EasyJet: The Writing is on the Wall.

Oh; what a difference a week makes. Call it coincidence. Call it irony. Something like an uncontrollable event waiting to happen. A dam about to burst. Like a cry from the movies: “Look out, she’s about to blow!”

But first a quick apology. This is a long one. Much longer than usual. I considered breaking it up into two parts (as I have done before) but I feel some of the impact would be lost so please bear with me… Here goes… Tray tables up, window blinds up, arm rests down and seat belts fastened and visible to the crew….

Timing (as they say) is everything

I could not have timed my easyJet criticism any better. This week saw a widely published story about easyJet flying with backless seats. Here is a link to one version. (There are many just search easyJet backless seat.) The company themselves had to back-track and admit that there were seats on a plane with no back support – but of course no passengers were allowed to sit in them. The damage was already done however. And not by the story itself. No. I believe the fact that easyJet’s Public Relations (PR) is so lacking in ability that this whole episode has spectacularly back-fired on them. Firstly, they tried to say that the origin of the story had no basis in fact. Bad move for sure. It may have originated from someone devilishly bending the truth but the story (tweet actually) did have good grounds for being aired. If only because it made a witty comparison with easyJet’s biggest rival Ryanair. (Which was surely the point.)

Finding the right staff is a universal problem – more on this below. Does easyJet have a PR staffing issue?

Never say ‘Never’

If easyJet’s PR people can be accused of not doing their jobs properly – which they definitely did not in this case- then Ryanair’s PR team are the exact opposite. They never sleep. Strangely, Ryanair encourage stories like that backless seat tale. They seem to work on the basis that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Only free publicity. Getting their name in the headlines. Someone at Ryanair could surely be heard saying “Shit! Why didn’t we think of that one?” (Again, probably the whole point of the original tweet for this story.)

And so; my joyous time of flying with easyJet could soon be at an end. Although I am not expecting Ryanair to be any better. It just goes to show you can never say ‘never’. After years of telling people that easyJet were much better than Ryanair and that I would never fly Ryanair I have come full circle.

Welcome to that world….

The truth is that easyJet have now become everything they were set up to oppose. They are now the large airline that takes over whole airport terminals and on which millions of travellers depend.

There’s an old saying: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Also known more officially as ‘the law of unintended consequences.’ Way back in the 1995 a young Greek-Cypriot businessman called Stelios Haji-Ioannou launched easyJet. Their main selling point was that the flights themselves were cheap. You had to pay extra for other things like snacks and drinks. It launched with the phrase “the no-frills airline” which these days has been overtaken by the more commercial and now ubiquitous terms like ”budget” or “low-cost airline”. He completely transformed the airline business. Blimey! This had a bigger impact on flying than the Hindenburg ever did!

At that time the target in their sights was not just any well-established (and large) carrier. The main target was British Airways (BA). easyJet revelled in slagging off their much larger opposition at any opportunity. They gloated at BA’s frequent delays and the general problems that BA encountered with managing such a large number of flights and passengers. EasyJet seized on any bad press that airlines like BA received.

They of course were different. You never had to worry about the complicated stuff with them. If all you wanted was a cheap seat on a flight then it really was “Easy”. Right?

Wrong.

Now Here’s the Thing….

When your company becomes that large do you really expect to maintain the same high level of staff selection and training? Of course not. When you need thousands of extra staff to run the operation (such as basically running a whole airport terminal) you can expect that some of them will not be what you are really looking for. But what the heck? You need bodies, right? Indeed with the standard of education these days I would expect that a fairly large percentage of applicants would be unsuitable…(an old dad’s dig at the current state of the education system there folks). And so it is. The evidence is clear for all to see where any large company tries to operate.

And so, to last week’s coincidence…

Following on from previous posts and the main-stream media latching on to the backless seat story, this happened…

Last weekend my flight with easyJet was delayed by over 4 hours. The reason – excuse if you will; the words are often interchangeable I have found – was that the captain noticed a strange smell just after we started boarding. I could have told him exactly what that smell was. “Shit!” Because that is what easyJet has become.

Now before anyone jumps to any wrong conclusions let me state for the record that in this case the real reason was ‘safety’. He was quite correct to raise the issue and the odd ‘smell’ had to be investigated. He was correctly following protocol. But that was never the real problem. Once again, the easyJet ground staff came to the fore. Probably equally to blame are those working in the background. The ones you never see who are supposed to be dealing with the planning and logistical operations. And finding the quickest solution to problems like this one.

Unfortunately for us passengers, it meant disembarking (without even flying) and being herded once again like cattle. We had already been left standing in a confined space (aka the boarding bridge?) for a long period. Then we were let out onto the ground. Some of us standing in the sun with no shade, for another long wait. So to then be told we had to leave the aircraft was a little too much.

Now; Milano Malpensa may not be the worst airport I have ever been in (I would need to think on that one) but trust me;: If you had to choose an airport to be stuck in, Malpensa Terminal 2 would most definitely not be it. Only one decent place to sit and eat and large queues for any other refreshment point. Packed – especially at this time of the year – and only easyJet flights. And being a safety-related issue the wait was bound to be long.

That ‘knock-on’ effect again…

It is every travellers’ worst nightmare. But even that was not enough. EasyJet saw fit to change the departure gate. Herded once again. Then left standing for yet another long wait. Even when on board (the new aircraft) there was a further delay. This time blamed on the air traffic control at our destination, Málaga. I couldn’t care less at this point. The damage was already well and truly done.

Interestingly, the ‘new’ aircraft I refer to was one already at the ‘new’ departure gate. Bound for Barcelona. So yet again easyJet decided to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. Rather than have our flight even further delayed they probably swapped planes. The knock-on effect being that the passengers flying to Barcelona were now going to be delayed more than was necessary.

Despite running the whole terminal easyJet still do not have any spare aircraft waiting on standby. At least that is what all the evidence would suggest.

‘Traveller’s Welfare’ pre-paid cards – one of the things the airline is obliged to do….

Before all that however the ground staff issued every passenger with prepaid plastic ‘Traveller’s Welfare’ cards to the tune of 9 Euros. I received two such cards each worth €4.50. I had an image of a cold beer in my mind. But the only places I could exchange these cards for a beer were already crowded. There was no way I was going to be able to ‘spend’ these vouchers. I held on to them.

Then on the plane when the ‘Bistro’ trolley arrived I ordered a cup of tea and a chocolate bar. The total came to exactly €4.50. I promptly presented one of the pre-paid snack cards.

“Here you go.”

“I am sorry sir. We cannot accept these on board” came the fully expected reply.

“I am also sorry. Sorry that I could not manage to spend these cards in the airport. Not only is there nowhere or hardly anything to spend them on, but, where there is anything the queues were too long. It was virtually impossible to spend them. So, you can have them as payment for this little snack. Surely if they are worth four euros fifty in the airport they can be worth the same up here?”

“We cannot accept these on-board sir” repeated the stewardess.

“Well in that case give it back to me” I said, half the chocolate bar already stuffed in my mouth. “Because that is all I have.”

There was clearly only going to be one winner in this exchange. Guess who?

OK, a little white lie there, I did have some cash but who gives a f**k at this stage right? I had had enough at this point but had completely held it together. Seriously. While other passengers were becoming more agitated throughout the unfolding delay, I was totally calm. While others were chasing EasyJet staff in a futile attempt to find out what was going on, I was watching (and smiling) from a safe distance lost in my music. Never underestimate the power of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and other classic sounds of the seventies.

More irony…

As far as I could tell they neglected to inform passengers of their rights to claim €250+ each. Yes, that’s correct. Each passenger is able to claim 250 Euros in compensation for any flight being delayed by more than 3 hours. This is European law. Were they trying to sweep this delay under the carpet and avoid paying a full plane of travellers their due? Who knows? But it is fair to assume that they were.

I have already put in my claim for compensation and easyJet have agreed to pay me some £232 (pounds) – admitting it was their fault. The delay caused me to miss the bus I had already booked and paid for to reach Marbella and see my boy. I had to take a taxi, costing me another €80. Ironically, I booked a bus an hour later than the one I could have booked – if the plane arrived on time. The reason? Because I know full well that easyJet flights are now always late. For me there has not been an on-time departure for well over a year and I have taken two easyJet flights per week (sometimes more) in that timeframe.

Moral in this tale?

If there is a moral in this sorry tale then it has to be this:

EasyJet have become the very thing they were set up to oppose. They have morphed into a huge airline. So large that they have taken over whole airport terminals. They can never hope to attract enough quality staff that are clearly needed to make the operation run smoothly.

They have become what they claimed their former nemesis British Airways once were.

EasyJet vs Ryanair – Let the battle commence

Step Forward Ryanair….

Having recently felt the need to vent my spleen (so to speak) with EasyJet, I also made the comparison with that other well known budget airline Ryanair. How ironic then that I ended up using that most infamous of budget airlines once again…

 Using Ryanair…

A company I needed to visit in Italy is located close to Bergamo airport. It just so happens that This coincided with my weekends in th south of Spain with my boy. Even more of a coincidence was the fact that Ryanair fly between Malaga and Bergamo. Conveniently for me eh? Well, we are about to find out…

The flight began boarding on time, as advertised on the flight information screens. A good start. Unfortunately, as soon as I got on board I noticed the stuffy climate. There was hardly any ventilation. So, those who pay the premium and board first (so called ‘Priority Boarding’) – including myself of course – managed to soak their shirts in sweat. Quite uncomfortable. Everyone seemed to be commenting on how hot it was and/or fanning themselves while trying desperately to get some respite form the overhead aircon units. Not the best of starts.

But then after that once boarding was complete and the doors were closed the aircon kicked in and off we went. Ok. Not quite. There was a slight delay while “waiting for an air traffic control slot” – that well used, official excuse.

After that I tried to sleep a little. I must have succeeded as I managed to miss the in-flight catering service. What a shame! We landed about 20 minutes late in the end.

Conclusion?

Too early to say, but I do have a few more Ryanair flights coming up in the next couple of weeks so I will reserve judgment until a later time.

Taxi and Hotel

The real fun started when I took a taxi. About 6km from my destination the taxi suffered a tyre puncture. The driver limped the car off the road to a nearby petrol station where he attempted to get it fixed/replaced. This was not going to be done quickly so I sent a message to the people I was to be working with. They came and collected me within 10 minutes. Not before the taxi driver charged me 48 Euros however! The cheeky f**ker!

My company had supposedly booked me a hotel for the week. It turned out that this was at Bergamo airport! What? An airport hotel was the last thing I needed. Then one of the guys I was working with suggested I stay at Lake Iseo. It was much closer than Bergamo airport and a much nicer place to spend a few nights. He even found a place online and phoned them to check price and availability.

I took it. A small hotel in a small town called Sarnico, right on the lake. A better price, much closer to “work” and such a beautiful setting. And, importantly with lots of great restaurants. My first ever visit to the Italian lakes. Various people have told me in the past how they had loved their time spent in the Italian lakes. It only takes a split second to see why. This work thing can be just about bearable sometimes.

Meanwhile, in Italy…

I like Italy and sometimes think that I haven’t spent enough time seeing what the country has to offer. Many people compare Italy with Spain. They say it is similar in many ways and they like it for much the same reasons; Italy, it is often said, is like Spain but more polished. Like Spain might be when it’s finished (Spain always looks like some building or roadworks needs completing). Another comparison you may hear is that Spain is like Italy in many ways but has that added chaos. Or even that Spain has that ‘couldn’t give a damn attitude’. John Hooper’s book The New Spaniards mentions this. He suggests that this is what people love about Spain. The ‘mañana attitude’ and chaotic things that can make Spain so frustrating also make it such a fun place to be.

Which reminds me: John Hooper wrote a similar book about Italy called The Italians which I feel I must now read.

Green Eggs and Ham

Here are a few Bits n Pieces from the past few weeks….

Dessert and coffee before your dinner sir?

Before I forget….To follow on from the previous post – basically a moan at the declining service offered by EasyJet – I must mention their in-flight catering.

Normally I never bother. Either I am trying to sleep (on the early morning flights) or I have something at the airport before boarding. However, last week I found myself in the position of needing to eat something on board or have to wait a few hours. I was already hungry.

I looked at the “Bistro” menu on board. I decided to go with the Meal Deal. Basically for just under 10 Euros you get a choice of “main” course, a choice of snack (mostly sweet/chocolate) and a drink. The “main” course I asked for was not available. In fact, only one (out of about 10 so called choices) was available. The other two selections were straight forward. I ordered a Kit-Kat and hot tea. After serving me my chocolate (dessert) and cup of tea the lady informed me that my “main” course had to be heated up and it would take about 10 minutes. What? Are you kidding me? Why couldn’t you have said that before serving me my dessert and drink?

When did anyone ever go into a restaurant and have their dessert and a coffee before their main course?

Needless to say, that pissed me off. Another nail in the coffin for EasyJet – as far as I am concerned. Guess who will not be dining from EasyJet’s so called ‘Bistro’ service in the future? (No prizes for the right answer – sorry.)

Green Eggs and Ham

Speaking of dining. I went on a work-related trip recently to a small town in Switzerland and almost forgot about this one. Probably as my photos were on my old mobile phone.

When I saw these eggs at breakfast, I immediately thought of Dr. Seuss. It gave me the perfect photo opportunity. I just looked that up and it was written in 1960. Four years before I was born!

I am really not sure whether they paint them or not. If not, then how and why are they green? (And there were also yellow, and red eggs.) I meant to ask at the hotel but sadly forgot. Come to think of it; why would anyone paint the shells of a hard boiled egg anyway?

Dani’s Own Blog

Dani is doing his own diary this summer. Documenting his activities in his own handwriting. We have all tried to keep a diary and it can be difficult. This Blog thing is hard enough for me so I can only imagine what it is like for my son, a young kid whose mind is running riot most of the time. It is probably more accurate to say that he is being forced to write a summer diary. But still… he sometimes seems to enjoy it.

Although he may not always want to do it he certainly has plenty to write about….

Dani in Marbella

This time of the year most of Spain seems to be on holiday. Apart of course from those who work all August to serve and accommodate the holiday-makers. Usually it gives Dani (and his cousin Susana) the chance to spend time at their grandmother’s place in Marbella. Basically, that means spending their days playing in the communal swimming pool or on the beach. All the while getting more and more tanned. More on that one later…

For myself and Dani’s mother – and indeed all parents – August can be tricky. This year I have managed to wangle my flights in an out of Malaga in line with my work. Lucky, I guess – for once. Because this August, bizarrely, my work has taken me to Italy for a few weeks. Those weeks coincide with Dani’s stint in Marbella. That means it’s Italy-Malaga flights for his old dad.

And that is where the EasyJet-Ryanair comparison becomes reality….For more on this please see the next post.

 

Flying Problems – The Knock-on “Delay”

Regular readers of this Blog will know that my airline of choice is EasyJet. Maybe that should be my default airline. There is sometimes a choice but by the time you factor in my regular membership it is really not worth considering the other options. In any case when I book in advance EasyJet are usually as cheap or cheaper as their opposition. Recently however the EasyJet operation has become very poor. I have noticed the quality service decline rapidly over the past year and this fall shows no sign of slowing.

Before I explain in detail some of their issues I must point out that, in general, the in-flight crew are never a problem. I believe the real problem lies with the management and size of operation. To put it in simple terms; EasyJet is now too big and the operation has become something they always tried to compete with (and indeed criticise) when they started up. The management clearly struggle to cope fit the business model into the now huge size of their operation.

The “Delay” Trick

When EasyJet have several flights to and from the same destination this is what they do to handle a delay.
Once one flight is “delayed” they start to increase the new “estimated” departure time. This increases slowly until the departure time of the flight is almost the same as the scheduled time of the next flight to that same destination.

Then a delay appears to the following flight time. This second (knock-on) delay begins to increase until it is clear that the flight you were initially going to board is actually the next scheduled flight.

Meanwhile the time for the (official) next scheduled flight can be seen disappearing into the distance. That one too will become the next flight in the scheduled list.

When you finally board your flight (i.e. the next scheduled flight) they give you some cock and bull story about your flight (by which they actually mean their next scheduled flight) having been delayed some other place for whatever reason…

The reason? Well it is simple. If your flight really was delayed by more than three hours then they would have to pay every passenger at least €400. This has been EU law for quite some time now.

Much better that they put you all on their next scheduled flight – which will generally be within that critical three-hour period. They then need to kick that flight down the road so every flight gets impacted. Unless of course they can recover a plane or until any genuinely delayed flight finally arrives then they can slot it into that list of scheduled flights. Probably the last flight of the day to your destination.

This is how it works…

To better illustrate this see the list below. Times are just examples
(Example) Flights from Gatwick to Madrid.
Flight 1: Scheduled departure 1300
Flight 2: Scheduled departure 1530
Flight 3: Scheduled departure 1740
Flight 4: (Last flight of the day). Scheduled departure 1930
Flight 1 is delayed (possibly genuinely) and it looks like it may be delayed till after 1600 hours. EasyJet start increasing the delay times on the departure information screens at the airport until the (new) departure time is more or less the same time as (scheduled) Flight 2 – say 1520. When you finally board and take off however it is clear that you are leaving on Flight 2. Not Flight 1!

But your overall delay time is only 2 hours 30 minutes (max) therefore within the compensation pay-out timeframe.
Meanwhile – usually an hour or more after you were informed that Flight 1 was going to be delayed – Flight 2 starts to show a delay. This delay time increases rapidly until it basically morphs into Flight 3.

And so on… By the time the final flight of the day is due any genuinely delayed flight may have caught up or been recovered/replaced. At least that is what the airline hopes will happen. That way they will never have to pay out any compensation but will have delayed many passengers by virtue of this knock-on effect.

Should I Start Flying Ryanair?

The way this lot are performing I may well start flying Ryanair. Now there’s a phrase I never thought I would hear myself say, never mind write!

Maybe I need to clarify that statement. A couple of months ago I read a Newsweek article (link here) which listed the ‘15 worst airlines in the world’ as voted for by passengers. The list was the result of a survey by a group called Air-Help.
Ryanair faired slightly better than EasyJet; coming in at 5th worst. EasyJet came in 3rd worst. Although on closer inspection of the data EasyJet actually came out slightly better than Ryanair on both timing and “service”.

Well what do you know? I am about to find out….

 

What do Busy Airports and Father Ted have in common?

I am playing catch up again. I have been busy and have neglected my (Dani’s) blog posts. So here goes. Right off the top of my head and thinking back a few weeks…

Return to Madrid

We returned from Dani’s week long visit to his nana’s via Liverpool airport. By now the holiday season getting into full swing. The airport was busy. People seem to find money for holidays no matter what. In fact looking around the airport I was amazed how poor most of them looked. They may be able to afford exotic foreign holidays by many seem unable to afford any new jeans. So many of them waking around with holes and rips in their pants.

Fashion! (turn to the left)

I believe it is the fashion. I just laugh. Practically in their faces. I even saw a girl with big holes in the front of her denim jacket. Then as she passed I looked round and saw that the back of this ‘garment’ was virtually missing. Basically one huge hole. I almost pissed my pants (with no holes or rips I might add). I laughed aloud actually. Because it reminded me of my favourite sketch from that classic comedy series Father Ted. The ‘Dirty House’ episode to be precise.

Here is a youtube link to that sketch. Absolute classic. It makes me feel like having a Father Ted binge watch. Yet these people think it is OK to walk around in such gear. They even pay good money for it. In the case of that “jacket” she really only paid for a collar, two sleeves and the shoulders. To quote a Father Jack; What the feck!

Fashion! Indeed. We really are ‘the goon squad’ – as the legendary Bowie sang.

Dani managed to visit a beach in North Wales and go in the sea for the first time this year. The weather was that good. Sadly I have lost the photographic evidence. My phone packed in recently and led to a fairly long running saga – more on that one to come. Which brings me onto anther subject.

Mobile phones.

Why are people so transfixed with them? I managed with an old one for a couple of weeks. Without one completely for a couple of days.

I am probably one of those people who can confidently say they need one. I work away from my son, I work freelance and I am often in other countries. But I hate them. Yet it seems to me that most people (especially youngsters) who would rather cut off one of their legs than give up their mobile phone. What is that all about?

Back to air travel…

And finally – for this post. While we had a good flight back to Madrid I have had a few bad experiences with a certain budget airline recently. They have definitely fallen out of favour with me. This is just a reminder to write something about that… In the very near future…