Budget airlines and out of pocket passengers: easyJet let us down

As budget airlines go, I have a lot of time for easyJet.  The company is profitable yet competitive, runs a very efficient operation, fast turn-round, full flights and is changing to booked seats, getting rid of the dreaded seat scramble.

Our direct 18.25 Manchester to Geneva flight last Friday should have been a breeze.  It was a breeze in Lausanne, a strong and bitterly cold one, but getting there was most certainly not.

Here’s what happened.

We checked in online and went through the routine strip-down.  We should have got to Geneva just after 21.00 local time, train to Lausanne and arrive at our B&B at about 22.30.  Time for a good night’s sleep, Maria to rest and be raring to run on the Big Day.

We noticed that the flight had been delayed to 18.55 – not too bad and a little engine spanking would still get us there.  I don’t complain too much about delays.  Airlines run very tight ships and things happen.  A small slip and they lose an air traffic slot. Hopefully, we thought, something like this had happened.

Then the delay was to 21.10.  We found the information desk where there was an instruction to ring a number, which I did, to be told that refreshment vouchers would arrive – really a joke.  £3 ($4.83) each buys you 2/5ths of zip at an airport.  We pooled ours and went to Burger King to feed our son – boys: you see them, you feed them.

We went to the business lounge to eat, have a couple of beers, relax and our lad could play on the Xbox.  God bless NatWest – the other passengers had to suffer the public areas.

Our flight remained at 21.10 – then 21.50 – then it was cancelled.

Back to the information desk where, again, there was no-one, only a few other passengers, no notice, nada.  One passenger said to go downstairs, which we did, to find a departure lounge full of Geneva passengers.  Two easyJet people were taking down names and group sizes – on a piece of paper.  We asked whether we could just go home – we live 5 miles from the airport – but there wasn’t a column for that.  So we hung about.

After an age, a queue formed.  No instruction or information.  We joined our fellow cattle, traipsed back through passport control, past the baggage reclaim up to Departures, a very long way.  We were at the end of a very long queue.  Two other easyJet people were on the phone arranging hotel rooms for over 160 people.  This queue wasn’t going anywhere and even if we got to the top after a couple of hours, the airport is very big and the hotels are some distance away.  We would be unlikely to get to bed before midnight.

The replacement flight was sheduled for 09.05 on the Saturday so we told one of the easyJet folk that we were going home.  We had a leaflet which said we could reclaim the cost of the flight if we decided not to go at all but there is no compensation for a taxi.

We got home at 22.00, had showers and considered our options.  It was clear that, after the delay and spending a good hour queueing, we wouldn’t get to Lausanne until 14.00 the next day and Maria would have no chance to rest.  The weather for the marathon promised snow, wind and freezing temperatures.  She was still suffering from the flu so I put my foot down and we took her running gear out of the suitcases.  We still wanted to go – particularly to see our friends. Cancellation wasn’t an option but at least we slept in our own beds rather than in some hotel room. This pleasure cost us nearly £40 ($65) return for taxi.

We rose at 06.00, woke the young man, had breakfast, climbed into yet another taxi, got to the airport in good time – again.  We queued for new boarding cards, went through the strip-down, waited in the public lounge, got to the gate and joined our fellow bovines.  The Italian crew were perfectly charming and we arrived in Geneva at 12.00 local, 14.00 in Lausanne.

Here’s what should have happened.

When a flight is cancelled or seriously delayed, timely information is essential.  They must have known that the flight was in serious danger long before they announced the first delay.  I don’t criticise the Manchester staff – they were very young, polite and apologetic.  But a specialist team should ensure that the information post is manned and instructions are available.  It shouldn’t be left to rumour and happenchance.

Reasonable allowance should be made for meals.  Airport fodder for a captive market is very pricey – small wonder that people bring their own to avoid being fleeced.  But if you have done this for a 3 hour flight and then have an extra 4 hour delay, people get hungry, particularly kids. £3 ($4.83)?

The hotel logistics was unbelievably incompetent.  They took names and groups – by hand.  What are boarding cards for?  These would enable them immediately to see the hotel requirements and know who had to recover luggage.

Arranging the hotel rooms should be easy.  All hotels have standard computer links – called APIs.  A little coding would enable the airline to provisionally reserve rooms immediately the cancellation has occurred.   Then groups could be shepherded to the appropriate hotel once the registration was complete.  Some re-arrangement may be necessary and the airline should offer to help with taxi fares for those who want to make their own arrangements because it saves them money.  There would be no hanging around, no lack of information and no fed-up passengers.

The whole episode was characterised by lack of information, little compensation and poor logistics.  Airline travel is so efficient these days – for the operators and budget airlines.  Treating its passengers who pay the bill this way is not good.  C’mon Stelios – get your act together!

BTW the return flight on Wednesday landed 30 minutes early with an equally charming Mancunian crew.

12 thoughts on “Budget airlines and out of pocket passengers: easyJet let us down”

    1. @Marie – the best way must be to fly yourself! At least you get to see where you are going and don’t have to suffer the captain saying ‘on our left is Paris’ when you are in a aisle seat! Unfortunately I don’t havea a pilot’s licence!

  1. Ahhh the good old strip down. I did a stip down in Australia. However I did it NYC style. Totally arrogance with attitude. It was not a highlight looking back. 

    1. @Jai – it wasn’t the full frontal examination though. They have machines at Manchester that can see through your clothing, just like James Bond’s glasses but they are not allowed to use them – yet! As we were carrying two laptops, thick coats, belts and everything else, it takes ages although the systems are quite good. On the Saturday the queues were horrendous at 0700 but we were ‘processed’ quite quickly.

  2. Airlines do not seem to care much about cancellations until it reduces their revenue.  Remember ther eis no cost of cancellation other than lost revenue.  If they had to house and feed all the passengers or were hit with a penalty, maybe it would be different.

    1. @krantcents – there are some rules in Europe but airlines generally manage to avoid paying anything out by ensuring that any reason is beyond the fault of the airline and most people don’t get round to claiming anyway. The silly thing about our case is that it must have occupied all their staff for quite a few hours for the lack of having computer procedures to do everything automatically.

    1. Thanks for dropping by Barbara.  We do tend to forget about the travel issues when other things go right.  Maybe the airlines depend on this.  The problem with connections is when the different legs are with different airlines – who takes responsibility if a connector is cancelled?  It’s bad enough when it’s the same airline.  And if the legs are booked completely independently, it’s anyone’s guess!

    1. Sure @Brent – it was annoying to say the least!  The VIP lounge makes things tolerable because there are always snacks, drinks and papers to read.  We have ours via our bank but otherwise it would cost about £600 each a year.  Possibly worth it for Maria but not for me!  But as it is, when she travels it is a god-send!  You can sometimes go in as a guest if you are travelling with someone who has a card.  This costs a little – in our case charged to our account.

  3. This is why I always try not to fly (well, that and the fact that flying in the U.S. is HORRIBLY expensive, even on the “Discount” airlines). I once had a flight delayed from a 2pm takeoff to 9am the next morning. I complained so much and for so long that finally a manager had pity on me and gave me a voucher for a hotel room nearby; it actually ended up being a pretty nice excursion, but still, nothing I’d ever want to repeat!

    1. The problem is, @Elizabeth, that living on an island (a reasonable sized one but not as big as Australia), you need to fly to get anywhere.  Since Maria doesn’t travel well by sea, travelling by car or train across the Channel means driving from Manchester to (say) Dover which means going round London.  This route has taken us 11 hours in the car plus 1.5 hours on the boat!  Via Newhaven-Dieppe is possible (3 hours by sea, perhaps 4 hours driving on a good day), Portsmouth-Le Havre at 4 + 6 hours is stretching it and I wouldn’t suggest Hull-Rotterdam which is about 2 + 10 hours…. 

      But as you say, even discount airlines are getting expensive.  In Europe, a lot of this is airport taxes which are excessive and uncompetitive.  You fly the route you need to fly and haven’t got much choice.  We have flown via Liverpool but it is a tiny airport compared to Manchester (the second UK airport in traffic I think after Heathrow) and only 10 minutes away. 

      easyJet have complained about airport taxes which are levied per person rather than per aircraft and they have a good point.  Maybe it will change.

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