Posted by: chiarraigrrl | April 6, 2010

our “national airline” (*cough*)

This evening Irish Fireside posted on twitter with a link to this article about a bad experience the editor of spendmatters.com had flying Aer Lingus. She felt that the poor service was due to cutbacks as a result of the recession. I beg to differ- ever since Aer Lingus seems to have decided to try to beat Ryanair at its own game, it has been a national disgrace, and was providing less-than-adequate service well before the recession hit. Flights are delayed more often than not, and the cabin staff are largely at least unhelpful, at worst rude. I’ve done my best not to fly with Aer Lingus for years, because my worst flight experiences have consistently been with them, and would even book an extra leg on a trip rather than fly with them. I posted this blog on my myspace back in September 2007:

Unfortunately last weekend I made the mistake of attempting to fly with Aer Lingus to reach my destination of Stockholm for the weekend. I will not be making this mistake again, and after my experience with the airline would do anything it takes in future to avoid ending up on an Aer Lingus flight.

We were scheduled to leave at 11.20am on Friday for the first leg of our journey to Amsterdam, planning to get a connecting flight at Schipol airport to take us onward to Stockholm. Our Aer Lingus flight was 20 minutes delayed due to the late arrival of a previous flight, which initially isn’t too much of a big deal, if the cabin crew hadn’t been so rude. Any apology issued by Aer Lingus was given almost grudgingly. Any food or drink available on the flight was for purchase only at steeply inflated prices. I fly quite regularly, and I have never before seen customers treated the way we were treated by Aer Lingus- on this particular flight when we arrived in Amsterdam one member of cabin staff stationed at the rear of the plane literally pushed her way past paying customers to get off the plane before the passengers, and was giving out to people to get out of her way. At this point on arrival in Amsterdam our connecting flight to Stockholm had departed- but we were just glad to get off that plane at that stage. Naturally we went to the transfer desk, only to discover that Aer Lingus had attempted to book us on the next flight out of Amsterdam to Stockholm that night which was already full. Needless to say, had we attempted to take that flight, we would not have been allowed on and would have been stuck in Amsterdam on a Friday night with nowhere to stay.

It was here that we saw a stark contrast between Aer Lingus and every other airline that is not specifically a point-to-point low-airfare service and is subsidised by a government (the fact that Aer Lingus provides such poor service and is in part subsidised by my taxes is positively offensive when we’ve paid the fares plus our share of the government subsidy of the airline). The KLM staff at the transfer desk appeared positively gobsmacked that Aer Lingus had attempted to dump us on a plane that was already full, and apparently there was some problem with the tickets which we had been issued. They did everything within their power to get us out of Amsterdam and to our final destination in Stockholm that evening, much to their credit. After about half an hour trying to find other options and sorting out the problem with our tickets, KLM flew us to Paris in order to ensure that we were on a flight which would take us to Stockholm that night, transferring us to a flight with Air France out of Charles de Gaulle airport. The KLM flight was on time departing from Amsterdam, the staff were courteous, and we were provided with a snack (not for purchase) on the short hop from Amsterdam to Paris. On arrival in Paris the cabin staff and captain came out from the cockpit to thank the customers and say goodbyes on our way off the plane, and we had plenty of time to make our next flight thanks to our on-time arrival. The flight from Paris wasn’t full so we were all given window seats and encouraged to spread out if chairs next to us were empty. The Air France flight, by contrast to Aer Lingus, was positively luxurious- the cabin staff were incredibly friendly, courteous and helpful, we were given a meal on the 3-hour flight from Paris to Stockholm which included salmon, salad, extra rolls if we wished, a wedge of Camembert cheese, and whatever we’d like to drink as well as coffee or tea, and throughout the flight the cabin staff were a clear presence in the cabin offering people additional water for the duration of the flight. Again, the cabin staff and captain were at the door to wish us all well when we arrived in Stockholm and were disembarking from the aircraft.

The return trip was similarly a clear example of the poor quality of service provided by our national airline. Our KLM flight to Amsterdam from Stockholm was refreshingly excellent- with a 17.30 departure, the plane pulled away from the gate at 17.29 exactly, according to the clocks on the outside of the terminal at Arlanda airport. We were provided with sandwiches and a beverage, along with tea/coffee and a biscuit, on our short flight to Amsterdam. The staff were courteous and a visible presence in the cabin, and again were available when we were disembarking from the aircraft in Amsterdam.

Arriving at our Aer Lingus gate for the final leg of our return journey to Dublin in plenty of time, we were rather surprised to see security screening at the gate which was confiscating bottles of water etc. that people had purchased in the terminal past the initial security screening point- thereby forcing them to avail of the food or beverage for purchase on board the Aer Lingus flight and giving them no choice but to part with more of their money for overpriced low-quality fare on the aircraft. The flight was delayed by approximately half an hour leaving Amsterdam, and not only was no apology given while we waited to depart, the Aer Lingus staff didn’t even have the courtesy to directly acknowledge that we were delayed- the only way in which it was even referred to was initially at the gate when an announcement stated that although the flight wasn’t ready for boarding they’d like to check our boarding cards, and when the captain announced that they were simply waiting for paperwork and then we’d be able to leave. It was only after passengers started enquiring of the cabin staff about the delay while we were in the air that any acknowledgement that we were in fact delayed at all was forthcoming from the cockpit, and even at that point the word “apology” was never used in any form, simply stating that they hoped the delayed arrival didn’t cause us too much of an inconvenience and attempting to use headwinds as an excuse for our delayed arrival without mentioning a reason for our delayed departure from Schipol airport. The only time we saw cabin staff in the cabin on that flight was when they were trying to sell us something, be it food or beverages, day-old newspapers at newsstand prices or shopping from the catalogue provided, and the excuse we were given upon enquiring about the delay was that there was a problem with the printer printing the passenger manifest- information given not with an apology, but with a shrug. I have never heard of any airline being delayed due to a printer malfunction- it certainly seems to me a far-fetched scenario for grounding a flight.

Needless to say I will not be on another Aer Lingus flight in future after the poor experience flying with the airline last week, and I will be encouraging my friends, acquaintances and colleagues to seek out alternatives rather than fly with Aer Lingus.

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Responses

  1. I fly Aer Lingus about twice a month, my last bad experience was in 2003, it was a short flight between Heathrow and Dublin but the cabin crew were incredibly rude, the aircraft was filthy and the flight was over an hour late with no apology from cabin crew, pilots or ground staff. This was a difficult time for Aer Lingus, it was during the transition from a full service legacy airline to a low cost carrier, a move which is still criticised today but since returning to Aer Lingus as a frequent flyer in 2005 I can honestly say I have yet to encounter a problem and I’ve actually been quite impressed with them. Fares are reasonable, aircraft are new, cabin crew professional, flights pretty much always on time and overall it just seems better value for money than it ever was.

    I think Aer Lingus has found a comfy spot in the middle, not ultra cheap and tacky like Ryanair or overly expensive and unsustainable like British Airways. I hope they return to profit soon, service has improved dramatically from what I’ve experienced.

    • you’ve either been really lucky, or I’ve been unfortunate- until that particular experience in August ’07 I used to fly relatively regularly with them, and the few times I’ve *had* to fly with them since have been less than satisfactory, as were several times before the Aug ’07 experience- that trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were. I’d like to see them do well- but not at that horrific level of “service”.

      Also, point of post: poor customer service with Aer Lingus is not a new phenomenon, and therefore not to do specificallly with the recession, but rather with the airline…


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