Category Archives: Airlines

United – we fall/fail

United we fail
At United we fail

How can this happen? Arrive in Jackson Hole airport at 06.30 for a flight to San Francisco at 08.15. The chronology sort of goes a bit like this:

  • sometime the previous day: online check-in requires you to enter the number of checked bags you are going to fly with – which requires an additional $170 charge for checking-in six bags
  • 06.30: arrive at the end of a humungous queue for economy check-in (oh, did I not mention that it’s all self-service check-in on United, which must be the most inefficient way known to man of performing this function and guaranteed to get everyone annoyed before they start)
  • 06.35: the queue suddenly gets shorter by about 30 people as all those on the 07.15 flight to wherever are told they are too late to check-in and must form a new queue and wait for re-booking (or call 1-800-UNITED1 as “it will be quicker than waiting for us to re-book you here”)
  • 06.40: United staff overheard comforting themselves that it’s not their fault that so many have turned up late enough to miss their flight – meanwhile I’m wondering about the length of the queue and the delays caused by self-service check-in, but hey, what do I know, I’ve only got 25 years experience of airports and checking-in for flights
  • 06.50: reminder from the check-in staff to put your name and address inside your bags so “we can reconnect you with your bag when it goes missing”
  • 07.00: biggest bag of the six narrowly misses a $100 surcharge as it weighs in at 48.73lbs – just below the 50lbs limit – thank heavens the mahjong set was packed in another bag
  • 07.05: one of the baggage tags has already been lost – oh well, I’m sure it will be OK, it’ll probably only be the bag with £1,000 of riding gear in it that we’ll never see again
  • 07.15: all ready to go
  • about 07.20: flight delayed to 09.30 – no details announced
  • about 07.45: flight delayed to 10.15 – due to air traffic control in San Francisco
  • about 08.00: flight delayed to 10.45 – apparently this happens “all the time” especially with the smaller planes because of fog in San Francisco, so they just leave them on the ground where they are until they have a slot – no one has any information about when the flight is likely to take off
  • about 09.00: one of our party manages to obtain $7 ‘coffee’ vouchers for each of us – an elderly female passenger decides to spend hers on a margarita
  • 10.30: we will be going at 11.03
  • 10.45: about 10 passengers in zones 1 and 2 are allowed to board
  • 10.55: passengers in zones 3, 4 and 5 are told they cannot board yet – there has been a mistake and the cabin crew (who gave the authority to board) actually failed to check with the pilot who confirmed that the confirmed take-off time was in fact going to be 11.30
  • 11.00: 10 zones 1 and 2 passengers are returned from the aircraft – we all sit down again
  • 11.15: we all board
  • 11.30-ish: we take off, finally looking forward to a ruined day in San Francisco

Honestly, you couldn’t make it up. Of the 1,800 or more flights I’ve made this is the first time on United. Sorry, but never again. Although I should in fairness mention that the crew were actually quite nice.

If you want to have some fun at their expense, try this link when you have a moment:

Dismal Delta

It wasn’t my intention to write about Delta as part our US road trip. But before I get to the interesting places we are visiting, I can’t let the flight (almost) from hell go by without an adverse comment or two. Actually the flight itself wasn’t too bad. The service was good, given the fact that Delta’s 757s haven’t been manufactured for over ten years (BA retired theirs four years ago) and therefore the interiors are tired and the seat entertainment systems don’t work any more, the food was awful, but it was all kept bearable by the tireless efforts of the crew, led by Olga from Russia.

We over-nighted in the JW Marriott in Atlanta, to get a last taste of superb beds and the en-suite shopping experience, before heading up to Wyoming. Like an idiot I went for a row in First thinking it would be a quiet flight for us with civilised fellow passengers. Not a bit of it. Amongst others there were quite a few children, clearly on their father’s Delta points, a female surgeon, a Robin Williams look-alike with his fishing rods and … the American family from hell.

The surgeon started off well by running through her presentation material on her MacBook, complete with graphic gynaecological images of a distinctly medical nature, later describing herself to a fellow passenger across the aisle as “a surgeon, you know, in the women’s plumbing department.” Nice. The family from hell were distributed all over the cabin, but managed to secure seats together after a bit of judicious reformatting of the seating plan. The fisherman was reformatted next to the surgeon, who made her wait ten minutes after she stood up to let him into the window seat while he repacked his bags. At least she demonstrated a sense of humour when she asked him whether he planned to move in.

The family from hell consisted of a father, alpha male and presumably a Delta million-miler, over-sized specimen of the species with no volume control; the wife, alpha male mate, bronzed with silly yellow shorts and a similar missing volume control feature; ‘the girls’ who sat somewhere behind keeping themselves well away from the parents; and the inevitable ten-year-old male brat, apple of the parents’ eye, opinionated loud voice and well on the way to becoming a mini version of his father. Alpha father kept shouting across to brat-child on the other side of alpha mom and the adjoining aisle, calling him “buddy”, “dude” and similar dumb-ass cronyisms. That was after he thanked Robin Williams profusely and at the top of his voice “you are so A-A-AWESOME, man.”

“Where are you from?” alpha-male-mate-and-mom asks Olga. “From Europe, originally” she politely replied. “Oh, what a lovely accent” alpha-mom announces to the entire cabin.

Thank goodness for Olga dispensing liberal quantities of Skyy vodka with a never faltering smile. Is it all airlines or is it just me?

Survival in First

We managed to get ourselves a row of First seats on BA out to the US at the start of our holiday. I have to say the old First left a bit to be desired, too much walnut and a bit shabby, but the new First configuration is incredible. You actually get to enjoy being on an aeroplane for a change.

Concorde lounge serenity
Concorde lounge serenity

Starting with the Concorde lounge at T5, rather than having to spend time with self-important business travellers bugging you with over-loud conversations on their mobiles, you sit with a wholly more reflective crowd. Very good and discrete service too, nothing is too much trouble. Of course unsurprisingly, not an English accent in evidence!

Interesting faux-effect fireplaces, which you can’t photograph because they are too reflective. A kind of 1970s throw-back to G-plan furniture and angular shapes. But apart from that a relaxing place to hang out for your flight.

Mood lighting
Mood lighting

On board it’s all low-key mood lighting, blue leather and touch controls. All borrowed from the new Range Rover it feels as though. There’s loads of space around in your compartment and plenty of room even for a special guest to come and share a meal with you if that’s what you want. Although tortoises are by nature solitary creatures they sometimes like to share things.


Survival kit
Survival kit for First

Note the absence of either reading material or an iPod in the new First survival kit – you don’t need either … the TV works and there’s no one close enough to disturb you!

Business seat survival kit

BA Business survival kitThis varies slightly from the Economy survival kit.

Essentially the line of vodka miniatures required to completely anaesthetise yourself from the physical hell of being so close to the person next to you, so close that you can smell them, can be replaced by a more soothing glass of something else. The iPod and reading material are still required – the TV usually doesn’t work properly and more often than not the cabin crew can’t be bothered to walk around the end of the seat to serve you, constantly lowering the dividing screen and forgetting to put it back up again when they’ve finished.

It’s never been clear to me why they came up with the facing seat configuration in BA Business, where you stare into the face of a complete stranger sitting in the adjacent seat. Clearly it wasn’t anyone who ever actually uses an aircraft. Or maybe it was … just someone taking revenge on the business traveller.

BA again – but this time with something good to say

Out of Copenhagen yesterday in economy. So I thought I’d just check in my bag as it saves so much hassle rushing onto the flight to get luggage rack space. Plus my colleague and I were blasé about how fantastic T5 baggage handling is these days. Mostly the bags are already going around the carousel by the time you get through passport control. Which might of course just be a testament to the inefficiency of the UK Border people. Well, what we forgot to take into account was the incompetence at the starting airport. In this case Copenhagen.

The result was arrival at T5 with no bags – for anyone on the flight! How can that happen? After logging the issue and meeting my driver I was told that he had had the same experience with several customers over the past few weeks – and all from Copenhagen. The BA baggage man who dealt with me also admitted that things are not good Copenhagen-wise right now. In fact he said that last week one BA flight arrived with 25 bags not making it at all!

Which brings me to my point: BA were fantastic. Can I believe that I have just said that?

After I explained that I had a flight to Oslo the next day and that while I could go and buy a new toothbrush and shaver, I’d really rather not, they pulled out all stops. First of all they never left me not knowing what was going on. Which meant three calls to me between logging the missing bag at around 17.30 and it being confirmed inbound on the next flight at 19.15. Second, the basic decent behaviour of the people from BA who called me. They actually sounded as though they cared. Plus the bag turned up as scheduled at around 22.30 last night.

Well, all I can say is great job BA – especially as it wasn’t really their fault in the first place – and a lesson learnt about not taking anything for granted in future.

A good flight

I must not forget to mention that last Friday, Charlotte the BA Cabin Service Director on the last BA flight back to LHR from Amsterdam (I didn’t get her surname), restored my flagging faith in BA’s sadly lacking customer service ethic. Cheerful, friendly and time to talk. They need to put her into the training department for a while so she can teach some of the rest of them how it should be done. I know that the cabin crew are there for a very good reason other than serving drinks and food, but still it makes such a difference when someone knows how to make it all work.

Does anyone know if there’s a site where you can say good things about BA?