Beijing blues for business travellers

The results of our annual business travel poll of 523 readers are in. Which is the best airline, what are the best hotels, and why do you hate flying to Beijing?
Our annual business travel poll received 523 responses this year, making it one of the biggest we have ever conducted. As ever, the poll gives our frequent flying readership the chance to praise airlines and hotels, as well as air (no pun intended) their gripes.

This year we also asked business travellers to give us their views on the increasing hassle of travel in general.

For example, we had anecdotally heard that there were a large number of delays on flights to Beijing. So we decided to ask whether our readership found this a problem. We received 113 votes from people who said they had experienced an above average number of delays on flights to Beijing.

The comments we received were even more interesting. ôYou cannot count on anything like a schedule flying in an out of Beijing,ö said one respondent. Another noted: ôThe travel from Beijing to Hong Kong continues to get worse, with the delays rumoured to be weather, military exercises, and plane maintenance.ö

Travellers felt the delays were impacting business. ôIt is extremely annoying that you cannot plan your schedule in the way that you want it to be, as the delay is always unpredictable. I have to budget more time for travel these days when going to Beijing,ö said one frequent flyer. Another noted: ôI have to allow a whole day for travel each way to/from Hong Kong, which reduces the number of meetings I can schedule in Beijing.ö And confirmed another: ôMeetings are scheduled based on an expectation of a 1.5 hour delay û time is wasted.ö

One business traveller noted that the last flight back to Hong Kong on a Friday was always delayed, and hence to be avoided. A Singapore-based traveller noted that whenever they flew back from Beijing, ôthe flight is always delayed. We will be seated in the plane, but wonÆt take off until 45 minutes to one hour later.ö

In the most vitriolic response we got, a respondent said: ôIt sucks, it is a totally inefficient airport.ö

But how do travellers feel about travel in general? Has the increased security at airports made travel more of a chore? It would seem so. ôI am avoiding long haul flights as carry on items are severely limited,ö said one respondent. Another noted: ôIt is the frustration more than anything else. Business travellers should receive a FastTrack service.ö

ôThe delays at security checkpoints are becoming a significant concern,ö said one other frequent flyer. ôAirports are transit points, I don't expect to spend my life in them.ö Another noted: ôFlying is definitely more painful than before.ö

Problems with travel from Heathrow airport and to the US also came up repeatedly. ôI really would reconsider whether it is necessary to travel to places like the US, unless I definitely have to,ö said one respondent. ôI will scratch the US off my list in terms of leisure travel due to that. And for business, I wonder whether video conferencing can do the job. I would rather have the meeting in the wee hours instead of going through all that trouble. Time is money."

The use of conference calls as an alternative to travel was a common theme this year. Go to the next page for the results of the best airlines section of the poll, and page 3 for best hotels section.One of the most popular parts of our travel survey allows readers to vent their frustrations with airlines, and also give their thanks for good service.

We first ask what was the best experience you have had on an airline in the past year. The vast majority of responses share the sentiment of the following: ôNothing is a better experience than getting upgrades from business to first class. Any upgrade is good.ö

On a more personal level, another respondent praised a Singapore Airlines flight from Taipei to Singapore ôwhere the staff helped me get an ice box with dry ice to store the expressed breastmilk that I stored during business travel.ö

Or this tale: ôCathay Pacific helped on my honeymoon û we missed a flight on another airline and they found us seats at short notice, provided my wife with a card signed by all the airline staff and a box of chocolates û we would have missed our honeymoon without CX.ö

In a possible first for this poll, Korean Airlines also got a piece of high praise: ôKorean Airlines service levels have improved much in recent years. In one incident, I was on an economy class flight from Asia to US on a very full flight near Christmas. I realised a little through the flight that my swollen feet wouldn't fit back into my new heels so asked the flight attendant for an extra pair of slippers for when I got off the plane till I could get to my checked luggage. She came back and told me that it looked that there were none spare as the flight was packed. But right before we got off, she made another trip around and found me a new pair û hours after I'd made the request. I was impressed that she'd remembered and saved me from having to walk back to my luggage in bare feet!ö

The worst experiences are normally û in this pollÆs experience û more numerous. It seems that some frustrated flyers save up a yearÆs worth of vitriol to vent in our survey. Consider this one: ôBumped off a midnight Cathay flight to London (no explanation given), then put onto BA flight, then bumped off BA, then reinstated on a BA flight, but when I went to check in, Cathay hadn't made the booking correctly, so was again bumped off BA, then was stuck on a Virgin flight. My five month old son was kept awake throughout this farce, and as a result screamed his head off all the way to London. Cathay offered a $50 gift voucher as compensation and suggested that we could buy Cathay T-shirts from the in-flight shopping catalogue. Yeah right!ö

Or this frustrating flight: ôA Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne developing engine trouble over Hawaii and turning back and flying over the Pacific all the way back to Los Angeles - because Hawaii did not have facilities to fix the problem. The flight eventually took more than 36 hours to get to Melbourne.ö

Some of the responses were sarcastic, but many were quite considered, such as ôThe business class lounges for Cathay Pacific at Toronto and LA airports. They are the pits. They are small, crowded and downright unpleasant!ö

Another Cathay frequent flyer made the comment: ôWhile Cathay is the best airline in my view, their ground crew is substantially below the overall standard û as if they were from a different company. Cathay cannot win against the competition on a sustained basis without improving the ground crew.ö

In our polling, Singapore Airlines once again beat Cathay as the regionÆs best airline. It got 223 votes for the best in business class category to CathayÆs 169, and 173 votes for best in first class to CathayÆs 128. The pollÆs respondents largely travel in these classes û 386 out of 523 said they normally turn left when entering an aircraft (although it would seem many of the complaints we got were from people flying economy).

Cathay retained the award for best airline lounge (the Wing), and Hong KongÆs Chep Lap Kok was again voted as the regionÆs best airport. Go to the next page to see which were the best hotels. Best beds
The Shangri-La group was nominated as the best hotel group in the region, and the best business hotel was once again SingaporeÆs Ritz-Carlton Millennia. However, in the case of the latter, the newly opened Four Seasons in Hong Kong made a very strong showing. It also won the æBest New HotelÆ category, as well as the best hotel in Hong Kong.

There were few upsets when it came to nominating the best hotels in each Asian city. The same hotels tended to win that had been victorious in previous years. A key exception was in Korea where the Westin Chosun pipped the Grand Hyatt for the top spot û and by a mere two votes, with 120 respondents naming it the best hotel in Seoul. The extensive renovation of its rooms and its convenient location may explain the swing. But it should be said this was the closest vote we have ever had in the hotel category. The top hotels in each city were:

Bangkok The Oriental

Beijing China World (Shangri-La)

Hong Kong The Four Seasons

Kuala Lumpur The Mandarin Oriental

Jakarta Grand Hyatt

Manila Shangri-La Makati

Mumbai The Oberoi

Delhi The Oberoi

Shanghai Grand Hyatt

Singapore Ritz-Carlton Millennia

Seoul Westin Chosun

Sydney Park Hyatt

Taipei Grand Hyatt

Tokyo The Four Seasons

We would like to thank all the respondents for filling in the poll and sharing their views. The complete results of the poll can be found in the November issue of FinanceAsia magazine.
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