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Friday, 28 March 2014

Free food on Ryan Air at last!

I never thought I would live to see the day, but finally yesterday I had a meal supplied by Ryan Air and it didn't cost me a penny! How can this be possible I hear you shout. How can an airline, who at one time were rumoured to be even thinking about charging passengers to use the toilets, stump up a free meal.
I will tell you. It is all part of CEO Michael O'Leary's new charm offensive. A new improved Ryan Air where customers come first. The new look Ryan Air where you can now take 2 carry on bags, get pre allocated seats, be able to change a booking on-line without a penalty and best of all, a new web site that promises you a much better user experience, where you can see just where the cheap seats are in seconds and even register your personal details so next time the site will remember who you are.

Perhaps it is because easyjet has already brought in allocated seating and is charming the pants off business customers, or perhaps it is because Mr O'Leary has realised insulting passengers just because they are paying rock bottom prices doesn't lead to a lot of loyalty and love. What ever the reason, I applaud Ryan Air for doing it, because anything that makes travel a better experience is good in my book whatever the reasons behind it.

So what about that free food? Well in a swish press bash in London yesterday, where very attractive models dressed up as Ryan Air cabin crew and all the top brass were rolled out to present the new improved Ryan Air to the travel press we were treated to a sumptuous lunch with all the trimmings by the side of the River Thames. Even Mr O'Leary had to admit it was an extortionate amount to have to pay, but nevertheless he did and shook everyone's hand too.

Good for him and good for Ryan Air to be honest and bold about changing an already successful albeit tacky service into something hopefully a lot more customer friendly.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

You really can time travel in Ethiopia

The hills above Addis Ababa (c) Andy Mossack


On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I had a 9 am meeting arranged, and the night before I received a call from my Ethiopian colleague reminding me of it. "see you at 3" he said.  "err, no I have 9 am"  I replied" "oh yes of course, for you it's 9 for us it's 3 see ya."

It seems Ethiopian time works completely differently to ours; their day begins at 6 am rather than our midnight, so 7 am for us is 1 am for them! Similarly, 1 am for us is really 7 pm for them. I am not making this up.

Just to make things even more complicated, they also have 13 months in their calendar year, so technically they are still in 2007 seven years behind us!

If anyone can shed light on this alternative clock and calendar please let me know. By the way I would love to see what their watch dials say........


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Airlines now clear for take off on mobile phone chatter

With the recent news that the regulation on using electronic devices on flights has finally been relaxed is joyous news indeed. For years now, airline passengers have endured the glare of flight attendants marching up and down the aisles hell bent on finding miscreants flagrantly flouting the law on electronic devices. I know it was the regulations, but clearly we all know flight mode enabled devices do not transmit anything so the threat of interfering with aircraft navigational systems was really a non issue.

The new law permits passengers to use their electronic devices from gate to gate now, as long as they are enabled in flight mode. Marvelous news. Now we can finish that movie or keep reading our stories instead of having to thumb through the latest in flight magazine we have already read three times at the beginning and end of flights.

However, I fear this news is not so joyous in the longer term. There are already plans afoot to allow phone calls during flights as faster wi fi access becomes a reality or cellular technology evolves over 10,000 feet.
My worry is this. Do I really want to sit next to someone who is having a conference call board meeting, or selling the very latest line of adult nappies, or negotiating with their divorce lawyer during my flight? The thought of a few hours of peace from anyone who has been, prior to lift off,  glued to their smart phone or immersed in earnest conversation is a window of opportunity I always embrace. The thought of this peaceful time shattered with a constant barrage of endless chatter feels me with dread.

Can you imagine a scene when (and I'm not being disparaging to any particular nation here) someone who revels in letting everyone in earshot hear how successful he or she is, or how good a Wall Street wolf they are is too horrible to contemplate.

Perhaps we should all go back to banning PDAs after all.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Lost luggage at Heathrow

I have been doing this a long time, this travelling lark. I've been from one end of the planet to the other, across sea and desert, on foot, in the air and on sea, but I have never and I repeat never ever lost my suitcase.

That was until yesterday.

I was travelling back from a truly epic cruise experience on the Crystal Serenity, Casablanca to Heathrow, which by and large went without a hitch apart from Royal Air Maroc's rather curious cabin service, but that's another story.

So, reaching the baggage carousel in record time and spotting my case slowly circling the belt all alone was an unusual but nevertheless pleasant surprise. Only it wasn't my case, it was a Mr Mahoud's case, bearing a distinctly familiar look to mine. Same colour, same model. Only real difference was mine was a lot bigger.

So after spending a few minutes pondering in that state of mental hiatus where you don't quite understand what is going on, just gazing into nothingness for a while while your brain works out the logistics - no other bags are here just this one,  therefore someone (Mr Mahmoud presumably) has taken mine thinking it is his.

Then indignation kicks in, followed by a demand for a solution to this crisis.

The baggage staff at Heathrow who have obviously seen and heard all this before look at me with resigned pity and silently slide across a form for me to complete.

This is what it has come to. My belongings, my worldly possessions filed onto a single sheet of A4.

"Don't worry sir" a soothing voice in my ear "it will all work out OK."
Easy for you to say I mumble, what if Mr Mahoud likes my case better than his? What if his case was merely a prop designed for him to look like a normal traveller when instead he is a man who spends his life collecting luggage from all over the world. That's it! I have unknowingly uncovered a world wide scam to steal goods and sell them on the black market. I must be the victim of a gang of global sky thieves.

I go home armed with my reference number.

I call the help line later that night for an update. Nothing. I am resigned to my fate, my goods and possessions must by now be somewhere far far away, portioned out and fed to the highest bidder.

Morning comes and the despair is hanging over me like a storm cloud. Another call brings no further news. lets be honest here, if Mr Mahmoud was on the straight and narrow he would have realised by now? How would he clean his teeth or shave or do anything else without his real case.

And then a call from Raymond. Raymond is the man in the baggage hall. My go to man for all things bag related. " I have your case here now sir." he chirps to me, " Mr Mahoud sent his driver back with it and we will deliver it to you this evening. As soon as possible."

My relief is audible. Raymond has my lifelong love and respect. Of course my compensation plans are all in tatters now, as is my theory of global sky robbers.Still, an apology from Mr Mahoud would have been nice. The decent thing to do.

Still at least i didn't have to lug my case home eh?



Monday, 18 November 2013

UK Immigration fast tracking? Another rip off for travellers.

It seems the Home Office is about to approve a paid for fast track service at UK airport immigration points and for what it's worth this kind of nonsense makes me shudder. What are they thinking of. As if we are not already subjected to ridiculous amounts of red tape at airports, now we are faced with the added insult of smug looks on the faces of people who can breeze through immigration lines just because they can afford to do so.
I have long campaigned about all the unnecessary hoops we all have to jump through at airports, from the long lines at security to the morbidly morose faces we meet at passport control. Now, don't think for one second I am expecting our security measures to be relaxed, unfortunately we live in an age when we are all potential terrorist targets so we deal with this inconvenience as part of the airport experience.
My beef is the way certain airports try to make money out of this inconvenience, and the way we get treated by security staff.
Luton Airport is a prime example. Not only does the airport charge you to simply come in and drop someone off, it positively advertises a 'security fast track lane' where you can 'beat the queues' if you fancy stumping up a fee, unless of course you are travelling in any class above economy. This is just plain greed in my opinion.
For a start, we didn't bring in security lines, the airport did, and what happens when the so called 'fast track lane' is empty? Do the staff in this lane offer to take traffic from other overflowing lanes or do they just stand around talking about the latest episode of I'm a celebrity or TOWIE?
Then there is the inconsistency. Do I remove my shoes and belt or not. Take all coins out or not. Some say yes, others say no.
Passport control is the same problem. If you are unlucky to arrive at the same time as a number of other flights then you can bet on a long line. To have to pay for the benefit of making this inconvenience shorter is simply scandalous. After all, scrapping the IRIS system of retina scans which cost million to implement was a complete waste of money, the new e-passport system is slower than Ryan Air check in, and the staff  we see here, people who let's face it are the first face a visitor to this country sees, are often miserable and aggressive.
 Instead of creating a revenue stream through by-passing  a decrepit system imposed on us in the first place, airports need to focus on improving their existing staff and processes so we can all benefit and not just the smug passengers who can afford it.
Airports have to learn, at the end of the day it their passengers who are more important than anything else.
End of rant..

Monday, 7 October 2013

A lunch that was really out of this world!

Captain Jim and me. Two veterans from different worlds!


I had lunch last week with an astronaut.
Not just any old astronaut you understand, but one Jim Reilly no less, a veteran of four Atlantis Shuttle missions. We met in the unimposing restaurant facility at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, during a recent visit there to unveil the brand new Atlantis attraction.
Jim was, I have to say, the complete opposite of what I expected, a somewhat self deprecating man who insisted he got into the Space business by accident. I am sure he has had his fill of nosey civilians who want to know all the ins and outs of life in space, mostly to do with toilet habits I might add. I on the other hand was like a breath of fresh air, testing him with questions on more simple things like God and religion; did he feel closer to the big guy up there, or did it give him more of an insight into how creation really happened etc.
He deftly dodged all the  tricky stuff and gave me answers that would avoid any politically incorrect incidents. Jim was, the perfect politician.
Having said all that, the Atlantis attraction was jaw droppingly good, and features at its climax the actual shuttle itself close up and personal. There was I have to admit, a tear in my eye.
Thanks Jim for a lovely lunch and a little insight into living in Space.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Supercar hell


I parked a rented Fiat Punto in the outdoor parking lot of a luxury hotel last week in Italy. It was empty, so naturally I parked as close to the ramp of the hotel entrance as I could. The next morning, I came out to drive to a meeting and found it surrounded by hundreds of supercars parked at all kinds of angles, as if they had been driven in at speed and left exactly as they had braked.
Imagine the sight. I am picking my way delicately through a maze of Ferrari's, Lamborghini's, Maserati's and Porsche's coming up against dead ends and reversing back and forth desperately attempting to solve the parking maze. It seems it was a weekend away for a Czech supercar club who had spent the day driving to Italy.My Punto was, fortunately small enough to squeeze through the tiny gaps left by the owners of these supercars, who thought perhaps that surrounding my little car was an amusing diversion to their day.
I on the other hand was terrified of incurring an eye watering repair bill.
That said, I eventually found the exit to my supercar maze some 20 minutes later.
I was not impressed.