Travelmag Banner
Archives
Search
 Features

One man’s miserable experience of flying long-haul BA


‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit’, is a saying attributed to Oscar Wilde, but no one knows for sure if it was he.

In this review about my recent experiences when flying Club Class on British Airways flights from and to Heathrow via Bangkok, I really am tempted to use some of each in an effort to accurately describe events.

First…the reason for my booking.

It was in response to a number of folk who contacted me to ask why I had not included our National Flag Carrier (BA) in a detailed comparison review I did, which compared the quality of Business Class cabins on five major airlines that flew the same route. Those people had a point and I thank them for raising it.

So, tickets booked and paid for, I arrived at LHR terminal 5 well in advance of check-in time for flight BA0009 to Bangkok. Previously, I had made a request to BA’s Public Relations department for me to conduct a short, informal interview with the day’s Duty Manager after check-in. Such interviews requested of ALL the other airlines I flew with to make that comparison were open and more than willing to grant me those interviews, during which I gained much information. But…BA said, NO!

On arrival at Heathrow terminal 5, on check-in, I did ask if it was possible to meet with the day’s duty manager or under manager whilst I was in the lounge. ‘No problem’, I was told, ‘I’ll arrange it so please identify yourself at the Club Class lounge desk’, which of course I did. Did anyone arrive?…you’ve guessed it…NO, of course not. When querying the non arrival at that lounge desk, I was told that the meeting would now take place in the departure hall. Did it?…of course not.

So, onto the aircraft, a 17 year old Boeing 777 and shown to my seat. One look around the cabin and my expectations fell even further. The layout of the ‘lay flat’ seats was such that passengers were forced to climb over each others legs to reach an aisle or get to a lavatory. It was at that point that my first thoughts of ‘sarcasm and wit’ came to mind.

Were BA ‘taking the Mickey’ out of the business class passengers? I mused for a moment, before a more hilarious thought hit me, ‘Maybe Disney World’s Mickey’ had designed the seating arrangement and, tongue in cheek, presented it to Willie Walsh, who then made the decision to implement it!!! Hmm, yes, my use of sarcasm…justified or not?

Take off was, as with most flights, 45 minutes behind schedule, but that was to be expected…no big deal. Seat belt sign off…drinks offered and food items on the over exaggerated printed menu selected.

Fine, I thought, I’ll sip my preferred tipple and have a scroll through the on board entertainment system so that I could choose what to view during the 12 plus hour flight. Well, that would have been so, if the actual screen unit would stay in one place…but it wouldn’t…it was broken. Emergency DIY by one of the bearded cabin crew (all but one male was so adorned) as he forced a teaspoon between a gap in the framework. Voila, as the French would say, it held. Now the only problem was squinting to focus the images on the tiny, outdated screen.

Now at 30,000 feet or so, conversation was all but impossible using one’s normal voice volume, as every cupboard door and fixture on the aircraft rattled with the slightest of air turbulence. At around that point, the cabin crew came around with the chosen meals. More sarcasm, I’m afraid. I’d ordered beef and beef it was. Although the cutlery given out was made of stainless steel, neither of the two knives would work…’tough’ does not describe the meat. Sawn into half-inch slices by an expert cobbler, would have yielded replacement soles for boots. That item then left on the plate, I ‘passed’ on a dessert and asked for Cheddar Cheese, crackers and a cup of coffee. It was easy – as expected – to snap a piece off a cracker, but to do the same to the quarter inch thick slice of cheese came as a surprise…as was being served lukewarm coffee. No sarcasm or wit needed here – just disappointment.

Now…here comes another scene taken from a Fred Carno film script starring Charlie Chaplin. For a cabin crew member to serve food or drink to a passenger not seated at an aisle, he/she had to reach over the aisle passenger AND then a plastic divider to present the tray/dish/item, which that person had to take in the air, balance and deposit onto their own sliding table. Good eh?…well done ‘Mickey’.

It was during this rote of meal serving, that I received unasked for red wine…right into my lap! Its empty glass lay horizontally on the servers tray. Oops! A rush to gather a bundle of paper tissues and the impossible task of trying to mop-up the liquid. The passing of uncomfortable hours did eventually help my Chinos and shirt to dry, but, of course, left behind the telltale tide marks edged in pink.

What about the seat itself. The narrowest I’ve ever had to sit on and IN TWO SECTIONS! To rest ones feet, a separate piece of equipment had to be unlocked and risen to a chosen height. Then by the use of a row of hard to see buttons, the other half of the seat could be moved to finally make one piece. OK, well, putting that complicated lot together then raised the question, ‘was it comfortable?’
I suppose it could be if every passenger was less than six feet tall and as slender as a Vogue model. So the answer has to be NO.

Sleep on the 12 plus hour flight was not possible (for me anyway) so I passed the time reading and playing Solitaire on my mini tablet…interrupted occasionally by glancing at the TV screen to monitor the aircraft’s progress.

Hurrah, the wheels finally touched down at Bangkok airport and we all disembarked.

*

Even en-route to the city hotel in a taxi, my mind was still wrangling with the events on the flight and now, in full daylight and with time to reflect, I saw the results of the wine spill incident, and reminded myself to email BA’s Customer Service department and inform them as to what had happened and the cost of replacement. As of today (almost a month later) all I have received is an acknowledgement and an incident number. I’ll wait a little while longer before I trigger the sarcasm bit.

Some days prior to my return flight BA0010, I, unfortunately, had a fall. It turned out to be a rather bad one, as I crashed down onto a marble floor, my left hip bone taking the brunt. Damage to both my arms were much less severe. However, from that moment, I was in severe pain, could only walk a few paces with the aid of a walking stick. ‘What was my 13 plus hour flight back to the UK going to be like?’ I kind of fretted.

I emailed BA immediately to advise them of the incident, asking for special assistance from check-in at Bangkok airport, throughout the flight and especially at Heathrow, where a car would be waiting to collect me. Guess what?…no reply, not even an acknowledgment. Anxious about that, I emailed again…no reply. With my flight due the next day, sent yet another email…no reply. Naturally, I was concerned about the situation, not knowing was indeed very worrying. Explaining to the hotel management, it too was concerned and made numerous telephone calls on my behalf to BA’s Bangkok office. No response.

Nevertheless, a taxi was arranged and I was helped in. The driver was aware and made sure that he deposited me at the nearest drop off point to then reach the BA check-in. Very kind and thoughtful. Surprise, surprise, when I limped to the Club Class desk, the Thai girl manning it immediately beckoned a wheelchair porter standing nearby and then welcomed me with the words, “Sawadee ka, Mister Fisher, I received the message about you from your hotel. Please, everything is arranged for you.” How nice eh?

Luggage tagged, wheelchair occupied, I was pushed at a steady and careful pace through immigration etc, where all the staff were gracious and helpful, and onwards to the lounge which BA uses for its Club Class passengers.

Totally relaxed (and relieved) I imbibed a whisky, ate a fresh salad, read a newspaper. Then, at the exact time the porter had told me, he appeared and helped me into the wheelchair and off we went to board the aircraft. Word had been sent ahead, as when having my boarding pass examined, the porter was given the authority to take me straight to the aircraft door. There, awaiting, was the BA Thai duty manager, a delightful girl with a charming smile. A few Bahts into the porter’s hand prompted a wide smile and a genuine Wai and I was helped to my seat on row one.

When sat and my cabin baggage stowed, the Thai manageress came and bent before me to begin a conversation. Needless to say it centred on the total lack of concern by BA’s UK Customer Service department…she was certainly deeply embarrassed that I had not been dealt with properly. I was the only passenger on board and I did notice the BA cabin crew glancing in our direction and talking among themselves.

All on board, the captain announcing a timely departure and a probable earlier than scheduled arrival at Heathrow, we taxied and took off. As soon as we reached a cruising altitude, the senior cabin crew supervisor came to me. It soon became clear that she now had been appraised of my problem by the Thai duty manager because she expressed her concern, asking me to call for assistance at any time during the flight. Such, at least, allowed me to feel less concerned.

As to the flight itself. Same old 777, same rattles, same uncomfortable seat, same small, rickety entertainment screen, mediocre food, aircraft running out of the snacks so clearly advertised as being available at the touch of a button before the plane had reached the half way point.

With my injury, I found it impossible to lay without pain but that, of course, was not the fault of BA, but a softer, wider and more comfortable seat would have helped. Throughout this daytime flight, the cabin crew concerned did acknowledge each of my needs and were kind and careful.

Now we get to Heathrow at around 1730 hrs. The scramble to disembark began. I was told to leave my seat as a wheelchair was ready and waiting, so I did so and managed to get myself and my hand luggage to the aircraft’s exit…BUT…no wheelchair…someone else had commandeered it. That left me in the middle of a scrum of passengers trying to get to the ramp first, by that time I had no option but to limp up that quite long ramp, where at its end, stood an empty electric buggy ready for those of us needing assistance.

Fred Carno comes to mind once more, as when three of us needing similar help gathered there and waited. Finally, a man of Asian origin arrived, got us on board and set off along the mile long passageway to the immigration desks. The buggy was allowed though a special gate and the immigration officer soon had us checked and cleared to proceed to the baggage collection carousel. That was it, the end of special assistance. The three of us were on our own, One by one our luggage came into view and we helped each other load it onto our selected trolleys, said our goodbyes and hobbled away.

Exiting into the arrival hall, I searched for my daughter, who was to meet me and escort the wheel chair to the car park. What wheelchair? After a half hour waiting and not seeing her, I walked to the INFO desk, which was manned by two Asian girls. I explained and asked if an announcement could be broadcast for my daughter to be informed. Guess what?… “Not possible for us from here. You will have to go up to the next floor and ask them there to do that for you.” “I can’t walk that far,” I said. The statement met with bland looks and shrugs of shoulders. Ah, well I thought, this is England, not Thailand.

Just then, a man who hailed from Sri Lanka and who was a car driver awaiting a booked passenger, approached me having noted my condition (by the way I am in my 85th year) and asked if he could help, having overheard my conversation with the INFO girls. He telephoned my daughter and explained our exact location…lo and behold, she appeared very soon afterwards to everyone’s relief. I thanked the man for his understanding and help.

That then is my narrative (long but I trust informative) as to my experiences when flying British Airways business class. I have nothing but praise for those kind Thai people who ensured that I had as much help and assistance as was possible. British Airways staff and senior management however only attract my disdain. Uncaring, dismissive, rude and snobbish.

I did, some months ago, receive an email from the CEO’s Alex Cruz office, which refuted absolutely that the appalling and negative reviews by passengers were in the minority and that British Airways was flying more passengers than ever. All I can say to that, Mr Cruz, is what Eric Morecambe would have said, ‘RUGGISH’.

The olympic games ranks its medals…Gold, Silver and Bronze. My ranking for British Airways, is TIN.

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines
Pole to Pole