I expect that Flybe are hoping that today might be a good day to bury bad news. If you can negotiate your way through all of General Election gubbins, you may stumble across an article that says that Flybe is promising an overhaul after posting a twenty million pound loss. That’s a big number isn’t it? It is reported that they are going to turn the business around by reducing the size of their fleet due to a slowing growth in consumer demand. That sounds measured and sensible. I might be able to help them with some suggestions because I had the misfortune of flying with Flybe for the first time last week.
It was a week last Saturday, which was also on a day that was a good day to bury bad news because whilst me and a hundred or so other people were sat twiddling our thumbs at Birmingham Airport, thousands of people were ensnared in the BA balls up. Our delay had nothing to do with the BA thing. Nothing. Our delay, both outbound and inbound was due to complete and utter incompetence. Not that the BA thing wasn’t. It is just that this incompetence was not related to that. So before you book your holiday avoiding BA but plumping for Flybe, just read to the end. Please.
Our flight was due to take off at 11.15am. The plane was on the tarmac. Later than expected, but nothing too awful, we boarded a bus to be taken to the plane. The doors were closed. And we were kept on the bus for half an hour. The doors then opened and we were deposited back at the gate. For five hours. For about four hours, we were told nothing. The screens were not updated (although they kept taunting us with promises to update) and not one member of staff appeared. In desperation I took to Twitter, and was told a load of rubbish by whoever picks up their messages. My travel agent was trying to obtain information and was also told a load of piffle. I asked via Twitter for everyone to be updated. Nothing. When it all became too taxing for them, I mean, we were only customers; radio silence.
After about four and a half hours, a Member of Staff appeared at a desk and was deluged. A lot of people had drifted away from the gate, so were not a party to what was being said, and no one appeared to have thought that updating all passengers was important, so only those within earshot got the information. Member of Staff then walked down the gate and Man of the House stopped her asked her what was going on. She advised that thirty four people were not able to get on the plane. She had asked people to queue up (those in the siege who had heard this had indeed already done so) and the last thirty four people to do so would not be leaving Birmingham on that flight. Man of the House queried this and asked if she was seriously suggesting that people fight their way to the front, children fighting adults for their place. Her response? Without pausing for breath she confirmed that was the case and that was why she had asked the police to attend. She then gestured to two police officers. And we all know that police officers have absolutely nothing better to do at the moment, so I imagine that they were particularly pleased to be there. It is difficult to describe the expression of Man of the House at this point, but I suspect that it is the same as yours right now.
When it came to boarding (bearing in mind that only those people who had already formed the queue and Man of the House because he had made a direct enquiry had a clue what was going on), Member of Staff announced to those within earshot that those with ferry connections and (possibly after having had the opportunity to reflect) those with children, were permitted onto the plane first. I am not able to comment on the scene after that as I was fortunate enough to be on the plane, trying to calm my now near-hysterical daughter. I did, however, speak to the last person to get on the plane. She said that seeing that the plane was boarding, people had started to queue up. The Member of Staff had then put her hand behind her back and told the people behind her to stop. The last lady on the plane had no idea why that had happened until she got on the plane, the people behind her had no idea why either.
When we got on the plane we were told the truth. The crew had been told that twenty or so people would be getting on the plane that morning. All the weight/fuel calculations were done on that basis. The crew were then told it was over one hundred people and at that point the plane would be too heavy to have everyone on, even just to be on the tarmac. Apparently the people who could remove the necessary amount of fuel from the plane at Birmingham Airport don’t work weekends, and it would seem that Flybe were fresh out of ideas, not that they had any in the first place.
So, we took off five and a half hours late. But we were the lucky ones. Thirty four people were left in the terminal. I understand that they left Birmingham Airport at ten o’clock at night. Thirteen hours after they were supposed to. They were twenty minutes from their destination when the destination airport advised that they closed at midnight and the plane could not land. They were diverted to Athens. Seven hours away from their destination by road. Checking even the most basic of information and procedures does not seem to be a priority for Flybe.
Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, we were also delayed on the inbound flight. Three and a half hours this time. I knew when we checked in because a fellow passenger had ascertained that the flight coming from Birmingham hadn’t even taken off. Back I went to Twitter. Apparently staff sickness was the issue. Is Flybe so thin on the ground for staff that if someone calls in sick they have no plan to deal with it? We were given no other information in the airport, except from holiday reps desperately trying to find things out, just as we were, and none of the information they were given was accurate. Feeling every so slightly tetchy, my sarcasm was now getting the better of me and I suggested to Flybe on Twitter that perhaps we should just have a passenger sweepstake on guessing a time for take off, given that they had no idea when their own plane would be arriving.
Eventually we did leave. Turns out that that staff sickness crap, was just that, crap. The plane had gone in for its service and came out late to the crew, hence it being late taking off from Birmingham and that being the knock-on effect.
Flybe, I would suggest that the decrease in your customer demand is because the dreadful way you treat your customers is causing them to shop elsewhere. Your routes are loss-making because of the vast amount of compensation that you have to pay out to people due to your inability to organise your own schedule, a steadfast refusal to communicate with your customers and the way in which you insult their intelligence with “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses on the occasions when you do. If you have profit-making routes, I suspect it is because they are sufficiently short distances for the compensation to be in the lower band provided for by the EU legislation for you to financially get away with paying the compensation and still make a profit. However, if you don’t put your house in order, and sharpish, you won’t survive because all of your routes will be loss-making. People work hard for their money; their time and their holidays are precious to them and they will choose not to spend it with your company. If you continue to treat your customers with such contempt when they are simply expecting the service that they have paid for, and which you have promised, your business will not, and does not deserve, to survive.
Picture: The Rescuers – Walt Disney Animated Classics