The Wild Sows of the World Seas

„Speed 2“? No: MSC Armonia performing a hard landing😉


Welcome to the Chaos Club!

As you know, my dream job is to lead bike rides on a cruise ship. Now there is not only TUI, but also other cruise lines. For example Italian MSC whose full name is Mediterranean Shipping Company. It has even more and more magnificent ships than TUI. And they were looking for a Bicycle Leader, see https://www.careers.msccruises.com/#/vacancies/onboard-jobs/search?paramS=__3__13__1!

So I applied immediately. The procedure was fully online and had to be the most strenuous application of my life. And there were quite a few of them😉 The application portal appeared highly professional:


I had to upload all my qualifications and documents. Most important, of course, were my certificates. Then answer a hundred questions. A whole battery of online tests: German, English, text comprehension, combining numbers, logical thinking, responsiveness, multitasking, values ​​and ideas and so on. When I was done, I had to answer three questions in as many languages in 90 seconds each in a video ​​that was recorded. This was followed by a 45-minute live video interview on Skype with an MSC HR manager from Sorrento called Mario. Mostly in English with language tests in Spanish, Italian and French. What should I say: I was accepted!

A few weeks later, Mario had created a deployment plan for me: On-boarding on 2 December in Palermo on the MSC Splendida headed to the United Arab Emirates. There I was to get an induction before I would sail to the Caribbean in mid-January on the brand new MSC Seaside. The salary would be slightly higher than TUI’s, but I would have had to pay 250 € (£225) towards the uniform and be accommodated in a double cabin. Employment contract, airplane ticket, Welcome Aboard Guide and everything else I received by e-mail, including a form with which I had to confirm the receipt of the complaint procedure (a special email address: crewcomplain@mscsorrento.com). Hm. Did they have so many complaints that they needed a special department for handling them?


Better an end with horror …

And why am I blogging from a popular holiday island in the Mediterranean instead of sailing the seven seas? The day before my departure when I just wanted to start packing my suitcases, I have received the following e-mail:

Of course, I complained immediately at the above address (and left negative feedback on some web portals). The answer was – an error message: They had blocked my mail address😮 What good is a complaint centre that hides away when you need it? Only a registered letter to the CEO Gianluigi Aponte in Geneva provided an answer. Of course, he does not care much about foot soldiers like me, but told his Fleet Personnel Director, Marco Maresca in Sorrento, to answer me:

I clarify to you that our Company, in completion of your profile and background, gathered more information about your previous background as bike leader and details which are not matching the position you applied for. Therefore, I’m here confirming you the decision previously communicated to do not proceed with your enrollment.

That does not say much more than Mario’s mail. So I asked to get access to my data and even found an Italian law that substantiated my claim. Marco Maresca was not impressed by it. He refused and pretended they had only data from me which I had entered or uploaded myself. This was not particularly credible:

  • Every year, MSC hires thousands of new crew members and has developed the sophisticated application portal described above which checks all candidates thoroughly. Why should this lead to wrong decisions?
  • Why should an established company with well-defined procedures re-check an applicant’s qualifications for a rather unimportant position after they have decided, hired him, planned his assignment, sent him the signed employment contract and booked his airplane ticket?
  • Why should they reach precisely the opposite conclusion in a second analysis of the same data?
  • If the company has nothing to hide, why do they stubbornly refuse to give me my data? Especially if they are legally obliged to do so?


… than a horror without end

I could easily reckon that a cruise company that blocks any information must be hiding something. This fact has really aroused my curiosity. If I had gone aboard as planned, I might never have thought of asking Aunt Google. Not to mention the lack of time and uncertain internet connection onboard. What I learned outstripped my worst fears. There were abysses, deeper than the Mariana Trench😮

  • On the MSC Musica in the port of Rio de Janeiro due to a fire in the engine room both the air conditioning systems and the water supply failed. Which did not prevent the captain from wanting to take off with 3,100 guests. Only when 50 courageous passengers took to self-help and occupied the gangway, the journey was canceled and the ship repaired.
  • After a machine failure, the MSC Opera was unable to manoeuver on the high seas for several days. Guests reported power outages, cold food and water and broken toilet flushes. The ship had to be towed and repaired. After that, it was confiscated by the British Coast Guard because it was still „dangerously unsafe“. MSC spoke of „rumours“ …
  • The same ship collided in Buenos Aires with a dock. The crew apparently had the (useless) instruction to prevent guests from taking pictures or filming.
  • MSC Armonia crashed into a dock in Roatán, Honduras (see video above).
  • The MSC Poesia damaged a coral reef due to its 7.80 m draft off the Bahamas which could only be crossed by vessels up to 4.50 m deep.
  • The MSC Magnifica collided with the pier in Piraeus. The cruise line pretended the damage had been minor and the timetable had been kept. However, a crew member (who was fired for this reason) has published pictures on Facebook showing a large hole in the hull and extensive repairs that delayed the onward journey.
  • No sooner had cruise liners been re-admitted to Venice than the MSC Preziosa was the first incoming barge to take a passenger bridge with it.
  • Also in Venice, an MSC Magnifica security staff member found a loaded pistol in the metal detector. When fiddling a shot went off. No one was hurt, but one guest fainted and panic broke out.
  • On the MSC Musica, a 28-year-old Brazilian MSC employee was strangled by her Polish boyfriend who worked at the bar.
  • On the MSC Orchestra, four crew members fell ill with meningitis. A machinist died.
  • A South African guest on the MSC Sinfonia suffered a heart attack, only received an injection at the boat’s hospital, was left on a stretcher in the harbour with a note (presumably on the big toe), was in a coma for six weeks and has been unable to work ever since. MSC took the position that the doctors were independent and therefore the cruise company was not liable. A court has meanwhile declared this clause void.
  • Eight MSC Orchestra crew members attempted to smuggle 35 kg of cocaine from Brazil to Dover. They were sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison.
  • On the MSC Magnifica, two crew members wanted to smuggle 10 kg of coke from Brazil to La Coruña, Spain, and were sentenced to seven years.
  • The scandal surrounding the infamous illegal refuse dumpings hit high waves all over the world: On the MSC Magnifica and the MSC Poesia (and possibly other ships), once a week at night and fog, garbage bags, shredded pallets and who knows what else were thrown overboard. In one case off the Brazilian coast, the fine was the equivalent of over € 500,000 € (£450,000). When you pay so much, you may easily be misled to hail yourself as the “Guardian of the Seas” in your PR messages…
  • Also on the MSC Magnifica, the Brazilian police had to salvage eleven employees from slave-like working conditions after a hint of a whistleblower: 16-hour shifts, sexual harassment, bullying … Everyone was awarded compensation of around 6,500 € (£5,850) by the competent court.
  • German TV station WDR showed an undercover report on working conditions on the MSC Lirica. A waitress had to invest 1,400 € (£1,260) before she got her first salary. When she had to leave early because of tendonitis, she was deprived of her bonus. From the 49 € (£44) the guests paid in the spa, the masseurs end up with just 2 € (£1.80).
  • MSC Poesia got into a storm near Punta del Este, Uruguay. She rolled violently so in all bars and restaurants hundreds of plate and glasses fell to the floor and broke to pieces.
  • A guest on MSC Preziosa went overboard in the Caribbean. The 69-year-old Dutch woman disappeared between St. Maarten and Martinique. She must have fallen 30 m down. A helicopter, a Navy jet and other ships nearby were unable to find her.
  • Another guest disappeared mysteriously from MSC Divina.
  • A Brazilian crew member went overboard MSC Musica between Venice and Brindisi. She had had an argument with her boss and had just ended a two-year relationship with a colleague. Her body was found later. The Italian Attorney General is investigating a possible murder case.
  • At 1.00 a.m. at night a Filipino crew member went overboard MSC Seaside from deck 7 South-East of the US Virgin Islands. It took three hours until the US Coast Guard was informed. This not only greatly reduced the lifesaving prospects in the area that had meanwhile grown to 4,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi) but also raised the cost for the two rescue helicopters, an airplane, a fast rescue boat, a Coast Guard cutter, another cruise ship and an oil tanker at the expense of the American taxpayer.
  • The new MSC Seaview is to be the new of a new generation of MSC ships with a revolutionary architecture and a cutting-edge technology. At least this is what was boasted at the christening in Miami. It should appeal to American guests. When two of them boarded for their honeymoon they were shocked: There was a Blackface hanging on the wall, a backward racist caricature. The couple’s complaint remained (surprise!) without any success so they voiced their anger on Twitter.
  • On MSC Seaside seven crew members were arrested for trying to smuggle 6 kg cocaine and US$100,000 (£76,000) in cash to Miami.
  • A crew member of MSC Armonia tried to smuggle 10 kg of cocaine from South America to Italy.
  • Brazilian police has arrested another cocaine smuggler on MSC Preziosa.
  • On its journey through the Mediterranean Sea off Barcelona it was raining heavily not outside, but in MSC Seaviews’s central staircase hardly two months after it had been put into service. It must have been due to a broken pipe whose precise reasons remain unknown.
  • MSC Opera took off from Grand Cayman although a bartender from Cuba was still ashore. The cruise line has reported her missing only four days later. She was retrieved alive and well but has been convicted to three months in jail for staying in the territory illegally. During the court hearings the woman said her superior on the boat had bullied and exploited her and she had had a breakdown.
  • In Buenos Aires, MSC Orchestra collided with MSC Poesia when leaving port. No one was injured, but there was considerable material damage. At least everything was kept within the family😉
  • On an unnamed MSC ship, a 60-year-old onboard musician was arrested for possession of the most horrible child pornography, and not for the first time.
  • On the MSC Orchestra, a 45-year-old cabin steward went one step further and abused a ten-year-old boy. Instead of handing over the molester to the police in the nearest port, MSC even paid him a flight home. And as if that was not enough, he was later reinstated by MSC while the lawsuit against him was still ongoing. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison on probation.
  • Another member of the crew sexually abused a 12-year-old girl on an unspecified MSC vessel and is being held responsible in court.
  • At the end of this horror list at least something to chuckle: MSC Musica „raced“ with over 8 instead of the allowed 6 knots (15 and 11 km/h, respectively) into the port of Kotor, Montenegro, and had to pay a speeding ticket of 1,700 € (£1,530)😂 Either the water level was sloping downward or the captain was particularly stubborn because it was already his fifth speed excess in the same season😮 It is almost a miracle that the port remained intact😉

Of course, MSC may not be at fault in each and every case. But so many incidents cannot be random, especially compared to TUI or AIDA that rarely make headlines. Somehow, most of the guests do not seem to be satisfied with MSC. Why am I not surprised? Even on the brand new MSC Seaside, they complained about the organisation on board, the food, the entertainment, and foul smells. In the atrium😮


The data thing

But back to my case. So MSC did not want to disclose my data. After recommending that Marco Maresca consult with his legal department, I still did not get them. What I got was a compensation of € 912.52 (£820)😊 After a reminder and twelve days, the money was actually on my account. A bike guide must pedal quite some time for this money😉

On 25 May 2018, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force. Of course, it also applies to MSC. Not complying may lead to fines. Not least for this reason a small wonder happened: With only two days’ delay after the legal deadline, Data Protection Officer Theodora Dragan has in fact delivered my data. At least partially, since any hint to their U-turn was still missing. Anything else would have surprised me. At least I learnt my test results:

No one would believe me…

In terms of school grades, these were four A’s, two B’s, one C and one D for an average of B+. Not compared to normal bike guides, but to low-ranking officers. If David knew😉

If you know me, you know that I do not give up easily. So I have sent a friendly reminder to Theodora Dragan and asked once more for the missing data. Answer: My video interviews and related notes had been duly deleted after half a year. There were internal e-mails but these were confidential. They mentioned a blog that I had written about another cruise line… Why would they not say so in the first place?


Happy End

My boss on the MSC Seaside would have been Bostjan. He had previously worked for TUI. Until he was kicked off the ship. Why? Because of excessive alcohol consumption😮 I was lucky that this goblet passed me by😊 I would have hated working for David II😉

Maybe Bostjan did not want to star in this blog. He may have warned MSC against the „bad blogger“. This chaos club must fear publicity like a monkfish fears freshwater😉 When all I wanted to do was to write about capable supervisors, hand in hand partnership, professional equipment, high safety and efficient onboard processes😉

But MSC was the wrong address for doing so. Drunks, drug smugglers, slaveholders, polluters, racers, vandals, quackers, killers, child molesters and liars work there. I am beginning to understand what Marco Maresca meant by saying that I was unfit😉

Do Not Ask For The Sense Of It

A summer with Thomas Cook on Mallorca

The way to the job

Every year, job advertisements come out through which travel company Thomas Cook is searching new staff with the slogan „working overseas“ (see https://careers.thomascook.com/default/go/Working-Overseas/1286601/). What is it about? With the start of the summer season, additional forces for three different positions are needed:

  • Classical hotel representatives. They meet the holiday guests in their hotels, inform them about points of interest, sell tours and take care of the little and big problems in about 80 destinations.
  • Administrators. They cooperate closely with the hotel reps in the same destinations. They organise hotel and airport transfers, excursions and reps’ visiting times in the hotels.
  • Connected Service. This is the contact centre as the first point for getting in touch and guests’ virtual hotel rep service. I have worked as a connected consultant for seven months and will describe my experiences below.

To get a job, you have to apply just as anywhere else. Normally, you will be invited for an assessment. You have to prepare a little presentation on a destination that you give on the spot. You do a small group work with other applicants and have the usual, albeit rather short individual interviews. Chances of being accepted are quite high.

At the outset, „working where others spend their holidays“ sounds good. Indeed it is thrilling to go to the beach before or after work, to do Thomas Cook tours for free, weekend excursions to the mountains, city trips to Lisbon, Barcelona or Athens…

However, do not forget that administrators und connected consultants have a 40-hour office job that does not differ much from home. Only the hotel reps get out during work hours.


The crash course

Before you can start, you get an induction, i.e. a nine-day course in the somewhat run-down *** Hotel Mercure in Bolton, England.

There you are to learn the dozens of computer systems Thomas Cook is using. Some examples:

  • AC7 (Condor/Thomas Cook flights)
  • Coosto (WhatsApp application)
  • Document and Invoice Viewer (travel document retrieval)
  • FiBi (service requests and offers)
  • Matsoft und Cview (complaint management systems)
  • NanoRep (internal search engine)
  • Nurvis (mainframe booking system)
  • OnTour with OnTour Reports (booking data)
  • POMS (flight status)
  • Six Saferpay (credit card payments)
  • Smads (long-haul travel bookings)
  • Storm (call centre system)
  • Traveller Portal (pick-up times)

A short course for so many programmes is not nearly sufficient. Even less so when logins for half of them are not working.

Connected service have three locations: Palma on Mallorca, Heraklion on Crete and Faro on the Algarve. You may give your preferences where you would like to work, but it is the company that makes the decision, and you will not find out until the eve of your departure. Some colleagues have tendered their resignation when they had not got their desired place. Once arrived at your working location you get another week of training that does not really help you much further either. You would be lost without the help of retained staff, most of all „Connected Superwoman“ Magda from Poland. After two months you are more of less able to work on your own.


In the low-wage sector

Thomas Cook does not send its employees abroad without second thoughts: A connected consultant’s salary is barely 1,245 € (£1,100) gross, divided into a base salary of 945 € (£837) and 300 € (£266) fixed commission. What remains net is 1,100 € (£975). For foreign languages and experience they pay another 100 € (£89) each gross. The induction in Bolton counts as working time but is being honoured only with the base salary. That makes 286 € (£254) gross for nine days. And even those you will only get when you carry through with your contract until the end. Administrators are even lower. A hotel rep’s salary depends mostly on their turnovers leading to high pressure to sell. In Germany, not to mention Switzerland, no one would work for such small money. You have Swiss contracts, which explains the relatively low deductions and gives the company tax advantages. Our British colleagues had English-law contracts and were not paid any better, either.


Low-down lodges

One reason for the low salaries is that Thomas Cook provides the flats. Some have mould, are run-down or have only a window to a sombre light channel. Not surprisingly, some colleagues have left immediately upon arrival. Other flats do not have WiFi. Smoking is not allowed inside. If you do you will return prematurely. You are self-catering. A colleague who was unaware of this left for this reason. Another one who liked to drink too much, then turned very aggressive received her return ticket quite soon.

The flats in Palma are spread all over the city. Some colleagues had a one-hour journey to work in either direction. I was lucky to have got quite a nice flat just fifteen minutes’ walk from the office.

Our brand-new office building on the northern edge of Palma had been put into service only two weeks before our arrival.

Some weeks later the official inauguration with all sorts of important Thomas Cook people took place. Immediately afterwards renovation works of the façade on two sides and repair works for door handles and toilet seats started…

I am getting off track. Colleagues in Faro lived quite near their office. In Heraklion you are accommodated in three different buildings in Ammoudara at a distance of 7 km (4.5 mi). Buses only circulate once an hour during the winter. It takes you almost an hour, twice a day. One of the reasons is that there is no timetable and you have to be at the stop well in advance. I had taken my micro-scooter with me that took me to the office independently of bus times in 40 minutes, and I fell down only twice. A bicycle would be ideal.

In Palma and in Faro you share flats with colleagues. In Ammoudara everyone had their own flat in different comfort levels. Kleopatra building is being heated only four hours per day in winter. If you want to take a hot shower, you have to turn on the boiler half an hour in advance and turn it off afterwards in order not to blow the fuse. It is self-evident that not every colleague was happy with these third-world conditions, e.g. my colleague Joachim from Franconia. In contrast, Manolis building is quite cosy.

Of course, many colleagues invite their friends and relatives to spend their holidays with them. Thomas Cook asks for 10 € (£9) per night. At least in theory since no one registers their visitors. This leads to secretiveness, denunciation, distrust and frustration. Do not ask for the sense of it.


Migrant labour

All three locations take care of all Thomas Cook destinations worldwide. Theoretically all connected consultants could work from one central office. So why are they spread over three workplaces with all the resulting friction losses and coordination problems? Because we, as multi-state workers, can only spend a maximum of 183 days a year in one country to avoid becoming resident for tax purposes. If you want to stay longer and get a local contract, you may, but your salary is equally small, and you would have to bear accommodation costs yourself. This is why most consultants prefer moving on every six months.

Compared to summer, considerably less manpower is needed during the winter season. This is why contracts run for six or seven months. Not everyone wants to continue, and Thomas Cook does not offer everyone who would like to work in winter a new contract. Turnover is high. It is self-evident that the continual loss of know-how and the strenuous working-in of newbies are highly inefficient.

Nasty guests

Work itself is very varied. No day is like another. Every guest who gets in touch with us has an issue. Often it is completely straightforward, e.g., the classical pick-up time from the hotel for the airport transfer. Some want to book an excursion, others a hire car. Wanting to extend their stay or departing early is more awkward. Many complain about their hotel, either because it did not have their reservation, it was overbooked, they have not received the room category they had booked, or because they are unhappy with standards, the restaurant or the service. Apart from that, there are highly unusual wishes or complaints. Some of them are involuntarily funny. Here are some samples:

  • A daughter and her 84-year old father strongly disliked every aspect of their hotel in Paphos, Cyprus. We have spared no effort to provide them with a new accommodation. The new hotel was better, but the resort was very stretched-out so the old man was lost, and they wanted to return to the former hotel. Unfortunately, it had been booked out in the meantime.
  • Guests on Mallorca complained about Canadians in the room above theirs: They would return drunk at 1.00 a.m., cry, argue, slam doors and urinate from the balcony.
  • Guests on Cuba had various problems so I called their hotel. The connection quality was even worse than the English skills of the persons at the other end of the line. After I had explained the matter three times, they wanted to know: „When are you coming?“ Colleagues who dutifully stated the name of the company they were working for were asked: „Your name is Thomas?“
  • A 69-year old guest in Hurghada, Egypt, had been declared missing by his family before he was found alive and well in his hotel room where he wanted to be left alone.
  • Guests on Mallorca had chosen and booked their hotel due to the spa with sauna. The latter, however, was closed causing them to complain to us. As it happened, there was a heat wave in Palma at this point in time. Why they needed a sauna with outside temperatures of 40°C only they themselves knew.
  • One day, an overambitious customs inspector called us. Basically, he only wanted to know his hotel rep’s visiting times but then revealed that wanted to inform us of a serious case of tax evasion because Small Planet (an airline from Lithuania that has meanwhile become insolvent) had made a stop in Malaga to refuel at low tax rates. He required us to end this practice within 48 hours. I wanted to refer him to our senior management or our legal department, but when asked for his booking number, he suddenly hung up.
  • Every once in a while, fraudsters sneak in. Their trick is always the same: They book a rather expensive holiday, give incorrect data, choose direct debit payment and leave on such a short notice that they are in destination already when the debit note payment fails because the account does not exist or is not covered. In most cases we can identify them because they are rather brazen or because their stories lack plausibility.
  • Then there was the hotel manager in Bulgaria who showed our guests the exit when they complained, not least because they had her son’s age. I thought my ears were fooling me. When I announced that I had to inform my manager, she was not impressed. A notice to our quality manager in the destination had equally little effect. Only when I said we may have to take her hotel out of our catalogue she angrily hung up.
  • A Swiss attorney complained that the red wine in his ***** hotel in Dubai was tasting like mulled wine. I could not hold back that I would not fly to an Arabic country for drinking wine. Luckily, he has not taken me to court, but of course, he said that we would be hearing from him.
  • A young couple with a one-year old toddler had booked all-inclusive in the Netherlands. They had chosen their hotel because our catalogue did not specify any restrictions as to the hours in which alcoholic beverages were being served. They were available „only“ from 12.00 p.m. although the bar opened at 10.00 a.m. already. I had some difficulty staying serious.
  • Guests refused to check into their hotel in Paris because there were pictures of half-nude women on the walls.
  • Guests on Bali had run out of dope and asked us where they could get some more.
  • A guest complained because according to the usual procedure, he had to check out of his hotel room at 12.00 p.m. on the day of departure whereas his transfer bus to the airport only left at 10.00 p.m. He had never experienced anything like this before. My tongue slipped to say that he will experience the same again and again in future. He said he was going to complain about me and hung up.
  • From our Nordic colleagues I overheard the case in which the housekeeper took a gulp from their booze time and again. They had inconspicuously marked the level of liquid in the bottle after their first suspicion.
  • And then, there was the tennis professional who had booked a horseback riding holiday in Tyrol for his 13-year old godchild. When they arrived, they had to realise that there was only a pony, and even that only for an hour a day. We were bursting into tears.
  • Our all-time favourite goes like this: „We had booked a room with two separate beds. You gave us one with a double bed. Now I am pregnant!“


Not nice

Of course, there were always borderline cases in which we could decide if we compromised with the customers or not. I thought nice guests should receive a compensation rather than rude ones. Wrong: The louder they cried, the better the service they received. Hence my advice to all Thomas Cook guests who have landed on this site: Make as much fuss as possible! You will hardly ever receive any money but vouchers for your next holiday. Obviously, you should get an incentive to choose Thomas Cook/Neckermann/Bucher/Öger again for your holiday.

It does not always work, however. Such was the case with the lady who was astonished that her voucher code did not work when booking. After her return, she turned to us. She had booked in a Thomas Cook travel agency, but an ITS holiday. Many guests did not understand the difference between a holiday broker and a tour operator.


Computers in slow motion

For a contact centre, IT is everything. The equipment we had to use was therefore all the more surprising. PC’s in Palma took forever to start up. This was why we had to be at work ten minutes before the start of our shifts. Similarly at the end: If a guest called with a complaint, we had to log a Cview case (see below) which took around about ten minutes. What this means is that on average, we worked one hour of overtime every week. Unpaid, of course. Normally, in the afternoons, the PC’s slowed down dramatically.

In Heraklion we had exactly the same PC’s. Interestingly, they were running at least twice as fast. However, even there a programme or another or a login did not work.

Since all three locations are using the same e-mail addresses, Outlook has to be synchronised by an Exchange Server. This may well take more than an hour. During this time, some e-mails were answered twice.

Our most important programme was the call centre application Storm that crashed frequently. Its special feature was producing endless loops. It was to be replaced so that it received no more maintenance. As there was no follow-up system in sight, we had to continue working with it.


Programmed errors

Cview, a Microsoft Dynamics 365 application, was my „favourite“ programme. It had been created by developers for developers and worked partly against any intuition. Actually, these developers have spent some thought. Alas, the wrong one: They were starting from the assumption that every single one of our destinations had a location office and thus defined it as a must-field. Unfortunately, we only had about 80. This meant that we were unable to log any complaint cases for all the others. After I had reported this bug to the IT department, I was to give the location office for all about 1,600 destinations worldwide. Apart from the fact that this was not my job, it would have been completely unthinkable besides my stressful daily work. Although I had tried to wrap it softly by writing „I am afraid I am unable to do so“, Cview manager Suzie in England was not amused and complained with my manager. Sometime later IT came up with the idea to enter „Connected“ for all destinations without a location office, and we could resume our work.

However, this has not made the search for the location (meaning the region) any easier. If you have ever been looking for the provinces of Croatia or Mauritius on Google Maps or Wikipedia, you know what I mean. It would have been easy to record them with each hotel in the database. Unfortunately, every once in a while, a hotel was missing. Then we were unable to log a case but had to inform IT. After her put down, I have not copied Suzie in any more.

In Matsoft, Cview’s predecessor, we were equally unable to enter the destination as free text but could only choose from the fixed menu. Panama did not show on the list, and our customers who were there could not know they were not allowed to have any problems during their holiday. My managers instructed me to enter the closest available destination, in this case Mexico. Our Mexican colleagues did not hesitate to complain that the customers were in Panama…


Uniformly meaningless

Connected Service’s great advantage for holiday guests is their 24-hour, seven day a week availability in several languages and on a multitude of channels. We spoke English, German, French, Netherlands, Polish, Czech and Hungarian. Guests could get in touch with us by phone, SMS, e-mail, WhatsApp, live chat, Facebook, Facetime, and Skype.

The latter three provide for visual contact. This was the reason why we had to wear Thomas Cook uniforms. We were approximately 90 consultants in three locations. Each and every single one needed five complete sets of uniforms, all in the right sizes. Apart from the cost that would have been better invested in a pay rise, this is a considerable logistical effort. Some colleagues have received their uniforms or parts of it only in the second half of their contracts. We had to wash and to iron them. If you did it too hotly, and damaged it, you were held responsible.

In November 2018 Facebook, Facetime and Skype were terminated due to low demand. So no holiday guest can see a connected consultant any more on their screen, tablet or smartphone. The uniform policy was kept nonetheless. Reason: Our colleagues at the airports and our hotel reps still had to wear their uniforms, and „We are one Thomas Cook.“ Do not ask for the sense of it.

You are not allowed to smoke or drink publicly in uniform. A colleague came to a party, a private one, directly from work still in his uniform. Bad luck for him that someone has taken pictures of him. Worse yet that they were shared on Facebook without him even knowing about it. This was when the party was not so private any more. All these problems could easily be resolved by abolishing the uniform policy.


Falling out of your role

Since Connected Service can be reached 24 hours a day you work in shifts including weekends and nights, of course. The rotas are normally published two weeks in advance. More than once they were amended afterwards without us being informed of the changes. I have received calls and messages asking why I was not in the office. Gladly, I could prove with smartphone pictures that my original shift had been later. We have never found out who had modified and published the rota without communicating.

Within connected service there are several roles:

  • Triage (telephone)
  • Social (e-mail, SMS, WhatsApp, Skype etc.)
  • Investigation (examining difficult cases)
  • Product Bank (excursions and transfers) and
  • Signature (Thomas Cook Finest Selection).

There are two line managers working in every location. They are for the most part OK but cannot do much. My boss was Frenchman Nicolas, a seasoned call centre manager who had joined Thomas Cook only in early 2018. Without his support I may not have stayed with the company for so long. He nominated me for Signature due to my decent style of communication. At first, I did not oppose. Alas, Signature includes Triage, Social and Investigation. This means that you are continually being interrupted by calls and WhatsApp messages when you want to send an e-mail to a guest. Bad enough, but many callers are Bucher and Neckermann (non-Signature) guests. Our campground guests counted as Signature for unknown reasons. Do not ask for the sense of it.

This is still not all. Our four-person Signature team was to take care of the mailbox used for communicating with travel agents for all guests. It was like a grocery store. And no one was able to answer our repeated question whether we should tackle Bucher, Neckermann and Öger guests ourselves or hand them over to our mainline colleagues. They in turn did not hesitate to pass Signature guests who had taken the wrong turn to us.

Since Signature guests are to be treated especially courteous, they receive welcome e-mails. Well, some of them do, namely those who have given their e-mail addresses at the time of booking and who pass their holiday in one of a dozen destinations. The text is identical in every case except for the address and subject lines: „Look forward to your holiday on/in …!“ If we manage, we send out 30 to 60 of these mails daily, which takes one to two hours. It would have been easy to automate this procedure and to extend it to all destinations. We have requested to do so time and again. Still nothing has happened.

Nothing is so bad it could not be worse. When I was alone on Signature, a colleague from Faro declared himself ill in order to enjoy a trip to Seville. I had to take over his French-speaking guests in addition to mine. The phone did not stop ringing, which did not keep the other guests from sending WhatsApps and e-mails at the same time. I would nearly have gone nuts and asked Nicolas to be released from the Signature mess immediately. A colleague would have liked to take over and as opposed to me had received a one-week induction, but I was made to do Signature until the end. Do not ask for the sense of it.

Only once Belgian manager Steve in Heraklion asked which role I wanted to do the next day. The WhatsApp day was the nicest one for months.

The daily roles come with the shift times based on the rotas. When the rotas are changed, technically speaking, you are expected to work from 7.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. with your role being defined from 12.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. on the same day. There was hardly a week when everything was correct. My flatmate Martin was to work for nine days in a row. He has taken an in-depth look at the Swiss labour law and found out that seven days were the legally admitted maximum. When he asked, he was told that the first day had been for training and thus did not count. When he complained again, his rota was changed, and as a compromise, he settled for eight days. This has not kept him from leaving after two months’ time because he did not want to work in this chaos any more. He was not the only one.


False incentives

Of course, Thomas Cook wants us to service our guests as best as possible. To this end, someone who probably prefers not to be named coughed up a sophisticated system: If a guest calls you are to ask him not to hang up at the end but to answer three questions regarding service quality (survey). In the case of WhatsApps and e-mails you are to include a personalised link to the online survey. So far, so good. However, do not ask for sense of it here, either:

  • The three questions are largely congruent. One would be entirely sufficient. You urge the guest who has called to stay in the line unnecessarily long at their expense. The same holds true for guests with an internet volume tariff.
  • Worse yet, no consultant would ever ask an unhappy guest to answer the questions. Feedback received is nowhere near representative but completely biased.
  • Then there is the „first call resolution“ principle: You are to resolve the guest’s problem during the first call. This often means you have to put the caller on hold while ringing the transfer or excursion departments. Of course at the guest’s expense. Just so he can participate in the worthless survey. I have always preferred to ring the guest back. This improves the service, but makes answering the questions impossible.
  • There is a reward to make consultants follow the desired procedure: If you receive a reply rate of at least 6.5% of which 80% positive you are to get bonus of 65 € (£58) per month. Although I was not convinced, I did as I was told but I have not got my 65 €. When I asked, I learnt that these two numbers were not enough but that I had to reach at least 25 (social) or 40 (triage) replies. Signature was equivalent to triage. I felt fooled. Later the latter information was revoked. I still have not received the bonus. Obviously, no one came up with the idea to design the bonus continuously instead of all or nothing.

Whereas in the beginning we were told that the surveys were voluntary, the pressure to have them filled out rose and rose.


Thomas Cook is watching you

Superiors are monitoring consultants’ activities nearly comprehensively. From that they compute several key figures each of which is neatly noted on the huddle board:

  1. the number of surveys received
  2. the share of positive surveys
  3. the number of calls received
  4. average talk time
  5. utilisation
  6. availability
  7. inbound to outbound call ratio
  8. the rate of completion codes
  9. average response time

As I have already described, points one and two are nearly meaningless. As for points three to seven, I have still not understood after seven months if higher or lower values are better. Do not ask for the sense of it.

Only the eighth point makes some sense. At least in principle. After each incoming call Storm presents a drop-down menu from which you are to choose the matching category, e.g. complaint, hire car, pickup time, excursion and so on. Of course, Thomas Cook has thought out some things to make the idea absurd: The categories are sorted neither alphabetically nor logically. Many calls do not fit in any category. In order to achieve the highest possible rate of completion codes, you just enter the first best thing, which does not exactly improve the meaningfulness. Unnecessarily, the drop-down menu does not pop up on top but only inside the Storm window. If you do not have it in front of your desktop, you have to activate it first. If you do not think of it immediately, bad luck for you since it disappears after 20 seconds. Later the response time has been extended to 30 seconds. SMS’s prove that it could be different: They do not appear as pop-ups either but remain on the screen indefinitely. This is so to speak the other extreme because as long as a message is unanswered you cannot even change your status e.g. to „post-call work“, „available (internal only)“, „break“, „huddle/meeting“ or „restroom“. A programme that decides when you are allowed to go to the toilet… Do not ask for the sense of it.

Ah yes, and then there is point nine, callers’ average waiting time. It should be less than one minute. Our values were above that more often than below. Of course, no consultant will let guests wait unnecessarily. From this point of view, long response times are a sign of staff shortage rather than of poor work from our side. Even though Thomas Cook tries to pretend the opposite for obvious reasons. WhatsApps should be answered within one hour, e-mails within three. Sometimes this was impossible even with the best of will.

Of course, every Storm login is recorded precisely. If you do it late a few times, you will get your return ticket home rather early.


Good mood, poor tour

Well, Thomas Cook is not just anybody but one of the biggest travel companies in Europe with more than 11 million guests each year. In most cases their holidays pass without major incidents. This may be astonishing considering that the company cannot even organise a little catamaran tour for their staff. The intention was good: A mid-season jolly should cheer us up. But alas, firstly the departure was postponed from 3 to 6 p.m. and the duration cut from five to two and a half hours because the operator of „Magic Catamaran“ seemed to have more important guests than us.

Our invitation said to bring along drinks and snacks. When we arrived on board we were told by the crew: „You cannot rent a bar and bring your own drinks.“ I was almost sure we had rented a catamaran and not a bar. I arranged to have the owner called by mobile phone. When asked whether he preferred poor internet feedback he seemed to choose this option, and he has received it. Not only from me (see https://www.tripadvisor.de/ShowUserReviews-g187463-d6864894-r608491245-Magic_Catamarans-Palma_de_Mallorca_Majorca_Balearic_Islands.html).

Thomas Cook breaks contracts

When my colleagues complained about the conditions described above and asked for my opinion, I have always replied: „This is Thomas Cook’s problem, not yours.“ This should change rather soon. During our induction in Bolton, we were shown the music video „United Breaks Guitars“ as an example for poor service produced by Country singer Dave Carroll after said airline had damaged his musical instrument (see https://youtu.be/5YGc4zOqozo). At this point, I had no idea that Thomas Cook breaks contracts.

I have worked for a dozen companies in my life. All of them have managed to pay my salary in full and on time each and every month. Thomas Cook has not. At first my nightshift allowance was missing. But that was only the beginning. Then they came up with the idea to cut my fixed commission for my weekends, days off and holidays. They explained it was a software error. In September for May? My colleagues reported that they had not received several parts of their salaries or got them late repeatedly. This was true for staff with both Swiss and English employment contracts, the latter of which received their pay from Peterborough. My manager Nicolas was concerned, too. No wonder he has not extended his contract. He threatened to appeal to the arbitrator and got an immediate additional payment. In contrast, his manager colleague Natalia from Slovakia explained to me that she had had payment issues ever since she had started to work for Thomas Cook three years ago, but in the end, she had always got what she was entitled to. She wanted to reassure me but has achieved rather the opposite. Finally, Thomas Cook has even managed to pay my salary in October late under the pretext that regulations had changed on 1 July. Strange, then, that the payments in July, August and September had arrived on time.

At one point I realised that all calculation errors were at our expense. And that not all colleagues were knowledgeable about their payslips. Who can explain what “Ref Sal”, “Commiss”, or “Pie” are? So the unreported figure may be considerably higher.

This was not only a sign of striking incompetence, an expression of disrespect and a loss of trust, all of which would be bad enough, but also a clear breach of contract.


We defend ourselves

If an employee is late, breaks the rules or shows a poor performance, the company has an entire set of tools at their disposal ranging from disciplinary measures to immediate release. What can a member of staff do when their employer breaks their own commitments? Not much. I have protested by e-mail. The answer was a wishy-washy standard text saying they regretted what had happened and promised a remedy for the next month.

I did not believe them, and as it turned out, I was right. In the cases of some colleagues, the delay was several months. To underline my discontent, I went to work without my uniform on purpose and invited my colleagues to do likewise through our WhatsApp group. Who likes wearing the uniform of an employer who treats you like this? All of them except my Belgian colleague Corentin and myself. I thought such a symbolic expression of dissatisfaction would be accepted grudgingly by my employer given their guilt. I mean I could have started legal debt collection procedures against Thomas Cook Service AG, my contract partner in Switzerland. Since I came from this very country, it would not have been difficult for me. And it would indeed have been better if I had done so. Then the responsible people would certainly have woken up.


Protesting prohibited

My uniform refusal hit a nerve. Nicolas’ Swedish boss, Resort Manager Eva, had no fewer than three one to one discussions with me in which she demonstrated an amazing incompetence:

  • She tried to convince me with „But you have received most of your salary?“ This of course was the wrong tune. Should I have done most of my work and made up for the remainder one month later?
  • Then she wanted to appease me with „If it is so urgent, we can give you a cash advance.“ She should have known that it was not a matter of need but of principle. I did receive a cash advance of the outstanding balance, and not just once. However, this was only curing the symptoms and not the cause.
  • Her FBI-style interrogation method was even worse: With whom I had talked? It may not exactly have reassured her that I was in touch with colleagues in Faro and on Crete. She seemed to consider me as an agitator.
  • When she realised she did not make any headway she forced me to go home at lunchtime to change. If you appear in the office without your uniform, you do not have „the right state of mind for working“. Obviously, she had forgotten that some colleagues had not even received their uniforms, that we were officially allowed to work without our uniforms on weekends, and that our performance was hardly any worse. As far as I am concerned, my work attitude does not depend on my clothes but on a positive working climate, a motivating boss and a trustworthy employer. Nonetheless my state of mind had indeed changed in the afternoon. But in a different way than Eva had intended. That evening I thought the time had come to publish this feedback on Thomas Cook: https://www.kununu.com/de/thomas-cook-service-deutschland/a/SkBoUlxxdg%3D%3D.
  • I mentioned the option of an internet blog. Not even that led to an insight on Eva’s part since she asked if I wanted to threaten her. By this she unintentionally admitted that she had a guilty conscience and that she was only too aware that everything was not right.
  • To my horror, I had to learn shortly thereafter that Eva had even tried to get insight into our private WhatsApp group. This was a clear breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the EU that had come into force just a few days earlier and on whose strict compliance especially Eva insisted repeatedly. This led me to report her breach to Thomas Cook’s Data Protection Officer in Peterborough cc: Dr. Jürgen Heiss, Group Head of Quality, Connected Service, IT & Digital Development and Logistics in the Oberursel headquarters. I am not sure if this would boost her career.


You trust us? Bad luck for you!

If you spend half a year abroad, you want and must take a certain quantity of luggage with you. In my case it consisted of two suitcases, each weighing 23 kg, making a total of 46 kg. With this luggage, I was able to fly at Thomas Cook’s expense for the induction with Eurowings via Hamburg to Manchester and from Liverpool with EasyJet to my first working place Palma de Mallorca.

Six months later the day of my return from Palma was approaching. I thought it was self-evident that I would get the same luggage allowance on my return flight as on my outbound flight. Not with Thomas Cook. This time I was granted only 30 kg. Do not ask for the sense of it. I have done so nonetheless and learnt: „It’s Thomas Cook policy.“ And it has been for years. Strange though that Amy, Justin and Karon from the HR department in Peterborough did not know about this when they were booking me three flights with two different airlines each with twice 23 kg half a year earlier.

Well, humans have common sense by nature. I keep being astonished that the same does not hold true for companies although humans are working there, too. I have presented Amy’s e-mail to Eva. It was pointless. Just imagine we booked 23 kg for our holiday guests’ outbound flights, but only 15 kg for their return.

From Palma, after a stopover at home I was to fly on to Heraklion for the winter season. Of course, taking the meaningless uniform with me that took up several kilos. I already threatened to leave it in Palma since I would not be paying for it out of my own pocket. The problem was resolved by a call to the airline, in this case Vueling. They do not have a 30 kg luggage category, but I was entitled to the usual 46 kg. I did indeed fly to Heraklion with only 30 kg, but for different reasons (see below).


Play Little Unexpected Tricks

Responsibility for the shortcomings I have described lay with Scotswoman Laureen, officially Operation and Development Manager and Eva’s boss. It would have been in her hands to put things in place. However, she seemed more interested in the Royals, going out and shopping advice, and her 10,000 € (£8,865) pumps collection than in optimizing a complex comprehensive system. She appealed to us to pamper our guests with „Give Little Unexpected Extras (GLUE)!“ She obviously did not see the contradiction to the treatment that we were experiencing.

After I had received an incomplete salary for the second time, I have asked another company that had made me a job offer earlier whether that one was still valid. It was. (I may report about this in due time in another blog.) It was as if I was freed from an evil spell.

When I received „most of my salary“ for the third time in October, I communicated my decision to stop working at the end of that month. I had to do so three times before they believed me. I did not need to tender my resignation since my contract was running out anyway. Since I had fulfilled it, they would have paid my return flight but a day later than I wanted so I have invested 90 € (£80) in an earlier flight. I have even received an airport transfer to Heraklion and fixed kilometre allowance from Stuttgart airport according to Google Maps. Even if they cut off 72 cents (64 p) since the country road would have been 4 km shorter than the motorway…

Figure salad with word sauce

I am not sure if my October payslip was correct since in early December, I have received another one for November when I had not been working for Thomas Cook any more. On it, they calculated, added and subtracted so much that I stopped trying to understand this mess. The bottom line read „Balance in favour of company: 188.76 €“ (£167) and „Payout: 0.00 €“:


Working for Thomas Cook?

If you want to get away from home, get to know other countries and want to have a lot of fun with your colleagues, you get the opportunity with Thomas Cook. You should, however, know that you have to work in a chaotic environment and abide by meaningless rules. Also that Thomas Cook does not deem it necessary or does not manage to heed their own regulations. Depending on how you weigh each point and what alternatives you have, the reply will be in favour or against. If you decide positively, you should have some knowledge of payroll accounting and try to spend the summer in Heraklion or Faro and the winter in Palma. Ammoudara is closed down, and the Algarve is being hit by Atlantic depressions with rainfall and storms.

English manager Lucy in Heraklion had ticked „Suitable for re-employment“ on my end of season form. Unfortunately, the opposite did not apply. I was thinking of applying as a Quality Manager or a Financial Analyst with Thomas Cook in one of their 80 destinations for a future contract. But with an employer who does not stick to their own contracts, both jobs would have been a contradiction in themselves. The failing IT systems, the changing rotas, the questionable key figures, and the meaningless uniforms are basically Thomas Cook’s problems. Everything is not always working everywhere. But a company that requires overtime work without paying and that does not manage to pay their employees on time and in full for years is an absolute no-go for me. My personal conclusion: Working overseas? Absolutely! But not for Thomas Cook.


Addendum of 23 September 2019

This morning, I have received an e-mail from my former colleague Joachim who is meanwhile in the USA: Thomas Cook is broke! All internet news portals are full of the news. After 178 years the inventor of the package holiday is at the end. Almost a year after I had left. A big Chinese investor, banks and the British government were unable to reach a solution. Now more than 600,000 holiday guests need to be repatriated. Some hotels have held guests back because Thomas Cook had not paid their bills. Greece and Turkey are very concerned about major economic setbacks due to missing tourists.

From 60 p to 3.5 p in one year. Better be a short seller😉

Of course the collapse was not due to the Connected Service’s poor organisation or our incompetent superiors. But I cannot see how the other departments of Europe’s second largest holiday company did a better job. Even in their last hour, Thomas Cook did not deem it necessary to inform either their guests or their employees about the imminent end. Considering that the company has not managed to make full salary payments on time when the business was good, it is no wonder that they remained completely unpaid in the end. Just as it is no wonder that Thomas Cook executives picked up millions of bonuses. So I may be forgiven for not being sorry for the company. But I am for my former colleagues who are faced with an uncertain future. Luckily there are other, if slightly different options in the same industry, see my other blog posts. By that I mean an employer with four, not three letters😉