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Archive for March, 2014

Friday 28th February 2014

I’m starting this blog entry in the departure lounge at Bangalore Airport; it’s nice to be back here at last.

We were previously here the day before yesterday at 06:00am – it is now 03:00am, 45 hours later. We leave at 03:45am, exactly 48 hours after I awoke to begin what was planned to be my final day in India.

The Problem
BA118 was scheduled to depart at 08:00am on 26th February but had a problem with one of the engines, so after being boarded and seated, we were taxied out and then taxied back (with over 2½ hours on the plane). We were finally disembarked. Up until that point we were kept up to date with developments and we had no problem with the safety concerns and actions that caused the delay.

After we had disembarked however, British Airways (BA) did themselves no favours at all. None.

We were left to re-enter India, return purchases to Duty Free and collect our luggage without any instruction or information from BA. As queues began to form at two points in the baggage area we realised that this instruction and information might be being given at these points – which was partly true. After a long wait we eventually realised that the girl, who was the epitome of tact and patience faced as she was with increasingly frustrated passengers, was directing people to home (if local) or to hotels if not.

We left our names, telephone details and seat numbers with her as requested and transport was laid on. By 12:00 we were leaving the airport. It then took almost 90 minutes to get to the Royal Orchid Hotel (there are more than one similarly named hotels here – so I’m not sure which one), which on first view (in the driveway) looked quite nice.

The Hotel
Despite the welcoming foyer, my room turned out to be very smelly, very noisy and worryingly dirty. The A/C was either on full, or completely off with no low or medium levels. The smell coming out of it was of old cigarettes and sweat – truly awful. The toilet showed signs of inexpert cleaning and the shower heads were simply dirty. Overall, the room had had a normal clean, but there was no evidence of a deep clean ever having taken place: wooden surfaces were sticky, the flooring was cracked and as I said – the toilet was shitty.

Alison’s room was even worse: E.g. One of her twin beds had stained bed sheets and her window would not close.

The Hotel Royal Orchid is one of a chain in Bangalore, and I cannot comment on the state of the others – but this one, adjoining the KGA Golf Course on Old Airport Road was very grubby, smelly in parts and downright unkempt – in our experience. I for one have no wish to ever go there again. This opinion was shared by many of the other stranded passengers.

Nevertheless, we had been told that news of our flight would be sent to the hotel and we would each be telephoned (on the numbers we had supplied at the airport) as soon as news was available. At this point, we still had the understanding that we would be re-boarded onto the cancelled flight on the following morning. So we had to stay.

The wait
Now began the interminable wait for news from BA.

As I said, we’d been left with the impression that a replacement part would be sent from London and that we would all be rebooked upon this flight, some time the following day (27th February). 13:30pm on 27th February soon became the rumoured departure time – a time that appeared on the BA web site at one time or another. This changed soon after we woke up on 27th. [Flight Tracking] I should note here that friends and family in the UK who were tracing our original BA118 flight from Bangalore, were saying that it had landed in Heathrow about half an hour ahead of schedule. How on earth can that be as the plane was standing at Bangalore Airport, crippled and not moving? Another BA cock-up to add to the ever-growing list?

The departure time shown on the web soon changed to 02:30am on 28th February and every time someone phoned BA (either in Bangalore or the UK) they were told that this was a confirmed time and flight, despite the web site saying that it was estimated and NOT confirmed. BA staff soon had to agree that they were getting all their information from the same place as us – the BA website. Friends and family in the UK were repeatedly told that BA staff at Bangalore were dealing with the situation – which I can assure readers, they were not, certainly not efficiently.

The rumour began to spread that the wrong part had been sent from London and that the flight would not therefore return with passengers. This is quite understandable; I can certainly see how BA would now prefer the 747 back home for repairs, and how flying it back on three engines with a full passenger load might be impossible. So why not come clean as soon as they knew?

Frustration
It is difficult to describe the stress of not knowing what was happening. We’d gone to bed on the 26th February fairly certain that after 24 hours BA would have a plan and would start ringing us. However, by mid-afternoon on 27th February, it became clear that they hadn’t. For pretty much all of the day we sat in or around the hotel lobby with other stranded passengers phoning, searching and pleading for more information. One quite determined lady had someone send a fax with details of the current situation, but this did no more than confirm what we were being told piecemeal.

Some fellow passengers by now had limited medication, one couple had had to extend care arrangements in the UK for another family member – with no knowledge that this would be possible, and all of us were having to pay for the bottled water we were drinking. The polite and patient member of BA staff mentioned earlier had written on our hotel vouchers: ‘no room service’ and ‘no alcohol’ – which the hotel had interpreted as ‘no drinks at all except tap water’. Alison and I ate in the ‘Geoffrey’s’ Bar because we didn’t want to eat Indian food just before an eleven hour flight – but we even had to pay for that because only buffet food was included in our voucher (apparently).

With no interest from British Airways, we couldn’t check or change that!

Social Media
Alison and I had started to pound Twitter and Facebook with pleas for information as soon as we realised that nothing was going to be gleaned from the Bangalore staff on Thursday morning. We’d hoped that by the time social media (customer relations?) staff came on duty at 09:00am UK time, there would be some form of communication from them. Social Media complaints usually attract immediate attention from public facing companies because they fear the damage that campaigns such as ours can cause.

We have still not had any response from the social media team (nor anyone else at BA to be honest). A simple direct message asking for our phone numbers or email would have made all the difference, even if they could only say ‘we know no more than you, but will try to find out’.

Denouement
By mid-afternoon, a steady stream of people was returning from the airport. Apparently, they had left the hotel of their own accord during the morning to just be at the airport and to pester BA staff there. They had returned because by now they had been told that a wrong part had been delivered and that they had been rescheduled onto other flights – mainly on the following day (28th February).

Others amongst us began to receive a steady drip of communication from BA. There was no discussion; just reroutes and times. Some fellow passengers were to travel via local flights to Chennai and then on to Heathrow. Some via Dehli, some via Muscat and some I believe via Mumbai. The longer distance travellers, ultimately going to the USA were being rerouted east via Far East countries and into West Coast airports.

We however, were getting nothing. (As I complete this on Sunday 2nd March, I have still heard nothing from BA – it’s as if I wasn’t on that flight.) So as soon as this became apparent, we contacted our employer and their travel agent in Glasgow.

We eventually returned to the UK via Frankfurt, on a Lufthansa flight that left Bangalore at 03:45am on 28th February.

This was no thanks to BA.

Every thanks are due however, to our employer and to their travel agents Portman Travel of Glasgow, for securing us two places on what turned out to be a relaxing, problem free journey to Manchester.

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