Monday, 2 February 2009

Easyjet Makes Most of Snow Chaos

London's Piccadilly Line severe delays - but a minor miracle

London has the worst snow for almost two decades overnight. Just my luck to be booked on the 08:40 BMI flight from Heathrow to Glasgow. I trudge off through thick snow at 06.30 to catch the Piccadilly Line. All went well until the almost empty train ground to a halt between stations. Twenty minutes later we were still stuck, rapidly falling snow obscuring the windows. The train ahead had iced up. Eventually our train gingerly edged through red signals to the ever so welcome safety of the platform at Osterley station.

The handful of passengers filed through the carriages to leave by the single door which just reached the platform end. The snow was coming down increasingly thickly now, no wonder the platform manager decided to close the station. Stranded halfway between home and Heathrow I decided to walk to the airport. At least if I turned up BMI would be obliged to rebook me.

Two hours later when I finally marched into Terminal One I was greeted by a dismaying sight. Every single BMI departure on the screen was shown 'Cancelled'. After waiting thirty minutes in a long line to rebook, my two hour walk was rewarded with some more bad news. We should all go home. BMI staff issued frustrated passengers (who thought they'd triumphed by even arriving at the airport) with letters instructing us to phone their call centre. Almost any call to BMI's Indian call centre is worse than a five mile trek through a snowstorm.

Fortunately the all too brief stop at the airport allowed just enough time for a minor miracle to happen on the Piccadilly line. Trains were running back into London and four hours after I'd set off, I was finally home again. With luck now firmly on my side I looked up a non-premium rate number for BMI on the saynoto0870 webiste and after barely a couple of rings I had a new flight booked for the day after tomorrow.

BMI didn't take any passenger details at the airport and so far as I could tell anyone who'd checked in, or maybe even had a reservation could have phoned for a replacement booking.

Contrast my experience with my colleague who booked Easyjet from Gatwick to Glasgow.

When the trains failed to run he didn't make it to Gatwick. Putting it down to bad luck he booked and paid for a new flight later this evening. When Easyjet began cancelling all its flights and with more snow forecast he paid another £20 to move it to the day after tomorrow. Why? I wondered. Because, he explained, he had discovered that Easyjet only ever cancel within the hour of scheduled departure, so if you don't turn up no refund. He didn't fancy trekking to Gatwick to save twenty quid.

Well fair enough, that's what you get with a budget airline I expect you're thinking. True - except his Easyjet flight cost £80 + £20 and mine with BMI cost £44.50.

As I write BBC News reports chaos for Easyjet customers at Stansted. Cancelled flights, five hour queues to rebook and planes diverted to the wrong airports. The news says the weather has cost the airlines millions. Easyjet seems determined to hang on to as many fares as it can. The next news item reports that Ryanair has made a loss. The report speculates that passengers are growing tired of extra charges to book a seat, check in a bag, pay with any type of bank card, etc, etc. Ryaniar's imagination when it comes to 'extras' knows no limit.

The budget airlines are looking the most vulnerable in the economic squeeze - regardless of how they behave during the big freeze.

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