back too late for a dying father? Or a astronomy geek for missing a once every 400 years solar eclipse?

Still,  this is probably another case of confirmation bias where people forget of all the successful flights they’ve had with budget carriers and focusing spectacularly and disproportionately on the cock-ups. SIA’s probably having a field day in the office, saving such complaints in their hard disk just in case any of these players has the audacity to take a crack at their beloved Singapore Girls (If Sarong Kebayas were meant to be walked in, they  wouldn’t be sewn so tight?). Budget carriers, of course, by granting low cost for massive carbon footprints even for a weekend getaway in Bali (if you can afford to have one every month), are hardly ethical means of travel, so if service letdowns and jokes about tigers be the death knell of the industry, then all the better for the planet.

Doctor was selfish for eating his dinner

From ‘A discourteous practice that should be stopped’, 23 Oct 2010, ST Forum

(Tan May Sian): MY COMPLAINT is not new. But it is relevant as it is about something that is inconsiderate and discourteous: Why is it that patients inevitably end up waiting to see the doctor or dentist, regardless of the circumstances?

A doctor kept me waiting at his clinic for half an hour on Monday night because he was having his dinner.

While I understand that doctors need breaks as well, I would think such breaks should not be part of a clinic’s operating hours. When a clinic is open, shouldn’t the doctor be on hand?

…Such behaviour is unprofessional and shows scant respect for the valuable time of others. It creates the impression that a doctor’s or dentist’s time is more valuable than anyone else’s and borders on selfishness.

Perhaps the schools catering to these professions should include a course on basic courtesies for medical and dental students.

The reasoning is so simple I don’t see how people like Ms Tan here just don’t get it. One doctor, many patients, wait your turn.  On the one hand, we have patients complaining about doctors not being polite and caring enough, on the other they complain about long waiting times which, other than number of sick patients on hand, also factors in time taken by the doctor on each patient. Visiting a doctor is not a quickie lunchtime manicure for busy, on-the-go women like the writer comes across as, it’s an agonising ordeal but for good reason: Doctors need to be observant and cautious when patients’ lives are at stake. And that means taking time. You can’t cut short waiting times by attending courtesy courses alone, and your time is as precious as anyone else’s. Every GP clinic is running a business whereby one can’t afford to close the clinic for half an hour dinner breaks and lose patients to nearby rivals. Even if they do close for dinner, there’s bound to be people running in with a profusely bleeding paper cut 5 minutes into the break complaining about clinics denying them treatment when they’re about to haemmorrhage to death. With the haze mounting and more people reporting ill, it’s expected that doctors will have their work cut out for them and waiting is a given, as it’s always been. I wonder what ailment befell the writer to trigger such hostility, but judging from the baseless deriding of the doctor’s basic need to eat food and the collective accusation of doctors and dentists lacking professionalism, suggests that it’s more appropriate, and less of a waste of her precious time, that she should have seen a psychiatrist instead.

No porridge at KFC

From ‘Bad attitude and no porridge at KFC outlet’, 23 Sept 2010, Speakup, The New Paper

(Irene Khoo): TWO Sundays ago, I ordered a set of original Twister/Milo and an a la carte KFC breakfast porridge for my daughter at about 9am at the Tanjong Katong Road outlet.

I was shocked when the counter staff told me that the porridge had been sold out and that I needed to wait for an hour for a fresh supply.

I requested to see the store manager to ask why a customer should have to wait for so long.

To my shock, the assistant manager retorted: ‘You don’t expect me to give you uncooked porridge, right?’

But surely the manager, who is supposed to oversee operations, should pre-empt such a situation by getting ready a fresh supply before the earlier lot runs low, I pressed?

Then came another shock. The assistant manager told me that I was free to eat at the Banquet food court next door if I could not wait.

In another incident earlier, I had gone to the outlet at about 8.15pm. (KFC had advertised an evening promotion for its porridge, from 6.30pm to 9pm.) Again, I was told that the porridge had run out.

11 secret herbs and spices in this too!

If KFC runs out of chicken I’d probably relate to the complainant’s frustration, but over a bowl of porridge? Eating porridge at KFC is like ordering salad at Morton’s steakhouse. Even if the porridge is so good that it’s sold out by early morning, and that even food guru KF Seetoh swears by it, its really just a case of arse-luck and no reason to tell the store manager how to run his operations, a complaint that totally deserves the gentle ‘why don’t you try elsewhere’ boot. Nobody will prepare a fresh load of  breakfast porridge near lunchtime just for you, Ms Khoo, it’s bad business. Still, the fact that a totally incongruous meal at an ubiquitous chicken icon can be such a hot item that some people raise a ruckus when they don’t have it for breakfast or supper must mean something.

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