A Traveller’s Tale

It’s early morning at one of the UK’s regional airports; check in has been an irritation for those in the queue but also clearly for two of the check-in staff whose chatting about what they did last night is plainly more important than serving the people who pay their wages. Observing this to someone in airline livery walking the floor “to assist customers” (first joke of the day!) I am told that she agrees with me but there’s nothing she can do since they are her supervisors!

I should have known it was going to be one of those days when my driver dropped us off at the drop-off point (strange that isn’t it!) to find it’s slam dunk in front of …….. arrivals, with departures a walk away through the marauding hordes of the newly-landed trying to match up with the waiting buses.

So then we get to Security. A long queue. What does that mean? Yes……there they are ……. when we eventually reach the X-ray machines only half are operating! Not enough staff; but then an increased wage bill would hurt the management’s bonuses by diminishing the profits. Mind you, calling the airline helpline a few days ago was the same; evidently I was waiting a long time because they were experiencing high call volumes; nothing that more staff wouldn’t put right. It’s the same every day! But it was ok; I was reassured because they said my call was important to them! So important in fact that they obviously put their profits ahead of a quality service for the paying customer.

For Security to be effective it has to be seamless. Yet with some machines I have to take off my belt, others need my shoes, others want my wallet. (At a conference the other day there was a metal detector gate. The chap in charge asked me to take out my mobile phone & put it in the bowl alongside since otherwise “it’ll make it go off”!! My observation that such action meant that the phone was never screened (alarming) was met with the ubiquitous “I’m just following instructions” response. Worrying.

But at airports you can’t complain.  Big signs tell you so, using more threatening language. In any event, spending a few flight-missing hours in a private room with one’s trousers round one’s ankles with an electronic cattle prod reaching the parts other cattle prods cannot reach has never made for a good start to the journey!

So now I was airside; aka the Walkathon through Duty Free Land. “I went to a shopping mall the other day & a plane took off” has never been more true. The detours that the paying customer is forced to undertake in the name of trying to sell us stuff are disgraceful. Then the tills ask for your Boarding Pass; they don’t need it for any reason other than getting money off the back of you. Nice work if you can get it.

The screen (so much cheaper than a human being don’t you find) told me my flight was delayed. No one to ask for more details; no one to help you, the paying customer, plan your life.

And so we board. If you call getting on a bus “boarding”.  Standing on a crowded, unmoving bus for fifteen minutes in the heat of this Summer waiting for the flight to close is appalling. Surely the EU has a regulation about it; they do when farmers cram animals into trucks in the same manner. Our Government would do nothing; after all we have a ROYAL Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but only a NATIONAL Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

So I’m now ensconced in my seat to hear the pilot welcome us on board with an explanation (& I quote verbatim) :- “The aviation industry has a poor reputation for not keeping passengers informed during a delay. I am sorry for that. We had an air conditioning unit go sick which resulted in……….”. Well done the pilot; but if everyone knows how poor the industry’s reputation is, why doesn’t someone do something about it?! Ah, because that would cost money & those profit-related bonuses would be hit again.

My return flight gets off to a dreadful start at Amsterdam airport. “Ah! Three bags Sir. You’ve only booked two for the two of you. What? But you still only have your allowed & paid-for baggage weight, although in three bags not two? Sorry, not on. That’ll be (wait for it) €340 please.” For one measly bag! Twice the price of the RETURN flight. How to rip off the captive customer. Protect that bonus at all costs!

My experience concluded with the usual seven day wait in the baggage hall for my (three!) bags. I knew it would be bad when I saw the Salvation Army’s tea urn in the corner & some UN Disaster Relief tents on the trolleys. No one to contact; no announcements; even my own attempts to call the airport from my mobile meets the inevitable recorded message telling me how my custom is valued & what great offers are available in Duty Free Land! After we finally reached “the other side” my persistent enquiries elicit the last refuge of the “profit is all, customer take the hindmost” philosophy: “all that stuff is outsourced so we’re not to blame”.

Thank you for listening to my Traveller’s Tale. All of that didn’t happen on just one journey but it did all happen to me during a total of two flights from a couple of UK regional airports & two return flights.

I am left with a grumbling sense of grievance about being ripped off, about being the victim of profit hungry executives & reflecting that a mantra is being played out where everything has been sacrificed on the altar of providing the cheapest flights possible. “They” really do believe that the customer will put up with anything if the flight is cheap enough. Maybe “they” are right but it’s the reputation of business & wealth creation that suffers in the end……& that plays straight into the hands of the bunch of Marxists & hard-left Socialist anti-capitalists who’ve hijacked the Labour Party …….. & if they win the next General Election on the back of anti-business sentiment, that will lead to financial damage for our Country that is far, far greater than €340!