Reply To: Joining the chorus – in which our correspondent avoids smelling like air freshener, makes enemies in security, and wonders if a gospel singer is wearing his brogues…

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Anonymous
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I had an early start on Friday, an 0740 British Airways departure from Terminal 1 to Germany. I live 26 miles from Heathrow, which I can do in 45 minutes. Alternatively, I can get a car service and the statistics are more like 55 miles/90 minutes, as the car service’s sat nav directs them round the M25. In addition, my company has just given up on a centralised car-booking service. The intention was to save on costs, but it doesn’t, and drives us all mad through missed bookings and cars not showing up. There are only so many times you can live with non-existent cars and ranting at the call-centre operator, and an early-morning start isn’t one of them, so I decided to drive myself.

This costs the firm more because of the mileage I claim back and Heathrow’s parking costs, but at least I know that if I leave home at 5.30am, chances are I’ll get to the airport, park up, get through security and still make my flight without either having a heart attack running for the gate, or hanging around airside wishing I’d had another half an hour in bed. And when I drive, I don’t have to either listen to Kiss100 or smell of the limo’s pine air freshener for the rest of the day.

Still, it’s too easy to focus on the negative about today’s travelling experience, so let’s try and accentuate the positive. If I try very hard, I can. BA’s dedicated T1 check-in area is pretty good, as are the self-service check-ins. These reduce waiting time as you can choose your own seat and print your boarding pass, though you are only advantaged if you have one piece of luggage, otherwise you still need to queue to check a bag in (see below). Better still, some airlines like BA let you print them at home the night before.

OK, that’s enough of the positive. I would rather go the night before than fly out of T1 with a European carrier first thing in the morning. Apart from the check-in, which isn’t too bad, it’s the “leaving-the-cinema style” shuffle through security for 45 minutes with everyone else which kills me. No “fast track” – no interest. But then, is fast track really fast track, or is it just a shorter but slower queue? Let’s discuss that the next time we find ourselves in it. For half an hour.

So that was the European short-haul: there and back in a day. Then, a few days later, I headed to Mumbai and was upgraded to first with BA, which was a shame in a way, because all I did was swipe the free pyjamas and sleep. On the return, I flew the new Club World service, which has a better bed set-up than before, with more room to thrash around at the shoulders as the armrests retract into the seat. The new set-up has good cubbyholes for storage (try not to leave your Blackberry in there in the rush to get off like I did), a proper plug socket and video-on-demand via a good-sized monitor. Food and service are unchanged but then this was already to a good standard relative to the US carriers, but perhaps not as good as some of the Middle East carriers like Emirates and Etihad.

You’d have thought it couldn’t get any better. Well, you’d be right, were it not for Indian security spoiling everything before I even got on the plane. What did they do? Insist I could have one piece of hand luggage, not two. They did this not at check-in but post immigration, right at the gate. If I could have somehow managed to get one bag inside another just for the obligatory security screen, presumably there wouldn’t have been a problem. But I couldn’t. So there was. I’ve heard someone argue that the inconsistency in security arrangements is actually an unintended addition to security, since it keeps everyone guessing and means terrorists can’t be sure of finding a way to beat the system. This version gives Indian security too much credit, but if that’s the reason, perhaps they should do away with all laws, and allow them to be interpreted at will by whoever is wearing a uniform. That should keep everyone guessing. Just like in Phoenix, Arizona recently, where I was made to take off my shoes at the scanner, but flight crew walked straight through. Of course I had to point out this anomaly and, of course, doing so made me public enemy number one.

The net result was that BA hand-checked my bag at the gate and, guess what? The bag did not make it to the baggage carousel at Heathrow, which you only find out once it has stopped turning. Now, six days later and many frustrating calls to BA’s maddening lost-luggage service, still no bag. I am not alone in this, I realise. Tens of thousands of us have had bags lost by BA. Where I do claim to be unique is in the alternatives I have been offered. Top of the list was a bag heavily shrink-wrapped in plastic containing a gospel choir singer’s bright red gown. It was tempting to sign for it, just for fancy dress purposes, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.
So now I’m still waiting for the return of my ballistic nylon Tumi tote bag with a distinctive pink ribbon. Luckily it only has my new lightweight summer suit, Church’s brogues, two new ties and work shirts, wash bag, gym kit and my wife’s birthday present. The birthday has now past, but the bag has not reappeared. To help BA find my still-lost bag, I had the thought of emailing a picture of the exact model straight off Tumi’s website. If only it were so simple. “Sorry sir but we only communicate internally using telex, and nobody has email or internet access, however our descriptions are very accurate.” Clearly they are not.

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