British Airways flight from HELL [classic article]

My letter to British Airways has been edited/redacted to remove extra-personal information. They have offered a $200 e-voucher in response, which – after you read this — I’m sure you will agree is BS. In other words, “Please spend even more money with our company!”

I decided to connect through London, taking BA to BWI, as I thought I might stop at the Harrod’s shop and also, to report on updates with Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food, as I have done in the past for my national column: http://www.examiner.com/article/a-sampling-of-airplane-food-including-gordon-ramsay-s

This was a serious mistake on my part. As you know, Heathrow had been shut down that day for 4 hours, ostensibly due to “fog,” though I believe there was also surveillance due to the Westgate Mall UK suspects at play. I — being born in Chicago, also having one of the busiest airports in the world — know what an airport looks like when it is EFFICIENTLY taking care of passengers needing assistance due to an airport shutdown.

Your service at Heathrow was an abomination. I exited my flight from Helsinki, being told that I would not have any time to use the toilet. People were about to miss flights — including myself — and so a good third of passengers were put into the “fast track,” thus defeating the purpose. No extra staff was put on duty to process this line. INSTEAD, you had several people with 2-way radios wandering aimlessly around, like an Alexander Calder mobile. Whenever anyone, including myself, tried to get the attention of one of these people — while still having to remain in the queue — they behaved like drugged zombies, pretending not to hear or acting completely disinterested. If someone asked a question, they were given a blank stare in return or a shrug.

People were randomly called out of the line for further service, with their flight destinations and times coming after mine. I spoke up, noting that I could still make my flight to Baltimore, but the other flights were given assistance. I was certainly vocal in letting BA staff know that I am a journalist, a special guest and further, I had a flight in the USA at 09:00 EST that I had to make the following morning. I even used the phrase, “If you have to turn yourself into a pre-historic ptarmigan and personally fly me across the Atlantic, I WILL be on that 9 o’clock plane.”

I had a crucial business meeting where the host had already secured my tickets on Delta/KLM (a fantastic, top-notch company both in the USA and in Europe for decades).

I heard people crying and yelling in what must have been 55 foreign languages. Your service area was complete BEDLAM. An Israeli couple told me that they had been in line for 5 hours! I then asked a BA staff member if it wouldn’t be prudent at that point for me to contact the American Embassy. After all, it was starting to look like the last helicopter out of Vietnam. How dare BA not notify the other airports in Europe of their chaos!

(She) grabbed my passport and walked away — most disconcerting. When she returned, she told me that she could get me on a flight to “D.C.”. I asked which DC airport, as there are TWO. When I finally got out of her that it was Dulles, I explained that Dulles is in the state of Virginia and indeed, I live in the state of Maryland. Sort of like being dumped off in Edinburgh instead of London. She told me I had to make the decision right there and then: that this would be my ONLY way to return to the USA that night. I asked if she could book me on an AA or other carrier flight from there to Baltimore. She became disinterested in the project and started talking to other passengers.

I accepted to go on the DC flight, but explained that I would need lounge access to use a more stable WiFi to contact my husband and also, to use the bathroom facilities. She said there was no time.

The WiFi at Heathrow is unstable. I tweeted BA and the PR people stupidly advised me to call them. 1) I have a USA phone and can’t call them. Are they not in the travel business? Do they not care for Americans? 2) Thousands of people around me were trying to call them and couldn’t get through.

I tried to contact my husband by email, to let him know that I might be flying to Virginia. The wifi faded in and out; he was panicked upon hearing what was going on in London to his wife. I was not able to confirm to what city I would be flying. Nobody offered to help me contact him, though I asked over and over. I even took the phone off airplane mode — I can’t even imagine what the bill will be — but still was not able to call him. Your UK phone service is shoddy. My husband later told me that he called and pleaded with BA to let him know to what city I had been routed, but they refused — THOUGH he is listed as my emergency contact.

Again, there was no fast-tracking me through security and indeed, I was in danger of missing BA293. I was again told not to use the bathroom and that I had to run through the hallway to the tram to get to the gate.

I asked for help to find my gate, asking a BA staff woman in uniform if she would help walk me to my gate — you have no emergency trolleys like we do in the USA. Instead, she walked away from me as if I had bored her!

So, I cross the threshold of BA293 into a new, fresh hell. I had my heavy carry-on, was hot, thirsty, disheveled and breathing hard. When the pursuer of the economy class — I did not catch his name, a 30-something, blond, slight of build man — asked me how I was, I replied, “Quite frankly, I’m not doing well. Do you know what’s going on out there?” I relayed my travails and he simpered in a mincing way, “Maybe that will teach you not to shout.” I arched my eyebrow at this inappropriate reply.

Then, I asked if, considering my hosted journalist status, I might be upgraded to business class — as I have been on other airlines throughout Europe. He said that he would have to ask his superior. She said that it would be impossible, muttering some nonsense about forgeries.

I got to my seat — not the aisle seat that I had so carefully arranged previously, as I require this for my long legs. A man in the aisle seat was glaring at me most hostilely. I tried to put my carry-on overhead, but your bins are far too high for the average woman in flat shoes. Nobody would assist me from BA, though everyone was seated and I was the last to board the plane. I stared at the bin dolefully.

A BA flight attendant then moved me aside, saying that I was about to separate a “husband from his wife!” I travel with my husband and when I make the arrangements, I make sure we are seated together. Simple. If, on the rare occasion, we have to sit apart, we make the best of it. I am not congenitally joined to my spouse and I don’t live under Sharia law, requiring a male chaperone. Neither did this British couple.

The original male pursuer was tasked with re-seating me, and he selected a middle seat in the front row of the economy-plus section, with the non-standard trays and no overhead luggage rack. My carry-on, pillow and jacket were snatched away to God-knows-where and I belatedly realized this would make it impossible for me to access my (medication).

My section of the cabin was so freezing, my skin started changing color. The pursuer — in response to several other passengers’ complaints — replied that it was “boiling” in the back and we’d just have to put up with it.

My seat, as will come into play later during this saga, was broken in every way a seat could possibly be broken. I do not know UK flight standards, but I’m quite certain that my FAA would not approved this particular seat for flight if they had been made aware of it. The call button didn’t work, the seat did not recline and the tray table was broken.

When it came time to serve dinner, they had to jimmy the tray to get it to hold food, but I was trapped behind the tray during meal service.

Being a food and travel writer, I had researched the food on BA before I traveled. I recalled something about the beef dish being a classic, that it had been removed from menus in the past, only to have the public in an uproar. BA returned it to the menu on a permanent basis; they needn’t have bothered. My dinner was microwaved so long — unlike other diners, I believe — that the vegetables were burnt and the meat was a grey, charcoal briquet. It also had an odd, liver flavor: very poor quality meat.

After dinner was cleared, I tried to get some sleep, though again, my chair would not recline. A little British child was kicking and kicking my chair from behind. The parents would not discipline it. The pursuer looked at the child while walking through the aisles, but didn’t say a word to the parents. I cried silently in the dark.

I had been given a card informing afternoon tea would be served and though the experience on BA so far had been loathesome, I still looked forward to a proper British tea. I thought perhaps I might be able to write about that to my readers. I closed my eyes for a moment — not falling asleep, but just closing my eyes. I awoke to see that the fellow passengers in my row had been served a cello-wrapped sandwich and a beverage. Was this the “afternoon tea?” I walked down a few rows to the original male purser (him, again). I let him know that I must have closed my eyes for a bit, but asked if I could still have a sandwich and drink. I was thinking I would then locate my medications to take with everything. He snapped at me “not to shout,”. I replied that I was not shouting and that I just wanted a sandwich and drink. He said that I was shouting — while passengers all turned around in amazement at his hysterical, dramatic, high-pitched admonitions. He said that I he knew I was “having a bad day,” but that I would have to go back to my seat and use the call button. I told him that I had used the call button repeatedly, that it was not working and indeed, nothing on my chair worked. He shoved a sandwich into my hand and told me that he would bring a drink to me shortly (instead of just pouring me a glass of water right then and there). I’m still waiting on that water, by the way.

Without water, I would not be able to eat the sandwich, which looked disgusting at any rate.

Upon disembarking at Dulles, a NEW fresh Dante’s circle of Hell. Of course, you lost my luggage. I don’t know if I have received it yet at my home, as nobody at BA could be bothered to contact me by phone or email. I am on a business trip in (…). It is a crucial business trip and many of my toiletries, special clothes, etc. were in my checked bag.

There was nobody from BA at Dulles’ baggage claim. Finally, a janitor took pity on me and paged BA. A half-hour later, a BA staff member slowly strolled across the room to her desk. She asked me if I had any problems and I replied that she’d better get out a notebook and pen.

I also explained that I needed to get to the state of Maryland, where I lived. After calls and discussions with a supervisor and lugging my carry-ons back and forth, upstairs and downstairs, the supervisor — a total of 2 hours later — a taxi voucher was created to then take me the 1.5 hour ride back to my home in Baltimore. I arrived home at 12:30 am, having to pack a new bag without my necessities and to get on the road for a 9 am flight without sleep, a decent meal, proper hydration or being on my medicine schedule.

I write about luxury and glamorous travel for my readers, not war-refugee style suffering travel, though I may have to make an exception in this instance, as this is the experience that I and my husband — was made to experience from BA. “They” always say to write about what you know. This is the experience you thought that I, as a professional travel and food journalist, should experience. I can’t even imagine what it would take to wipe this breathtakingly appalling experience from my mind. If I had been a caged dog in the hold, I would have received better treatment.

I certainly see why my colleagues advise me to fly and write about Virgin Air. I can tell you that Brussels Air, KLM, Eva Air, Lufthansa, SAS, etc. have all saw fit to provide the most exquisite, first class service to me just in this past year. I travel all around the world to destinations, including being a special guest of the nations of the Netherlands, Italy, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Taiwan, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Austria, etc. I am a special USA guest of Germany Travel Mart. I have thousands of readers throughout the world in several publications, including being an associate editor at a magazine devoted to American veterans and active service personnel.

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