Saturday, July 5, 2014

Flying High...and Low.

I’m finally back at a keyboard! YAYYYY.  It’s been nearly three weeks of familial bliss amid my holidaying children and grandchildren here on Mykonos (for the wags among you, “nearly” modifies “three weeks,” not “bliss.”:)).

But bliss rhymes with abyss, and into the latter plunged my creative focus as my seven-, five-, and one-year-old grandkids raised my spirits to the heavens.  Their parents of course kept me grounded, reminding me that one of the primary purposes of their visit was to celebrate my birthday. And so we did.  Several times, assuring that everyone on the island now knows my age and henceforth and forever more shall begin every sentence addressed to me with, “For someone of your age…”

Papou is how old?
Rather than resist all of that, I think I’ll take it as leave to practice being a curmudgeon and flail away at the gods. In this instance, on behalf of my daughter and her family vis–a-vis British Airways.

That’s not to suggest British Airways is a god, only that it behaves as if it thinks it is.  It even abbreviates its name to “BA,” as in the Ancient Egyptian word for that part of God that incarnates and reincarnates, traveling between the worlds of the living and the dead, depicted in hieroglyphics as a human-headed bird hovering over the deceased. 

The other BA

Some might say in the case of British Airways that depiction more appropriately represents a vulture.  Others would undoubtedly disagree with me and argue that from their experiences BA represents the “ba” in “ba-humbug,” as in “who cares?”

For those of you familiar with the ways of mighty BA, what I have to say may seem just another ho-hum example of BA’s legendary dysfunctional relationship with baggage, but to others it might help explain why Harry Potter preferred walking through walls and zooming along on broomsticks to flying BA. 

Let’s start out with a little ditty to set the mood…

“Travelers Beware,
British Airways doesn’t care 
That once you’re out of the air
Your bags aren’t there.”

On the recommendation of a friend of mine with the Greek National Tourist Organization, my daughter, her husband, and their year-old baby girl booked to fly BA out of JFK to Heathrow and on BA again directly into Mykonos, rather than traveling on Delta non-stop to Athens and from there on to Mykonos.

They left JFK on Friday the 13th of June—an auspicious beginning—to join me in celebration of Father’s Day and my birthday on Sunday.  The JFK leg took off two hours late, touching down in Heathrow twenty minutes before the scheduled Mykonos leg, but the JFK plane never reached the gate in time to make the Mykonos connection.

But this is not about BA’s apparent absence of effort at making that connection work.  Nor is it with BA re-booking them on a flight into Athens that kept the family sitting around Heathrow for ten hours, followed by several more hours in Athens waiting for a sunrise connecting flight into Mykonos.

No, the gripe runs to a deeper example of BA’s lack of consideration for its passengers. One would think that with ten hours to transfer the family’s luggage onto their re-booked Athens flight, BA could make that happen. Especially after my daughter asked a BA representative in Heathrow, “Is it necessary for us to claim our bags here and recheck them on to Athens?”

As if reassuring a child, BA’s representative told her that would not be necessary, because their bags would accompany them to their “final destination.”

Fourteen hours after arriving in Heathrow, the family arrived on Mykonos sans checked bags. Now the fun began.  Where were the bags?  In Athens?  Heathrow?  New York?  No one knew.  No one at the airport had an answer, BA’s automated missing baggage system yielded nothing, and no one could reach a live person at BA for help.

A full day went by with still no news from BA on the fate of their luggage.  Halfway into their second bagless day, I turned to my friend who’d suggested BA in the first place.

Even he couldn’t crack through BA’s automated system to find live help.  So, he went “out of system” and tracked down a living, breathing person who confirmed that indeed BA had located the bags.

They’d never left Heathrow! 

BA in its infinite wisdom had decided to hold onto the bags and send them on to Mykonos the following Tuesday aboard its next regularly scheduled flight to Mykonos—three days after the bags arrived in London and the family had departed for Athens.

How could BA do such a thing and compound it all by keeping the truth from its customers? Surely BA knew that missing luggage ruins a traveler’s holiday.  Costly unplanned expenses and anxieties over the fate of one’s belongings are the very least of what flow from such experiences. 

We’ll likely never know if what drove BA were cost saving considerations, ineptitude, or something else, because BA’s opaque baggage tracking practices give most passengers no access to the truth.

Having said that, I did come across an article published on July 3rd captioned “Baggage chaos continues for British Airways.”  The article reported, “British Airways is warning customers it could take days before they are reunited with their bags following four days of technical issues with conveyor belts at Heathrow Terminal 5. Intermittent problems from Thursday to Sunday meant some bags had to be processed manually and led to many passengers arriving at their destinations without their luggage.”

That sounds like a reasonable explanation for what happened to its passengers’ bags between June 26 and June 29, but what’s BA’s excuse for what happened two weeks before then? And again on June 21 when more travelers flying to Mykonos on BA out of Heathrow arrived without their luggage. Or does BA regard that sort of episode as business as usual, unworthy of an explanation?

“To Fly. To serve” is British Airway’s slogan.  Frankly, I think there’s a better one:  “This is a helluva way to run a railroad.”

Bet Harry Potter would agree…even at his age.



  1. Oh dear, I'd not heard about this luggage nightmare for Karen and family. It's terrible, and BA has not handled things well on any level that would be acceptable to an inconvenienced passenger. That's too bad, since we all thought that this BA connection from Heathrow would give Americans a great connection to Mykonos. Wrong! Sorry to hear about all this, and hope they got home without further incident!

  2. Thanks, Jody, and yes, they are safely back home. Though I must say I consciously waited until hearing all family members (and their luggage) were out of BA's clutching talons before posting this blog. :)

  3. Well, the root of the problem, no doubt, is BA's perception of their customers as a herd of creatures that go, "BA-BA-BAAAAA." That said, you give a damned fine rant (are you ready for it?) for someone of your age... Belated birthday wishes of many, many more! (Birthdays, that is. We all know that death won't stop your rants.)

    1. For once I AGREE with you, Everett. Did I really say that? Must have. Even used all caps to make sure you would read it, OLD MAN.

      As for my post Travels with Charon activities, I promise to try my best to come back from the Styx and rant away.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes, my friend.

    2. "For once I AGREE with you, Everett"

      [picture of Redd Foxx clutching his chest] This is the BIG one! I'm coming to join you Elizabeth!

      Please don't shock me like that, Jeff. I'm an OLD MAN, don't you know?

    3. I'm sure Redd would be proud of how you've kept his business going.

  4. There has been a series of documentaries about BA recently on British TV. They did not come across well.
    They seemed to treat and train their staff in a draconian fashion which is short sighted as staff then struggle to do their best 'for the brand' and the customer. It was robotic. "It doesn't matter that you are a human being and have no clothes for your holidays, I am following company policy."
    That was certainly how it seemed...

    1. Thanks, Caro, I'm sure that bit of information will be comforting to my daughter as she'll know she's not alone! Not sure what it will mean for Annamaria.

  5. Your family looks charming, and grandpa looks sooo happy. She has gotten big.I'm glad all turned out well. Lost luggage is not fun. Yes, and Happy Birthday to you!

  6. This is my third attempt to post a reply. What AM I doing wrong.

    First, Jeff, you win. Your family did have a flight from hell. How did they keep that gorgeous baby calm? And what a great family you have; no wonder you look so happy. (Jeff replied to my whining tale about a strange flight on another blog I posted on).

    At the risk of being too long here, I want to tell a worse story about BA, which my British friends call Bloody Awful.

    We were in London on 9-11-2001 celebrating my birthday, due to leave the next day. Of course we couldn't. We could have left two days later but there were desperate people at Heathrow sleeping on the ground (they couldn't get inside). But we stayed one more day to help ease the congestion. We were flying BA and when we did take our economy seats, we could see into Business Class, which was very large and very empty. Rather than allow desperate, stranded people fly in those seats, people who couldn't afford to extend their stay in hotels, BA chose to fly with a huge and empty compartment.

    Yes, bloody awful!

  7. Glad you're persistent, Barbara! I'm told the baby was perfect the entire trip, though at that age (14-months) babies are happy just to be warm, dry, and long as the pressure doesn't affect them. Hmm, come to think of it, so are a lot of adults. :)

    Your experience on BA crystallizes the essence of so many of the stories I've heard telling of that airline's general absence of grace in caring for its passengers.