Modern Times at Heathrow

I turned up at an unearthly hour at Heathrow Terminal One this morning to find the bizarre sight of the bmi Premium check in area (where they still actually have real people rather than machines) completely unattended. No, it wasn’t a sudden urge to automate and deprive the businessman of his opportunity to ‘interact’ with attractive airline operatives. No, they hadn’t a clue what they were doing as all the computers were ‘down’. The staff checking in the VIPs had run off to consult their manuals on how to do a manual check-in. This is basically impossible in the new airport world of self-service machines and bag drops when none of the technology can connect to the departure control system. Fortunately they had a few old-fashioned check-in desks available (mainly retained for their new long-haul services) and had to assign a flight to a physical desk so the staff could, literally, tick off the passengers on a piece of paper until they knew the plane was full (how they dealt with e-tickets, I’ve no idea, fortunately I had checked in online the night before but still had to check a bag). They also had to hand write the boarding cards and the bag tags and, of course, there was no allocated seating. Comically, I was travelling on the tiny Embraer 135 (capacity 38 people max) and because they couldn’t do load and balance they made everyone sit down at one end of the plane for trim purposes!

The cause seems to be Lufthansa’s systems (perhaps run by Amadeus) as the outage affected flights at airports across Europe (someone was late to my meeting from Brussels because of this) and, no doubt, the rest of the world.

I was amazed to find my bag turn up at the other end with its hand-written inscription and I’ll perhaps treasure this reminder of what happens when the old legacy system decides to pack up.

Credit Crunch Carries On

I ventured out into High Wycombe on Monday in search of using up my J.D. Wetherspoon 50p off a pint vouchers that were due to expire on 30th September. The pubs were so quiet that I got served straight away in the Falcon — which is unheard of even on a slow night. Like cut-price supermarkets, Wetherspoons seem to pass on the low prices on their products in the form of less staff than their competitors. The manager even had chance to chat away to the two of us for five minutes about real ale. Shame that he didn’t notice that the Titanic Triple Screw that we had in our glasses at the time was as cloudy as soup. It was drinkable but probably only because it had a lot of roasted or chocolate malt (I think) in and that gave it a very bitter edge.

Up the road at the William Robert Loosely there was a Bateman’s special ale on that had a pump clip that seemed to be confusing itself with a packet of Weetabix — lots of picture of ‘good for you’ grains. I’ve forgotten what it was called. This was served almost frozen but that didn’t stop a whiff of diacetyl rising up from the glass. I know that some brewers actually think diacetyl (the ‘butterscotch’ aroma) is pleasurable but most of their customers don’t. I find that holding my breath when I’m drinking helps — but, of course, this disguises most other flavours. The superchilled temperature meant that I may as well have been drinking lager in that case but, I shouldn’t complain, using the vouchers two pints cost the princely sum of £2.78! Round the corner at The Bell, a mediocre pint of Pride was more than 30p dearer.

Walking through Wycombe I was struck at how few people were out in any pub or restuarant — Pizza Express was deserted. A Monday I suppose but it’s anecdotal evidence that people still seem to be holding on to their cash and I was only there to buy beer at £1.39 a pint myself.

Skinflint Airways

Further evidence that current BA management is continuing to lose the plot comes thick and fast. Most recently was their ‘Enhanced Seating Policy’ — . This raises the prospect of people travelling together, like families, having to pay extortionate prices to sit together on one of BA’s flights. Charter airlines like Thomson have been making a tidy profit on this particular wheeze for a few years now (in practice it’s pretty unlikely that groups of passengers would be seated apart anyway unless this was done deliberately by the airline). BA are planning to charge £50 to book an exit row seat (a tax on tall people, perhaps?) and £10 per person per sector in Pig class — which would work out at £80 for a return for a family of 4. The irony is, of course, that if air travel was a remotely pleasurable experience then passengers wouldn’t be scrabbling around on the Internet to try and bag themselves the best seats of a bad lot.

And how much does it cost BA to bring in this technology? Hardly anything. The facility to prebook seats has been around since about 1985-6 on BA’s reservation system, having been bought from KLM in the mid-90s. What may have cost a little is adding a bit of code in to siphon money for the privelege out of customers’ credit card accounts.

What this shows is that BA’s bonkers management seems to be dominated by the sort of penny-pinching, marginal revenue obsessed idiots who have no clue about maintaining the brand value of a full-service airline. It’s only a few weeks since food was phased out on most Euro traveller flights. Now they’ve gone further down the low-cost airline route. This might make sense if BA had the remotest hope of competing with the likes of Ryanair and Easy Jet on costs but with a ‘mature’ workforce and operating out of high-cost hubs like Heathrow then this is pie-in-the-sky.

As with upmarket retailers like John Lewis, BA must compete by convincing customers that it represents value and, while it won’t be the cheapest, it will provide the best service.

Whenever companies introduce something like this that means poorer service and higher prices, it’s funny how they always say it’s in response to ‘customer demand’. I have a theory there is a special focus group for hire of masochistic individuals who make their living from telling market researchers ‘Sure I’d like to pay more to the company and get less for it.’  Probably the only company who wouldn’t make use of this resource would be Ryanair, whose strategy BA seems to be increasingly trying to ape.

Hello, I’m Charlie

I’m Charlie Mackle…and here’s my blog which will probably about beer, football, writing, growing vegetables, putting the world to rights in general and various things that annoy me. I’ll also post a few articles that I’ve written that attempt to articulate my prejudices in a hopefully semi-humourous way.

To find out a few of my likes and dislikes look at this page here.