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I have the privilege to travel several times per year to my home country, the Netherlands. Every time I look for the best flight options in terms of schedule and price I am surprised by the enormous differences in the offers by various airlines. As Ethiopian Airlines is now member of the STAR Alliance, I was of the impression that conditions and services would be similar across the Alliance. This is not so however because all member airlines still follow much of their own systems in regards to prices, baggage allowance and services. I also thought that my Shebamiles membership would allow me to access the benefits of the other airlines. This is also not always so. In fact frequent flyer benefits seem even to have gone down, unless you have penetrated to the highest award categories perhaps. Never mind, as the main purpose is to travel from A to B in the most efficient way. Most efficient does not necessarily mean most convenient though. People of my size -184 cm, which is not that tall if not rather average – and above, find it increasingly difficult to sit comfortably throughout the flight. Airlines squeeze in more seats and leg space is reduced to a minimum. I recently read that Boeing is going to add another row of seats in their new 737 jets, so we need to brace ourselves even more. Sometimes I wonder how close I can possibly sit to a stranger next to me, sharing the same armrest. The economic gain of additional seats however weighs heavier than the passengers’ comfort. How far will this take us though? Perhaps one day we will stand, like is often the case in the trains back home, during rush hours. This is one thing I have really come to admire. The public transport system, which includes light trains, buses, metro and trains, must really be appreciated. But this is not always the case either. The last time I took a taxi to Schiphol Airport, I mentioned to the taxi drives how impressed I was with public transport. She looked at me as if she saw water burning and explained to me how often schedules are disrupted because of the weather, faults on the tracks, accidents etc. Indeed once there is a problem, a large part of the system is disrupted and people will arrive late at their destination. It may take several hours before all is back to normal. But normally speaking, once you miss a bus or train, it will not take too long before the next one comes. Still people complain, I guess because they are so used to things running as planned that it is difficult to accept a disruption. Planning and maintenance take the largest credit for what it takes to have such well-functioning systems but they also take the largest blame if things go wrong. I am looking forward to the light train criss-crossing the city and I really hope it will make a large contribution to effective commuting for many from home to town and back. And as the traffic landscape across the city is changing, so should our behaviour. Yes, planning and maintenance go a long a long way, but the public must also learn how to use things effectively and responsibly.
The same holds true for the roads. Just before I left in July, construction of a road in our neighbourhood was completed, immediately resulting in more and faster traffic and thus more danger for children and pedestrians, not to mention also jams during rush hour. Coming back after six weeks I was shocked to see that the rains had already created a number of potholes. Not maintaining them immediately will only result in bigger damage and before we know it we will be back to square one minus what we have wasted on the original costs . Obviously, the construction is below standard. Now, I am not an expert in road construction, but I know what roads in other parts of the world look like and that most of them remain in good condition because of their design, the quality and quantities of the materials used, proper drainage and being finished well. Leaving a small hole will soon become a big pothole, leading from bad to worse. Leaving the manholes big enough to be used as the neighbourhoods’ waste dump, will lead to bad drainage and immediate damage. All this is not necessary, if design, control and maintenance are carried out carefully. While we appreciate the infrastructural expansion of the city, we must make sure we will enjoy the progress made for a long time to come and ensure that contracts and quality of work are adhered to, sufficient supervision and control is in place and that maintenance is consistently planned for. Now, there are many works going on and the cities and towns in the country are developing at an incredible speed, making it difficult to do everything well and while there are many challenges there are also many improvements.
There are also many differences that one can observe between the way business is done in different countries. And there is no place where everything is perfect, so we tend to complain about the things that don’t work for us, instead of appreciating the things that do work well. In other words, while we certainly have to improve and learn from the way things are done elsewhere, instead of seeing that the glass is half empty, it is better to realise that it is actually half full.