When the volcano strikes low-cost fliers may be the winners

volcano.jpgMy story of the volcano is just one of a gzillion of course – but educational for travellers. You can follow the saga of what happened to my wife and I on Facebook. In brief, we just failed to get out of Madrid on Thursday night as our flights (him on business on Easyjet, her on holiday on Ryanair – long story) were in the first wave of cancellations. What happened next was interesting.

Picture the scene – hundreds of travellers in epic queues to be told,basically, “you’re on your own”. Obviously at Ryanair and Easyjet youreally are on your own – they don’t even have their own staff atMadrid, just sullen or embarrassed agents. Quickly turned out that theywere saying they’d fly you home in six days time.

Now, I had a rental car to return and ended up talking to a variety ofleisure and business travellers. Educational. Those of us who’d beendumped by Ryanair and Easyjet could see our immediate futures passingbefore our eyes, with no support from corporate travel departments, andno big expense accounts to wave at other airlines. So pretty rapidly wewere on the phone booking coaches, cars and trains.

The folks in suits were behaving very differently. Cheerfully boastingabout their new tickets on Iberia and British Airways etc, booking poshhotels for the night, hassling company travel agents. Disaster – theworst thing that could happen to you on Thursday night was to get aticket for Friday or Saturday. Within hours your situation was that a)your ticket was useless since nobody was flying anywhere and b) all thesharp Easy/Ryan crowd had booked everything else.

My 33 hour trip home, (57 hours if you include the enforced 24 hours inMadrid before even starting off) was not great fun. But I rathersuspect that as I write this on Sunday night, some of the suits arestill somewhere in Europe.

This is not just a theory, here’s some evidence in The Observer today.

Update: and someone who was in the same position as me and has just got home.

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4 Responses to When the volcano strikes low-cost fliers may be the winners

  1. Klaus April 19, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    John,

    yes, the decision not to move and hope for a change next day is easier if you do not have to pay for the hotel / alternate ways of travel yourself. And yes, it may help if you have a corporate travel department. And yes, incumbent carriers tend to be more generous in helping you out.

    In reality, unless you are one of the first few to be hit by a disruption in travel of any kind, corporate travel departments get overloaded very quick. Queues at incumbet carrier’s counters can become long in such a situation, even though you will get some sort of assistance after the wait. Hence, your de facto stranded like everybody else.

    Face it: If you know how to take care of yourself, you are much better off. Be it suite or backpack (I wear both, each at the apropriate time).
    You are what you know. You are what you do. Help yourself!

    BTW: Getting stranded in Europe, and having to reach a destination in Europe already is a good start. At least compared with the choice spending somethin like 14 days on the Transsibirian Railway vs. maybe a day or a day and a half TGV / AVE / Eurostar / ICE and less posh, but operating trains accross the continent.

    Klaus

  2. cityprofessional April 19, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    Klaus is right – whether a suit or backpacker, anyone who is either well informed or simply a chancer will be able to look after themselves – e.g. one of my besuited colleagues was darn well not gonna get stranded in Amsterdam, ticket or not, and ended up bribing his way into a car at Calais and getting home only a few hours late

    In any case, easyJet and Ryanair may do it through gritted teeth and after forcing you to wait in a long long queue, but I’ve never not seen them abide with EC261/2004 – yes, it might be sh1tty hotel in the back of beyond, but you would have gotten fed, watered and sheltered eventually

    And, finally, as for a suit being better off on a LCC, here is cautionary tale from a friend who got marooned by easyJet. A sick flight attendant and minimum crewing meant that some passengers needed to be offloaded from a return flight from Bordeaux. Not enough volunteers, so guess how they chose involuntary offloads? Not by fare class (he paid the highest), not by time of check in (he checked in 24 hours prior online), but simply by going around the departure lounge looking for single travellers without childen or baggage – he was offloaded to the next available flight 36 hours later. *That*, my friend, would never have happened on a legacy carrier

  3. David Connolly April 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we are all humbled before Vulcan’s tectonic Icelandic throne. On April 13th I landed in Dublin, as I always try to do since 2005, for the annual “al-fresco” commemoration performance of Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah”, echoing in Fishamble Street-Handel on Fishamble, finishing with a rousing Hallelujah chorus. It’s world premiere was there in the Musick Hall @12:00 on April 13 1742 with Herr Handel on hand, so to speak. That day in 2010 was an acoustic and meteorological joy in unison with a street audience of 1000 with gin-like severe clear Wx. CAVOK clearly, Hector O’ Pascall was sitting High and Handel was smiling-it felt- from history, I filmed it and it is on Youtube, “Messiah on the street” among many others. This was it’s 18th consecutive year of commemoration. Tradition is not always the spoiled child of bad habit.
    Unfortunately Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull was projectile vomiting lava and belching ash and all of northern Europe was to be humbled with the unusual and perfect geo-met collusion of Hector O’ Pascall. Europe wanted Iceland’s cash back, but received ash in exchange, fiction is made redundant again. I was stranded from Ash Thursday April 15 ,until April 22. I fared lightly in this high pressure situation, with a diversion after a salute to Arthur Guinness’s Liffey water to Cork’s superior Lee water, Beamish and Murphys imbibing. I kept the CG in optimal MAC % equilibrium range daily swim and gym. It was liberating to be back in a pre-aviation non-contrail age of no choice, with a new focus on the joy of the journey by sea. Now that the dust has settled the recriminations are flying thick and fast in general and from IATA in particular, with some justification.
    Regarding operational non-operational particulars, I take particular note of KLM’s CEO Peter Hartman on Ash Saturday and BA’s CEO Willie Walsh on Ash Sunday of leading from the front in partaking of their respective test flights to mitigate the effect of regulatory prohibition of allowing flight in “known or suspected hazards” . This was part PR, normally the inverse square root of BS, and a lot more part frustration of regulatory blanketing of a single European sky in an ash of ignorance. These were the exceptions that made this rule. Regulation of course has always been and shall be forever in perpetuity, political vindication allied with public comfort, ask any investment bankster. Zero tolerance regulation is blind to common sense of subjective proportionality.
    Hopefully actual science, will inform the next regulatory de-facto prohibition on N1 dust abrasion limits, when Hector O’ Pascall allies with Ejafjallajokull or one of it’s tectonic neighbors creating another perfect geo-met anticyclonic storm. Needless to say the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia should have no input whatsoever. If those environmentalist or just plain mental muppets have any input, then we shall all be reciting a requiem of “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” for all aviation at it’s graveside. Like psychiatry, they make organized religion look scientific. GDP in Modern Greek accounting mythology is today translating as Greek Decimal Point and IMF as It’s Mostly Fiscal. In the same spirit of revisionism, lets translate and update RIP as Research In Perpetuity. University of East Anglia’s CRU ?…No thank U !

  4. Stephan Wilkinson April 27, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    “My wife and I…” “Him on Easyjet, her on Ryanair…”

    You write remarkably well for someone for whom English is obviously a second, or perhaps third, language…

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