Have you seen Gatwick lately? After what feels like decades of boarded up areas and workmen drilling away, it finally seems to be finished. I was there last week and the process is so much more streamlined. Gone are the humourless Check in/Bag Drop assistants. Now you scan your own passport at the machine, shove your case onto the scales with a pant, print your own bag ties and watch your bag set off for what is hopefully the same destination as you! You then click the screen again for your baggage document just in case you head to Verona and your case to Ibiza, and then straight through to Security. Coming back, gone are having to see the robotic creepy Border Control guys who have one setting; rude. Instead heading to the eye scanner you get a scary image of yourself on the screen (no one looks good after airport travelling!) and then through you go to the baggage carousels.
So this part is easy right? Yes you have miles of walking from one point to the next and I swear the pilots are drawing lots on who can park their plane the furthest from Security and Baggage Claim, as the walk goes on forever, but otherwise this is quite a smooth process.
So what’s the problem, you ask? The problem is British Airways. I’m starting to gain a particular dislike of anything with the word British in front of it. Think about it; British Gas, BT, BA. These three companies combined are the bain of our lives and add to stress levels whenever paths cross. British Gas insists on constant contact to sign you up regardless of the fact that where I live we do not have access to anything but night storage heaters and oil central heating, BT, well, do I need to say more? No vote in the UK would garner a 100% unanimous result, but a vote on BT would come pretty close!
So BA. I have done quite a bit of travelling in my thirty-six years and regrettably a large chunk of this has been with BA. This has been largely due to convenience, as it’s a safe bet wherever the destination you type into your ipad/phone etc, BA will be the first one up with a direct route, and what looks like manageable times. Not ideal times but take a deep sigh and live with it times. I have yet to experience a round trip with them without problems however.
The issues faced with BA? Well we all know about the rubbish customer service, don’t we? They are fast becoming worse than Ryanair. The website regularly goes down just when you need it, (I work in travel so this is often!) and you call them. You get an automated message informing you call volumes are high and to use the website before the message clicks off. They have disconnected you and left you with a website failing to respond, you are stuck. You want to scream at the phone in protest. You would always do it online before calling them! In my case I have to get my manager over to talk to them on the phone to authorise they can speak to me as he is the card holder. This means if he is out of the office, I can do nothing for our clients. BA acknowledge this, but are completely disinterested.
Then there is the guaranteed flight changes. Out of a typical year of booking flights, about 90% of the last year booked with BA flights were changed at least once. I am not talking about twenty minutes, I am talking anything up to seven hours. Clients rage at me by phone and email (we don’t automate and cut off our phones!) and I am told this is “not what they signed up for!”
Several summers ago I had a woman who paid more for BA rather than Easyjet flights for a trip to Verona. When she got to her seat she realised it was wet and there was vomit under the seat. There were plenty of available seats free so she asked the steward if she could move. She was told no. She was forced to sit in that wet seat for the whole two hour flight. Why not move her and keep her happy? Such an easy problem to sort.
There was the time when smoking was allowed at the back of the plane. Yes, I am talking about when I was a child, but the point was you went to the Check in desk and requested no smoking – they stuck you in the row in front of the smokers. Try a fifteeen hour flight from Hong Kong back to the UK with a line of smokers all going for it in a haze of smoke, a film which has broken in our cabin but you can hear up in First Class in front, a leaking toilet. Now if you want to treat yourself, (why not?!) to First Class, with any other airline for short haul for example, you are probably looking at around £100-300 additional on a return ticket. With BA it’s more like £1,000. Why exactly? You don’t get to take off sooner, in fact this doesn’t even include seating! I booked a three person two night trip to Italy for a lady several weeks ago and after paying the additional upgrade fee, she then had the choice between paying an extra £20-22 per person per flight just for seating! So what did she get exactly for her huge fee? She got access to an airport lounge, first three row seating which might have slightly more leg room but this was negotiable, a hot meal, 2 x 32kg of luggage (she was going for 2 nights!) first to board a plane, and a wet cloth to santisise her hands with. Not much is it?
Coming back from Italy recently, we had to have the bus from the terminal to the plane. Literally about 20 steps away. We can walk several miles from Bag Drop to the airport lounge, but not 20 steps to the plane! The First Class group were roped off at the back of the bus and allowed off first. The rest of us had a chain in the way and our door was closed for another ten minutes while we waited for them to board the plane. Some perk! It’s like when someone says for £100 you can have a free bottle of Champagne and nibbles. That’s not free; that’s the most expensive bottle of Champagne we can find!
Then when you eventually get on the plane, everyone hijakes all the overhead lockers with huge suitcases, so best case scenario your coat is scrunched in a small corner, worse case you end up with it on your lap for the duration of the flight. Hardly comfortable or fair!
After all these years of travelling though, one thing never changes. It is the thing that made me lose hope of ever getting back from Italy and vow more importantly to never use BA again. Flight delays. I have sat in numerous airports all round the world to see a noticeboard that otherwise reads as all on time, to see my flight with the delayed wording against it. One flight to Cannes for business and BA got us on the plane and then declared it was too windy to take off yet, so served breakfast instead. Always a sure sign you will be sitting there, belted up for a good hour before taxiing. I wouldn’t have minded but there was no wind that day, not even enough to blow your hair in your face. Coming back they said the same and the plane didn’t arrrive into cannes for us to board until after the time it should have landed in London. BMI, Ryanair and Easyjet all took off on time.
This last trip they blamed fog over London and Europe, but Easyjet took off on time and so did all the other airlines. It meant sitting at the airport for over five hours, yes five hours, waiting. After the fog they then claimed plane issues. Did we get any compensation? You really have to ask! We were told of the delay at Bag Drop, tried to get through Security when they told us to head back for our vouchers. Back we went to Bag Drop, queued up again, got a voucher for €8 off a snack. This constituted to a free bottle of warm water. In the end what should have been a six hour journey home took eleven hours as London had signalling failure on the trains and tubes as well.
When BA are in the news which they are regularly it is always bad. In recent months we have had a plethora of strikes, reports of running out of food and loo paper on board, they have also started work on reducing our legroom allowance to make way for more seats. Soon this will be less than Ryanair! The response to the M&S meals for purchase has also gone down badly. Paying £8 for an M&S sandwich is extortionate and now they have banned cash payments so you get fleeced paying by card, all for their, not the client’s, benefit.
When I returned home I vowed I would never fly BA again and I meant it. Not like a new year resolution, this was for real. I went so far as to cancel my Rome flights in May and rebook with Alitalia. The price was around the same, the times bearable. How much to upgrade? Oh, £140 return. And you know what, if I had been travelling over meal times, I would have done it!