It began with a business trip to Poland. I booked an outward flight with Wizzair for about £27 (including reserving a seat in the front two rows) from Luton, but the return Wizzair flight would have got me home after 8pm on the Friday, so I decided to go for the earlier SAS route through Copenhagen. It cost around ten times as much but the extra hours are worth it at the weekend. First mistake!
I wait at the gate in Gdansk for the first leg flight to Copenhagen. The flight time arrives. No plane. No SAS representative to ask what is happening. The Lot representative on the desk next door tells me that they see the flight is delayed, and while we are speaking the SAS rep turns up, and I see the plane arrive. I ask the SAS lady and she says I have a slim chance of getting my connection, and if I miss it then the next SAS to Birmingham will go via Frankfurt and get me to Birmingham at 22.50 … but boarding will be in about 10 minutes.
I decide it would be best to cut my losses and go Wizzair, but SAS don’t cooperate with Wizzair and so I have to ring Carlson (my travel agent) who helpfully check but inform me that the Wizzair flight is full. They tell me that if SAS got me on the flight to Amsterdam then they can get me to Birmingham with Flybe. The Amsterday flight is forty minutes later than the Birmingham flight, so that sounds feasible. If I miss the Birmingham flight then I will have to get the SAS groundstaff at Copenhagen to route me to Amsterdam and Carlson will book the Flybe flight – SAS don’t work with Flybe. I decide to try it as I’m now the only one who hasn’t yet boarded. Second mistake!
Things look up as the stewardess says ‘don’t worry, we will be quick – it’s only forty minute flight’. And then she helpfully announces the departure gates for tight connections. The forty minutes becomes more of course because of waiting to take off, taxiing, queuing to get off, but I’m in the terminal 15 minutes before the Birmingham flight is due to leave. There is still hope. But then I see the queue through passport control. Fifty people at least, maybe a hundred. And only one passport gate open! Do I be very un-English and queue jump saying my flight is about to leave? I see the sign on the board tells me to go to the transfer center and I naively think that perhaps they will be able to get me directly on the flight – like sometime Lufthansa will meet you at the gate when your connection is tight. Third mistake!
I follow the signs to the transfer center and then they stop. Have I arrived? There is a row of desks but only one person sat at them speaking with a customer. Nothing tells me it is the transfer center but I see no more signs telling me where to go. I realise the chance of getting the Birmingham flight is nil. But I hold out hope of the Amsterdam option. The person at the desk finishes with his customer so I approach and ask if it’s the transfer center he says yes. I begin to explain my situation but he tells me I have to take a ticket. Huh? You take a ticket and when your number comes up I will speak to you. Oh! Like the meat counter at Sainsbury’s I guess. I find a machine which I guess is where you get a ticket, but the first is dead. The second dispenses a ticket. It gives me number A182, but he is now dealing with A171. I quickly estimate, five minutes per person and 11 people in front of me… I won’t even be able to speak to anyone from SAS until the Amsterdam option is gone. I ring Carlson again, and speak to the woman I spoke to before. She helpfully tries to look for other options. As I watch I see the number that the SAS rep is dealing with is now C007. Huh? There are not just A series numbers! Who knows how many people are in front of me? Things are looking worse!
But I have my meat queue ticket number, so I explore. I see that there is a SAS to Heathrow leaving in about forty minutes. Anywhere in UK will do by now! I find someone at the information stand in the airport and she helpfully rings the gate and finds that there are spaces, but the SAS gate rep tells her that I would have to be ‘in the system’ to get on it. How do I do that? Yup! You have to go to the transfer center But she suggests I could try the SAS lady on gate C4. I ask, but she curtly tells me that no, she’s just waiting for the last passenger at that gate and … you’ve guessed it … I have to go to the transfer centre.
Back at the transfer center the A series has moved perhaps two numbers. I ring Carlson again (we are getting quite familiar now) to see if they can get me on the flight somehow, but the system would mean that whilst they could get me a fresh ticket I’d have to check in somewhere other than the gate (the transfer center ) so there’s not much hope – but it’s worth a try going to the gate. I go through passport control, only five in the queue now, and arrive at the gate before boarding is complete. The SAS staff consult each other but decide, no, they can’t let me on. They comment that it would not be a good business model for SAS would it. I suggest that it is not a good business model that I won’t fly SAS again (I’m getting a little irked by now).
So I need the transfer center I see that there is one this side of passport control – worth a try, but no, it’s temporarily closed ‘we are sorry for the inconvenience, please use the transfer center the other side of passport control’. Sigh. But how do I get back? All the passport control gates facing out are closed! With another SAS passenger we find someone to ask. He resorts to banging on the window of the passport officer’s rest room and he comes and lets us out.
It is still some way off my number at the transfer desk, although there are now four people dealing with the backlog. I discuss again with Carlson and they tell me there is a BA flight to Heathrow or an SAS flight fifteen minutes after that. They are just looking up the costs when there is a rush on numbers and A182 flashes up on the screen. ‘Oh, my number’s just come up, hang on a moment’ and I start to walk to the assistant. Too late! He’s now moved on to A183, and the passenger was closer than me. What? Do they seriously expect me to take another ticket? No way!
The nice Carlson lady books me on the BA flight, and my wife kindly comes from Rugby to Heathrow to pick me up. We arrive home at 11.20pm, having left the office in Poland at midday UK time. So much for saving a few valuable hours at the weekend. Thank you SAS for taking such care of me, and treating me like a human being, and doing your best to make my journey smooth and comfortable! Don’t you realise that treating people like a meat queue will not win friends?
I realised that what we need in situations like this is someone to talk to. Not a machine that issues you a number. Not a notice on the noticeboard. I’d have been quite happy if I’d been quickly able to speak to a SAS representative who then arranged an alternative route. I know things go wrong, flights are delayed. But to be simply given a ticket in a queue of unknown length before you can even speak to someone, when your flight options are dwindling – that is the worst, that is the frustration, the hopelessness. I just want a human being to talk to who can help me sort my problem. Like the Carlson ladies, who were great!
So SAS have lost my custom, and I recommend that you don’t trust them with your travel plans either.
Oh, and I’m writing this at 4.30am because I need to get it out of my head. Roll on weekend…..
SAS – shocking air services? scandinavian air scandal? can you think of any? feel free to add some of your own.