Brewer's Droop #270
This is for my mate John, a serious frequent flier, who reckons more of us should be making a fuss about the cost and quality of travel – especially the airlines – and I wholeheartedly agree.
Remember the time when, if you had an economy seat to Europe, you’d get the following “gift bag”? It contained moisturiser, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, a wet wipe, facial mist, sleep socks (slippers) and other things all inside a rather attractive pouch (I still have a few).
But before you could examine what was in there a smiling, radiant hostess would hand you a hot towel so you could get nice and cosy (they repeated that before and after breakfast too).
There was more leg room and you could get just about any drink you wanted – from beer to whisky. There were blankets and extra pillows and everything was clean.
I just caught a flight back from London to Cape Town on British Airways. Now I thought that SAA had the monopoly on appalling service but this was my experience on BA.
Firstly, at Heathrow, you have to walk about 20 miles to get to the boarding gate – you’d think they could do something about that wouldn’t you?
The staff were friendly and polite as we boarded but they’ve learned a neat little trick – as soon as the plane’s in the air they disappear. Just like that.
First they brought the drinks trolley – an hour after take off – but the choice was sadly limited.
They resurfaced again another hour later to serve food after handing out the specially ordered (and pre-paid – see below) trays – vegetarian, gluten free, vegan, lactose free and one where you just get an empty plate for those on a serious diet (some time after take off) and then eventually it’s your choice which is “Chicken or Vegetarian?”
How did “Vegetarian” get in there? That’s a “special request” surely. But I figured it out – it’s to make more money.
By this time you’ve been in the air for more than two hours – one drink, basically no service (the bell was probably out of order). Nothing.
Then the staff disappear again.
So I look for my “gift bag”. There isn’t one. They’ve stopped that. No toothpaste. No cream. No wet wipe. No hot towel. Nada. Not a thing. A BA accountant has figured out that they can make 75 cents more per passenger per flight that way.
So I turn on the TV. It’s broken. Not just my set but everyone’s on the plane. Someone makes a terse announcement to say the entertainment system isn’t working (duh) and that they’re “working on it” (which boggles the mind – where are “they” working? Under the plane on their backs or on top outside adjusting the aerial)?
In fact the pilot hardly speaks to the passengers at all. On this flight I doubt he said more than ten words.
However, the accountants really hit the jackpot with these ideas. Firstly, you can pre-book your seat otherwise you spend 11 hours next to the lavatories. Booking fees range from R450 to R1,500 each way. What a beautiful scam.
Then you can pay extra for a better meal – served quickly, before the other peasants. That can cost about R250. Those would be the trays that were being handed out earlier then – and there were quite a large number of them.
So your “economy” ticket is escalating quickly, I mean really quickly – mind you, a business class seat is more than three or four times that of an economy one. And, truthfully, they’re not much better than the old “economy” seats were either.
In the old days (you know, when SAA made profits and BA couldn’t get a toe hold in South Africa) you could order several drinks if you wished and nothing was too much trouble for the cabin crew. On BA you eventually get one tiny bottle of wine (about a glass) and, since you almost never see the cabin crew it’s hard to tell if they were friendly/helpful or not. Still, it keeps the accountants happy I suppose.
And, just to add insult to injury, they’ve severely cut the number of “loyalty” miles you get if you book anything less than a “flexible” ticket (which is obviously seriously more expensive). Another nice little “screw the passenger” aspect.
I was thinking of submitting this little rant to the BA in-flight magazine (“High Life”) but since I couldn’t see any evidence of a copy and they haven’t updated their details on Brewers for nearly three years, (neither is their site helpful) perhaps they’ve cut that cost too?
Sure, there’s competition, but who wants to extend their journey by a several hours with a midnight stop over?
SAA used to be so good and then imploded. BA took over (well, the Cape Town route anyway – which I’ve heard is one of the most profitable in the world) and they’ve managed to seriously downgrade what was once a marvellous airline.
Next time I’m going by sea – the cruise lines seem to get it right.
Have a wonderful year and if you’re planning on going overseas you might want to re-think your airline plans.
(ps: At the time of publishing this BA had not replied to my emails for comment). I wonder if they care at all? I doubt it.