Keeping Calm and Carrying On (@HeathrowAirport, @British_Airways)

Well, there seems to be some good news coming out of the airport… but very much mixed with uncertainty, etc..  Flights are taking off, including throughout the night, but many of the planes are still iced in, or in the wrong place…

As you know, it’s been a pretty intense year, with acres of work (good in a recession, but I’m a bit lacking on the sleep), so was very much looking to flying to Egypt on Saturday for our  15 day ‘Pyramids & Beaches’ Tour. As you may have gathered from the news, nothing took off from Heathrow for most of Saturday and it’s pretty much been (partially-organised) chaos ever since!! Aside from my time as a Tour Leader with Oak Hall (which was pretty hard work!), I haven’t travelled anywhere for my own purposes since early 2008 so was very much looking forward to this – and interesting to see how the blend of online/offline information works/doesn’t work!!

Friday 17th December

If only we’d both known it, a day that we could have flown, but both of us thought we had to work.. in the event neither of us was (although I’d gone to bed at 6am finishing something for @bigbible!). As the poor weather reports came in though, in the afternoon, I decided to drop my evening plans and make my way into London, kip on Fiona’s floor, as it would be ‘easier’ to get to the airport via the Underground.. I just waiting until I’d had a chance to check in online before leaving…. Having decided that I was going ‘digital free’ on the holiday, I didn’t take my phone with me….

Saturday 18th December

We checked into British Airways ‘Manage My Booking’ several times on Saturday, and the following notice (which now, finally, relates to our new booking) appeared:

This indicated that the flight was still operating (we knew everything else up until that point had been cancelled), so we made the torturous journey into Heathrow Airport (the not well advertised strike on the Bakerloo line was not helpful, as we had to drag our cases for 20 minutes through the snow, then the Piccadilly line train kept stopping/starting). Throughout we were awaiting the promised Email/Text which British Airways indicates will be received should the flight be cancelled…. but this never arrived, so we were actually getting anxious as to whether we would be on time at the airport.

At the Airport

Surprisingly unbusy considering that we knew most flights hadn’t gone, but we assumed that most of those who had known that their flights weren’t going, hadn’t tried to get to the airport, and were grateful that our flights were later! I looked up at the boards and my heard dropped as I saw rows and rows of ‘cancelled’! Obviously, like many people, this is a new (and unwanted) experience, so we weren’t sure what to do. There was, however, a HUGE queue for the British Airways check in desk (and didn’t seem to be anyone else around to ask), so we joined this… 1.5 hours + later we’re nearly ready to be served, and one of the women behind the desk comes out and says she doesn’t know what we’re all queueing for, as they can only give information/not rebook us onto flights. She starts to give out letters to the people at the front of the queue, but as we ask why we’re only being told this now (and not whilst we’re in the queue), she moves immediately to the defensive saying that she’s stuck here, not doing her usual job, etc. (nothing like making us feel special, hey!) before disappearing when we ask for an announcement over the PA system. We’re not quite sure what to do, as the letter indicates compensation is available, but it’s not that clear what happens about rebooking (there’s an 0800 number, but this is very expensive from mobiles…). We’re so near the front we give it another 5 minutes, talk to another guy who said that as we were joining flights at Heathrow we weren’t entitled to any hotels, etc. (well, we’re still stuck there, or have costs to incur in getting home, etc.).  He was very rude, and not listening to us. When we said if they would go along the line & explain people would be less angry, he said ‘100s more in your position’ (yes, and they wouldn’t be if they would go along the line), and was not listening to a word I was saying (that the only thing that made us angry was waiting in a queue), just meaningless platitudes. Essentially if we’d known there was nothing we could do at the airport, we would have gone ‘home’ and started trying to rebook.

Getting Home

Well, this wasn’t looking likely either – National Express were unable to run. We, however, found another BA helpdesk area, and a spokeswoman from BAA, who gave us another letter and said of course we’re entitled to compensatory costs too, and advised us to grab some food, and get the Heathrow Express back to London… which was pretty straightforward! So, back to Fiona’s flat (and another night on the floor :-(), where we hooked into the net to try and work out what was going on. We were unable to rebook via ‘Manage My Booking’, so we hooked up to Skype and I sat with my finger on the redial button for 3 hours until we were finally put ‘on hold’ (I was so shocked, I had nearly automatically disconnected!)… It was then a further 2 hours on hold (thank goodness 0800 is free on Skype) until we spoke to a lovely guy in the States who was extremely pleasant, and has rebooked us onto a flight on Wednesday evening (Club Class was the only seats left… shame!).

Trip in Egypt

This, however, means that we have missed our 15 day tour (which left last night, although we could just about have caught it if we’d managed to fly last night… that flight of course didn’t go either so…). We were booked with GoBus, who have been very good at keeping us informed throughout the process. We spoke to their local representative in Egypt (before we’d got through to BA, and he asked us to ring back once we knew which flight we were on), and once we got back through, he said he’d see what he could do about booking us onto their Egypt Express, which at least covers part of the tour, which we’ve done (thank goodness for email and online bookings which made this fairly painless). The highlights for me, however, were to be Mount Sinai and diving in Dahab, so we’ve booked into Dahab for our first 3 days (rather than the 5 days we would have had), flying with Egyptair (hopefully insurance covers some of the extra expense?!). We were contacted by John, our contact at GoBus, on Sunday, despite the fact that he was on annual leave, and we’ve just had another phone call asking if we’re all set…

Getting Home

Sunday, I was able to check The Tube and South West Trains websites before travelling, so I knew I could get back to Winchester… so here I am. It’s incredibly travelling around/the uncertainty/the disappointment, but I am extremely grateful that I am tucked up in my nice warm bed, able to watch plenty of material on iPlayer/4oD, etc., and had cooked up all my spare food into ‘ready meals’ in the freezer! So now we just have to wait and see, and Keep Calm and Carry On (and try and ignore any work that’s within my eye range – holiday time has been booked, and whether I get to go anywhere or not, let’s have a holiday! I could just about cope so long as I don’t lose our financially and can book something else in the future, but really, the time is there, I want to seize it, and I need some time away!!

Keeping an Eye Out

  • We are able to keep a live check on British Airways departures/arrivals online (the flight to Cairo didn’t go today :-().
  • 10 day weather forecasts for nearby areas are available online (still showing light snow/low temperatures til after Christmas)
  • Twitter accounts for Heathrow Airport and BA are providing some of the most up to date information – well used, I’d say!

For now though, Wait and See, Keep Calm and Carry On (airlines haven’t yet put out the timetables for tomorrow, yet alone Wednesday…)

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