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.

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