Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Smart phone, dumb airline

Communicating with passengers during an air traffic control strike: tell them what's happening

Yesterday evening (Monday 2 April) I got stuck at Geneva Airport after a sneaky weekend in the mountains.

My EasyJet flight from Geneva to Gatwick was delayed due to the French air traffic control crisis.

Because Geneva's in the bottom left bit of Switzerland, flights turn left and go through French air traffic space. Rather than going up and right through Germany.

Tell me what's happening

I felt annoyed by the delay so I did a couple of tweets. I wasn't angry with the strikers, I was annoyed at EasyJet for its lack of information.

The strike was already affecting EasyJet flights Monday afternoon, and yet Monday early evening check-in staff at Geneva let us hand over our baggage and proceed to the gate.

Our departure time came and went. No plane. And no EasyJet staff around to tell us what was happening.

Some information came over the tannoy: 'At 8pm we will make an announcement.'  They didn't.

Good-natured passengers

All passengers were good-natured. Business people in smart suits, used to airport hold-ups, and ski bums in fleeces and jeans, basking in memories of swishing through the snow in spring sunshine. We shared jokes and haribo.

Even passengers with young children were surprisingly upbeat. I ear-wigged one inventive mum:
"Imagine you're reading a story about a little boy stuck at an airport, that'd be really cool, wouldn't it?"

Smart phones, dumb airline

The only way we, the passengers, could find out what was happening was through our internet gadgets. We went to the Departures and arrivals section of the EasyJet website and found our new late-evening departure time.

And someone found out about the air traffic control strike by looking at the Latest travel info section of the EasyJet site.


Actually, it was alright in the end. The flight took off three hours late. The pilot said sorry. And I made it home to south London by half past midnight.

You can't complain: the flight was only £20

Well, actually, I paid nearly £200 for my return flight so I expect decent communications.

This lack of comms, combined with the snaking Easter holiday queues at Gatwick at check-in on Friday 30 March, put me off EasyJet.

Here's a thought: why not open more check-in desks? That way you wouldn't need to keep bellowing out:
'Anyone for Malaga still in the queue?'

Oh yeah, if you're flying EasyJet this Easter from Gatwick: arrive at least three hours before your departure time. You'll thank me for this advice.

Honesty is best

As Billy Joel sang: 'Honesty, is hardly ever heard'.

I could forgive EasyJet if they'd been honest and told us quickly what was happening.

How about:
'We're sorry about the delay. There's an air traffic control strike in France that affects your flight as we go through French air space. We're doing everything we can to get your flight sorted. But we can't yet give you an exact departure time. We'll let you know as soon as we can."

I'll never fly EasyJet again

Well, actually, I probably will.

If you're a skier and you like France, there are lots of French ski resorts where it's easier to fly to Geneva in Switzerland, then get a minibus across the border to France.

And if you use Gatwick, EasyJet seems to be the main airline that flies from Gatwick to Geneva. * (British Airways flies from Heathrow and Swissair flies from City Airport.)

*Please let me know if I'm wrong.

And finally, thanks go to ... 

Thanks go to ground staff of the firm Dnata at Geneva Airport for their commiseration about the lack of EasyJet information. Thanks go to Dnata also for explaining that, once you're through passport control, EasyJet has no staff at Geneva. The air-side staff arrive with your incoming plane.

And thanks go to Geneva Airport's free wifi. It kept my teen nephew happy for an hour on Facebook. Priceless!

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