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A Letter To AerLingus Customer Service

A Letter To AerLingus Customer Service

To whom it may concern at Aer Lingus,

I recently used your new transatlantic service from Dublin to Seattle and I found the service to be very good, in keeping with what I have come to expect from AerLingus as Ireland’s national carrier and a 4-star airline.
However, I am writing to highlight one aspect of your service that I was very disappointed with.

That is the amount of consumer plastic waste being generated on each crossing on this route.

Here is will highlight some specific areas that I noted on the flight which could be easily addressed and then I will finish by proposing that AerLingus has an opportunity to take a leading stance in improving on the waste generated from its inflight service when other airlines seem to be ignoring this very “front of house” and sadly very wasteful aspect of the service.

Firstly the travel blanket supplied to each customer is wrapped in a plastic bag only to be immediately removed and trashed without a second thought. I took a mini poll of other travellers to ask their opinion of the use of this wrapping. All (only 4 travellers) felt that this attempt to make one feel that blanket is “fresh” and “clean” is unnecessary when considering the resulting 300 bags being dumped from each flight. Perhaps there would be a less impactful way to convey to passengers that these blankets are fresh when received? Even a paper bag if a bag was really thought to be necessary?

Next each cup of hot beverage used was given in a disposable plasticised cardboard mug along with a plastic lid. I recall on flights taken in previous years where the drink could be poured into the cup received on the food tray and no plastic lid was required. Here I am considering the 300 (or perhaps multiples of 300) lids and cups being dumped from each flight. Perhaps even encouraging passengers to reuse these cups if they intend to have a second cup of tea/coffee might at least give a positive message and make passengers at least aware of the cumulative waste being generated. Perhaps a bring your own mug program could even be somehow incentivised (I know that we did on our flight and I noticed others doing this)

Next, the headphones provided to each passenger came in a disposable ziplock plastic wrap. This was immediately opened and 300 wrappers dropped/stuffed into pockets on the plane. Is this wrapping really helping anyone? On other airlines, I have noted that the unwrapped headphones were handed out after takeoff or simply left unwrapped on the seat, thereby avoiding yet another source of near-useless but highly damaging plastic wrapping.

Of course, then there was the food tray – a sea of single-use plastic. This is a more difficult one to address given the obvious constraints that airlines face in having to provide this service without adding to the service overhead for the flights. I do feel however that instead of following what other airlines have always done, there is room for AerLingus to lead the way in trying to slowly address the amount of disposable plastic arriving in each meal serving.

I did note on my flight that the second snack offered, was provided in a cardboard container without any plastic. Whether an intentional effort was made to reduce plastic in selecting this or not, I for one appreciated it.

I feel that more choices like this could form part of a concerted campaign on your part to address the amount of waste generated during flight and could be highlighted as part of a broader effort on behalf of Ireland’s “green” airline to make industry-leading efforts to be “green” in all aspects and to change the way inflight service is provided. The public relations benefit could be appreciable if AerLingus were to have an environmental impact statement with a declared intent to try to address inflight waste as well as perhaps the other impacts from the business process. I looked for but could not find any such statement online – nor could I find one for your nearest competitors either.

In fact I noted that a competitor of yours (Ryanair) was recently highlighted as one of the worst carbon polluters in Europe (not just of airlines but of all businesses). The air pollution aspect of flying is clearly a very difficult issue to tackle but I am urging you to tackle the easier and more obvious side of the inflight experience and thereby send a strong message to consumers.

You likely don’t need to hear yet another person reminding you of the effects of air travel on the environment, and as a user, I hold my hand up and will admit that I am a somewhat frequent user. But like many of us who feel we need to fly, I do think that there is a lot of scope to clean up the secondary waste stream being generated on these flights for no real gain to the consumer and perhaps at a cost to the airline (for example, time spent cleaning it up and disposal costs as well as no PR benefit).
AerLingus prides itself on its customer service and I note you are recognised for providing a 4-star service. Therefore I can understand someone making the decisions to use wrapping to add to a quality feeling that you think passengers are seeking. But I really feel this is misguided in its intent as many travellers these days are quite concerned about the overall impact of this form of transport and these methods have the very bad effect of delivering lots of additional plastic waste into our overburdened world.

I respectfully ask that you don’t ignore this request from a concerned customer and that even if you decide not to directly address these concerns (not just mine I assure you), that this concept could be taken on board and incorporated into your longer-term planning as to how you want to improve your future service. Perhaps AerLingus could take a lead that others might choose to follow.

I look forward to hearing more about what AerLingus can do to help alleviate the damage from this service in some small regard.

Yours sincerely

submitted to Aer Lingus customer care on September 19th.

By the way, the image at the top is from a report about a small Portuguese airline that took the action to make their service plastic-free this year. Seems like it can be done. If this really seems trivial compared to the impact of flying itself, then think of the simple message if gives to so many people who choose to fly – i.e. the potential effect it could have on passengers thinking by simply making this statement so clearly.

Coping With Range Anxiety….Our New Second-hand Nissan Leaf

Coping With Range Anxiety….Our New Second-hand Nissan Leaf

We had been nursing a very old car along for 15 years until it recently expired with a whimper. My most recent “fix” was to drill holes in the floor to let out the water that it had been accumulating, so its days of useful service were numbered.

To be honest the car was already 8 years old when we bought it making it one of the oldest things I’ve seen on the road at 23 years of age when it finally had enough. They just don’t make them like they used to..this thing had never had its clutch changed or touched in any way and after 23 years of service, the clutch finally wore out.

Our 1995 Micra was dead – or at least a clutch replacement didn’t seem worth the cost to us.

Moving on, we figured we would at least give some thought as to how we might manage on a single car. But with three young school going kids and living in the country this proved to be very difficult. In the end, it was simply too difficult for us to manage all the demands and we decided that our best option was to limit the harm we would do with our next vehicle over its life – the obvious answer here is an electric car (or EV – Electric Vehicle).
We looked for and found a 2013 electric Nissan Leaf and decided that was the way to go.

For a second car we didn’t want to splash out, firmly believing that cars are about function rather than looks. More of an unfortunately necessary waste of money and a highly depreciating asset as well, than a pleasurable investment.

Browsing the relevant websites brought back those familiar feelings of how much the car dealers profit from used car sales and how private sales offer good value if you can evaluate the car to your satisfaction.

The interesting thing about purchasing a used EV from a private seller is that relative to combustion engine cars, these cars have very little that can go wrong. The state of the battery is the obvious main concern, but really they are a considerably lower risk purchase to make than a standard car with so much unseen mechanics that can go wrong. How would you ever know if a clutch was about to go? Does it burn oil? Are the engine gaskets in good shape? Did the timing belt really get changed?
Not on an EV – it doesn’t have such hidden liabilities.

The EV will display its travel range to you and although apparently, it may be possible to tamper with this, there is a nice cheap app that you can use, along with an OBDII code reader to query the car and see the true battery lifetime (in AmpHrs) remaining. So you can know exactly what you are buying, and decide if you can live with that range.

In truth, there seems to be excellent value to be had now in second hand EVs due to the fear associated with used batteries.
Yes, the batteries, of course, will degrade over time and usage and the range consequently drops off. But if you need more than 90 or 100kms daily range then one of these is not for you anyway. But with national daily average mileage at about 27 to 30 miles, then these used EVs can suit many people’s driving habits. But thankfully for us, the uncertainty in buyers minds and the aversion to having to manage your range closely means that second-hand EV prices represent great value.

So we bought it – €7300 euros for a 131 car with 60k km on the clock and 11 of 12 bars range showing.

This particular model had some of the improvements that Nissan made on the original 2011 Leaf design, but still some of the drawbacks. It had the lower capacity 24Kwh battery pack and it also still had a resistive heater which consumes significant power from the battery during cold weather, unlike the newer models which use a heat pump. Considering this and the fact that it had 11 of 12 bars battery capacity remaining we were delighted to spend that to get a nearly new car.

My introduction to driving an electric car, however, was not pleasant.

I bought the car in North County Dublin and planned my drive back to Cork. A few things I learned the hard way:
Dublin has many fast charge points which include the charging cable. When you buy a car that only has a “granny cable” – that is one that plugs into a regular household socket for slow charging – then you are S.O.L. when you pull into one of the many charge pints that require you to have the custom cable/connector. Picture my smile fading as I found my first charge point well outside Dublin with 15 km range left only to realise it didn’t have any connector. Nor did I.

After the new understanding of how this worked settled in and the panic subsided, I realised I had enough in “the tank” to barely make it to the next charge point which did include a connector. I began to realise that my charge point options were now very limited without a cable.
To be fair the infrastructure in Ireland is good, and once you understand the different types of charge points and carry the right cable, getting around over long distances is easy although time-consuming when you factor in the charging time.

On that trip, however, I also learned that a very cold and windy day will significantly impact your range due to wind resistance and if you decide to run the heater to warm yourself. I watched in horror after charging up to the max as the kilometre range value predicted by the car started dropping as I drove along, dropping a lot faster than the kilometres I was covering on the ground.

And so at the height of my misery on that cold Friday night in February, as I huddled in the freezing car at 11:30 pm in a deserted garage forecourt waiting for the nice Nissan breakdown recovery people to find me, with only 10km range left but no charger-point within range – these simple points were becoming well understood:
• Don’t drive so fast on the motorway!
An EV is best driven conservatively on the open road, that is to say, 95 to 100km/hr will deplete your battery a lot faster than 85km/hr.
• Turn off the heater until you really need it!
• Use “economy mode” driving for longer journeys to maximise your range
• Pay attention to the charge point information and which kind of charger you are aiming to stop at, they are not all the same.

I’m sure this information is pathetically obvious to experienced EV drivers as it is to us now having learnt the hard way. But when you are caught up in the buying frenzy, don’t forget to realise that driving an EV is a very different experience to the heedless driving we are all accustomed to in gas guzzling cars with fuel stations everywhere.

You may have heard the EV related phrase known as – “range anxiety” which newbies experience as they learn to manage their electric car’s needs. It’s real!
But it’s treatable with some experience and practice.

I was traumatised by my first long journey experience in a car that should not have been used to cross half the country on a freezing, windy Friday night with no suitable charge cable and a steep learning curve ahead for its new owner.
But now that we understand the range limits and use the car accordingly, we love our electric car and highly recommend them. It recently made the trip to Dingle, covering 135kms with a top up in the middle.

Making that journey was like getting back up on that bike that gave you your first bad fall. That trip repaired the trust and now we’re on the best of terms with our trusty EV. Second hand, the Nissan Leaf is a good value option for households that prefer to own a second car. We highly recommend you consider one if you are in the market for a new car.

Cars Part 1:  Buying an Import

Cars Part 1: Buying an Import

Image courtesy of The Irish Times.

With the Euro / Sterling exchange rate recently becoming much more attractive for car buyers considering a UK import, we thought we’d describe our recent experience with this process for buying a car.

Our new arrival in November which brought the brood to three meant that we had to rethink our car situation. Neither of us care too much about the appearance or brand of car we drive but let’s face it, in rural Ireland one tends to spend a lot of time driving. So having a car that matches your needs makes moving the family around easier and maybe somewhat pleasant. Our VW Passat estate just wasn’t up to the job of managing three kids car seats easily. Having spent the winter in Alaska where our in-laws use MPVs, the obvious flexibility of these vehicles was compelling and as one gets older and busier with kids, one tends to look more at the practicality of things than the cosmetic appeal. We came home with the plan to upgrade (or downgrade depending on your view).

Figuring we’d save some cash, we opted to try to sell our own car first.  So we cleaned it up, took some pretty pictures and posted our 2011 VW Passat estate online and watched the “views” roll in. Lots and lots of tyre kickers it seemed.

But no calls.

We dropped the price to try to spur the interest (14,500, down to 14,000).

Finally we had an interested person, the only interested person as it turned out, who came and viewed and bought. It only took about 6 weeks and we got 13,500 in the end. A decent price considering the advantage it gave us in making our next purchase.

For various reasons we had settled on a Peugeot 5008 7-seater as our replacement. Having bought a UK import before through a local dealer we decided to try this path again.

The exchange rate plays a big factor in whether this route is advantageous. At the time we started talking to a dealer about doing this, the Stlg/euro rate was at 1.27. Not a good exchange going by historic trends but surprisingly it was good enough to make a saving. The average UK car tends to be higher spec than the Irish equivalent and so the expectation is that you will get something at least nicer if not cheaper assuming the same year and mileage.  For some it makes sense to travel to the UK, make the purchase and drive the car back to Ireland, sorting out the VRT payment along the way. We weren’t prepared to travel and so we opted for one of many dealers now who will offer this service for their own fees.

The appearance of online auction sites where buyers can get full bidding access has made this process much simpler than it used to be – both for dealers and private buyers it should be noted. In the two times we have been through this process, no one connected to the dealer was physically inspecting the car to ensure that it was good purchase. Instead the more reputable auction sites use a pre-check process that rates the cars according to their mechanical and cosmetic condition. Grade 1 is as new, and grade 3 is decent while a grade 5 might have warning lights showing or some serious bodywork issues. Apparently the dealers trust this assessment and rating enough to bid remotely on the car on your behalf. In other words they are not doing anything that you can’t do yourself except taking the logistical hassle out of the process. Also note that there is a fee for buying at these auctions which is related to how frequently you do it, and so a dealer will benefit here over the once-off buyer who pays more –for example 9.5% of the purchase price for a £10,000 value car was quoted on one site, which is significant.

One thing to beware of at this point: For a  dealer who buys a car this way and then offers it to you with warranty cover, they are providing additional value on top of the car. Knowing that the car that was bought unseen will have a warranty with your local dealer certainly reduces the risk and brings some peace of mind. One dealer I bought from before did this but in this most recent case, the dealer has outsourced this to “Mapfre”, so for a discounted price I could buy a warranty from them for a year to cover the car. Apparently when you buy an extended warranty on a new car in Ireland It may be covered by this Spanish company based in ireland, so they are well established in this market.

The point for me though was that if I did buy this UK auction car myself and avoided having to pay a dealer to do it for me, then a concern was that I would not have a warranty, until I realized that I could buy one if I wanted. This makes the idea of doing this whole process myself quite feasible and with low risk.

Would I bother?

Certainly after going through this process and seeing how it works, and feeling that the dealer did little for his cut other than get the car shipped over to me and put through the VRT payment process, I would strongly consider it.

You get to pick your car, and importantly you get to bid yourself so you know exactly what you are willing to spend as the bidding is driving the price up during the auction. This avoids the difficulty of having to provide a bid limit to the dealer in advance without knowing if it will be enough for a successful outcome, only to find out later that you lost your ideal car to another bidder for the sake of another hundred quid.

Some useful links:

To transfer money from euros to sterling – I recommend avoiding banks and going with Transferwise a most excellent facility that charges the least for exchange transfers.

Of course we bought before “Brexit” happened, and so now the post- Brexit exchange rate being in your favour, makes this a most attractive option for those willing to put in the additional effort.