Friday, June 09, 2006

Paid To Be Bastards

One of the things that I missed during my years spent in New Zealand was the steady, stellar growth of the no-frill airline. They had been doing very well as I was leaving the country at the arse-end of 2000, but in the intervening years, they have grown to become a major part of the travel market, and the big players have had to adjust accordingly.

New Zealand is relatively remote, and so there isn't the same phenomenon that you get in Europe of being spoilt for choice over where a couple of hours in an aeroplane might take you. There's Australia, and there's some beautiful south pacific islands, and then there's nothing but water in every direction for hours and hours of travelling time. Another significant difference is that the travel market in Europe is an order of magnitude larger than that of NZ, and therefore there is a lot more money, and a lot more companies chasing that money.

With many a wistful glance, I would watch TV shows that made it look like jumping on a plane to Alicante was like catching a bus, and no-one would bother buying turrone at their local shop when the real thing was a £5 flight away.

Recent experiences have caused me to reconsider. Apart from the fact that the airlines are doing more than their fair share to damage our beautiful but fragile planet, and should be taxed accordingly, the quality of service in every single one of them seems to have plummetted. Or possibly I've been unlucky, but I consider than unlikely, since I'm fundamentally a very lucky person. (That is, I have a very lucky fundament.)

When my Lovely Husband™ and I went to Paris recently to celebrate the first anniversary of our nuptials, our EasyJet flight was delayed. By several hours. We were very lucky to catch the last RER train from Roissy airport, otherwise we would have spent on a single cab fare what we had "saved" by flying with EasyJet. And methinks they're going to have to drop the "Easy" from their name or they'll have the trades description people all over them.

On the way home from aforementioned trip, guess what? We were delayed. By over an hour. Fuckers.

I'm currently in Scotland, having come up here yesterday. I had some difficulty finding a suitable flight time, and ended up plumping for one from Gatwick because it fitted best with my schedule. I missed the check-in by 3 minutes. They refused to let me through. That was EasyJet. So, I went to BA. Now, to be fair to them, the guy behind the desk at BA was very, very good. Not so some of their other staff, nor the way they had signposted (or rather, failed to signpost) the instructions for checking in. It was appalling. But fortunately, not especially busy.

So, after a couple of hours working in the lounge (I had booked late, and was obliged to buy a business class ticket, so I did get that one perk) I head to the gate, get on the plane, and wait. And wait. And wait. Some annoying people arrive and sit next to me. We're still waiting. After about an hour waiting on the tarmac, we finally get underway. As a result of trying to get to Scotland early, I arrived at the office at 16:00, and a couple of hundred pounds worse off for my troubles. Oh, and my business class price didn't get me any more leg room. I still felt like I had been put into stocks, and the local villagers were going to start throwing rotten vegetables at me any minute.

I'm still in the office now, expecting to go and pick up my Lovely Husband™ from Edinburgh airport. I would have been underway by now, but his EasyJet flight has been delayed. By at least an hour.

What the f*ck is going on? These airlines seem to have convinced us that shoddy service is a reasonable price to pay for cheap fares. Except the fares aren't really that cheap, unless your parents booked them for you back when you were a foetus. They also seem to have convinced the government that it would be A Terrible Thing, not to mention Terribly Unpopular with The Voting Public to do anything that might force them to put their prices up. Like actually taxing them for the environmental damage that they cause. Grr!

I'm taking the Eurostar next time I go to Europe, and will give serious consideration to taking a train when I'm heading up north. Trains have lots of Miss Marple charm, and since aeroplanes have become overrun by the hoipolloi, you meet a better class of traveller on GNER. It's more relaxing, too. And they have wireless networking on board.


jungle jane said...

Permit me to rant.

I agree - i just came back from the USA and you would faint if you could see domestic travel there. My trip over was quite dramatic because i sat next to a dead guy but other than that it was uneventful.

i fly all around australia for work on Qantas - supposedly a good airline - yet yesterday my flight to Canberra was delayed in each direction by 2 hours. no explantion. we just sat there like tools.

i am just about to move over to the UK and had a choice between flying Gulf Air and Air Papua New Guinnea. guess which one i took? my bloody cats mind you are swanning over first class via Qantas/British Airways...

oh i HATE airlines. i do.

CyberPete said...

I remember back in the day when there was room for your legs and a pleasant young strapping gentleman in a nice (proper quality fabric) uniform would push a cart down the aisle giving you a free beverage. Granted this was more than 10 years ago.

Comparing that to my most recent experience with Ryan Air this year. We were stuffed into a sardin can sitting with your knees digging into the back of the person in front. The strapping young gentleman has changed into a frumpy Dutch woman in a cheap blue and YELLOW polyester uniform with a bib, and she's selling over priced stale sandwiches and drinks.

shiftclick said...

I haven't flown since before our Nine/Eleven. Have no desire to do so, but I DO understand it's the only way to get over the ocean... ::sigh:: The state of U.S. air companies is dismal, from what I read. Financial crisis', etc.

coolbuddha said...

Couldn't agree more. I've stopped using easyjet because they are pooh. Isn't it strange that they require photo ID for internal flights? Apparently it's to stop people transferring their 'cheap' ticket. That said, BMI are dearer but have stopped giving a free drink or sandwich during the flight - tight gits.

frobisher said...

I must admit I've had nothing but good experiences from budget airlines the last few years. Admitted they were Flybe and Thompsonfly, I have heard many horror stories about Ryanair and Easyjet. In fact the plane was an hour early arriving when I flew back from Spain in February.

Train travel is fast becomming the preserve of the rich in the UK!

Tickersoid said...

I know bugger all about flying except I'm baffled as to where ones farts go. They never seem to smell. How does that work?

Qenny said...

jane: You really sat next to a dead guy? Please tell us more - that sounds like a perfect "dining out on" story. I hate it when they don't give any explanation about why there's been a delay. Once I was flying from Wellington to Auckland, and we were delayed. Instead of bumping everyone on the next flight, and putting a whole evening's worth of customers into a bad mood, they just kept my flight back for hours and hours. Didn't get home until after midnight, and I was expecting to be there by 18:30. Bastards.

pete: I don't really remember those days, because I didn't start flying until I was quite old. I do, however, remember the furore that Virgin caused by being predisposed to hiring attractive cabin crew. I thought that it was good that they got their knuckles rapped about it until I started flying with British Airways "Go" (no longer in existence, I believe). They had a little fat woman on my flight. She was far too short to reach the overhead lockers, and regularly knocked cups of coffee flying as she waddled down the aisle bumping her fat arse against any sticking out elbows. Not in a sizist or heightist way, I honestly don't think she was physically suitable for the job, and more than a weak bloke who can't lift more than a few kilos would expect to land a job working as a hod carrier.

shifty: doesn't that mean that flights are cheaper? Go see the world! The more people get out of the US, visit other countries and convince the people there that US citizens aren't all like George Bush the better. Also, I'd much rather see people like your good self getting out and seeing the rest of the globe rather than Condoleeza Bloody Rice. (And I think I mean bloody as in blood on her hands. I might have said conscience, if I thought for a second she had one.)

buddha: I thought the photo ID was an anti-terror thing. But no, they're just guarding their wallets. There are loads of police at airports these days. I thought it was to do with the big raid in east London, but it turns out to be about football hooligans.

frob: I've had great holidays with Thompson, but not flown with them just for a flight. They do a nice line in individual fruit pies. Train travel can be lovely, but it can be shockingly expensive. However, booking in advance works really well, I find.

tickers: It's not like you to lower the tone, although it's an interesting question. Perhaps over the hours in the air, we get acclimatised. Anyone walking on board at the end of the flight would probably keel over. That's why the ground staff usually hang around outside and never actually come in.

Qenny said...

BTW, I'm in Scotland at the moment. I've been working up here for a few days, and will be here a few days more. As a result, I don't have quite the level of access that I normally have, and I'm finding it difficult to get around the blogs I read, so please don't feel neglected - I'll catch up as soon as I can!

Da Nator said...

I just came back from a trip between Atlanta and New York I frequently make to visit the in-laws. We only really have two choices of airline for semi-"reasonable" fares (although I'm not sure how $400+ US can be considered reasonable for a 1 & 1/2 hour flight in coach class between these two cities, both of which are major hubs), Delta and AirTrain, and both leave a lot to be desired. The only good things I can say about AirTran is that this time they bungled our tickets and thus upgraded us to business class (it's rather sad how excited I was just to get an extra window, drink and some spare butt room) and that one time our flight was overbooked and we agreed to take a later flight and thus got free tickets to anywhere in the US. Actually, this last bit was terrific, because we later used the freebies to go to San Francisco (albeit through Altanta - oy), and we'd never have been able to afford to go to Hawaii if not for that. So, that was good.

But, back to complaining. Mrs. Nator is over 6 ft tall and always has her knees by her ears (on the airplane - get your mind out of the gutter!), and my fat ass is a tight squeeze. She always tries to book the exit row so she has more leg room, but then I'm constantly worrying that I'll be trampled in the event of an emergency. Come to think of it, I probably would no matter where I was sitting. If life was still governed by survival of the fittest, I wouldn't be here to blab on just now.

BTW, did you know that the airlines here were bandying about the idea of creating a standing-room class, where you essentially paid the coach fares we pay today to fly standing up? When the media and public got word of it, they had a field day.

Finally, pursuant to tickersoid's question, I suggest that the airlines start to harvest the methane generated on their flights and use it for fuel. This would cut costs, and they could serve beans on the in-flight meals. One could even get a discount fare for extreme flatulence.

I'll be going, now...