Tarragona, Spain – September 2017

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Casco Antiguo, Tarragona

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“Let’s move to Spain when we retire” she said… “I miss Europe” she said … “Why not check out Costa Dorada whilst you’re there… it’s very popular with English ex-pats” she said…

Umm… I’m not too sure about that…

My flying trip to Barcelona for the Red Hat EMEA Technical Exchange conference thankfully went a lot better than the overall “Spanish experience” part of the trip. My presentation appeared to be well received, so I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy a fun evening out with colleagues at PortAventura on the Ferrari Land rollercoaster ride.

I’ll admit (adrenalin junkie that she is) Jenni would have enjoyed that part of the trip!

I also managed to squeeze in a quick reconnaissance of the old town of Tarragona (Casco Antiguo) which is a UNESCO world heritage site and exactly the sort of place we might have in mind for a future retirement retreat in Europe. There are some beautiful plazas, interesting old buildings, street art and a general air of peace and tranquility. Again, Jenni would have approved of all of that too.

However, having been in the realm of customer service for the best part of 30 years, I can honestly say that Spain has the worst approach to customer satisfaction, well-being and contentment that I can remember in a long while.

The hotel was apparently totally unprepared for the arrival of myself and my colleagues and kept various of us waiting for up to 3 hours to check in after long overnight flights – although arrangements had been made weeks in advance to have rooms available. You might think that turning up at reception to request the rooms we had booked shouldn’t have been a big surprise as the PortAventura Resort was hosting the entire Red Hat conference of 700 people including filling their 2 on-site hotels and booking out their on-site restaurants… but clearly our appearance was begrudgingly unexpected.

There were debacles at the on-site restaurant which left me speechless. After our group had eaten dinner  I was called away to make a phone call with a colleague. In theory the restaurant was closed as it closed at 9pm. Once finished I tried to get back into the restaurant to join my group who were finishing up drinks but the waitress (who knew I had been there all evening and had already eaten dinner) physically barred my re-entrance because it was past 9pm. After a lengthy, heated exchange in which she was adamant I could not re-enter the restaurant, I had no alternative but to barge past her out-spread arms to return to my seat.  Rumor has it that after I left for the night, our VP picked up a half-finished bottle of vino from a neighboring table (already bought and paid for by Red Hat) and as he was pouring it into his glass, she grabbed it out of his hand and walked off with it. Rules are rules and they must be rigidly enforced whoever is paying your wages. Quite incredible!

The flight home from Barcelona to Miami and the dismal failure to keep hundreds of passengers informed and appraised was bordering on pitiful. The airline staff couldn’t have cared less and gave not a single hoot that connections all over the USA would be missed. There would have been a riot in a US airport, but then again, the lack of information and air of general disinterest just wouldn’t have happened.

After 6 hours of boredom and frustration watching the clock ticking away – the flight was delayed for 30 minutes, then 60, 90, 120 – it was ultimately 4 hours before they started to board us. Even that was dangerously chaotic as the airport staff failed to open the jetway to the plane but thought it would be a good idea to keep filing people through the ticket check onto the escalator. By the time business class passengers arrived on the moving escalator the first class and pre-boarder passengers (still sitting patiently in their wheel-chairs some 20 minutes after being wheeled away) were piled up in a big heap at the bottom of the escalator with nowhere for anyone to go.

It was fait accompli that I had already missed my connection from Miami to Tampa and so I was re-booked onto the last flight of the evening which I was pretty certain I was also going to miss given the estimated time of arrival. We finally touched down in Miami 4 and a half hours after my scheduled arrival time.

Biased though I am, of course, the super-efficient wheels of the enormous American customer service machine churned in my favor as soon the wheels landed on US soil. There was an expedited pass with my name on it – which the airline staff at AA handed me as I de-boarded so that I could jump the queue through customs and immigration. Running at full pelt with all of my luggage across Miami airport I made it to the gate with enough time to spare to down a glass of Bolly in the business class lounge opposite my gate and walk straight onto my plane home 🙂 That’s customer service for you 😉

So – yes – Costa Dorada is undoubtedly a beautiful part of Spain and I’m sure Jenni and I will very much enjoy exploring it and other parts of Spain for short sojourns in the future. However, there are no circumstances (without considerable bribery on Jenni’s part 😉 ) in which I can agree to move to Spain. The lackluster approach to customer service and efficiency would drive us both insane after having spent half a lifetime in the customer service capital of the world – the good ‘ol US of A.

We’re staying in Florida… the occasional hurricane or not 😉 🙂


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