Sunday, 19 August 2007

Who's is bigger?

I had a chat with Ken Belva a couple of days ago over email. He pointed out differences between UK and US airport experiences. In the UK they make a big deal of not threatening the staff, in the US, they make a big deal out of the customers being comfortable. I wonder why this is?

Obviously it must have something to do with the behaviour of people passing through British airports. I pass through one roughly once a fortnight on average, and I have yet to attack a member of staff, no matter how close I've felt to inflicting pain of some sort.

It's a while since I passed through an American one, on my honeymoon to Tahiti we stopped off in LA en route, so it's almost exactly a year ago (Sunday is my first anniversary). I don't remember LAX being anything special, it's quite small for such a well known airport, but they didn't spoil me or anything. I suppose I was comfortable enough, but I recall a very officious security man throwing his weight around and making my wife laugh because "I didn't know people like that actually existed". Maybe it's our perceptions, or rather how the people advertise themselves that are different?

However, I rather think there is something else in it than that. The UK has 2 main airports, you HAVE to come in through one of them if you're coming from the USA. No choice. Chances are, you're tired, pissed off, and ready to eat a baggage handler for rifling through your underpants. There are an awful lot of Yanks in London, and if they're all filtering through Gatwick and Heathrow, the chances are there are going to some staff assaulted, it's a hazard of the job. These guys are so badly paid, they need to be protected or they'll walk. Not that that's an issue of course, because there's always someone else waiting in line for the job, but the airlines have to show willing.

The US meanwhile has many hundreds of airports, some smaller than my living room. These guys need our custom to survive, so they LET you hit them without complaint, bid you "Have A Nice Day, Sir" and enjoy the experience with what remains of their teeth in tact. They don't leave their jobs, because otherwise they'd have to fly to work in another state, or just remain unemployed. The airlines don't care, because there are other people lining up for the job, and they are too busy keeping customers happy.


I was chatting with Erich Baumgartner over at Ingrian Networks earlier in the week too (more on this in a later post). Erich really knows what he is talking about when it comes to security, start up business, and business in general. He's the kind of guy that was created out of the 90s internet boom and will always continue to have success, a good friend to have in a 2.0 world (Earth2.0?).

I had just said that technology markets here were typically 4 to 6 years behind those in the US, and Erich had come back with the fact that it was not the case in the mobile industry. The UK is streets ahead apparently, in both products and innovation. I was confused at first, but Erich explained that the US fixed network had been in a very good condition when the internet first arose. The phone system in the UK is still not great, despite constant attention. Of course the mobile networks have a much smaller area to cover. 99.999% of the UK is much more readily achievable than 99.999% of the US. Much of that area cannot be inhabited in any case.

It's just a matter of relative sizes of our countries and the economic sense it makes that decides which direction each takes in their attitude to various markets. That's why I can get away with being grumpy every so often. I like to think of it as my own little niche.

You guys have to be nice, of course, otherwise I'm going to read someone else's.

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