An open letter to British Airways

Dear Mr. Airways,

Thank you very much for supplying an airplane with enough fuel to get us from Hamburg to Vancouver and back via your splendid new launchpads at Terminal 5, Heathrow.

I know you have financial difficulties at the moment, but we really hope you will put the small fortune we paid to good use in fixing up your shabby planes, or perhaps leasing a few new ones?

I ask this because before we board, some of us really enjoy the sight of a bird that looks like it can actually fly, instead of some ancient 747 whose tail section looks like a marauding band of vandals attacked it with chains before setting it on fire.

British Airways 747-400 Vancouver London banged-up tail

I would also at this time like to thank you for the excellent care British Airways gave our five pieces of luggage as they sat at Heathrow for one full day on our return journey.   Instead of having to lug home from the airport 115 kg worth of new clothes, cycling gear, off-the-shelf pharmaceuticals, six litres of maple syrup, chocolate chips and other stuff either laughably expensive or impossible to find in Germany, your delivery service saw fit to deliver our bags not only to our front door, but through the walk-in closet to the centre of our bedroom carpet.   Will you please offer this service on a regular basis?  It made journey’s end a most pleasant experience indeed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, would you please better publicise the many improvements in our flying experience offered at your award-winning website, ba.com?

I ask this only because when we arrived at Hamburg airport to check in, we were informed that, contrary to our wishes to sit together, the entire 747 from London to Vancouver had a grand total of six seats available, all in the middle section, and spaced a good 10 rows apart.

Your employee in charge with getting us all through the automated check-in machines informed us in a somewhat snide tone that BA now offers passengers the opportunity to check in online 24 hours before departure.  Ostrich that I am, this had never occured to me.  Only through the assistance of an actual human being behind the counter were we able to at least sit two of us together.  I was left to squeeze in the middle row between a flatulent Amazon and an obvious candidate for  stomach stapling surgery.

For the return journey ex Vancouver I acquired the assistance of my IT-expert brother, whose GPS gadget is synced with Coordinated Universal Time down to the last millisecond.  At precisely .01 seconds past 2035 the day before departure I hit send to check in.  We received three seats together at the very back of the plane.   Too bad for those who logged in .02 seconds late.   What do you say to your customers who have no net access?  They do exist, you know.     Now I know why people wish for the good-old days when all it took to get a decent seat was arrive at the airport a reasonable time before departure, smile a lot, and if necessary, budge the queue.

Yours most sincerely,

Ian in Hamburg

28 Responses to “An open letter to British Airways”

  1. August 21, 2009 at 9:38 am

    One could write such a letter after any flight, on any airline. Such is he state of air travel nowadays.

    British Airways. They never should have privatised it.

    • August 21, 2009 at 9:55 am

      The online check-in is a real joke. It’s become like an eBay auction. And who says travellers are even near a computer or a connection 24 hours before flight time? Some of us love being off the grid for as long as we can push it.

      I’d have shot photos of the incredibly tattered interior of that same plane, but didn’t want to raise a scene. Are they going to wait til it crashes before replacing it? It looked like hell.

  2. 3 G
    August 21, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I spent a lot of time laughing on this past trip. KLM, Delta and NWA were all apparently unable to find us seats together for any flight. However, as I chortled to the gate attendants, if another adult or two would like to care for my 6 and 3 year olds (who were booked in rows separate from each other and from us) I would truly appreciate it. They managed in all cases to find us seats 3 together and in three cases, 1 across the aisle. I took the single seat most of the way and was darned happy with it:).

    In another case, there was a man next to me whose family was two rows ahead: I simply asked the man sitting next to his wife and child if he would mind changing just as I had asked a man in a different row if he would change with me so that I could sit with my family. All the passengers were very nice and more than happy to accommodate others (aisle for aisle, window for window, of course).

    But it cracked me up that I had to do it. I assume for the next 14 years or so the airlines will need to make special adjustments for us when their agents can’t do it when we book.

  3. August 21, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Wow, look similar to a blog i had planned for AC, went something like this: Dearest AC, you suck. you really suck. you totally effin suck. Sincerely BB.

  4. 5 Sherry & Dale
    August 21, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    hehehe…..I can sooo relate! Not once when flying AC has our luggage ever arrived at the same time as us. Two years ago year I was so upset at our “collect our baggage, re-check it & run like the wind to the other side of the Toronto Terminal at break neck speeds….with a 70 year old woman in tow” connection that I “did” send AC a very nasty email as soon as we arrived home…much like the one Beaverbush described (well maybe not so explicit even though that is what I was thinking)& they replied with the nicest letter. Not sure if it was my tirade at the gate (I was a crumbled, exhausted, blubbering heap on the floor by then) or the email that did it but last year when we got off the same flight in Toronto our connecting gate was only 10 feet away! Whew…what a relief that was….no running & even time for a smoke! Sometimes maybe a few choice words “can” make a difference🙂 They still lost our luggage though which was returned a few days later, to our door, in the middle of nowhere during a major snowstorm…..take that AC! WE have learned now….travel light….carry on only!

  5. August 21, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Great letter, Ian. I needed a good laugh to start my day.

  6. 7 Vorpal
    August 21, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Did your flight from Vancouver to Heathrow originate in Vancouver? If not, I can easily understand how it would be that the seats were all taken.

    I used to fly regularly from Vancouver to a small interior BC town. I took everything in the cabin with me. On one trip they refused to let me take my tool bag on board “for security reasons”. I can only assume that it was to prevent me dismantling the plane in flight.

    In any case, they lost it. What is even more hilarious is that they sent a delivery truck a hundred two kilometres to bring me the wrong bag. I finally had my tools returned to me back home in Vancouver. Gotta love Air Canada.

  7. 8 Dee
    August 21, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    BA have some of the shabbiest aircraft around.I recently travelled on a short flight on one of the nastiest, dirtiest and smelliest planes I have ever come across. It was like sitting in a 3rd world country!
    It says something when they’ve had 2 evacuations in the past few months.
    Maybe they want everyone to work for free so they can buy new planes!!!

  8. August 21, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Nice. They all seem to suck these days, don’t they? We’ve never flown BA because of the long wait at Heathrow, but AC and KLM have managed to make us a bit testy about a number of things. No leg room, run down planes and terrible, terrible food. But because we never manage to find cheaper tickets on the internet than our travel agent can offer us, we always buy our tickets through him and he somehow manages to reserve seats for us both coming and going.

  9. August 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    @Christina – the stop in Heathrow was less than two hours this time, and you don’t have to take a bus to another terminal. At Terminal 5 there’s only a short underground train ride from one side to another. Almost makes me consider flying BA again… almost.

    About luggage…I’ve had more bags delayed in the past three years than I ever have in my life. Is it just bad luck or is is generally getting so much worse?

    AC – Air Canada – oi… my woes seem pretty tame compared to your stories.🙂

  10. August 23, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I’ve had the same experience on Iberia – though when we actually got on the place, the passenger with the seat next to my small daughter took one look at her and immediately offered to swap seats with me. It does pay to smear your children in something sticky…chocolate or ice cream work brilliantly… just before boarding.

    By the way – I gave your blog a plug on Deutsche Welle the other day.


  11. August 25, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Looks like we shared some experiences. I’m wondering what you have to do these days to get decent seats. I know about the e-checkin, and sometimes it works, I am sure. We flew Habmurg-Lisbon, then Lisbon-Newark. The starting flight was LH, the connecting was TAP. At LH I logged in, booked just the seats I wanted and hit enter. I thought I could then book the remaining seats, for the overseas flight, but the seats were assigned apparently at random – something like what you got. We fixed it at the airport. The actual flight was underbooked – basically we could move wherever we wanted to.
    On the return TAP flight we were bumped to Lufthansa, which got us home quicker, so nothing really to complain about.

    • August 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm

      @cartooncat – I listened to that podcast – thanks for the mention! I’m also a fan of clickclackgorilla, whom you also praised. Well done getting on the radio.

      @indie – doesn’t TAP stand for Take Another Plane? Your Lufthansa upgrade would seem to make it so…🙂

  12. August 26, 2009 at 4:39 am

    Sounds a lot like Olympic Airlines although I’m told the service has improved somewhat now that they’ve been sold. Guess I’ll find out next week. So how much did all that extra weight set you back? We get to take 100 kilos between the two of us and I also am taking maple syrup and chocolate chips. Must be the Canadian in us…ciao

    • August 26, 2009 at 8:02 am

      Hi rositta,
      Actually, we were well within our weight limit. Each adult was allowed 2 checked bags, each up to 23 kg. Weird, because on the outbound I could have sworn it was only one bag. Anyway, when I found out we had so much extra capacity, I went grocery shopping.🙂

  13. August 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Haha, picking myself off the floor. I have been on that flight a number of times myself.
    I am taking the boat from now on😉

  14. August 29, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Everything reported here is aggravating as can be – of course. But given a choice between lost luggage, split seating, tacky planes and getting stuck in one of those tin cans with wings on the tarmac for 6 or 8 or 10 hours, I’ll give you my luggage. Maybe even my laptop, or my extra package of peanuts.

    One of these days someone’s going to be seriously unable to cope with being cooped up and bad things are going to happen. I had no idea until this craziness started happening on such a regular basis that you’re pretty much the property of the airlines once they shut the door. Maybe they should start losing some of their weird regulations instead of the luggage😉

    • August 29, 2009 at 7:28 am

      Ooooh, don’t get me started on weird regulations like that “no liquids” bull and requiring entire families down to kiddie size having to take off their shoes to check for explosives.

  15. September 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Yes, everything you write of….are the same frustrations that I share. On the last trip (via Delta…through JFK)…I ended up with a huge amount of frustration. The airline, the JFK staff, and just about everyone possible…ensured that I had a miserable trip. Adding to that…the TSA security mafia.

    I’ve reached a point where I’d prefer to meet some blimp service and spend 36 hours quietly crossing the Atlantic and land in some cowfield in the US. I know of people today that traveling within the US by airline is simply not going to happen and they take the train whenever possible or drive a car…even if it’s a 1000 miles away.

  16. 20 batspit
    September 6, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I can’t believe your plane looked so bad. Funny post. and, just so you know “I was left to squeeze in the middle row between a flatulent Amazon and an obvious candidate for stomach stapling surgery.” is my favorite line of the day.

  17. 22 LaGazzaLadra
    January 4, 2010 at 1:32 am

    And now on top of all that…this!
    Body scanner wouldn’t have foiled syringe bomber, says MP who worked on new machines


    “Mr Wallace warned: ‘I must advise the Prime Minister – and the British public – that the scanners are not a “silver bullet”. You would be mistaken to think that they would counter the new threat. ‘The millimetre wave technology is harmless, quick and can be deployed overtly or covertly. But it cannot detect chemicals or light plastics.”

    It almost seems like people in authority don’t wish anybody to want to fly any more, under the guise of ’emissions’ :-

    “Heavy taxes on passengers and a ban on expansion at regional airports will be needed to curb Britain’s insatiable appetite for air travel, a climate change report will say today .”

    And then to add more pressure:-
    Passenger profiling needed as well as scanners, airlines chief warns


    “Security can only be guaranteed by making a risk assessment of people before they are even board an aircraft, said Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the International Air Transport Association. “Instead of looking for bad things—nail clippers and rogue bottles of shampoo—security systems need to focus on finding bad people,” he said.”

    Finally, a list if measures airlines are taking to cut costs (published last June, 2009)

    Airlines May Start Treating Passengers `Like Freight’

    • January 4, 2010 at 4:39 am

      If just 50 grams of powder can blow up a plane, it’s getting to the point where the only way you can be close to 100% safe is if all luggage including hand luggage is banned, if you have to strip completely and submit to a full body cavity search before recovering your clothing once it has also been given a thorough screening. It will never come to that, so we have to go through rituals that make us feel safe, though we never really are.

      I’m in favour of making rail travel much cheaper than flying – within Europe especially, where trains are plentiful and the network almost full coverage. Why should it cost more to take the train from Hamburg to Munich than it does to fly? Doesn’t make sense. If taxes on plane tickets are what it takes, I’m all for it.

  18. January 4, 2010 at 7:37 am

    I like what Roy said months ago about taking a leisurely blimp ride. I’d give that a shot for sure, just for the experience, but I’m not sure that any of the security concerns and measures would be any different.

    Why should it cost more to take the train from Hamburg to Munich than it does to fly? Doesn’t make sense.

    Perhaps because it can? Is it a free market / demand thing? Are people willing to pay more to be able to walk onto a train one minute before departure with no luggage restrictions whatsoever? Now, if I lived in/near an airport city like Munich or even Nürnberg and had a car at my disposal, perhaps I’d be singing a different tune, but catching a train (station’s at least a 20 minute walk away, if you’re schlepping luggage) to the airport city such that you can (probably) arrive a little more than one hour before departure (for domestic flights) is not always easy, depending on when your flight is offered. And the cheapest flights are always scheduled when train connections are nigh on impossible (what a coincidence!). So maybe the demand is there for that mature rail network such that they can command fees for second class tickets that far exceed those of a similar journey via airliner.

    But I am not in favor of taxing plane tickets to match (or undercut) rail prices. I am OK with all the ticket fees, fuel surcharges, airport taxes, security surcharges, baggage charges, etc. so long as they reasonably disclosed in advertisements while we are in the travel-planning phase, trying to decide on a mode of transportation. If plane travel works out to be cheaper, and/or I am willing to trade the airport hassle for the price of the ticket, why not offer me, the traveling consumer, that choice? I don’t understand your proposal for artificial price hikes on airfare — where is that coming from? Are you proposing some sort of regulation such that rail travel would *always* be the baseline for airline price levels? Meaning it would be illegal to fly from Munich to Hamburg for less than the monetary — not opportunity — cost of train tickets between the two cities?

  19. January 4, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Cliff,
    (scroll-scroll-scroll…. ahah, blimp!)

    Well, I’m not calling for artificial price hikes, but they could start leveling the playing field by making the airlines pay the MwSt. (value-added tax) on fuel and also the fuel tax itself. Why should the airlines get a free pass on that? The railway has to pay 19% more for its energy right off the bat, plus they have to pay the Mineralölsteuer. (fuel tax) Does that make sense?

  20. January 5, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Thanks, that was an interesting read. Is it true that the airline industry gets no subsidies from taxpayers, and finances its infrastructure via those who use it? I am surprised by that, a little. I would have expected that cities hosting airports chip in for airport infrastructure. It’s in their interests and conceivably their taxpayers benefit from it.

    On a typical AirBerlin flight from Nürnberg to Hamburg with a Flugpreis of 39€, the Kerosinzuschlag is 25€ — and the airines don’t have to pay VAT or fuel tax on that when they buy it to use it to move my hindparts northwards via their plane…but the Bahn does if I ride on their vehicle (and it’s a diesel vehicle)? That sounds incongruous to me, and I would agree with you that a leveling of playing field is necessary. To what end, though? I guess my focus would be on environmental impact. Part of the ceteris paribus calculation ought to be a fair assessment of the Umweltbeschädigungsfaktor for each mode of trave.

    And to what degree is Deutsche Bahn taxpayer-funded? I can see on the wikipedia page for the Bahn that it’s 100% owned by the FRG, and that privatization is planned (or at least discussed), but I wonder how much non-users of the Bahn pay into its infrastructure. Does anyone know?

  21. January 5, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    From what I read, blimps (as well as those Luftschiff things) are rather not all that nice either. They tend to be thrown around by even the slightest breeze. Apparently are not something you want to be in during a North Atlantic winter storm. A modern cruise liner is much more stable and not all that much slower.

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