Category Archives: Travel
The Joy of Travel
No. 5 – Airport Announcements
I have no idea how many people pass through Stanstead every year – millions. Maybe billions. I assume that most of them reach their destinations,with or without their luggage. Which is something of a miracle if my recent experience is anything to go by. The incomprehensible screeching that passed for public announcements would do a good job of shattering glass and put any self-respecting parrot to shame. As to fulfilling its purpose – forget it.
Where on earth do they recruit these people? What criteria do they use in interviews? Do they only select those whose voices are so sharp they could cut a diamond? Or maybe they choose perfectly normal people with perfectly normal voices, though with a preference for those on the shrill side and send them to boot camps. Boot camps where recruits are required to speak at a given speed – getting faster and faster as they progress towards their diplomas. Somewhat along the lines of the old speed typing tests except with a requirement to run the words all together so as to be indistinguishable, one from the other. With extra brownie points for slurring.
Bad as it was in the departure hall, the situation at the boarding gate was even worse. I was a going to try to replicate it here to try and give some idea of what it sounded like but the nearest I can get to describing the tone is the sound of nails being scraped down a blackboard or the high pitched shriek of metal grinding against metal – and not in a good way. The only two words I caught were ‘the back’. Were we to were to board from the back (no sniggering please) or was the plane was for some unaccountable reason going to fly backwards or were we all to be herded back to departures? Impossible to tell. If we’d suddenly been rerouted to the moon we’d be none the wiser.
The long line of hopefuls milled about like sheep that were one dog short of directions. When I approached the desk I fared no better. I still couldn’t understand a word. All I achieved was more confusion, a cold stare and hurty ears. It wasn’t much better on board. Given the vital importance of some safety instructions this is less annoying than alarming. We are all a bit blasé these days about life jackets and whistles and stuff – we know its more to reassure us than a having any practical use. But the stuff about electronic equipment really does need more than a quick slur. And why not spell it out – mobile phones, MP3 players, iPads and computers can all make the plane crash. That at least might make some people sit up and take notice. That is if they could take those earphones out of their ears for three seconds.
The captain has just made an announcement. All I understood was that we are makings good progress, despite being bounced about like a celestial tennis ball. Whatever he did say was, I imagine, meant to reassure us. A bit pointless since he too seems to have been to boot camp with the rest of them. Bet he got top marks for slurring.
No. 4 Hand Luggage
I note the instructions on the airline’s website. I even go so far as to measure my hand luggage. Better safe than sorry, as they say. What with most of the airlines jumping on the Ryanair bandwagon and charging an exorbitant fee should your hand luggage protrude a millimetre beyond the accepted norm.
I wonder why I bother.
Flying to Malaga to volunteer at a rescue centre, I paid a massive £37 for the privilege of putting a suitcase in the hold. And even that weighed in at less than half of the 20 kg allowance. However, I didn’t have much choice. You need plenty of old clothes and sturdy shoes and wellies if you’re going to be walking, washing and generally cuddling and playing with a whole load of eager and boisterous dogs.
I wouldn’t have minded if everyone played by the rules. They don’t. That being the case I would have expected the airline personnel to take action. They don’t. This is not the first time I have witnessed ground crew turn a blind eye and cabin crew stand by while sweating cheats attempt to hoist ‘ hand baggage’ into the overhead lockers. Said ‘hand baggage’ being easily large enough to contain a large pony or a small giraffe.
On this occasion I flew Monarch, though they are by no means the only culprits. On the return flight I reckoned that 50% of the passengers were hefting so-called cabin baggage that in each instance was only marginally smaller than the case I’d had to pay to put in the hold. And sizing up these passengers, I reckoned it wasn’t that they couldn’t have spared the extra money.
Some people just don’t believe rules apply to them.
One blonde, orange lady had an enormous, pale blue holdall that fitted that description exactly – it held all including, no doubt, a designer kitchen sink. A bearded gentleman wielded a massive rucksack type of container that nearly felled the woman behind him as he manhandled it into the overhead lockers. I’m not talking about a few inches extra here. Nor a few pounds of extra weight.
During the interminable wait at the baggage carrousell there were plenty of mutterings from other law abiding folks as we eyed the lawless ones making their seamless way towards the exits. Hauling their ponies, giraffes and kitchen sinks behind them.
Of course there’s nothing to stop me breaking the rules too. Except. Guess who’d be the one to be picked at random and asked to do the ‘cabin bag test.’ You don’t need to ask!
No. 3 Greater Anglia Trains – the elusive plug
I don’t know what’s so great about them. They have trains, I suppose. They move, I guess. We left on time. There were seats. That’s the good bit. Another good bit is that, unlike South West Trains, they did have Wi-Fi but then I was in First Class and I’d have thought them pretty rubbish if they didn’t. * The seats were comfortable. A bit slopey, so probably not brilliant if you had a bad back, but you can’t have everything. We got free coffee – big deal. But still. I’d paid a pittance for my ticket – non-peak in railway language – but I would have not been a happy bunny if I’d paid the £100 + that’s the price on some journeys.
So, given that there were some good things, quite a lot of good things in fact, what’s my beef? Well it’s this. If you’ve read my first Joy of Travel post, about South West trains you’ll have seen that, since I was restricted to only a handful of carriages and it was a Friday, I had reserved a seat. Only to arrive and be told that South West Trains ‘don’t do reservations.’ Ye God’s and little fishes. Why then did you ask on the booking form not only did I want to reserve but go into great detail as to where I wanted to face, whether I wanted to sit by a window and if I wanted a table?
Exactly the same thing has happened with the glorious Greater Anglia. Do I want to reserve? Yes. Do I want a table? Yes. Do I want to be near a window and a plug? Yes. So I arrive. Yes, the seat is facing. Yes it’s by a window. No it’s not the big table I wanted. No there’s no reserved sticker on it. And …. where’s the plug? The whole point of booking first class and bringing the computer is that I want to work. It’s a two-hour journey. My battery won’t last the full two hours, and even if I manage to eek it out, there’s the journey back.
It wasn’t just me. A bunch of us had been hunting under tables, pulling back curtains, feeling behind seats in a strange parody of ‘hunt the thimble’. All in search of the elusive plugs. No plugs. When the ticket collector came round I asked him why they were missing. You can guess the answer, can’t you? Yes indeed. ‘Greater Anglia Trains don’t do plugs.’ It seems it’s not really their fault (oh really!) It’s the fault of The Trainline for not differentiating between the different train companies. I don’t know whether or not it’s up to them to ferret around asking who has plugs and who hasn’t. Or who does Wi-Fi and who doesn’t ? Who ‘does reservations’ and who doesn’t?
Whoever it is, someone needs to get their act together. It’s not rocket science. Nearly everyone will have some form of electronic device on a train these days, whether it’s a tablet, computer or phone. Some people more sophisticated than me may have some thingy or other that charges the battery without the need of a plug. But there are thousands of us who haven’t. When I am asked if I want a plug, I assume there will be a plug. It’s like going into the bank and being asked if you want twenties or tens and then being told ‘we don’t do twenties and tens’. Or asking for cod at the Fish Counter at Sainsburys and finding the ‘we don’t do fish.’ Well I’m on the train now, and it’s moving so perhaps I should count my blessings and at least be thankful that while GEA don’t do plugs, they do at least do trains.
* I spoke too soon. Halfway into the journey the Wi-Fi gave up the ghost. And now I’m on the way back – no Wi-Fi. Bummer. Imagine if I’d paid full price for my ticket. I really would be steaming. But I didn’t. So I’m just mildly annoyed.
The video below looks a great deal better on the big screen, which is where I saw it last weekend. Nevertheless, it’s still good in the smaller format. As an example of letting your fans do your work for you, it’s superb. It’s also a great example of how to form a bond with your clients, to make them feel all warm and fuzzy as well as reaching out to prospective travellers and making them want to pack and take a plane and head for your shores that instant.
What did the Canadian Tourist Board do? Just asked Canadians to send in their videos. Which they did – 65 hours of it, of which this commercial spans two short minutes. Great minutes – not simply showing the beauty of the country, something we know about, but demonstrating what it’s like to be there. It will have taken some time to edit all that footage, of course, but that would have cost a fraction of the amount needed to create a commercial from scratch. It might have been the cheaper option but this film is far from cheap. It’s clever, intelligent and engaging and fun.
No. 2 Ryanair.
Ryanair. “Probably” the most disliked airline in the world, barring possibly United Airlines. You’ve heard of United! That’s the airline that lost a child in transit, ignored her and refused to help her, even though they’d been responsible for her missing her flight in the first place. Yes, United may very well pip Ryanair to the post in the unpopularity stakes. However, had Ryanair lost a child in transit it would almost certainly have found a way to make money out of it, one way or the other. By charging it for taking up space, for instance. It would be bound to think of something.
Because, in truth, Ryanair isn’t really an airline. It’s a sort of one-way bank. In fact, Ryanair could well adopt the advertising slogan of Carlsberg. But not in a good way. “Probably” the most acquisitive and grasping airline in the world. “Probably” the stingiest company in the world with the worst customer service. “Probably” the most uncomfortable seats anywhere, ever. (They don’t go back, forcing you to sit in an upright position, making it impossible to sleep and giving you a crick in your neck that will cost you a visit to the osteopath.)
If you are retired and can hop on a plane at will you can visit a wealth of European cities for £5 or thereabouts. You don’t need much luggage for a day or two. Or, if you are fortunate enough to own a property abroad and can book ahead, you can travel really cheaply as everything you need is already at your destination. And you can re-stock once or twice a year by driving over in the car laden with goodies.
However, for many of us, Ryanair is an airline of necessity – never the airline of choice. Apart from anything else it’s guaranteed to raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels the moment you go on the website From the outrageous £18 extra to pay by debit card (you use the card once, they charge you twice – £9 each way), to the nail biting wait to see if they’ll decide that your luggage is 1 mm larger than their stingy allowance so they can gleefully charge you an extra £50 and upwards. To inchoate fury as you see smug bastards getting away with ‘hand luggage’ that must contain at the very least a small giraffe. (I still haven’t worked out how they get away with it. Maybe Ryanair know how to pick their fights.)
No sooner have the wheels left the tarmac than the rest of the malarkey begins. First we have the safety announcements, rushed through at a rate of knots, virtually incomprehensible so fast are they gabbled. (And “probably” a complete waste of time. You’d have to be pretty gullible to believe that, should anything untoward happen when over water, you’d have time to inflate your life jacket, let alone blow your whistle. As to coming down over land … best not go there.
Back to the on-board experience! No sooner has the safety thing been got out of the way than the sales patter begins. Starting with newspapers, followed by ‘beverages’, then food. Phew! No, not phew. We haven’t finished. Not by a long way. Next come the duty free, booze, perfume and gifts – but not all together. No, they are paraded one at a time to draw it out to the max. So now can I try to sleep? Not on your nelly. They still have to try to flog the scratch cards – scratch cards! Ye Gods and little fishes!
That was the outward journey. It was even worse on the way back. We were welcomed aboard ‘courtesy of Ryanair and …’ I didn’t catch the name. It sounded like J-Lo – an orange juice company I believe, not the the actress of the same name. The announcement was accompanied by the amplified sound of ice cubes rattling in a glass in what I suppose was an attempt to make us salivate and order shedloads of the stuff. This of course was followed by the usual sales pitches for all the aforementioned articles – now with the addition of oyster cards, travel cards, phone cards, museum and gallery cards.
The man would sell his own granny if he thought he could make a profit. There are some will disagree with me, like those property owners and retired people mentioned earlier. I’m not a spoilsport. I’m all for cheaper travel. But Ryanair is extortionate, inconsistent and nasty with it. Yes, Mr O’Leary, you do indeed make me ashamed to be Irish.