Last week I spent three days in Spain visiting a Business School near Barcelona for work. I had a great time. The Business School was in Collbato and overlooked the Montserrat mountain just outside the city.
It was all good until we started the journey home.
A colleague from another University and I caught the Aerobus from Placa de Catalunya at around 4.15pm (we were on the same flight), and I left my bag in the hands of BA at check-in at 5pm on Friday afternoon. We were on the 7.20pm flight from Barcelona to Heathrow, that would take just over two hours to get us to London.
So we headed through security and then through passport control before sitting in a café with a drink and a book/magazine until it was time to board.
Except the time we were supposed to be boarding came and went… the departures board was signalling a delay. After an hour and a half delay we went up to the Gate to fetch our voucher for a sandwich and a drink… food which I was going to get used to over the next few hours!
Then the expected departure time changed to 10.19pm – 2 hours and 59 minutes late – significant because 3 hours delay and BA were breaking their own T&Cs that say passengers are entitled to compensation for the inconvenience. And also late enough for people to be getting extremely tired and fed up of waiting.
Many cups of tea and bottles of coke later 10.19pm came and went too. We had moved from the café to the Gate by this point as we figured that would be where any information would be given out. But no, the only announcement was that the plane was delayed due to a technical fault and there would be more information in 15 minutes.
One hour after that the Captain came to see us. We had seen the luggage being put onto the plane, which we thought was a good sign, and I was optimistic that when we saw the Captain running up the stairs we might actually get to go home. But no. He explained that the problem was with the hydraulic system and they needed a new part, which they were looking for. If they could find one in Barcelona then it would be a 15 minute job to fix. If not then, well, he didn’t want to sound pessimistic, but basically we wouldn’t be flying that night. He explained that if it got to 3am then we would not be allowed to fly and would have to wait until the morning.
By around midnight the Captain hadn’t come back to see us and we thought we had seen the luggage be removed from the aircraft again… definitely not a good sign. I was cold in my summer dress (I had checked in my bag) and my legs were getting quite achy so I decided to go for a walk around Gate D (actually a series of 21 Gates on one side of Terminal 1 at Barcelona airport – an area I got to know well!). As I walked back I was greeted with the news that no part could be found and we were to go and fetch our cases and would be taken to a hotel for the night.
And that is where the queuing started.
We obviously had to wait to get our cases from the carousel, then headed up to check-in where we stood at desk 401 to be given our hotel voucher (which had to be written out by hand) and another voucher for a sandwich and a drink. After that we queued to get our food, then queued again outside to get the shuttle bus to the Tryp Hotel on the airport. Once there we queued again to get the keys for our room. Eventually, at 3am, I switched the light off and tried to get some sleep.
Actually I must say the hotel was very nice. The room was big and spacious and the bathroom was fab. There was a bathrobe and slippers, easy chair, desk, tv and decent toiletries. I was pleased at the complementary toothbrush/toothpaste as I’d got rid of mine before I left Collbato (on purpose!). We had breakfast too, and while it was spread across the whole room it seemed (the milk, hot water and teabags were in different places!), it was very good (especially the fresh fruit) and I was glad I went down to get something.
So after 4 hours in bed I got up, had a much needed shower and some breakfast, and checked out. We stood outside waiting for the bus. I guess by this point we should have understood the Spanish way of “mañana mañana” and not been on time ourselves, but us Brits do know how to queue and why would we stop now?!
We got to the check in desk at the airport at about 9.30am and were informed we ‘should’ be flying at about 1.45pm although that wasn’t confirmed and might change. So not 11am as we were lead to believe the night before then?! We headed through security again and had more tea and sandwiches (always cheese with sieved tomatoes) and had a wander around the shops.
At 11am we went to the info desk to find out if a time had been confirmed and they knew nothing about our delayed flight or when it would be going. Great! Eventually, after a few phone calls, we were told it was still ‘probably’ 1.45pm and we should head to Gate D again. So off we toddled and sat in the café we’d been in the night before for guess what… a sandwich and a drink!
Things did start to look up from then on. We went and spoke to a man on the BA/Iberia desk at the Gate and he found out which Gate number we’d be flying from and said we should start boarding from 1.15pm. Another man pointed out the plane to us a little way from the Terminal building and explained that we would be taken there by bus rather than boarding directly from the Gate. And finally, the screen above Gate 15 displayed a message with our flight number and an anticipated boarding time of 1.15pm. Did this mean we were actually going to go home?!
Near enough to 1.15pm we did indeed get taken through the Gate and put onto a bus, climbed the steps and got on the plane. My smile was obvious! We all got sat in our seats and settled, and then the Captain addressed us. Apparently they were still finishing the repairs to the plane – adding more hydraulic fluid and doing some final tests, and there would also be a wait for a slot as our plane was now effectively an extra service. But by 3pm we were indeed in the air – hooray!
The journey was ok, a little turbulence but not much. Once over UK airspace we flew over the Isle of Wight, Southampton and London before landing at Heathrow – the skies were clear and the views of the City were just amazing. One we landed it wasn’t quite over though, as a plane was already at the Gate we needed so we had to wait for it to leave before we could park up and we could actually get off the aircraft. It was about 4pm.
It was great to hear happy people as they left the plane and headed towards the baggage area/passport control (despite the queue to get through security!) – and we were all on our way to our destination at last. For me that meant getting on the National Express Hotel Hoppa service back to my hotel to fetch my hire car, before driving home along the M4, M25 and A1 (boring roads!!).
I eventually walked through my front door at 8.30pm on Saturday evening – over 28 hours after I started my journey in Barcelona on Friday afternoon and on four hours sleep. I know these situations are rare but it ruined every passengers weekend (and the crew too of course) and I’m sure has dented BA’s reputation, especially because of the lack of information on the Friday evening.
But what have I learnt?
- I now know why my mother taught me to ALWAYS pack an extra set of underwear even if it’s a short break and you don’t think you’ll need them!
- Never assume everything will be ok and pack your cardigan in your case before checking in for your flight… you will need it when you’re sat in the waiting area with the air conditioning blowing right on you!
- I you are travelling somewhere that involves two flights in a row, book them as connecting flights and if you miss the second because of problems with the first, the airline have to sort you out so you still reach your destination (otherwise you’re stuck having to organise it yourself).
- Communication in a “crisis” is so very important, even if there is nothing to tell us please just tell us that – then people won’t get angry with you because you’re not telling them anything.
- Timing and promises are critical – if you promise someone information in 15 minutes don’t wait an hour to talk to them again or they assume you really don’t care.
- Now I’m nearly 30 I just can’t cope on just 4 hours in bed – the day after I feel ok, but the day after that I’m like a zombie.
- Oh, and tea made with full milk just isn’t very nice!
So thanks to whoever looks after the aircraft for BA for making my journey so difficult and frustrating, and thanks for the lack of information on what was going on. Thanks too for not making the decision to send us to a hotel until the early hours and for being so inaccurate with timings. But really, thanks for getting me home safely in the end and for always being polite and trying to do your bit. It hasn’t put me off flying BA as I know these things are rare, but I can’t help but thinking it wouldn’t have taken much effort to make things so much easier for everyone.
Here’s hoping I’ve now experiences my one and only massive flight delay and it never happens again!
(All photos taken on my iPhone4)