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Posts Tagged ‘2014’

I really don’t understand how we get to this point with a company that sells itself as a nation’s pride. After leaving Alison and me stranded in India for almost 48 hours without contact or care – British Airways deny any wrongdoing.

Vegetable Talis

Because I wrote to my M.P. to ask for help at the outset of my campaign to get some recognition of their culpability from British Airways (BA) and because he, Jason McCartney, forwarded my enquiry to the CEO of BA (Keith Williams), I did eventually get a phone call which said sorry, ‘send us your expenses receipts and we’ll pay them’ – along with an £80 voucher to fly with BA again.

The voucher had enough conditions attached to make it worthless to me. So, I wrote back via a ‘web form’ (there’s no way of phoning back and speaking to the one person who seemed to care) to say that this resolution was not satisfactory and to please try again.

I’ve heard nothing back. So I have had to write to them (via ‘web form’) once more. The letter (snail mail) I sent at the outset has been ignored completely.

Lufthansa lunch

On two separate occasions my application for compensation under EU law has been rejected out of hand. This is despite BA’s negligence in not repatriating me as required by international carrier standards. Because BA did not contact us at any time that we were in India and because we could get no response from them through any of the channels open to us; Alison and I had to take our own steps to repatriate ourselves. We finally left India almost 48 hours after the scheduled departure of BA118.

Following social media comments, I realise that Alison and I are not alone in our disappointment with BA. Even discarding the complaints about lost or late luggage and inability to contact BA on a variety of more trivial matters, there is enough evidence to suggest that the company simply do not care about the human cost of cancelled flights or overly long delays. If they do, I’d like to see some evidence of that.

I’m sure that all of the complainants, like me, understand that these things happen: problems do occur. However, once more like me, they all feel that the company has a duty of care to ticket holders and their families when flights are delayed or cancelled. They are quick enough to deny claims when these are made, yet extremely slow to react (or don’t react) to enquiries and updates.

All they had to do to appease us in India was give us timely, accurate information – but they were unable to do that.

What is the role of a social media team if not to give timely, accurate information?

Perhaps British Airways are simply understaffed?

See https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/british-airways-unforgivably-poor-customer-service/ for story.

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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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Monday 24th February 2014

Kites

I’m not sure how much of this I will get to finish before we set off home on Wednesday, but I need to mention the Kites. I’m not entirely sure what it is I want to say about them, but each day their presence amazes me.

I am talking about the birds, not the ‘go fly a‘ kites. These magnificent birds used to be a rare site in the UK, Red Kites in Wales were especially rare, but here they are everywhere. There must be hundreds overhead, constantly swooping and surfing the thermals. This entire area is urban, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of open land, yet here they are over India’s third largest city in numbers matching the starlings I remember from my Huddersfield youth.

I think they are Black Kites, but I think I’ve seen red ones amongst them. The are beautiful. There is a flock of them (do kites flock?) over UB City, just a short way away.

Disparity

There is obvious disparity between this magnificent edifice (I suspect there are places like it in Dubai, I’ve certainly seen similar in Muscat) and the surrounding area. [read] Where we are based is not one of the rougher areas of Bangalore, yet the pavements are cracked, broken and dirty. The roadsides are dusty and often piled with rubbish, the odd beggar appears from nowhere when we walk past, but as we walk closer to UB City, the pavements improve (a little) and there is less evidence of obvious poverty.

The 10-20 minute drive to our training venue takes us through some of the more ‘Indian’ areas and these seem to be vibrant places with roadside stalls, small businesses, banks, shops and animals. We’ve seen monkeys, cows, squirrels and chipmunks around here, something we never see around our hotel.

No matter where we are though the roads are a thrusting river of noise and chaos.

Wednesday 26th February

I’m up now and almost ready for the car to take us to the airport for our return flight. The last two weeks seem to have flown past quickly and in some ways it would be nice to stay on longer and learn more about Indian life. My abiding memory will be the traffic noise and chaos, describing it really is beyond words. You need to experience it – do it if you can.

I am looking forward to getting home and to having a proper cup of tea however 🙂

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Friday 21st February

I’ve been in Bangalore for a week now. It really has been a new cultural experience for me.

This is the third biggest city in India by population, with between 4.29 and 8.5 million inhabitants and the fourth wealthiest by GDP: (both counts depending on which dodgy site you take to have the most up to date and reliable information).

“It is popularly known as the Silicon Valley of India [..] With an estimated population of 8.5 million, the city is the third largest in terms of high net worth individuals.” From

The city is an exciting buzz of constant movement, traffic noise and the shrill of motor-horns, with a visible range of wealth indicators sitting (apparently happily) side by side. From the rooftop garden here at the hotel we can see that there is a fair amount of building work going on, but doesn’t seem to have improved the lot of many local inhabitants.

Transport

We always take the hotel car to our workplace and they pick us up when we’ve finished. But for shorter, more ad hoc trips we have used one of the many Auto’s to be seen flying around the city at all times. These operate something like a cross between good old London cabs and the dolmus you see in Turkey. Except that the maximum load they can take is four (if one person shares a seat with the driver!), but the comfortable load is two. The approx. cost (I think) is INR20-50 per kilometre (20p-50p). But several drivers have simply said ‘pay what you want’ – which I think means ‘Indians pay 20 rupees but you can give me more!’

There seems to be several means of them attracting customers:

a)   Sometimes they will follow you up and down the road entreating you to let them take you to your (unknown by them) destination,
b)   Sometimes, they will be parked and wave at you from somewhere to try and attract your attention,
c)    Sometimes they simply drive by where you walking and say “auto?”

Mostly, they take “no” for an answer but can be quite a nuisance ((a) above especially). They all have ‘family’ who have an ‘emporium’ somewhere (or government shop) and despite your protestations, they want to take you there. So far we’ve given in to one such entreaty only and I ended up buying a lovely silk bed set – but at more cost than I would have paid on Commercial Street.

Employment

There does seem to be a good deal of employment here, but at what rate and at what level we don’t know. There seems to be a lot of standing around, sometimes in-uniform and sometimes in-mufti. [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/dsugden/12638130204/ ] There are many men at the training venue who seem to just be there. I’m sure they have a role (maybe they clean the toilet in between our sessions, maybe they walk up and down the stairs to make sure the lights stay on), who knows? At the hotel there are (mainly) young men in various colours of uniform simply smiling at you and saying hello sir. There is even a doorman in full and colourful uniform who simply smiles, nods and says ‘good morning/afternoon’ as appropriate.

Yet, what training goes into that employment, it’s hard to tell. The waiting staff are obsequiously polite and will do anything for you, except notice when you DO need their attention. I suspect they have a fear of the head waiter, who does keep telling them how to do this, that or the other – except notice when you DO need service. It has got so bad in the restaurant here that we no longer go there and choose to use the bar (now there’s another story) where we can easily catch the young waiters’ attention.

All in all the people here are lovely. Our group are amongst the most homogenous groups I’ve ever dealt with. There is an even mix of men and women and all interact in a friendly, often humorous, even-handed way. On the face of things at least, men and women here treat each other as equals.

Also see:

http://www.nriol.com/india-statistics/biggest-cities-india.asp

http://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080407040625AAUQLfV

http://www.mapsofindia.com/top-ten-cities-of-india/top-ten-wealthiest-towns-india.html

http://goindia.about.com/od/greetingscommunication/a/head-wobble.htm

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Wednesday 19th February 2014

Motor Horns

Cow and Car

One of the things I’ve noticed being here in India, is how driving skills are so much different to ours in the UK. When I say driving I mean anything, anything at all: Auto-Rickshaws (TukTuks), motorcycles, scooters, buses, trucks, cars – even peddle bikes; anything.

All of the above vehicles share the roads with men and women pushing handcarts laden with anything from single to multi-coloured fruits or vegetables, handcarts laden with every other sort of merchandise you’d never think would be transported in this way. And cows!

To cross these rivers of mayhem I was told on day one … “you just go for it”, and sure enough, the only way to safely (sic) cross the road is to ‘just go for it’. We’ve watched the technique for almost a week now and even on the busiest junctions, where simply going for it would result in certain death; an added wave of the hand (more of a firm flutter really) towards the oncoming traffic seems to do the trick. At the halfway point of crossing the road you have to remember to wave your other hand at the opposing traffic, but even then you have to keep going for it. Don’t falter, don’t stop.

Chipmunk

Of course, none of this would ever work without the horn.

Unlike the UK where horns are merely seen as often unused, misused and unnecessary accessories, here in India they are an absolute essential. Without a horn on your vehicle you cannot drive for more than a few yards.

There seems to be an entire horn language.

There are single beeps, double beeps, long beeps, short beeps, loud beeps, quiet beeps, deep-note beeps and high note beeps – all of which are used in a variety of combinations that say “excuse me sir, would you please be aware of my presence”, or “excuse me sir, I’m coming through whether you like it or not”, or “excuse me sir, have you noticed that truck about to cut you up? or “just eff-off out of my way” …

Motorbike and scooter riders must have specially developed thumbs to enable them to both reach the horn and to exercise the horn so much and so well.

The roads are a cacophony of noise all day and all evening. Without the constant beep of horns you would think you have gone deaf.

Blood pools

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Friday 14th February 2014

Motorbikes

Well, I’m here now.

We arrived this morning about 20 minutes early, just after 4.30am. The airport here in Bangalore is half new and half not-so-old, so you are not overly aware that you have arrived in India for a while. Quite a while as it happened, because the luggage was only very slowly sent up to the baggage collection area.

We finally set off into Bangalore (via hotel car) at 6:00am.

My room is gorgeous, yet by the time we got to the Hotel St. Marks, all I wanted to do was unpack very very slowly, and to sleep – and not too soundly – for a while. Following a light buffet lunch in the restaurant (we’d wanted snacks but … well, an Indian buffet was all that was available) the rest of our afternoon was spent exploring the locality, planning and training (me) for tomorrow. We stayed in-house for our evening meal – another Indian feast and the odd Kingfisher Beer.

Saturday 15th February 2014

We’d had a couple of walks yesterday, so actually starting work today wasn’t too big a shock. I did get to see more of the city though, as the journey to our training venue was about 20 minutes long. I didn’t see too many of the expected cows or monkeys today but there were a couple just outside the venue – which is just a little more suburban (run down).

Our trainees are young (compared to me 🙂 adults, all wanting to mark exam scripts for the host company here. Alison and I are tasked to train them in the use of specific online marking software and all associated skills. They are a lovely bunch of people with excellent English and a very cosmopolitan outlook. We have tried to help them understand the learners who are being tested – in this case level 1 students studying FS ICT. We have explained that the students do not always have the best numeracy or literacy skills in the world and that it is just as likely that English is not the student’s first language. Hence, there are lots of things to explain, which we suspect will take all of the time we are here.

Sunday 16th February 2014

Today was much the same as yesterday except I saw a lot more cows, and a chipmunk! The cows are amazing. Traffic gives way (mostly stops) for them, which is something it tends not to do for other traffic – see this video clip. They just wander around where they like and no one bats an eye. The biggest surprise to me is that they look exactly like the cows we see in farmers’ fields (rather than ones like this).

Saturday night’s food was amazing. I had a vegetable talis (Alison had chicken tandoori) in the hotel restaurant – both were excellent. Two colleagues arrived from England today too – to cover English. We all enjoyed yet another Indian meal (buffet this time) in the hotel restaurant.

The packed lunch on both days was a vegetarian curry box – more curry! They were nice, but I’m already a bit overfed with curry right now.

We’re avoiding the salads and some fruits but right now I’d love a nice juicy steak with chips.  Mmmm.

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