Tuesday, October 29, 2002

And we're back!

I'm going to do it in a few installments, but what follows is a bit sad so don't be put off - things did get much, much better!

So yes. Friday lunchtime, we get to the airport and check in for our two o'clock flight to Brussels with no problems. We settle into the departure lounge when all of a sudden we hear: "British Airways flight 1682 to Brussels will now be delayed. Next information at 3 PM.". A collective grumbling starts, not least from us since we're counting on getting there in good time to carry on to Liege, which is an hour and a half away by train from Gare du Midi.

3 PM rolls around, and no update. By now we have all noticed that quite a few flights within Europe seem to be delayed, but the bf wanders off to the BA desk and reports back that we should be taking off at 4 PM. Sure enough, at about 3:30 a flight attendant makes a local announcement and we board the plane at about 4. It's not ideal but we can still make it. Ahem.

"This is your pilot. I've told air traffic control that we're all ready to go, but they've told us we can't have a departure slot until 6:15 PM. I'll keep you posted."

Everyone is starting to get really pissed off. The pilot comes back on and announces that there still isn't any news, but he's asked the flight attendants to feed us (presumably so that the angry mob won't at least be further enraged by hypoglaecemia!). We miserably chomp on some soggy chicken sandwiches and wait some more.

"This is your pilot. Management have now decided to combine this flight with a later flight to Brussels. A BA representative will be coming on board shortly to discuss it with you."

So now we freak. I grab the attention of a perky hostess and tell her we HAVE to get to Liege before 11 PM. Not really an unreasonable demand when you're on a 2 PM flight. She burbles out some sympathetic remarks and says "We've all had to wait around too you know!" Excuse me, but aren't you PAID by BA to do that?

No BA rep shows up, and next thing we know we're all asked to leave the plane and head for the customer service desk. I'm issued with a red re-boarding pass and realise they're making us queue all over again at a barely-staffed desk to check-in to a much later flight with NO explanation. This flight is due to go out at 7:30 PM. It's not looking good. There's no way we can land, get our bags and get into Brussels for a connecting train. When we eventually get served, we bluntly state our case but the rep is surprisingly nice - he immediately offers us a taxi straight from the airport to Liege which will be sorted out as soon as we land. We do a quick calculation and figure as long as we get a notorious speed-happy Belgian taxi driver it can work...just.

More waiting. We're offered more soggy sandwiches (no "delay" alcohol, bah!) but no boarding annoucement. Suddenly the departure time jumps to 19:50. Fuckers.

Eventually at 8 PM ish, we're asked to board. It's some bizarre airline that takes on emergency flights for BA - called Priceline or something suspiciously rubbish like that. The pilot comes on and pleads with us to be nice to his flight attendants, which is a sign that BA knows they've royally screwed up.

Sat next to us is a frequent business flyer. He's a bit flash and refers to his gold card a few times too many, but he's also a treasure trove of information as to what really happened since he badgered the duty manager to find out. So here it is:

1. Problems start when a technical fault is discovered with the plane. They get it fixed eventually which is when we boarded at about 4 PM.

2. When the pilot announced that our flight slot wouldn't be until 6:15 PM, the crew started making tracks immediately because according to their strict unionised hours, this would take them over the allowable shift length. So we had a plane but no crew, and for mysterious reasons known only to BA, no local relief crew to call in either.

3. So the Priceline happy shopper plane was called in from Edinburgh, but that took some time. Hence our departure at 20:40.

But did BA feel that perhaps their passengers should get a decent explanation? Of course not. Herd them round like sheep, they can wait.

It gets worse. Bad weather forces us to fly at about 19,000 feet instead of the usual 30,000 or so, which drags our flight time out. We finally land in Brussels at nearly 11 PM local time. Herrmann & Kleine is not going to happen. We're exhausted, irritated and disappointed.

Once we get off, we explain that we no longer need the taxi to Liege because there's no point. We do, however, want compensation for the hotel charge we'll get for not showing up, and a taxi to Brussels for our troubles. We get the taxi - a hotel refund will have to be sorted out by writing to complain when we get home. We're too tired to argue.

Although our taxi driver takes us through the scenic route in the centre via brightly lit restaurants and cobbled streets, I'm too tired to appreciate it much. We stumble into our hotel, debate over wandering out to a bar but decide that a decent night's sleep is the better option for starting a day's shopping in the morning. I find some cheesy German chat show on TV which sends me right to sleep.

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