It’s certainly a good thing, for anyone with his old catalog, that Frank Sinatra never flew Wizz Air during the height of the summer holiday season.
Because I’m not sure the old crooner would have found himself romanticizing the notion of ‘glider/starry eyes/where the air gets thin’ if he had had the misfortune to fly from Malaga to Luton in ‘comfort’ one of the budget airline’s non-reclining ironing board seats.
In come fly with meOl’ Blue Eyes sang of a bygone era of travel, when silly things like reaching one’s destination seemed to matter to those in charge of the plane.
Sadly, this so-called “golden age” of air travel has been overtaken by a kind of faceless, automated hell, with smiling flight attendants serving unlimited booze replaced by apps and barcodes that only seem to provide a one-way ticket to abject misery.
Just imagine the chairman of the board having to wrestle with one of those self-service bag drop machines, like we did at Heathrow Terminal 5 a fortnight ago.
As I stood in front of the unmanned computer terminal, printing my own luggage tags and attaching them to our suitcases in the vague hope that we would see them again one day, I couldn’t help but conclude that we had regressed. since the days of paper tickets, inedible airplane food and smoking sections.
Remember the days when you had to call ahead to “confirm” your flights? It may sound archaic now, but it was really a pretty convenient way to make sure you were going on vacation, as opposed to spending days camped out in the terminal, waiting for a flight that may or may not take off, like some travelers poor experienced it this summer.
While I understand that in the 1950s and 1960s flying was both more dangerous and more expensive, with little to do on board other than twiddle your thumbs, at least you also had the luxury of talking to human beings , not to mention your plane being almost always on time.
I know we all have travel horror stories to tell, but my experience over the past fortnight, I think, is indicative of how much has gone wrong with what Sinatra once sang so lovingly about.
Granted, we haven’t experienced anything like those poor souls having to ditch Sotogrande for Southwold or clamber through baggage carousels to collect their bags, but it does give some insight into what turns out to be the worst summer to travel. never recorded.
And as one whistleblower at Heathrow told me: most could have been avoided if the bosses had done more advanced planning.
Things did not bode well for the start of our holiday in France and Spain when we were informed by British Airways a few days before our departure that our flight to Nice had been cancelled.
Did we want to rebook on another flight we were asked and duly arranged to switch to another scheduled service that day. We couldn’t get seats together, of course, but that’s what happens when you try to merge two flights into one.
With less than 24 hours to go we logged on to the website again – only to read a baffling message that basically said “check in fine, but maybe you’d better change it completely”.
Eh ? As even BA did not seem certain whether the theft was going to take place or not, this did not inspire confidence.
Indeed, another member of our party (a group of us were flying to Collobrieres in the south of France to celebrate a couple’s recent wedding) was so freaked out by the message that he decided to cancel flights altogether and travel the 820-mile, 14-hour journey instead.
In the end, the flight took off and landed on time.
However, we arrived in Nice to find – as is so often the case these days – that the rental car center was located somewhere apparently closer to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, requiring a long drive on a monorail.
Airplanes, trains and automobiles and all that.
In another recent invention in the interest of “progress”, a man appeared to distribute rental cars on behalf of about seven different operators. There’s nothing like landing on time only to have to wait two hours before you can leave the airport by car.
Is there anything about being at an airport that makes staff completely unable to a) call more colleagues to help when a queue forms, b) tell you why you have to wait in line for so long, or c) apologize for being late?
Perhaps it’s the same mystical force that makes people so quick to grab a pint at nine in the morning or pay £10 for a Toblerone they could buy in the supermarket for less than half that price. Have M&M’s ever been more expensive than the average duty-free shop? I sincerely doubt it.
Once we arrived at the beautiful medieval French village, everything was gorgeous.
Unfortunately Marseille airport, from where we were to fly to Malaga four days later, was rather less serene as hundreds of sweaty passengers were again largely left to their own devices to figure out what the priority lane, what to do with their luggage and why the flight was delayed.
Again: no explanation and no apology. In what other world – except perhaps the NHS – would a customer have to wait up to four hours without being told a dicky bird?
Finally, we arrived in Malaga, late but grateful to have arrived, to pick up another rental car. The process couldn’t have been quicker – we were met outside the exit, signed the papers on the spot and received the keys to our Fiat Panda along with a ticket to exit the car park.
And that’s where the trouble started. Because you can no longer pick up or drop off at an airport without paying the mandatory £5 (and £1 for each subsequent minute), the whole process must be ticketed.
We arrived at the gate and inserted the ticket, only to be told it was ‘invalid’. We pressed the help button. Nobody answered.
By then a large queue of irate Spaniards, along with other holidaymakers, had built up behind us, desperate for us to stop being such idiots and lift the barrier. If we had tried to pay, they suggested, as we frantically tried to call back the man who had waved us off minutes earlier. He finally arrived on one of those electric scooters, a sign, perhaps, of the direction modern transportation is heading.
Which brings us to Thursday night’s return flight. They call it Wizz Air but there was nothing particularly fast in my experience of a company that doesn’t let you check in to the app without logging into the website which in turn doesn’t let you not to register without logging into the application.
A text message announced a 70 minute delay while the site claimed that the flight was on time. After looking to engage with the live chat feature – which is basically like Snapchatter with R2-D2 – we called the “helpline” (“you’re 24th in the queue”) only to have “l ‘assistant’ tells us she couldn’t help and that we should call back later before hanging up.
We were supposed to land at 10:30 p.m. on Friday night but we didn’t take off until around 11 p.m. Something about a technical fault and a prostrate crew member.
Welcome to vacation in 2022. As Sinatra would say: That’s life.