Sunday 19 December 2010

The Easyjet Nightmare!

Ok, so there was snow - which didn't help. But then, there was downright incompetence. Ignorance, as well...but mostly just plain old-fashioned incompetence. Bucketloads of it....and most of it on the part of easyjet staff.

We were loaded onto a plane on Friday morning, bound for Pisa. Slightly frustrating to be told almost immediately that we wouldn't be able to take off for nearly two hours, as Pisa airport was closed due to a snowfall. Annoying, but there you go - these things happen. So, we sat, and patiently waited. Time passed. Nothing happened. More time passed; the two hour delay was long finished. The Brancolis were with us, and they thought to check on their ipad what the Pisa airport website had to say...which was that the airport was still closed. Then, the Technical Department thought to call Davide who works as an electrician in the control tower at Pisa airport, and he confirmed that the place was closed and wasn't likely to open again that day.

Some passengers demanded to be let off the plane, and the cabin crew grudgingly said that they could, although they wouldn't be let back on, and would lose any chance of a refund on their fares. About a dozen still insisted on doing it. And then, they couldn't get off anyway, as it turned out there was nobody available to man the exit door from the outside... and so we all sat there, effectively imprisoned.
The cabin crew handed out cups of water and packets of crisps - grumbling that they'd be losing their commission on all of it - and still we sat there.

Eventually, they found somebody to open the door, and those people left who were buying their liberty at the cost of their plane ticket. Around 3.30, the crew were out of time, and were replaced by another crew. The replacement pilot blithely announced that we were eleventh in the queue for de-icing, but that we should be airborne shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Pisa airport announced that it would be closed until at least eleven in the evening. We pointed this fact out to the blonde (in every sense) stewardess who came past; she said she'd pass it on the captain, but almost immediately we heard her saying to somebody else that we could expect to be arriving in Pisa at around 6.30. They obviously don't hire them on the basis of their IQ.

An american in front of us spoke to his italian wife inLucca, who had also spoken directly to Pisa airport. Yup, it was definitely closed. Confirmed by somebody else who had a friend waiting for her at Pisa, and who had sent an SMS, to say that it was be closed until late in the evening. The TD went to have a word with the pilot, who seemed surprised to hear that Pisa airport was closed. Nobody had said anything to him about it; he'd check.
As more announcements regularly followed to give us updates on our imminent departure, unrest was growing in our part of the plane, where it was generally known that there was no way the plane was going to be taking off at all. Given that it had nowhere to go to. After another hour, and having checked once more with Davide, TD went to see what was going on. "Oh", the pilot said "I put in a call to head office about an hour ago to check whether or not Pisa was open, and they haven't got back to me yet." So, it isn't just the cabin crew who aren't hired on the basis of their brain power.

Eventually....finally....almost seven and a half hours after we'd boarded, there was an announcement that - shock! horror! What a surprise!- Pisa airport was, in fact closed, and so the flight wouldn't be leaving after all. We gathered ourselves together, and got off the plane. But the nightmare, even for that day, wasn't yet over. Instead of taking us to the baggage hall, some idiot took everybody back into the main departures lounge, and then abandoned the passengers there for over half an hour, while they presumably tried to sort themselves out. We were eventually then taken where we should have gone in the first place - which involved walking most of the way back to the gate we'd just left - and then waited for the best part of an hour, while they tried to find out what had happened to the luggage. In all, it took almost two hours after we'd got off the plane before we were finally free of the place.

The Brancolis decided to make other plans, and not bother to try and travel on a replacement easyjet flight. They'd just had enough of the whole thing, and if they couldn't sort out a flight on BA, then they probably wouldn't bother to go at all. With the four-footeds to collect, however, we didn't have that luxury - but at least while all the other passengers were put up for the night at some Gatwick hotel, we could go back to a decent fireside and dinner in London, which is what we did.

As soon as we got in, I looked online, and found that we'd automatically been re-booked on a Saturday flight at 11.00....and with some misgivings, we decided to go for it. Gluttons for punishment, we headed for Gatwick, and for another day of misery. The snow came down, and Gatwick was closed, which involved another six hour wait in the departure lounge...but as soon as the runway looked set to open, easyjet called us all forward....and then THEY DID IT AGAIN!
Unbelievably, THEY DID IT AGAIN!

We'd called Davide directly, around two in the afternoon, and he said that Pisa airport was closed still, until at least six in the evening. I checked on the airport website, which said that it wouldn't be open until at least seven...but still, easyjet were boarding the plane. The same plane as the day before, at the same gate. Talk about groundhog day! At the gate, I asked why they were boarding the plane, since Pisa wasn't open...."Oh?" They said. "Nobody's said anything to us" I got slightly irritated, and for my pains, was held until last, so that somebody could come and see if I was the same person from our group of passengers who had apparently thumped one of their staff the evening before. I hadn't been, in fact...but I do wish I'd seen it!
As I stood there, reading the paper, and waiting to be 'identified' I listened to a well-padded girl (not built for speed) called Hannah, who was checking people in, give them a whole string of not-quite-lies just to get them to move along and get on the plane, and out of her hair: "Yes, you'll be taking off almost immediately", "Oh, definitely... in less than an hour"; "You'll be there, oh, by 7.30, for sure". And eventually, having pointed out to them that since I had three witnesses to the fact that they couldn't pin an assault-and-battery charge on me, I was allowed to board...I was given the option of not boarding, of course, but as with the previous day, it would have meant forfeiting my not insubstantial fare. Easyjet do love their bottom line!

Oh, Lord! I feel weary just at the memory. Same plane, slightly fewer people (since some had fallen by the wayside). Announcements about imminent departure. Then, the fact that actually Pisa airport, it appeared was closed, but that it would be open again in time for our arrival. Then, that the departure time was being put back.....a little. In fact, relatively speaking, the pain was not great, since this time we sat on the plane for less than two hours before they acknowledged that Pisa wasn't going to be opening again any time soon, and that the flight had been cancelled.

The passengers were brilliant. Well-behaved, restrained, due medals all-round. So, it was a surprise and deeply inappropriate that the ground handling staff met the offloaded passengers behind a security cordon of uniformed police. The staff then said that nobody would be able to leave the gate area until all duty-free that any passengers might have bought had been handed in. Despite the fact that there isn't any duty free between the UK and Italy; hasn't been for years. "Oh, yes there is", they assured us confidently when this fact was pointed out. Where, in God's name, do they find these people?

Back to the baggage hall (en route, I had the pleasure of passing well-padded Hannah, who looked green as I commented to her that it was a 'shame she'd screwed it up again...'). It was only at the point when the luggage appeared to have been lost, that some of the italians started to lose it. Not in a major way, but perhaps more emotionally than the anglo-saxons would have done. And that was when the uniformed police decided to wade in, perhaps rather unwisely. As they tried to lead two italian women away, the cries of 'No', and 'Shame!' and booing from the rest of the passengers turned into shouts and became more insistent; and the whole thing looked to become really quite nasty, when it was announced that the luggage was arriving on a carousel at the other end of the baggage hall, and everybody immediately rushed over there, and the italian women were allowed to go with them.

We retrieved our luggage, and it was only as we were on the train back to Victoria that it occurred to me that no announcement had been made about hotel accommodation and about further flight arrangements. For the simple reason that there were none. Unlike the previous evening, no re-booking had been made, and the passengers had simply been abandoned to their fate. Many of them with babies and young children; nowhere to stay; no alternative flight arrangements made; and no available seats on any airline to Pisa this side of Christmas. (And, btw, easyjet are required by EU law to provide accommodation for people who are stranded like this, who are their responsibility; they seem to have decided to ignore this detail)

First thing this morning, I found that I'd received an e-mail at 2.00, saying that I could either re-book my flight or have a refund by choosing the appropriate option on their website. Of course, when I went to try to do one or the other, neither option actually exists. The TD has just been on hold for over two hours (at 10p a minute) to try to speak to somebody at easyjet, before he gave up; that wasn't a long answering-queue, it was just somebody at easyjet having decided not to bother.

Yes, there was snow. But that was only a small part of the problem. The misery we and all of our fellow passengers endured in the past two days was almost entirely due to mismanagement by easyjet. Had they had proper communication of information about conditions at Pisa, then we wouldn't have been trapped for eight hours on the plane on Friday, and nor would we have wasted the whole day at Gatwick yesterday, since they would have known to cancel the flight much earlier in the day. How unimpressive is it that on both occasions the passengers in the back of the plane were much better informed than the people in uniform at the front?

That isn't the way to run a whelk stall, let alone an airline!


Anonymous said...

Goodness me, what a nightmare of a story. I am so pleased that I didn't have to endure that. I hope it gets sorted out very soon. I don't suppose that there are many other options.

Pomiane said...

Well, as things stand, we're going to Amsterdam on Tuesday, and will (try to)travel to Pisa from there. NO direct flights are available before Christmas, at all. To think of all those italian families with small kids who've just been abandoned by easyjet, and left to sort themselves out - it's shameful!