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Wednesday 12 August 2015

Arrive, Park and Hand in Your Keys

“You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means… then again” - (Paraphrased from) “The Princess Bride

The term “meet and greet”, when associated with airports, is widely accepted to mean a type of valet service for passengers who don’t want to waste time parking. Those who book this service expect to be able to drive close to the departures door and be met by a valet. The passenger then hands the keys over without a second thought in order to make his or her hasty way to the frustrating/reassuring (delete where applicable) onslaught of increasing bureaucracies and inconsistent security rituals, happy in the knowledge that their faithful mechanical steed in going into safe stabling. Upon their return, the tired passengers can then stumble through the arrivals door and be greeted by the smiling chauffer with their car. Unless the memorable scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has made you paranoid about car parking attendants or you enjoy losing valuable time from your life searching huge car parks for spaces whilst worrying about missing your flight, I cannot imagine you would disagree with the virtues of such a service. It was the service we happily expected at Standstead Airport when we saw the title “Meet and Greet Parking” on the package deal we booked with “On the Beach”. However, the reality was somewhat different.

So, what went wrong? Were we greeted by a grumpy valet? Was our chauffer late? Did our car get damaged? What could possibly go awry with such a straightforward service? Well, it all started when we looked at our information form to see what telephone number we should call when we were 20 minutes from the airport. That is the normal procedure and there usually is no reason to check such information long before one leaves their home, especially when the parking service is titled “Meet and Greet”. There was a number, but the instructions were not to call it. We were to drive to a car park, where we would be greeted. Maybe the car park was directly outside departures and could hand over the keys to the chauffeur. The car park was near airport, but we still had a reasonable distance to walk to the lift that will take you to the first floor where you check your baggage in. The chauffer is a man or woman of mystery. We will never know their identity. Who we met at the gate to the “Meet and Greet” car park was a parking attendant. He walked up to the barrier, identified our car and told us the number of our booked parking bay.

Somewhat puzzled by the experience, we located our parking space and walked our way over to the office to drop off our keys. The whole point of handing your car keys over to anyone in a car parking situation is to save on time. Not in this instance, where the situation is reversed and you have more time added to your experience. It provides zero benefit to the client, but allows the parking service the ability to move your car around. Despite being pre-booked via “On the Beach” with all our details we then had to go through the tiresome procedure of telling the new custodian of our car keys flight departure and arrival times.

We couldn’t miss the opportunity to express our annoyance at the way we felt we had been misled. Yes, there are far worse things happening in the world, but no one likes the feeling of being had. The staff responded with somewhat smug faces, clearly used to this irritation over the pre-booked car park’s misleading title. One individual who was doing a poor impression of someone who was pretending to want to be our friend, informed us it was “an oxymoron”. It wasn’t. It was a misnomer and we didn’t want to be his friend. I confess to being uncharitable with a cheerful individual who probably originally thought an oxymoron was a slow-witted acne victim. At least he didn’t attempt to justify the firm’s title with a pedantic discussion. This was reserved for the member of staff who met after our return flight. “We meet you at the barrier”, she explained, “and we greet you in the reception”. How wonderful. Rather than just parking your car in a pre-booked space and heading off to the airport with your keys safely in hand, we had the dubious privilege of “meeting” a car parking attendant - who clearly didn’t buy into the whole “don’t point, escort” customer service approach – and being “greeted” by someone behind a computer screen who took our keys and asked us questions about our flight they should have been told. We then had to get back to the reception, at gone midnight, to check out our keys and be instructed to a new parking space in the furthest reaches of their kingdom. We were clearly living the good life.

I put the term “meet and greet” into an internet browser. I even put “meet and greet Stanstead” into a search engine. This is partly due to me being a rather sad individual and also to check if our original assumption about the term was not unreasonable. The result was not variables on the title’s implication, as the “greeting” staff told us. You are provided with several descriptions and pictures, clearly describing a chauffeur service at an airport. In fact, I saw so much of this I found it difficult to locate the actual website of the “Meet and Greet” firm we used at Standstead.

Looking at the website I note it makes offers such as giving you free parking if you find another car park that is cheaper, but none of that mitigates the misuse of its name. When it comes to pre-booking your parking at an airport, learn from our mistake and check out the firm you are using. Either go for a reputable chauffeur service or just go for a straightforward pre-booked car park. This implies the first, but delivers the second with extra hassle. Meanwhile, I am considering trying the same gymnastic interpretation of a description used by our return “greeter”. Maybe I can ask a mobile phone company if I can pay them only when I actually go.

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