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.