Guest writer Ronnie Smith looks at the low cost airline traveling experience, at how some airline industry sometimes treat their customers and at the problems passengers face in some large Western European airports.
I’ve been traveling recently.
I was three years old when I first traveled by plane, on a new four-engined Vanguard of British European Airways, from Glasgow to Jersey for my summer holidays. I still remember the fabulous castle at St Hellier.
It was an incredible experience. Everything was new – the airport at Renfrew near Glasgow, the futuristic terminal building, the plane with its powerful propellers that became invisible when they turned very fast, my seat at the window up in the clouds; and my Grandmother who didn’t understand assigned seating and dragged me at pace across the tarmac to get the best seats on the plane, as if she was getting on a bus.
It’s not much different now, especially if you fly low-cost, but it’s not fun anymore. In fact it has become a generally awful experience, particularly when thinking about our expectations of improved customer service from companies in the early 21st century.
I flew by Wizz Air from Bucharest to Milan and even though their flights are now based at the very impressive Henri Coanda airport, Wizz Air have succeeded in bringing the worst of the old Baneasa experience with them. While it is true that we cannot expect much from low cost airlines, I believe that we should still look forward to being treated like human beings rather than cattle.
Being put under constant surveillance at the airport to ensure that we don’t exceed the company’s limit on baggage does not help us to feel human. Being obliged to undergo the stressful group hysteria of unassigned seating, where skills learned on the rugby field are most useful, does not help us feel human; nor does being crushed into seats where spacing meets only the absolute minimum legal requirement. In fact, in the context of low cost travel, each of us is seen merely as a little profit center from whom every penny is to be squeezed at minimum cost.
I then flew from Milan to Edinburgh on Easy Jet and while the dreaded ‘Reykjavik of the south’ is not my preferred destination, I have always found Easy Jet to be my favorite low cost airline. The company allows you a reasonable amount of luggage without treating you like a criminal. They assign you a seat and help you stay calm during boarding and they provide seating that is comfortable for people who actually have legs and are over one meter in height.
Finally I flew on British Airways, connecting from Glasgow to Lyon through the new Heathrow Terminal 5. I have always considered Heathrow to be the worst major airport on earth and, despite the very impressive new terminal, my opinion was only reinforced.
I believe that all British Airways staff must first have ten years’ experience as primary school teachers before they are allowed to talk to passengers; ‘sit!’, ‘push your bag further under the chair!’, ‘drink!?’, ‘snack!?’, ‘turn it off! (your phone)’, ‘finished!? (your drink/snack)’ and ‘goodbye!’. All instructions delivered in the style of Mary Poppins, ‘Spit Spot!’. If you are to be bussed to the gleaming cathedral of steel and glass you will be delayed by twenty minutes as, through poor transport design, there will be planes parked on the roadway. Then you will have a further twenty minute delay once you are on the bus, because there will be other planes parked on the roadway. Planes are more important than passengers at Heathrow.
If your connecting flight is at any other terminal in Heathrow’s tight sprawl, you will endure the nightmare of traveling around the airport by a bus traveling at 5 KPH while your eyes are fixed to your watch as the minutes tick away. I’m afraid that Heathrow is still the airport that does most to ensure you miss your connecting flight and if you do make it, just as boarding is closing, you will spend the first half hour on your next plane recovering from the physical and mental torment.
Heathrow is now too small to deal with the heavy air traffic it attracts and it will be a very long time before the political decisions necessary for expansion will be taken. If you ever have a travel choice between Heathrow and Schiphol, Amsterdam, fly to Holland. It’s much nicer and less stressful.
I haven’t mentioned airport security where we are now treated like the terrorist criminals our armies can’t catch, that would require a whole new article. But I do have to say that we are no longer treated like airline passengers, nor customers nor clients. Rather we are ‘rendered’ in an ‘extraordinary’ way; much like the bemused taxi driver who was kidnapped by the US marines in Afghanistan and found himself in Guantanamo Bay for an extended period.
I like the Caribbean too but next time I may go by boat.
By Ronnie Smith, Guest Writer
Ronnie Smith is Scottish and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania Insider.com or of any other people or companies mentioned in this article, unless stated so.
(photo source: OTP airport)