Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Air travel can be so complex sometimes... Even when it seems simple

Please pay attention. This is a complex story. You need to focus.

Now, I readily admit that it doesn’t seem that complex at first glance. You might even be fooled into thinking it’s trivially simple. I know I was, but like you, I had to learn that I was sadly mistaken.

Over the last three days, I travelled from London to Vienna, then Vienna to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to London. I know that doesn’t seem that complicated, but it really, really is.

I mean, what you’re supposed to do when you catch a plane is fly from point A to point B, do whatever you came to do, then travel from point B to point A. Even if there are intermediate stops in between, the basic principle holds. Out, then back.

A triangular trip? Way beyond the capacity of the airlines in our post-low cost age.

The first thing that went wrong is that I couldn’t check in on-line. So I turned up at the airport with nothing proving I was booked on the flight other than an e-mail from a booking system.

The second thing that went wrong was that the check-in machines inside the terminal wouldn’t check me in. A disdainful employee, aged about sixteen as far as I could see, came over to provide assistance. He clearly thought I looked about eighty.

“Let me see, sir, can I help at all?” he said, and you can just imagine the superior tone, can’t you? Underneath them is lurking the thought “poor old man, he doesn’t understand that you have to feed in your passport open, not closed.”

So he took my passport and fed it in, exactly as I had. “Your reference number, sir?” So I gave it to him and he typed it in, just as I had a few minutes earlier.

And then, just as I had, he stared, bemused, at the error message on the screen.

“You’d better go to a manned check-in desk, sir,” he advised, which at least had the merit of being exactly what I had intended to do.

The Austrian Airlines lady sorted me out, and off I went to Vienna.

Which is where the third thing went wrong. No suitcase greeted me on the carousel.

I went to see another Austrian Airlines lady.

“But,” she told me, “you are travelling to Frankfurt.”

“This is true,” I confirmed, “but not till tomorrow.”

“But your bag is in transfer, ready for the next leg of your trip.”

“Great. But what am I supposed to do during the day tomorrow? I have a meeting. My suit’s in the case.”

She considered this.

“Ah,” she said at last, “you are making a stay in Vienna.”

It was a relief that I had found someone with the necessary intellectual acuity to grasp the extent of my predicament.

She looked sorrowful, which didnt calm my apprehension at all.

“We can get the bag brought round, but it could be a long time.”

It was getting on for 11:30 at night. I could picture myself stuck there till 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. But in the end it only took twenty minutes, and she came round to check everything was OK, so we exchanged smiles and I thanked her warmly.

The fourth thing that went wrong was the next day, when I came to check my bag in again for Frankfurt.

“But you have a bag in the system already,” the third Austrian Airlines lady told me.

I looked, I hope pointedly, at my bag which was undeniably right there, stolid and unmistakeable.

“Do you have another bag?”

I explained to her that I didn’t. She called a colleague over. He explained to her that she had to delete the existing record for a bag in the system and then register a new one. She tried, and failed when the system told her she couldn’t delete the entry. So he had a go, slightly condescendingly, intent on proving that with his expertise, he wouldn’t make the same mistake she had. Until he bumped up against the same error message. At which point he hightailed it out of there, ostensibly to take care of the next passenger. 

I was delighted to see that the “next passenger” turned out to be a group of nineteen Mandarin speakers on a Kung Fu world tour. Served him right, I felt.

Meanwhile, my young lady called a support person, who was on break. Eventually, she got back from break and assured us she’d be right over, which turned out to be ten minutes later.

“So you want this bag checked through to London?” she asked.

I stayed calm.

“No,” I explained in measured tones, “Frankfurt, please. Where I can collect it.”

I made a point of checking the luggage tag carefully, to ensure it really was marked ‘FRA’. It was.

The fifth thing that went wrong was at Frankfurt today. I was pointed at a machine to get the luggage tag for my case.

Looks straightforward. But, believe me, it isn’t
“Your suitcase is already checked in,” the machine told me.

But this was Lufthansa, and they take no nonsense from machinery.

The woman who dealt with my case – and I use the word in both senses – was a battleaxe with pink hair.

“Problem?” she said, “there is no problem.”

The bag got checked in and sent on its way. As was I. And at Heathrow there was my suitcase on the belt, waiting for me.

Now I just have to get it home and bring this terribly complex trip to what I hope will be a happy conclusion.

No comments: