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february/march 2018 travel news 31
There are, of course, lots of miserable, tired, cold people sharing this floor with me.
They are all BA customers. But there is no evidence of any BA or Heathrow staff. Even
if some are working behind the scenes to try and make tomorrow a better day, there
should be staff out here with their customers. But there is no evidence whatsoever that
they see themselves as being in the service industry or that they regard these people
on the floor as their customers.
UPDATE. It's now 11am London time Monday and here's what happened next. There
was a single coffee shop open through the night on the T5 arrivals level. I queued
45 minutes for a cup of hot chocolate. At 4.30am I joined the BA queue to get re-
ticketed and hopefully get some news of my checked bags. My queue companions
came from all round the world and all were talking about their miserable experiences -
many having had long-haul flights into Heathrow, only to sit on the tarmac for four hours
before disembarking into chaos and four-to-six hour queues in the immigration scrum.
Most people also no longer knew what had happened to their checked bags. Everyone
was talking about the same thing; how there was no sign of BA or Heathrow staff; how
families with small kids and elderly people were left to fend for themselves; how there
was no information whatsoever and nobody available to provide assistance. And how
a stilted apology only was made "for operational disruptions caused by the weather"
from around 9.30am when BA started to tell people over the tannoy they should leave
the airport and rebook on ba.com. After four hours of queuing and a night at the airport
and no sign of their bags, nobody was going to leave the airport. As many pointed out,
BA.com wasn't working, not were the BA helplines.
There was also considerable anger when people read morning news stories reporting
a "snow storm" had brought Heathrow to a standstill, and quoting a BA spokesperson
saying the airline had provided refreshments and hotels to customers.
Nobody I spoke to had been offered so much as a cup of water (even though the crew
on my flight promised onboard there would be hotels). People noted that when BA
staff did start work at 5am, they mostly chatted among themselves and ignored their
customers, even turning their backs on us while they chatted. Nobody saw a snow
storm at Heathrow - it was sleet and a little wet snow, Enough to cause delays, yes,
but there are ways to handle that, starting with looking after the customer. Even more
infuriating, the BA staff started a queue system that split those who needed reticketing
(the vast majority, who had spent the night on T5 floor) and those who had a ticket
but just needed to drop off their bags. The reticketing queue, of course, was much,
much longer, but we patiently waited our turn for hours. And then a BA woman started
taking some "baggage check" passengers - who had queued for a much shorter time
and inserting them at the front of the reticketing queue. After this happened a few
times the reticketing passengers protested. At which point another BA woman started
clucking her tongue and talking about "people's attitude". Actually, their attitude had
been remarkably tolerant until BA messed up the queue system, which was the last
Eventually, I was rebooked on a flight that leaves this afternoon. Still no apology and
the BA check-in agent acted like it was just another normal check in. When I asked her
about my checked bags, however, she said there were "no guarantees" they would be
on my new flight. So that's a mystery to enjoy over the Atlantic.
Ironically, my colleague Victoria Moores was at an Aero Club lunch in London last week
where BA CEO Alex Cruz was the speaker. Victoria points out that Cruz repeatedly
said that BA was different because it will look after you when things go wrong.
I beg to differ; and so do several hundred of my BA traveling companions at Heathrow
The event described here occurred in mid-December 2017, aside from the weather
BA's IT system crashed, evidently the victim of the airlines austerity cuts.
Karen Walker is the Executive Editor of Air Transport World (ATW) an airline industry
publication in the US. To visit her blog click HERE.
Reproduced with kind permission
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