Service. What service?

In these times of deferred travel plans and airlines trying to woo business travellers, we came across one that puts passengers last

You would think that with the financial crisis impacting travel, especially the sort of travel that generates business revenue for both the airline concerned and ultimately for the company that is paying for the passage, airlines in general would be going that extra mile to ensure that they put their best foot forward in order to get their travelling public to stay with them.

However, what do you do when you land up for a late night flight, after packing your family into bed at home and saying your goodbyes, only to learn that the flight which was to take-off at 12.30 am for Dubai and Zurich has been rescheduled to 5.30 am. The girl behind the counter actually asked me “hasn’t anyone from the airline called to tell you?” Nope. Otherwise I wouldn’t be there, duh! Choices offered, check in and wait in the lounge (business class travel has its privileges) or go back home and come for the flight, the timing of which may change. First mistake, I didn’t insist then and there that I get option three, which wasn’t offered by the way, to put me on an alternate flight. So making the best of a bad situation I take option 1 and check in.

Within a minute after that I am informed that the new time will now be 6.30 am and that the lounge is a very comfortable place to wait. In the same breath. In the meanwhile my hosts, the GM team, are freaking out because the delay will mean that my connections to Madrid and onwards to Santander will not happen and they are suggesting that I find alternatives. “Go ahead and buy a new ticket, we’ll reimburse you.” Good suggestion except that now I am in the lounge, past immigration and there is nothing I can do.

That’s when a helpful airline employee tells me that if I had come before 11 they could have routed me through Amsterdam (I had). And no there is no other way they can route me, regardless of the fact that three flights left after that for Dubai.

The end result was that I reached late in the night at Bilbao, not Santander airport, because you see the connection given at Zurich got delayed at Madrid airport and caused me to miss the last flight to Santander. So I pay to change my booking and land up on the last flight to Bilbao, around 100 odd kilometres away and get my hosts to send someone to pick me up. Did I think that I had gone through the worst possible trip? I wish.

Because my heart goes out to a few other passengers who sat all night in the lounge with me – an elderly couple who were taking a Lufthansa connection in Dubai and a lady who was travelling to Dubai. Did they have to wait 6 hours? And is that fair, let alone to a business class passenger who is paying for service?

What about the passenger who boarded the flight in the seat next to me in Dubai? He was starting his flight from Dubai and had checked out of his comfortable 5-star hotel room in the dead of the night to spend the next 6 hours at Dubai airport. Couldn’t someone have informed him?

Thankfully, I had anticipated problems while travelling on a route with two connecting airports and was only carrying hand luggage, so though I landed up late and a few degrees off bulls-eye, I was ready for joining in belatedly the next morning. Experience counts, for I have done an equally long trip to Lisbon and had my bags returned to me a month later, since they never got beyond Dubai airport on the outward journey.

Do we have a solution to these sort of miseries? Apparently not. We grin and endure in order to get to the next destination, whether it is for a family emergency or for chasing up some business for your company. Or in my case, for flitting from one international test drive to the next. Perhaps one day we will have the European norm of being entitled to a monetary compensation, but till then airlines need to look into their corporate souls and realise that sometimes, the best way to get customers to stay loyal is to recognise that they are human, not just boarding passes.

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