Hrvatska 01 : Zagreb, Croatia’s capital in the northwest

“​Zagreb, Croatia’s northwestern capital, is distinguished by its 18th- and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture.” That is how Wikipedia starts describing the city of about 800000, capital of a country that the EU considers one of the poorest and backward in the union. This isn’t large by any standards, but packs a lot of character. Croatia is one of the parts that former Yugoslavia got broken into. 

Landing in from Heathrow, the new Zagreb airport was quite a change. Small, with one KLM 737 just arrived before us, and three luggage belts but modern.

Immigration takes a while, and so does luggage. But, as a tourist, who cares. Not as if I had some place to get to in a hurry. As one steps out, has a different feel compared to a western European city. Felt somewhat like Bratislava really. The trees look different, but green. The houses look different, but nice. Somewhat picturesque, but not overwhelmingly so. 

Took about 20 minutes to town. The taxi drivers at the airport will fleece you. Uber is available, but has long wait time. What showed 3 minutes turned to 24 as soon as I booked it.

Staying at a mid range place in Donji Grad, the lower city, which is one of the 17 districts of Zagreb. Two days of lack of sleep is about to take a toll, but certainly not before stepping out to buy some food.

If you happen to buy at the local super market, it is pretty cheap. I bought a baguette, some cheese, some prosciutto and a beer in glass bottle (bottle returnable). A quick efficient sandwich, more like four.

All of 50 kuna. But, there is plenty food available,  plenty coffee and plenty beer ( Ožujsko, made by Molson Coors, is the most popular Lager around). All across town.

The Best Western that I am in is in a less touristy area, and this closer to where locals live. Has a different, quieter feel, but is close to the railway station and about 10 minutes from the center of town. It is reasonably priced, provides a turn down service with a chocolate on the pillow and a pretty decent breakfast.

I walked out, looking for a local Sim card. Don’t go by what web sites seem to proclaim about tourist Sim cards with great deals. Those are difficult to find. Get a local whatever Sim to ensure you have telephony, internet would be available in your hotel. 

This area of Donji Grad has a different feel, with neighbors talking to each other, petunias on windows, some dereliction, coffee bars with friends smoking over coffee or a beer, some super markets.

 

 Many of the walls are covered with rather artistic graffiti. Check my facebook post on the same subject and some other interesting images.

 You get the drift. 

As I ambled around, I visited the railway station for a short while. In front of the station is a large park at the end of which is the Opera house. 


There is this ancient hotel, the Esplanade next door which was used by the passengers of the Orient Express which used to stop at Zagreb. The railway station has a quaint feel to it, some buildings from the early 20th century and some rectangular non description ones from the communist era.

There is a small railway museum here too.

Later in the night, I stepped out to get to the main square, with the famous equestrian statue. Found a busker, playing out a very familiar tune.

You will recognize it too. Very often, I find the quality of buskers in western towns often betray the cultural standards of a city. Classical music, if you find, is a good sign.

Ban Jelačić Square is officially known as Trg bana Jelačića, is colloquially called Jelačić plac. This is where the young of Zagreb seem to  hang out, and most tours start from. This is a good place to see Zagreb’s famous blue trams including the old heritage  ones.

Incidentally, the day before, 11th April, marked the anniversary of Croatia’s declaration of independence by a puppet regime, in 1941. These are a handful of people, a bit of an embarrassment to the populace who celebrated the event. The group gathered at Jelačić square.

Touch down Croatia / Hrvatska

Ever read Alistair MacLean novels, as a young adult or even later? He wrote one called ‘The Partisans’, which I read while in senior school. Never mind what that story was about, but the setting was former Yugoslavia. Exotic sounding Zagreb, Mostar, Sarajevo, Graz, Zadar etc which became infamous later during the Serbo-Croat-Bosnian conflict. Somewhere along the line a city whose name started with a Z, sure did pique some interest in me and that interest to get there, sometime in life, remained.
Just before getting my shackles removed, closing my eyes and forefinger jabbing a map of Europe pointed roughly to Croatia. What shackles, you ask. Ah, but that is a story for another day.

Dealt with the Croatian embassy for a Visa. Have never figured why such seemingly immigration risk insignificant countries need such amazing amount of paperwork to issue a tourist visa and why do they charge so much? Am I about to illegally migrate…to Croatia? Not as if there is a large bunch Indians traveling to Croatia either.

 

Meanwhile, getting tickets on miles from British Airways was as much a bitch as it always has been. Can’t fly through here, not from there, not on this day, not on that, not in economy, not this airline etc etc. Getting some workable, but inconvenient combination is akin to expecting a singularity type event to happen and a space time continuum portal, to the other dimension,​ open up. So they routed me through LHR, but couldn’t find me a miles seat to Zagreb. That is supposed to be my destination, you see. In any case, my return trip on miles and paid LHR->ZAG ends up costing more than flying economy to ZAG and back.

The travel day from finally arrived. BA seems to have fallen on bad times. Their planes lack upkeep, the service borders now on surly, the food is just plain bad. Their Twitter CS team is callous in approach as well.

If you are flying short-haul economy, then you pay for food. Their central software system crashes, and disables online check-in too.

But, still interesting things happen. There are things happening everyday which make one gleeful. Finally the app based check-in today morning, self baggage drop and tag printing, and touch less card swipe on board for a coffee. Technology, when it works, is sheer magic.

Then this beautiful innovation of filter coffee in this cup with a cloth net filter.

Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?

Visible sunrises are still a delight. Even more so in England.

And then, John Cleese is going to be back on the tube; so reports The Telegraph.

…And touch down into sunny Zagreb. After a long line at immigration and a (fleecing) taxi drive, here is the view from my upgraded room

More on Zagreb and Croatia as I travel through next some days…

"IndiGo Airbus A320-232; VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012 668ey (7917210650)" by Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland - IndiGo Airbus A320-232; VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012/668eyUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IndiGo_Airbus_A320-232;_VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012_668ey_(7917210650).jpg#/media/File:IndiGo_Airbus_A320-232;_VT-IES@SIN;02.08.2012_668ey_(7917210650).jpg

When the focus is only on process…

Have you ever interacted with a company which is focused on its processes or a set of metrics which take the focus away from the customer? Here are two real-life anecdotes:

  • A startup car rental company in Bangalore proclaims that its service advisors are asked to spend 60% of their time on following the process accurately, and 40% on their customers. Doesn’t matter how large their funding corpus is, but how long do you think this type of thinking will serve them?
  • A document processing company spends its life on meeting its industry compliance based SLAs without thinking about the backlog which is getting created. Because, the backlog is not a part of the metrics being watched. How long, do you think, before the backlog comes to bite them in the a@#?

Sound familiar? The impact of looking at input metrics of input processes can be drastic. It can have an impact on safety, and in some cases you will find customers walking away. Allow me to give you an example of what might happen. The case in point is the low-cost carrier Indigo. Two separate flights and some repeated occurrences :

  • After the aircraft lands at the destination airport (COK), the cabin crew disarm (at least) the front doors before instructions from the cockpit, and much before the aircraft reaches its parking stand. Tweeting about it gets a response, and then calls from their social media group.Polite mention of DGCA gets someone from their social media group to call in People who have no idea of what is being talked about and says that all our aircraft doors are “manual” and not “automatic”. Then, of course mentioning gruffly that providing access to whoever runs safety will not be possible. That takes care of the incident, closes the ticket raised but does not solve the actual problem.
  • In another situation, there is a group of 23 people flying together (to HYD) and flying for the first time. The already somewhat intimidated the group has been scattered across the plane by Indigo’s insensitive ground traffic staff. Then, because Indigo measures itself on on-time departure, the under pressure cabin crew brow beats these passengers to settle down quick.
  • The way Indigo measures its on-time arrival is another scam. A flight which takes (say) 1hr 30 is listed as a 2hr flight thereby providing a large buffer, and then the herding of passengers helps too.
  • Cabin crew announcing that they speak in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and English (or whatever else)  in a plane going to Hyderabad and full of Telegu speaking people is idiotic and insensitive. This works in an international airline which focuses on its vernacular traffic, but just copying the style is idiotic in case of Indigo. Really, no one gives a damn if your crew is from Darjeeling, Bangalore or bumblef***.
  • Being an airline in India, it truly is a matter of shame if you can’t get your Hindi right in the announcements. “मैं XXX मुख्य कर्मी दल ” translates to me, XXX the lead working team, though what is meant is ‘me, the lead team member‘ which should be “मैं XXX मुख्य कर्मी दल सदस्या”. Why does this happen? Happens when you have a non-Hindi speaking person doing the translation from “Me, XXX, Lead, Working team” to Hindi and no one in the company thinks about doing a quick check.

The focus, you will notice, is on their SOP and the processes within. Quite possible, following the process minutely will create a very efficient airline and rake in money in the short-term. But, the same blind following of process will turn passengers away because of the “attitude” that their cabin crew has started showing. To a small extent, Jet Airways did get bitten by this in the past.

The blind following of process to focusing on the wrong metric one day will also case a large error and an aircraft operational safety related incident. DGCA, take note.

The focus very clearly needs to be, for processes oriented companies, to be on:

  • Output metrics and
  • the Customer

If the processes are taking the staff away from these, there is a storm coming. Seriously!

Have you experienced a company starting to be more inward focused? Write in.

Je(s)t Airways has a funny bone!

Some of you might have read this on one of my previous FB posts.

Jet Airways is an amazing airline.

BL21_P3_JET_787279fI recently added my wife and daughter to my Jet Airways FF household program. Yesterday, they called me for verification. Read on (with a spot of patience) to know more:

Jet rep: Sir, Good afternoon, I am calling from Jet privilege to verify your application for Family+ account.
Me: Good afternoon, sure!
JR: Sir, am I speaking to Mr Suhas Dutta?
Me:Yes, ma’am. You are.
JR: You have added your daughter, Miss Dutta to your Family+ account, and I need to verify her details.
Me: ok.
JR: Can you please tell me your daughter’s name?
Me: err, you just told me her name, and you have that on your records…
JR: No sir, this is a verification process.
Me: ok, her name is Dutta.
JR: Sir, what is her relationship to you?
Me: Pretty important
JR: No sir, I mean what is her relationship to you?
Me: Ah, got it. She is my daughter.
JR: Sir, what is her date of birth?
Me: I have already provided that.
JR: No sir, this is a verification call. Please tell me <daughter’s name=””> Dutta’s date of birth.
Me: ok, it is <blah>.
JR: Sir, please tell me the name of the person who introduced <daughter’s name> to family+

I am a slow learner, and I had not gotten the trick yet.

Me: Madam, you called me for verification and informed me that I had introduced my daughter to Family+. I don’t get this.
JP: No sir, this is a verification call, please tell me who introduced <daughter’s name=””> to Family+ for your JPaccount.
Me: I did.
JP: No sir, tell me the name.
Me: <my name>
JP: Thank you sir, I have confirmed the details and <daughter>’s account is now verified.
Me: Thank you so much, may I go now?
JP: No sir, I need to verify the introducer’s details.
Me: Yes, I introduced her, as you are aware.
JP: No sir, I need to verify the introducer’s details. Please tell me who introduced her.
Me: Ok, I did.
JP: No sir, please tell me the name.
Me: That would be <my name>, but didn’t you call me and ask me my name? Are you serious?
JP: Yes sir, I did. But, this is a verification call, no? What is your FF#, date of birth, and email address.
Me: Please look up my JP account, you will find all the details.
JP: No sir, you need to tell me.
Me: okay, they are as follows….<blah, and blah, and blah>
JP: Thank you sir, what is your phone number.

… ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that I am but human.

Naresh Goyal - used to practically own the company (it is listed though) till he sold stake to Etihad

Naresh Goyal – used to practically own the company (it is listed though) till he sold stake to Etihad

Me: Madam, before I answer that, I have a question. Can you please tell me which number did you call to talk to me?
JP: err…umm…<looks it up, I reckon>…sir, I called <XXXXXXXXXX>
Me: Madam, can you please copy that number into your record?
JP: which number sir?
Me: The number that you just told me.
JP: Oh, okay sir. Now your verification process is complete and your account will be active in the next 48 hours. Have a good day sir.
Me: Thank you so much madam, very top of the day to you, and thanks for spreading cheer across the nation. Bye!

After this I was intent on connecting my head to the nearby wall, but Gocha ( Govindraj Kozhipurath ) was walking along with me and he quickly guided me towards a cup of coffee to avoid any damage to the stone wall.

Flying Around (Experiences on the Road – III)

I have spent my life traveling full service airlines and mostly in business or in first. For a long period of time (at least on domestic routes) on Indian Airlines, till very recently on Jet Airways and a smattering of everything else. The change of career path (with the initiation of KOOLSKOOL) now gets us to look for cheaper fares, and some amount of low cost carrier flying brought in some interesting insight.

Quick comparison

Lets do a quick comparison of cheapest available return fares on three different airlines – Indigo, Jet Airways, and Kingfisher. The route chosen is Bangalore-Delhi-Bangalore, and the dates are 26th Oct (for onward) and 30th Oct (for return). The cheapest tickets we could find are listed in table 1.

Clear trip price

Clear trip schedule for 1750, for March 11 2010

Clearly, the real low cost carrier beats every other fare hands down. But, that would be an unfair comparison. Lets bring in food. Table 1, also shows the price of food in the LCC flights. Kingfisher Red will serve you a sandwich for free and provide you a small bottle of water. The other two will sell you food for say Rs 150 a sandwich, and Rs 50 for a can of an aerated beverage. Table 1 also shows approximate costs of food that you might buy on-board. The full service airlines, of course, serve you a free hot meal (depending on the time of the day), but the stark difference still remains.

Elite Tier

Lets now assume that you are a Platinum level on the Loyalty Programs of both Jet, and Kingfisher (Indigo doesn’t have a loyalty program). You would get lounge access in most airports. Jet doesn’t have a lounge at Bangalore, but they give you a food coupon. You do get to sit in peace for a while and eat a bit and/or sip a beverage. Surely that has a cost as well. Lets throw in a Rs 250 (my guess)for the food, and the same amount per passenger in the lounge. That makes is a Rs 500 (per journey) that the airline spends on you for the lounge. Table 1 above also adds the cost of lounge access to the Indigo ticket.

Add the miles twist
jet airways fare

Jet Airways fare, on 11th March 2010

Now, Indigo does not have a loyalty program and thus you don’t get frequent flier miles. But, assuming you are the same Platinum level frequent flier, the miles that you get are as in Table 2 on the left along with the miles that you will need to get yourself a free return ticket on the same sector.

For the final math!

So, with what we have seen so far, one calculates backwards to figure the number of flights (see Table 3) you will have to take to be able to get a free return tickets on this sector. And second, given the differential between Indigo fares and the others, how many Indigo tickets you might be able to buy within that extra flying.

jetlite schedule

Jetlite schedule showing 1750 flight, for 11th March 2010

The verdict

This is rather clear. Talking money, it makes no financial sense to fly a full service airline at all. Unless, of course your company/ office/ employer or someone else is paying for the ticket.

Disclaimer
  • The entire analysis above is based on a spot check, and the fares of each of the airlines could easily differ on other days.
  • The fares on all the airlines could have been different due to the current load.
  • The analysis above is not derogatory in nature, neither is it a paid advertisement (or otherwise) of any airline. It is but an observation. A similar analysis (with similar or different result) would have been possible with other airlines in India.
  • All calculations provided above are for the cheapest available fares in economy, on the airlines’ individual web sites. Choosing different sectors, class of travel and source of ticketing may alter the calculations.
  • Passengers of these airlines are expected to use their own judgment to purchase tickets. Our above post in no way aims to influence a buying decision.