Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Europe & US : Day 10 (May 18, 2011)

This morning we visited the Goodyear factory in Houston. Goodyear is known as a tyre giant, but few know that they have a very large chemicals business.

The huge factory is located by the side of a water channel that flow through Houston all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The first thing that strikes you when you enter the factory is the huge emphasis on security, and safety. Each visitor is required to furnish a photo id, and foreigners in particular are required to show their passports. When you enter the production area, you have to – whether you like it or not, wear, ‘hard hats’ (helmets), ear mufflers – they look like big headphones, and plastic glasses over the eyes. Entry is through a turn spike kind of a gate – only one person can enter at a time.

Our flight to Charlotte from Houston was delayed. When we reached Charlotte to catch the connection to Akron Ohio, there were 15 minutes left for departure, and a long, long way to reach the boarding gate. We ran, and we ran and ran. We reached when the gate was being closed. We just about made it. If we had not, there would have been utter confusion, with bags going away, and we stranded in Charlotte, as the flight was the last one to Akron, for the day.

Which brings me to the subject of airlines in America. Their level of customer orientation can be described in one word - ‘pathetic’. Flights are delayed and cancelled, passengers are made to wait for three, four hours in a queue, for some problem at the airlines’ end. Many a time a passenger lands up at a different destination than the one he started for.

Nothing comes free on any American airline – not even water. In flight service is another story. On a long haul flight from Delhi to New Ark Intl. airport, my Boss described the service level as ‘nest to zero’ meaning little or no in flight service. Once dinner is served, the cabin crew’s job is over. Beverages are placed in one corner of the cabin, and passengers are welcome to help themselves, while the air hostesses bunch up together, and kill time gossiping away. And mind you – this is Business Class. One the one hand Americans are friendly, but on the other hand, they can come across as downright snobbish as if they are superior to the rest of the World, and couldn’t care less. The attitude of the cabin crew is a reflection of this attitude.

A far cry from  the Business Class of say Lufthansa, where every once in a while an air hostess will come and enquire whether you want anything to drink. And I am convinced that our good old domestic carriers like Kingfisher or Jet Airways are miles ahead, as far as the overall quality of their product is concerned.

We reached Akron a small town near Cleveland, Ohio. This town is home for Goodyear.  We checked –in at about 10 pm, by which time, all restaurants are shut, we are told. Door delivery to your Hotel room however is perfectly acceptable.

So after a cheese and pepperoni pizza and a coke from the vending machine in the Hotel corridor, its time to call it a day. Tomorrow we finish the last leg of the domestic travel within US. We head for New Jersey. And on Friday, we are out – of this ‘land of milk and honey’ that always provides me with a mixed bag of experiences – some sweet and some sour..

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