This letter was written by Rannoch Yule and by coincidence, Yule-tide was when everything went completely Pete Tong1 for Rannoch. Rannoch is a Scot who lives in Kent and he was planning to spend Christmas with his family in Edinburgh. Sadly, he was relying on EasyJet to get him there. The fact that they let him down was not entirely their fault, but their quite unparalleled display of seasonal ineptitude most certainly was…
London Luton Airport
14 January 2014
Dear Customer Relations,
Thank you for your e-mail of 25th December confirming that my EasyJet flight, EZY803 that was due to depart at 08.25 on 24th December was cancelled. I must congratulate you on your timely provision of essential information regarding my flight.
I did note in your letter that you state that “from time to time situations arise which are out of our control” and with a largely pragmatic outlook on life, I can relate to that statement. The situation EasyJet found itself in on the morning of Christmas Eve 2013 was not of its doing; nor would I have considered it to be reasonably preventable. So why am I writing to you, you may well ask? I have pondered the very same thing myself as I am generally not the type to complain, but given the extraordinary effort that Easyjet put into ruining my Christmas, I thought it would be impolite not to revert with a response.
It is the festive season after all.
I considered giving a clichéd response regarding to your personnel, the ones that appeared from time to time in Gatwick Airport anyway, stating that they tried their hardest in difficult circumstances. However, it was clear at an early stage in the day’s magnificent story that they were ill-trained for the situation they found themselves in. They displayed the worry and shock of a very small rabbit caught between two very large headlights, with both paws in the cookie jar. Truth be told, I have no malice towards your staff on the ground, as it was clear they were put into a situation in which they were ill-informed, ill-prepared and ill-supported, and it is on this subject that I shall roll slowly towards the crux of my complaint – the ineptitude of Easyjet middle and senior management.
I thought it would be rather helpful to explain the difficult circumstances to your management in the form of an analogy and, as it was the festive period, to use a popular children’s toy as reference. Hopefully, this is in a form that they can readily understand and I am more than happy for you to use this as training material for new members of your management team as they leave behind their jobseeker’s allowance2 and join your illustrious company.
Consider, if you will, the impact of the weather conditions on 24 December3 as a game of KerPlunk,4 in which the number of marbles that fall represent the negative impact of the event. The measures that management put in place to control the event are the straws. The more straws you insert, the lower the number of balls that fall, and the lower the impact.
Applying this analogy to the day in question, it appeared that EasyJet were not aware that the straws even existed and instead had opted to teeter off to the spare bedroom to have a bit of a look around for the instructions for the game. Having been unsuccessful in locating the instructions, it appeared that EasyJet then returned from the spare room, rather confused, with another of bag of bigger marbles.
Your failures, which were repeated throughout that fateful Christmas Eve, can be generally summarised as follows:
♦ Timeliness of cancellations,
♦ Lack of information provided to would be passengers,
♦ Organisation of revised arrangements (ie check-in, baggage return).
Perhaps we should review the actions, or more accurately inactions, at a number of key junctures. The following is a summary of my own experiences, having been booked upon EasyJet flight EZY803 to Edinburgh, which was due to depart at 08.25.
Upon arriving at the check-in area of the Gatwick North Terminal at 07.30:
♦ There was a mass of people at the exit to the lifts but rather than appoint someone to be located at the lifts advising people of the situation and to await further information; you opted for the less effective approach of two people to standing 30m away, shouting “Move away from the lifts!”.
♦ Rather than provide regular tannoy announcements and a simple noticeboard with some basic information for non-English speakers; you opted to DO NOTHING.
♦ It took approximately 30 minutes before any information or further direction was provided, which in your best judgement was implemented by someone having a bit of a walk around the check-in hall shouting.
At approximately 10.00 the decision to proceed with flights was confirmed:
♦ Once information was available from your crisis meeting, you opted for the loudest man in the village to shout from a raised platform like some pseudo-Caesar addressing the plebeian masses.
♦ Again, the simple but effective approach of providing flipcharts with written information or regular tannoy updates was overlooked, which may have been useful for new arrivals who were joining the thrall. It was a joy to see their faces – like bewildered children waking up on Christmas morning without toys under the tree. Instead you opted for the airport staff to have a walk around and a shout like trainee town-criers who were yet to be trusted with a bell.
♦ Perhaps the staff enjoyed walking round like town criers, as no attempt was made to organise people into flight specific groups to assist in providing information.
♦ At this point, Christmas was not yet lost to most passengers and many could have made alternative arrangements. However EasyJet – in some caffeine fueled leap of optimism – decided to give no information as to the significant risk of cancellations that must have been starkly apparent to your management team at that time.
At approximately 15.00 advised to transfer to South Terminal:
♦ Direction was given by the, now legendary if a little hoarse, town criers (the more alert amongst you may have picked up on a consistent theme here) verbally advising that the flights had been transferred to South Terminal.
♦ Again, no written information was provided as to which flights should proceed to the South Terminal. Nor was there any recognition that some passengers may have had to leave the check-in hall to stock up on provisions for the long day ahead.
♦ You must have been aware of the chaos that was already unfolding in the South Terminal and that this was a further opportunity to cancel the flight rather than compound the problems. Nonetheless, you decided to consult the three little monkeys called Hear No, See No and Speak No; last name Evil.
Arrived at approximately 15.15 into the South Terminal:
♦ Upon arrival at check-in expecting some semblance of organisation, passengers were presented with a mass brawl of hundreds of people fighting their way to the desks. It reminded me of my old gladiator days. I think I saw someone being spiked with a trident.
♦ I may be uneducated in the black art of airport management, but I would have thought that advising people of exactly which flights were currently being checked in, and marshalling people into flight order may have assisted in getting the called flights through check-in. Apparently, the standard procedure is to tell people nothing and hope that panic and pushing expedites the whole process.
♦ The EasyJet website was still showing later flights as running – ignoring the opportunity to reduce numbers in South Terminal and mitigate the chaos at check-in.
♦ Again, with management being aware of the risk it may have been prudent to take the decision to call it a bad job and move on, but instead you persisted with baggage check-in in order to further extend your passengers’ wonderful day when the flights were eventually cancelled.
At approximately 17.00 flight was called to gate:
♦ No information provided at the gate. Nor was there any EasyJet representative present. At this stage, dumbfounded by the conspicuous lack of your personnel, passengers were starting to worry that your staff had been afflicted by a rare invisibility virus.
At approximately 21.00, the flight was finally cancelled!
♦ No clear direction regarding the cancellation was given but a rumour spread that there would be information available at the travel information desk. To our surprise, there was neither information nor Easyjet representatives at the information desk.
♦ Rather than provide some useful public updates to all the people waiting at the desk who obviously all wanted to know the same thing, it was decided that passengers should be addressed on a one to one basis, possibly to give the personal touch to the experience but making the process take far longer than necessary.
♦ It took a further hour before there were any instructions on how to retrieve baggage. This allowed me to do some ad-hoc Christmas shopping. For myself. After all, I needed something to open them on Christmas Day.
♦ The situation at this point became so bad that a lone balding Englishmen raised a chant of “Down with EasyJet!”, a protest mantra that has not been heard since the cream bun riots of 1867.5
At approximately 22.00 passengers were directed toward the baggage hall.
♦ The EasyJet book of airport management was clearly at work again in the baggage hall, as bags from all flights were directed to just two baggage carousels. The remaining carousels were silent and empty. Of course, their use would have expedited the retrieval of baggage, but it was getting late and I was forced to assume that the baggage carousels had been given the rest of the day off.
♦ This then descended into adopting the far more effective approach of establishing an ad-hoc baggage reclaim area outside of the terminal. Once the baggage had been piled up outdoors, passengers were not allowed to seek baggage, even on a flight by flight basis. I was truly grateful for this extra two hours as it allowed me to undertake some further last minute Christmas purchases. Alas, the vending machine was the only retail operation open at that time, but I managed to treat myself to a Curly Wurly6 for consumption on Christmas Day.
The above, although verging on the satirical is, sadly for you, a factual account7 and is evident of a company that has absolutely no regard for their customers – a strategy that has either been adopted through woeful incompetence or with deliberate intent to abandon their customers. The scenes of people behaving like crazed medieval honey badgers that I witnessed in the airport could have been mitigated by some semblance of control being imposed by your company. Instead, EasyJet was found to be whimpering sheepishly in the corner of the airport like some new-born lamb that had wandered into a pub populated by rowdy and hungry wolves.
At no time in the day was any apology given, and I still await an explanation of why the flights were cancelled at the 11th hour having kept each of your passengers hanging onto false hope for the whole of the day.
Your decision to persevere with your attempt to operate flights until all hope was gone, removed all ability for passengers to make alternative arrangements. I myself could have arrived at my intended destination had I been informed earlier of the cancellation or the significant risk you had taken on. Instead, and by virtue of Easyjet’s total lack of proper assessment of the situation, I arrived home at 01.00 on Christmas Day; too late to undertake any shopping before Christmas and too tired to travel.
In the end, I scraped together the remains of what was left in the fridge and dined on a banquet of Gouda, Vienetta and cheap red wine.
This is the reality of your pathetic management of events for thousands of passengers. You succeeded in turning bad situation into a cluster-f*** wrapped in a thick blanket of omni-shambles.
If such unqualified management can be responsible for the safety of millions of passengers, then I am gravely concerned for the entire industry. I expect your response to include details of the disciplinary proceedings that are being taken against the staff responsible for the Christmas Eve debacle. Hopefully, you’ll have the good sense to find a few individuals to fall on their swords. I am somewhat worried however, that rather than a clean death you shall instead, figuratively speaking, be left with maimed individuals flapping around on rusty iron sticks.
I look forward to your response.
Rannoch’s bad luck didn’t end with the shambles at Gatwick. When he finally got back to his flat in the early hours of Christmas Day, he found that his building was flooding. Whilst trying to rescue his car from the rapidly rising waters, he lost his house keys in the flood. He managed to extricate his car and drive to his girlfriend’s house to retrieve her keys to his flat (she was already away for Christmas). It was there he found the stale cheese and cheap red wine that constituted his Christmas dinner.
Rannoch sent his letter to EasyJet on 14th January and copied it to the authorities at Gatwick Airport.
Neither has responded. Should they decide to do so, we will share the responses here.
If you have any EasyJet complaints, please send them in to DCR via the Contact Dear Customer Relations page here.
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1. For our American readers: ‘Pete Tong’ is Cockney rhyming slang for ‘wrong’. Just like ‘apples and pears’ actually has nothing to do with fruit but instead means ‘stairs’. ‘Titfer’ is short of ‘tit for tat’ which, of course, means ‘hat’. So, equipped with that knowledge, no prizes for guessing the meaning of ‘Donald Ducked’ ↩
2. For American Readers: Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is a form of unemployment benefit paid by the UK Government to people who are unemployed and are actively seeking work (or are good at pretending to do so). It is part of the social security benefits system and is intended to cover living expenses while the claimant is out of work. As the benefit is currently set at around £58 ($85) a week, it barely covers the cost of an iPhone 5 contract and an Xbox 360 never mind a 50″ flat screen TV so most JSA recipients are also highly engaged and entrepreneurial members of the thriving UK black economy ↩
3. On December 24th 2013, the UK was hit by a major storm with 90mph winds and heavy rain. 75,000 homes were without power and so were some parts of Gatwick Airport ↩
4. KerPlunk, for the uninitiated, is a profoundly pointless game first marketed by the Ideal Toy Company of New York back in 1967. Inexplicably, it is still manufactured by the Mattel company in the USA and by Milton Bradley in the UK. It is said that some people still play it. No-one knows why. ↩
5. Don’t bother Googling the 1867 Cream Bun Riots. The only newsworthy riot that year was a race riot in Pulaski, Tennessee, started by members of the Klu Klux Clan which had been founded in Pulaski only two years before. Obviously, if budget airlines had in fact existed in 1867, there probably would have been a riot. But they didn’t, so there wasn’t ↩
6. For American readers: Curly-Wurly is a ‘candy’ snack manufactured in the UK by Cadbury since 1970 and consists of two intertwined strands of chocolate covered caramel. It is remarkably efficient at removing your fillings and is much loved by dentists in the dozen or so countries where it is sold – and not for the reasons you think. Dentists actually use it to remove crowns! ↩
7. Apart from the bit about the Cream Bun Riots ↩