THEY ALSO SERVE . . .
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
As well as serving refreshments, hostesses can play an important public relations role for coach operators, as Karen Miles discovers
J( NC)WING all about the marriages of her passengers is all in a day's work to a hostess on Len Wright's London/Manchester run.
But it is useful as it helps to make the journeys pass enjoyably. I found this Out when I travelled on the London Statesman service with hostess Isobel Middlemiss — up to Manchester on a Friday morning and back on Sunday. And that must be good for the industry.
The two commercial managers based at Len Wright's London and Manchester depots are both sure of the benefit that the hostesses bring to business.
David Gibson, based in Manchester, showed me a letter from a Liverpudlian woman: "Prior to this I had come in from the French Alps and was dreading the thought of spending another uncomfortable journey on any type of bus," she wrote.
"The trip to Manchester was refreshing, the hostess service impeccable. I hardly noticed the contraflow system on the motorway" — rare praise indeed.
Hostesses put over a better company image, Gibson said. They also allow extra areas of business to be tapped. Old-age pensioners who are nervous of coach travel are put at ease, children are looked after, and businessmen who hate to queue at buffets on trains are saved the bother.
Keith Barraclough, from the London depot, said hostesses increase the marketability of the London Statesman. "People ring up to check which hostesses are on their journey."
When I arrived at Len Wright's Isleworth depot in West London at 9am, Isobel was already preparing for the passengers who were set to board an hour and a half later.
She was stocking up with food and drink. There has to be enough for those on the return trip that she would be hostessing in the afternoon.
As we journeyed to the passengers' boarding point in Gloucester Road, . Kensington she checked over the coach for rubbish and dirt. At the same time she guided David Young — a new driver — to the pick-up point and gave him tips in manoeuvring the MANengined Van Hool Acron into the park.
Although the Sunday evening services from Manchester to London are packed with northerners, the Friday morning services up to Manchester are notoriously quiet, Isobel told me before giving the eight passengers a microphone chat.
On the M1 Isobel offered them tea, coffee, chocolate, orange, sandwiches and sweets — and then after a short break while they finished — she was off again. This continued throughout the whole motorway journey. "It's all about service to the customer," she said. "You can go and do a serving and a customer doesn't want a drink, but the next minute he may be dying for one." Isobel carries aspirin, cough sweets and stomach settlers for the passengers, too.
On the journey up she had to serve the food from the boxes on a seat opposite to her coffee and tea machine. The job of serving the drinks seemed cramped and difficult.
On a usual London Statesman round trip, Isobel and the other nine hostesses who work on the service are up and down the gangway for more than eight hours a day. Another three hours are spent cleaning the coach or waiting for the journey back. On average, Isobel works a 70 to 80-hour week, which is usually spread over five days. The day before I joined her she had worked a 14 hour day. And she earns an hour. Despite the drawbacks, Isobel loves the job. "I enjoy meeting people a lot and on Fridays and Sundays we have a of regulars". Many of them, she aid, have come over from the main ompetitor, National Express, even hough the Rapide services have a .ostess serving food and drink on .oard, too.
All the passengers I spoke to like the ostess system. Most like the video, 30, and this is another of Isobcl's .7.sponsibilities. Last year Midlands olice pulled her coach over twice and /aimed her and the driver for letting too inch of the video be seen by other road sus. Now she has to make sure that lost of the curtains — especially the ack ones — are closed when the video
Isobel said a hostess must be able to lanage all kind of people, from the rare Toppy students to the "hooray Ienry's", Its best for the hostess to be a it older, she said: "At 17 it's very hard ) manage people." She remembers many funny moments. On the other hand, a coach hostess shares many of the driver's frustrations like the sheer monotony of the M1 and M6 day after day. That's why she prefers private hire. Even so, she complained: "The average hirer doesn't. worry about the driver and the hostess, and hotels want our passengers but not us."
On arrival at the Ducie Street coach station in Manchester at 2.15pm, some of the passengers alighted and joined another Len Wright coach. I got off but Isobel stayed with her coach.
I joined Isobel and the driver, Franco, for the journey back on the Sunday 6.15pm service. This time the coach was much fuller, and I hardly saw Isobel, who was just a blur of coffee cups and Kit-Kat wrappers.
Franco told me that having a hostess on board means there is only one person walking up and down the gangway, which stops people wandering around with hot drinks in their hands.
"It's boring without a hostess and at the end of the day it's easier with one because the coach isn't so dirty," he said. And on private-hire trips a hostess is invaluable. "We work as a team, make sure the people are happy and at the end of the day they tip well. We're still an industry which needs the tips," he added.