We’ve just had some great news and some great luck.
Gail, who is normally the brains behind everything, NEVER checks our travel plans. That is my domain. However, she inexplicably woke me to ask how to log into our British Airways account as she was stressing about getting home.
Sometimes things are just meant to be. This was to be one of those occasions.
Allow me to give you a little context. We love to go on holiday. We particularly love to travel to the USA. We were even married in Las Vegas in 2008 at Bellagio with the massive fountains going off on our first kiss.
This whole recent experience may have put a dampener on returning to the USA next year. Gail is of course 16 weeks pregnant which means that next April’s trip to Florida was going to involve Pob (our unborn child) at around 6 months old. My parents travelled with me as a small child, as did Gail’s, as did Ken’s (a chum who is going to be one of the Godfathers). In fact, I know Ken took his oldest daughter, Katie, to New York before she was a year old, because he recently took her back for her 18th birthday to all of the same places that they have photos of her together when she was a baby.
So, it can be done. However, and you may think this is being a bit melodramatic, but how much has the world changed over the last week? In the same way that security and paranoia were both ramped up a notch after 9/11, are we going to see an aversion to air travel because we’re frightened we’re not going to be able to get back home? I have to admit that, during some of the darker moments recently, I had given up on the idea of long haul flying on the grounds that being stuck 5,500 miles away is very scary.
I prefer being in charge of my own destiny and, although there were always options involving either ferries or very expensive one-way tickets to the Netherlands or Spain, we really did feel very stuck. (I can’t get this picture to work, so click on the little blue box to see how much the greedy clog-wearers wanted).
But, in general, we do love to fly and do love to travel. We have been guilty of standing near Heathrow with a camera and taking pics in the past. Yes, I’m aware that to the casual reader it appears a little sad but, well, erm, I can’t really justify it. It is a little sad.
What is an obsession though, that has a means to an end, is the collection of British Airways frequent flyer miles. It’s a bit of a dark art that involves Tesco, eBay and some creative accounting, but it is worth it in the end. There is a great website called FlyerTalk that is basically a discussion forum for people who either travel a lot or who would like to travel a lot. It also is full of tips on how to best collect BA miles.
Why do I collect them? I collect them because it allows me to travel FIRST (as BA likes to spell it) class or Business Class for the price of economy. As I said, it is a bit of a dark art and I’m not going to spill all of my secrets here (or everyone would be doing it and there are only a finite amount of seats going) but if you spend enough time reading FlyerTalk then you’ll work it out for yourself.
Flying FIRST or Business Class turns an 11 hour chore into an absolute pleasure, with free food and drink both on-board and at the airport lounge before. When we were told our original flight home on Friday 16th was cancelled, at least I could pour myself a gin and tonic to ease the pain. The only difference between the two is, on BA anyway, a slightly larger bed and better food and drink. As a very thirsty man I can tell the difference, but either will do. In FIRST they serve Johnny Walker Blue Label; in Business Class it’s Red Label, that gives you an ideal of the distinction (Google it…).
Which all gets me back to Gail looking at our booking. I’m the one obsessed with frequent flyer miles, which part of the plane we’re in and which champagne they’re serving in the lounges. Gail couldn’t care less. All she wants to know is that it takes off and lands safely, preferably in the right place. So what was she doing in our booking?
I don’t know, she doesn’t know, it’s just one of those things. She even had to wake me to ask what our log-in is. She then woke me again to ask why our booking said “Thursday” rather than “Friday”. I had just assumed we’d been waitlisted for an earlier flight, in the same way that we had been for Wednesday. All of the Wednesday flights from LA to Heathrow went, but they were full and they couldn’t squeeze us on.
Literally seconds later my mobile went off and it was BA on the phone.
“Hello, is that Mr Anderson?”
“No, I’ll just get him”, Gail answered.
As it happens I was too asleep to be coherent, so Gail had to take the call.
I’d been on the phone night and day to BA (through the marvellous Skype) trying to get us an earlier flight. The best I had been able to do was get us from Saturday to Friday. However, something I’d said (I did go on and on about Gail and Pob) must have resonated as here was BA, in a time of huge disarray, calling us to tell us they’d found 2 business class seats on the 9.20pm flight on Thursday and that she’d just booked us into them. Would we like to take them?
Do bears live in the Vatican? I’ll take the poorer whisky and smaller bed happily.
The first time in pretty much ever Gail had gone into our booking was a few minutes after the woman at BA who called had rebooked us, and a few minutes before she called to tell us so. How’s that for a stroke of luck?
British Airways was much maligned by some parts of the media during the recent strike, a view I had never shared. Ken, who I mentioned earlier, is stuck in Spain at the moment and is booked with Ryanair. I’m getting constant communication and over £100 a day towards my expenses; he’s getting nowt. I hope that BA gets through this unscathed, especially as I have a load of frequent flyer miles left….
I’m only partly kidding about that, but there is something to be said about karma and good corporate governance in this situation.
Take the difference between BA and Ryanair, and how they’re treating Ken and I.
There is a bit of European law (EU Directive 261) that states that airlines have a ‘right of care’ to passengers who are stuck due to cancellations or severe delays. Essentially we get some money for a hotel and some food and a couple of phone calls. BA has been giving us that, Ryanair isn’t giving Ken it and, believe me, Ken could charm his way into selling oil to Saudi Arabia, so it won’t be through a lack of trying.
Michael O’Leary, who runs Ryanair, had said that the law is an ass and Ryanair wouldn’t be handing out any more than the cost of the ticket. He has since backtracked a bit saying they would refund “reasonable receipted expenses” but that is a very vague phrase that allows them to get out of pretty much anything they want.
Is the law an ass? Probably. Should airlines be made to pay for hotel rooms when it clearly isn’t their fault? Probably not, but Michael O”Leary is, despite clearly being a brilliant businessman, an odious little man who I would love to see suffer and put out of business.
Willie Walsh, the Chief Executive of BA, shares several qualities with O’Leary (such as being short and Irish, much like a leprechaun) but they have a totally opposing stance on looking after their customers in times of crisis. One thinks they should, one thinks they shouldn’t.
It does raise the whole question of whether it has all been an overreaction.
Sir Richard Branson, who was unusually quiet through the whole episode, thinks so. “I think if they’d sent up planes immediately to see whether the ash was actually too dangerous to fly through or to look for corridors where it wasn’t very thick, I think that we would have been back flying a lot sooner.” he said.
The recriminations will go on for some time; I just hope we’re back home to our 4 cats before they change their mind.
Talking about our cats, they’ve been causing trouble. Pablo, our youngest, yet fattest cat, has been bonding with Gail’s mam, Shirley. My mam and dad, as well as Gail’s mam and dad, have been taking turns in going over to our house to feed them. Of course, part of the process involves washing the bowls – today Pablo was mooching around Shirley while she was washing up; Shirley decided to put some soap-suds on Pablo, Pablo decided to bite her. That’s his way of saying he likes you, which has to be a good thing. It could also be because Shirley, and my mam, have accused Pablo of being too fat.
The other great call was from a woman called Faye, from Fishburn. A week before we went on holiday we managed to catch a stray cat who was attacking our 4 cats and spraying in the house. Faye and her husband are two very kind retired people who spend their time taking in stray or unwell cats, nursing them to health, and then re-homing them.
She didn’t realise we were stuck in Los Angeles so didn’t realise her call woke us up this morning. We didn’t care, as she was calling to say that Quincy (as we’d called him) had been neutered, microchipped and jabbed and had turned from a nervous stray into a “big soft lump” and had a new home. We thought he looked like he had a bit of Maine Coon in him, it turns out he was 100% Maine Coon.
Our call from BA was great luck; our call from Faye was our good news.
Being stuck in this sort of situation clearly makes you react in odd ways. Gail, who has developed a fear of travelling (mainly due to the implications to Pob) has suggested to Ken and his partner Sarah that, if they remain stuck in Spain, that we will catch a ferry, drive there, and pick them up. That’s the sort of crazy adventure that Ken and I would dream up together, but I wouldn’t have expected Gail to look at a 25 hour drive days after getting home from our journey.
Fortunately, Ken tells me they’re booked onto a flight this weekend and is already suggesting lunch to catch up on our experiences. There is something marvellously absurd about driving to Spain to pick someone up, but I suggest I’m better off sleeping for a few days when I get back home.
Ken and I share a number of co-incidences which have led us to suggest that we may be “brothers from a different mother”, they have continued by him telling me he’s killing time tomorrow by going to a restaurant in Valencia. I asked him, via Facebook chat (another cheap way of staying in touch) whether it was Ca Sento? He asked how I knew, and I said we ate there a couple of years ago and I just knew he would sniff it out eventually. I recommended a bar across the street and stealing a handtowel from the toilets, as they have the restaurant’s name on them. Mine is framed next to the menu.
Ken and I have a mutual friend, Martin, who has spent the last 6 months living in China, teaching English. Martin is probably the cleverest person I know, a true polymath (he reminds me of Doctor Who), and on a whim decided to take a year off from his job as a BBC journalist and move to China. His reason? Before I explain, I appreciate this doesn’t make sense to the average mind, but Martin is not average.
He was bored at work so decided to take a night class at Teesside University. He wasn’t sure what to take, but plumped for Mandarin Chinese “as it sounded hard”.
He got a taste for it and when the opportunity came up to move to China, he told me the decision came down to: “do we go to China or not? There was no choice really.” I agree, but in totally the opposite direction.
Anyway, I tell you this because Martin is coming home in 2 weeks for a friend’s wedding and is already planning to join Ken and I in our homecoming lunch. That’s me in LA, Ken in Spain and Martin in China, all meeting at a ropy Chinese restaurant in Middesbrough in a fortnight.
The ancient Chinese had a saying, which is meant as an insult or curse: “may you live in interesting times.” I’m unsure as to what Martin’s new friends would make of the last week or so, but they are most certainly interesting.