So, as I told in my previous post, it became obious that I would not have a smooth return home from Dublin. It turned out however, that the situation of my terminal 5 expirience was just about to begin.
OK, the plan: fairly simple. I have to be in Dublin for the weekend, for a residential course for my MBA. So, I book my flights in November last year. The plan is to fly from Brussels via London to Dublin on friday, and to get back on Sunday via the same route. Fairly simple. I book my tickets online and I’m ready.
When I arrive at Brussels, I see at entering the lobby that my flight to London has been cancelled. British Airways (BA), who should have been operating the flight, books me on a new flight with British Midlands (BD) and the problem is solved. When I open my british newspaper on the plane, it becomes obious why the flight has been cancelled in the first place: BA and the British Airport Authority (BAA) had opened a new terminal the day before. A superb website had announced the wonders of the world that would happen in this new terminal:
However, as the first flight came in, it turned out that the new terminals functioning had not properly been tested. A few hours after the first passengers arrived, the chaos was complete:
- parkings did not function properly
- staff could not log on to the computers
- the escalators did not work properly
- lifts were in permanent state of alarm or didn’t work at all
BA could not do anything else then cancelling 63 (!) flights to and from London Heathrow. What was first called a start up issue, turned out to be a design-error in the concept and the systems at the terminal. So the cancellation of my flight to LHR the day after the opening of the terminal could have been predicted.
BMI brought me safe to Heathrow and I could wait in line to get my boarding pass for my flight with Air Lingus to Dublin. As soon as I had it, I was on my way to the gates. The absence of a hotspot in the last café before the air lingus gates and the fact that the terraces of BA at the Ireland-gates where closed, without even a sign posted to explain or apologise, were just more facts to show the great customer respect shown at Heathrow.
The flight with Air Lingus went smooth and I arrived as planned in Dublin.
The residential course was great. Met some very interesting people at the course, had a good evening out in Temple Bar and had some interesting new insights in the topics we covered.
When checking in at Dublin on Sunday to get back home in Brussels, the the agent of Air Lingus had no knowledge of any cancellation of my flight from London Heathros (LHR) to Brussels (BRU), so she labelled my luggage for Brussels and handed me my boarding pass to London. When asked why she didn’t gave me my boarding pass for Brussels, she said something about the data not being in the system.
So I went passed security to the lounge in Dublin. I opened my laptop and checked on the BA-website for the whereabouts of my flight from London to Brussels. And off course, as I feared: the flight had been cancelled.
Unfortunattely, there is no BA ticketing after security in Dublin. So I started calling the callcenter of BA in Ireland. They didn’t even know that my flight was cancelled. So I had to tell them what data was available on their website. When asked to rebook me on another flight, they informed me that “the system didn’t allow the rebooking while it was confirmed with the other airline”. Fair enough, so I asked them to please confirm and get back to me, or even try to get me home on a direct flight with Air Lingus from Dublin to Brussels.
As I could only be helped by BA (the other airlines have no responsibility in getting me home, off course) I couldn’t do much more than wait on their phone call (that never came, by the way).
When arrived in London, I went to the ticketing desk to get status on the rebooking of my flight. As it turned out, they had not managed any other flight option for that night. So I could stay in a hotel near the airport. The gentlemen at the counter gave me the voucher for the hotel and for a meal. When asked on the whereabouts of my baggage, I was told not to worry: they would be kept by BA and be released as soon as I checked in for the flight to Brussels.
I next morning at 6 o’clock, I was present in the infamous terminal 5 and presented myself to the agent to check in. The friendly young man just started his shift. He soon found out that the keyboard-cardswiper at his desk was not working (hmm… hallo, as far as I know had that keyboard been installed less than a week ago…) so he had to change desks. After he had managed to get in the system and to check my data, the clock showed 06:22 and the flight had been closed. So he proposed to book me on another flight with British Midlands. The other option was a flight with BA at noon, so I was pleased to accept the BD-alternative. The agent had copied my data and luggage tag and I was on my way to the BD-desk in terminal 1. I checked in, and I was on my way. The agent at the terminals of British Miclands had already infomed me that my baggage would not travel with me. No problem, I would claim it with BA as soon asx I did get home. Little did I know at that time about the status of the baggage in Terminal 5 at that time.
Had a great flight with BD back to Brussels, next to a couple that just spent a month in South Africa. Back in Brussels, I headed to the office – half a day later than planned and less rested than after my average weekend…
Give me back my bag… please …
In the office, I went online and claimed my bags with BA. Nice online system, entered the data and waited for any response.
And indeed, later that Monday, I received a mail from BA:
From: ba_baggage.reports ( at ) ba.com
Subject: Re: ba.com baggage file creation / XXXXXXXX
Thank you for contacting us with details of your delayed baggage.
Our system shows that your last traveled sector is with AER LINGUS airlines. You will need to contact your local AER LINGUS office for further details of your delayed bag.
PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL AS IT IS AN AUTOMATED RESPONSE.
Hmm – hallo, my last segment being with Air Lingus, and what about my flight with BD? But OK, I would contact the friends at Air Lingus if they are the ones that can help me.
And after completing a word document (yes – no web form here) and sending it to Air Lingus, I received this automated message that shredded the last hope in a fast resolution:
From: central baggage-tracing
Subject: Re: Luggage issue (Auto Respones)
Please be advised that it may take several days for messages to be processed, due to current backlogs.
Aer Lingus can not deal with queries regarding baggage reports made with other airlines.
This email address does not deal with anything other than baggage questionnaires, as such we cannot guarantee a reply for emails other than these questionnaires.
Central Baggage Tracing
Now read that again: … several days … wooow. But, as the phone number of the baggage claim services is a very well guarded secret, I could only wait for some form of reply coming from this overasked, understaffed team at Air Lingus. And yes, this evening, just before getting ready to leave the office, a mail arrived:
From: central baggage-tracing
Subject: Re: Luggage issue
Dear Mr Koen
Thank you for your email. As British Midland was the last airline you travelled with on 31 March they are responsible for locating and delivering your missing luggage. You must file a report with them, if you have not already done so. Please direct all queries plus your baggage questionnaire to British Midland. This is standard airline policy regardless of whether you were originally booked with another airline e.g BA.
Central Baggage Tracing,
OK, I start to see a pattern now. Let’s confirm that with British Midland. And to my surprise is there a listed phone number of a baggage claim department on the website of BMI. So I call the number in Brussels. I get transferred to a callcenter in India, where the agent tells me that they have no record of any baggage being handled to them in my name… And that I best take up this issue with Britisch Airways. Oh yes, I knew we would be able to close this circle. :-(
I explain to this person that I have done that already and I explain him what is written above. He advises me then to go to brussels airport in person and talk to the various companies (so that should be BA, BMI and Air Lingus I suppose) to track my stuff. Oh yes, that’s just the kind of advise I needed: after I spent now several hours mailing and calling, going up in person and spend half a day at the airport to talk to those people that do not list their telephone number on their website.
Fortunately, I remembered last Sunday that I have an insurance with American Express on these kind of events. Being a frequent traveller, those things come in handy sometimes. So I called the desk in Brussels of Amex and informed about my rights. The answer was a little sweetener of a very bitter expirience so far: both the cancellation of the flight and the delay/loss of my luggage are covered.
So I called American Express again yesterday, to find out that all they need is the tickets of purchases made (check!) proof of purchase of my original ticket with my american express card (check!) and a proof that my luggage is delayed by the airline. Hmmm… anyone has any idea where to go for this paper, as three airlines are involved, but none feels responsible?
By the way, when looking up some more data, I couldn’t help noticing this headline in Google News:
(translation: the move of British Airways to terminal 5 on london heathrow has been going without any major issues so far. The terminal that costed 5.6 Billion … )