Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Contrite Yankee In British Air's Court

March 30, 2013
So the humorless lady at the Customer Service Desk at British Airlines in Heathrow Airport told me I needed to be through security by 5:20 the following morning or I would miss my 6:20 flight to Madrid and, thus, my connecting flight on to Sevilla, where my wife of 33 years was waiting patiently without knowledge of my problems because my iPhone could not find a carrier in the United Kingdom.

I was given a goodie bag full of plastic travel items and a white, extra-large T-shirt, and two bus vouchers and a comped hotel room with a comped dinner for my troubles. I instinctively knew the airline was not paying full price for the comped hotel room and I wondered what their sweetheart deal was. Incredibly, I would find out, but not in the happiest of ways.

I won't bore you with my provincial wonderment at how an entire nation could, somehow, someway destroy perfectly good cars by ripping out the steering columns and rebuilding them on the wrong side of the dashboard, but I never knew our cousins in Merry Old England did so many things so amazingly different than we do. For one thing, they don't count the ground floor of a hotel as the first floor. No, to the Brits, the second floor is the first floor. So, my comped hotel room, #1176, was on the second floor.

It doesn't stop there. I couldn't plug my computer into a wall socket because they've designed their own wall sockets which are incompatible with the Yankee plugs. I had to go down to the front desk to get an adaptor. If I didn't know better I would say they were doing this just to piss us off.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the comped dinner was only for the buffet, but the manager generously comped my salmon dinner (18 pounds, or about $22), which was a smart thing to do in light of what happened the next morning.

I asked for a four a.m. wakeup call because I wanted to catch the first bus at 4:30 to the airport and give myself enough padding to make it through security by 5:20.

I got the automated call at four, drug myself out of bed at about 4:05, dressed, cleaned up and was out the door by 4:25. But not quite. I noticed the bill slipped under the door and leaned down and picked it up. Glancing at it, I noticed the bill was for around 80 pounds. There were two internet charges of 8 pounds each, two glasses of wine at dinner for 15 pounds, a surcharge of some sort and then, at the bottom was the room charge of 40 pounds.

So now I knew what the sweetheart rate was for British Air but now I also had a bone to pick with the front desk. I got down to the front desk at 4:28 and asked the lone desk clerk the reason for the room charge and she defensively dismissed it: "that is a mistake, sir. Here, I will take it off your bill." Just then I nervously looked over my shoulder and I see the bus pull up. I step away from the desk. The desk clerk says, "Wait. It's printing out." I say, "He's not going to leave is he?" And I wave my arms frantically in his general direction to alert him I want to be on that bus. I turn back to the desk and she has the printout in her hand, I leap forward to grab it and turn to see the bus drive off into the night.

I started swearing and throwing my luggage on the floor. The frightened desk clerk calls the manager, who came out. He was about 12, but taller than me and he had a I'll-Take-You-Down-On-The-Floor-Right-Here-Old-Man look in his eye. He told me to calm down. I said as calmly as I could, "The Bastard drove off!" The manager says, "He is contract. He doesn't work for us." This makes me madder, not happier.

A crazy cab ride with a woman from Brazil who also got bumped off British Air ensues, and suffice to say, I made it through security and got on the flight to Madrid, but my first ever encounter with a Fascist Pig was yet to come.

In spite of all of this I somehow admire British Air. I don't know why this is. Perhaps it's a British trick. Is it the calming accent. An appeal to our roots?

"There is only the trying. Everything else is not our business."
—T.S. Eliot