A story hit the news this week about a Minneapolis man who, along with his elementary-school-age kids, was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for tweeting about his rude treatment by a Southwest employee.
These days, it seems we should be full of gratitude when airlines actually deign to honor our tickets. Let’s face it: just because you’ve paid an outrageous sum for your flight, have had to usher your young kid(s ) through rather frightening, trumped-up (and arguably ineffective) security, and then hoped against hope that your flight wouldn’t be overbooked or delayed and that your luggage sent to Peru… well, none of this should lead to expectations of being treated with respect or courtesy.
Unhappy about anything to do with your flight? Get a grip. You should be grateful it wasn’t gunned down by the Russians.
Our little family just returned from a wonderful three-week trip to England, with a few days at the end in Ireland for my son and me. A bit of the trip was paid for, as the hub-sand had a conference at the University of Cambridge. We were also fortunate to have wonderful, generous friends who invited us to stay with them while in London. And yet the trip was exorbitantly expensive and was a big, amazing, we-won’t-be-doing-this-again-anytime-soon deal for us.
I am rather anal about arranging things in advance and booked the trip from Heathrow to Dublin months ahead of time, paying a total of £137 for our one-way flight on British Airways. Heathrow to Dublin takes all of 50 minutes (although they’ll tell you it takes 1 hour, 15 minutes, to cover any delays).
Almost exactly twenty years ago, I made the same trip, but from Gatwick. The train to Gatwick from London took longer than I expected, and I was late arriving at the airport. I was visiting friends who were living in Dublin and didn’t have a phone (this was in the days before cell phones and they didn’t have a land line), so I wouldn’t have been able to get in touch with them if I missed it. I remember convincing the people at check-in that I could get to the gate in time and then running like mad. I did make it, and a few other passengers and I were bussed to the airplane, which was waiting on the tarmac. It was quite an adventure.
Oh, how things have changed. As I don’t have a smart phone and it would have been difficult to get my phone to work abroad, a kind friend in London let me borrow an old, extra phone of his, but I’d returned it to him the previous night. Then the hub-sand and I stayed up organizing and packing our belongings, falling into bed well after midnight.
The next afternoon, after racing out to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (which Jonah very much wanted to see), the lad and I lugged our suitcases from Northern London to Heathrow. This trip involved a bus, two tube trains, and a couple of stairwells, and we sweatily arrived at Heathrow at around 4:35 pm.
There were kiosks for checking in as well as a queue for the luggage drop and I wasn’t sure which to do first. So I asked the British Airways employee stationed by both.
She shrugged and smiled a wide smile. “It’s entirely up to you.”
Oh. I see. Thanks for that tidbit of helpful information. We got into the luggage drop-off line. And then I saw it, posted on the board:
“Check-in closes 45 minutes before flight departure.”
Our flight was to depart in… you guessed it… 45 minutes.
I told Jonah to stay in the queue, bolted to the check-in kiosk, grabbed my glasses, grabbed my reservation… and the machine refused to check me in.
I returned to the same employee, who went away and came back to say she was sorry, but the flight was closed. Then she waved me in the direction of another counter, mumbling something about being put on the next flight, at 6:55 pm.
But dear oh dear. That counter had one person behind it, and several young men in line with their bags strewn across the floor, as though in full camp-out mode. I remembered my promise to Jonah: “When we get to Dublin, we’ll go out to dinner, take a short walk, and then go back to the hotel and relax.” It was toward the end of our trip and we were tired. We needed a break.
I asked Jonah to stay with our luggage once more and went for help. And more employees did come, but by then, another line of passengers had formed. I was frustrated and exhausted and when we finally got up to the counter I was very angry. And then I was told that they could board us on the subsequent flight, but it would cost a fee of more than £200.
“No. I’ve paid for our flight. I’m not paying you any more.”
The manager was called, and was she a piece of work. Nasty and uncaring is putting it mildly. She didn’t even acknowledge my child, who was standing beside me, wondering what was going on and why the adults were losing their minds. When I finally relented, because the manager had threatened to call security (I had said I wouldn’t move until they put us on the flight) and because my child was now terrified and crying, I was informed that the charge was more than £500.
“But she said it was two hundred something!”
“That’s per ticket.”
Let’s just be clear, American readers: that’s an additional $850-900. For a 50-minute flight. That was already paid for.
My son and I walked away from the British Airways counter in tears.
Ultimately, we did get to Dublin, but not until the following morning. I was able to book a flight on Aer Lingus for just under £500 (what a bargain!). But I have learned some lessons from my experience:
1. British Airways’s motto, “To fly. To serve.” is not meant to imply it intends to fly or serve its passengers. Caveat emptor. Their “customer relations” department, which has not yet acknowledged my complaint, seems designed to ensure that relations with customers suck.
2. It’s time to get a smart phone, whether I want one or not. The world is making it impossible to live without one.
3. Crying in front of your young child is hazardous. (Jonah to Mommy in Heathrow airport: “Mom. Get a hold of yourself!” Yes. He is seven going on 15.)
4. Flying… is sometimes for the birds.
Images, from top to bottom: 1. © Yongnian Gui | Dreamstime.com; 2. © Zacarias Pereira Da Mata | Dreamstime.com; 3. Guards do their changing thang at B.P., July 17, 2014; 4. Sir Jonah prepares to take on the entire airline industry, York, July 2014; 5. We did make it to gorgeous and fascinating Kilkenny, Ireland, no thanks to British Airways.