There was a time when my day job meant that I had to visit Glasgow rather a lot and because the eight hour round-trip drive and the ten hour round-trip train journey were both so mind-numbingly dull, I often resorted to taking the plane. Unfortunately, that meant flying with FlyBe…
Flybe Customer Relations
The New Walker Hangar
Exeter International Airport
Dear Customer Relations,
I begin typing this letter whilst sat directly behind a remarkably loud and hysterically screaming toddler on your FlyBe flight from Glasgow to Birmingham. The boy’s mother has apparently decided to teach him English twice. The first version, with which she is desperately trying to distract little Danny Decibel as I type, substitutes made-up, somewhat onomatopoeic words for normal ones. Presumably, once she has finished teaching the poor little mite all those non-words, she will start all over again with real ones.
In the meantime, despite having my hands clamped firmly to the sides of my head, I have learned that for now, an aeroplane is a whoosh-whoosh. I wasn’t sure what it meant at first but there are quite a few outside the window and mummy is frantically pointing at them in the hope that little Danny will end his ear-splitting tantrum before the Noise Abatement Society applies for a court order.
This journey isn’t going well. I already want to slit my wrists and we haven’t even taken off yet!
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, I’m not even supposed to be going to Birmingham.
No, FlyBe had in fact promised to fly me to East Midlands Airport, from where I had begun this day from hell and where my car was patiently waiting for me in a frost-kissed car park not far from the terminal building.
No, Birmingham wasn’t on my itinerary at all. I don’t even like Birmingham and normally do my best to avoid it at all costs. Until this happened, I’d managed to stay well clear of the place for at least two years and was feeling quite pleased with myself.
So sitting directly behind a noisy kid1 alternately screaming at the top of his very fine lungs and then repeatedly pressing the hostess call button to the amusement of his mother was the very least of my worries. Not only was I taking an unscheduled whoosh-whoosh to Birmingham courtesy of FlyBe, but in order to get back to East Midlands Airport, I also had an impromptu brum-brum2 tour of the Midlands to look forward to.
And the cause of my abject suffering? Our whoosh-whoosh, the FlyBe whoosh-whoosh that was supposed to take us to East Midlands Airport, “had a very serious technical issue” (or, as they say in Glasgow, it was f@@ked).
The first version was the explanation given by the trembling lady at the FlyBe customer services desk in Glasgow. Poor woman. She usually worked in the FlyBe Lounge and dealt with nothing more bitter than the crap coffee but today, she had been drafted in to deal with all the angry people who had had a change of destination imposed on them by your incompetent airline. I can only assume that the usual inhabitant of the customer services desk was hiding in the toilet.
Or perhaps she had been made redundant as part of your recent staff cutbacks along with the FlyBe whoosh-whoosh mechanic who should have carried out the planned maintenance which might have prevented the “very serious technical issue” with our flying machine. Thank God it was on the ground when it fell to bits.
Anyway, when I and my fellow sufferers eventually arrived in Birmingham, we were told to head for the FlyBe customer services desk in the departure hall.
There was no-one there.
However, I happened to spot a FlyBe employee (late twenties I’d guess, less than impressive beard with a subtle red tinge to it in case you want to have him flayed at dawn) hovering over by the check in desks so I wandered over and gently suggested a bit of communication with the customers might be appropriate. He grunted. He didn’t say a single word but instead decided that the best way to help would be to perform a passable impersonation of a Gloucester Old Spot3 and then simply walk away.
Perhaps he went to hide in the toilet too.
Eventually, another clipboard-bearing member of FlyBe staff (late twenties, female, longish blonde hair tied in a pony tail) arrived and marshaled the East Midlands rejects (unfortunately including little Danny Decibel and his mum) to a waiting bus – totally ignoring the protestations of some of the passengers who pointed out that some of our number were still in baggage reclaim. I assume they had to thumb a lift up the M42 because Miss Clipboard wasn’t going to wait.
Of course, we got to East Midlands eventually. The bus stopped outside the terminal and the doors opened. Nobody said a single word to us as we silently made our way off into the night to resume our much-delayed journeys.
In terms of customer service, it was less than impressive.
Sadly, it’s not as if this is a unique event. Not many months ago, I was again hoping that FlyBe might manage to get me from Glasgow to East Midlands more or less on schedule in exchange for the truly extortionate fare but it wasn’t to be.
On that occasion, our FlyBe plane had a “serious technical issue” (as opposed to the “very” serious technical issue this time) and the result was a four hour delay whilst they mended it or flew in a replacement or inserted some new batteries in the radio control or something. Now Glasgow isn’t such a bad airport but four hours! You can’t even get a decent cup of coffee – they only have Starbucks for goodness sake and I’d rather lap the water out of the urinal than drink Starbucks! The only information we were given by FlyBe was via the screens. No verbal communication of any kind. If there were any blind passengers, they’re probably still there.
Then there was the rather more serious incident about a year ago with the East Midlands baggage handler that I shall call Dick Tosser. Dick because he certainly was a dick, a complete and utter dick, but Tosser not because he was a tosser (though he was obviously) but because of his hobby. To entertain himself, Dick likes to ‘toss’ passengers’ baggage in a huge parabolic arc such that it lands on the baggage cart beside the aircraft at maximum possible velocity. Not all bags you understand, just the one bearing large red labels bearing the word ‘FRAGILE’. Bags without the fragile labels just get kicked around like all the others.
Now, as luck would have it, my hand baggage for this particular flight from Glasgow to East Midlands was slightly larger than a padded envelope and so would not fit in the overhead lockers of the radio-controlled model whoosh-whoosh we were flying in. I was therefore told by Miss Check-In that I would have to put my bag into the hold. This did not amuse me. The bag not only contained my laptop computer but also items of delicate camera equipment including some very expensive lenses.
My protestations were wasted on Miss Check-In however. Either the bag went in the hold or I stayed in Glasgow! Having had several items of luggage comprehensively destroyed over the years by airline baggage handlers, I insisted that the bag was clearly labelled as fragile and loaded through the oversize desk so it was handled with care. Miraculously, a whole sheaf of large, red, self-adhesive FRAGILE labels materialised out of thin air and she began to make certain that they covered every surface of my bag (no doubt earnestly hoping that I wouldn’t be able to get them off at the other end).
On arrival at East Midlands Airport, it just so happened that I and my bag exited the aircraft at exactly the same time, albeit by different routes.
As I was watching from the top of the aircraft steps,4 Dick Tosser spotted Miss Check-In’s colourful decoration of my bag. Clearly, this was a bag that needed his tossing skills. He grabbed it and, just a few feet in front of me, performed the well known pre-throw spin of the Olympic hammer thrower to build up the maximum momentum before tossing my bag as high as he possibly could before it landed with a sickening thud on top of all the other baggage stacked in the trolley by the plane.
It took a few seconds for the reality of what I had just seen to sink in then the red mist descended and I ran across the Tarmac to confront the Dick. I think I may have used rather a lot of very unparliamentary language (with ‘Dick’ and ‘Tosser’ being among the less offensive words used) and it took all my self control not to resort to physical punishment. Instead, I marched into the baggage hall and reported Mr. Tosser to the baggage claim supervisor. She sent me to the FlyBe customer services desk in the departures hall (from where she could be sure I would not return) and, you’ve guessed it haven’t you?
There was no-one there!
Just as at Birmingham, there was however a FlyBe personage loitering by the check in desks so I sprinted over before he too could hide in the toilets and reported the tossing incident. He made a very hushed telephone call and then reported that someone was “on their way”.
Ten minutes later, guess who waltzed into the departures hall with a confident swagger, a hi-viz jacket and a clipboard? Yep. None other than Mr. Tosser himself. My self control was at breaking point and I really didn’t trust myself not to treat Mr. Tosser to the insertion of a fragile sticker where the sun doesn’t shine, so I decided that it would probably be advisable to leave before I got myself arrested.
I did try to follow up with several phone calls to FlyBe at East Midlands but the phone was never answered. The customer services desk is, it seems, a very lonely place. Eventually, the anger subsided and other horrible things happened that distracted me from my desire to see Mr. Tosser burned at the stake.
So as you can now see, FlyBe is not my favourite airline. But do you know what really takes the biscuit and convinces me that you really are a bunch of incompetent idiots quite without parallel?
During all these incidents of appalling service, your passengers NEVER received any sort of apology for the inconvenience! I have NEVER heard any member of FlyBe staff apologise to anyone in any way for any of the chaos FlyBe has inflicted on their lives.
So, I am now gifting you an opportunity to put that right.
In the meantime, you are a lesson to the world in how not to run a business.
PS. Remarkably, the camera equipment survived the tossing ordeal thanks to the foam it was packed in. The laptop didn’t fare so well but I wanted a new one anyway.
Anyway, shortly after this was sent, I received a reply from Ian Hunt from the FlyBe customer relations team. He wanted the dates, flight details and even the booking references for all the flights mentioned in my letter… fortunately, my dairy contained all those details for every FlyBe flight I have ever taken. I couldn’t be precise about exactly which flight was four hours late nor precisely after which flight I encountered the wonderful Mr. Tosser so I sent all the details of all my flights.
This was his email response:
From: Ian Hunt [mailto:Ian.Hunt@flybe.com]
Sent: 27 November 2013 16:22
Subject: Our Reference 222753
Re:BE557 Glasgow to East Midlands 15 November 2013
Thank you for your further email with the requested information.
With regards to the above cancelled flight I apologise for the inconvenience caused. The flight was cancelled due to an unexpected technical issue with the aircraft scheduled to operate the service. Many different avenues will be investigated at times of disruption in order to transfer passengers to their destinations, however on occasions alternatives and availability are very limited leaving us no option but to cancel a departure. I understand that you were rebooked onto the next available flight to Birmingham with onward road transportation to East Midlands arranged.
In recognition of the delay and as way of an apology, I would like to offer you a credit note for the sum of £100 for redemption against a future Flybe flight. In order to accept this offer, which is valid for travel within 9 months from the date of this letter, please contact our Customer Accounts Team on 0871 522 6186 (this call will be charged at 10p per minute plus any network extras) or email them directly at email@example.com quoting your customer relations reference number 222753. Please note that to accept this offer travel must be booked and flown within the above time period.
However, despite investigating all three references listed, our records show that all three flights operated as scheduled and not with a four hour delay. If you were referring to a different flight please email these details I will be pleased to investigate further.
Flybe do expect our baggage handling agents to perform their duties in a professional manner and the actions your report are clearly unacceptable. I can therefore assure you that I have passed on your issues to our Regional Manager for their information and any necessary action. As you may be aware, all Flybe literature clearly states for passengers with valuable, breakable or electronic goods that we advise that these be carried in the hand baggage. Indeed, this is outlined in the terms and conditions of the ticket agreed at the time of every purchase. The relevant section of these conditions is shown below.
8.4 Items unacceptable as Checked Baggage
You must not include in your Checked Baggage fragile or perishable items or items having a special value including but not limited to the following items: money, credit cards, jewellery, precious metals, computers; personal electronic devices; negotiable papers, securities, or other valuables, business documents, passports and other identification documents, samples, works of art, house or car keys, cameras, or human remains, including ashes.5
8.5 No liability for Loss or Damage
If, despite being prohibited, any items referred to in Article 8.36 and 8.4 are included in your checked or unchecked Baggage, as set out above, we shall not be responsible for any loss or damage to such items.
I am sorry that in the circumstances, Flybe are unable to consider any reimbursement for goods packed inside a case. In regards to your the unfortunate damage your belongs, if you have not already done so I would respectfully suggest making a direct contact to any travel insurance held.7
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write to us allowing me an opportunity of response. Once again our further apologies for the inconvenience caused a fortnight ago and we look forward to welcoming you on board our services again in entirely satisfactory circumstances.
Customer Relations Administrator
The backbone of UK travel8
Telephone: +44 (0)871 700 5000 (10p per minute plus network extras)
Fax: +44 (0)1392 672 246
Well, I had to respond, didn’t I?
Sent: 27 November 2013 16:22
To: Ian Hunt [mailto:Ian.Hunt@flybe.com]
Subject: Our Reference 222753
Thank you for responding so promptly and thank you too for the credit note. Of course, I would rather walk to Glasgow bollock-naked in a blizzard than actually use the credit note to fly with you again but never say never, I say!
Thank you too for sending clauses 8.4 and 8.5 of your fascinating terms and conditions. I am in fact perfectly aware of the restrictions about items placed in checked luggage (except for the bit about human remains). That is why I argued with your check in clerk when she insisted that I break your terms and conditions by putting these items in the hold. Perhaps you should send clauses 8.4 and 8.5 to your own staff?
As I recall, I didn’t actually ask for any reimbursement for items in the case so it was quite unnecessary for you to decline the non-existent request. Nonetheless, I hope your Regional Manager has the good sense to take this seriously and does his best to identify Mr. Tosser. As I remember him, he looked a little bit like James Blunt, but that could have been a really bad nightmare that has displaced the original memory. Either way, your baggage handling agent is somewhere between evil and deranged and needs to be stopped.
Turning finally to your inability to find the 4-hour delayed flight, I am inclined to trust my diary rather more than FlyBe’s records so let’s just agree to differ on that one. I could of course provide umpteen witnesses to my late arrival but frankly, what would be the point?
I suspect that Mr. Tosser still doing willful damage to passenger’s property for his personal entertainment. You know who you are you evil bastard!
So, I suspect, do quite a few people working at East Midlands Airport. If anyone would like to tell me his real name, I would be most interested to hear from them. Oh yes!
I may be able to assist with new employment in the demolition business.
For the avoidance of doubt, I like children. I used to have two of them and, after I kept them for long enough, they eventually turned into real people, and rather nice people at that. I just don’t like children on aeroplanes very much and think that children should have their own special (soundproofed) area somewhere near the luggage. I regularly fly from Orlando to Manchester on what is affectionately known as the flying creche. That route tends to colour one’s views about how well children and aeroplanes go together ↩
In fact, a brum-brum from Brum (Brum with a capital B, for the benefit of our American readers, being a UK slang abbreviation of Birmingham) ↩
A Gloucester Old Spot is an ancient breed of pig which, as it names suggests is spotty. Large black spots in fact. Boars reach a mature weight of 600 lbs (272 kg) which is an awful lot of pig. The Prince of Wales keeps a herd of them on his Gloucestershire estate and they’re really nice, especially once they’ve been turned into sausages (or slow roast belly pork). ↩
Both of them. Like I said, these are very tiny aircraft ↩
I knew about all this stuff except for the bit about human remains. Looks like my Granddad won’t be coming on holiday next year! ↩
he didn’t send 8.3 ↩
I reproduce the email here accurately. The very strange sentence structure is as it was received ↩
I thought human remains weren’t allowed! ↩