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a blog by Chris Barrow

The last straw

I have to say that the team air-side are almost always polite and efficient but I want you to make a mental note to yourself to NEVER that’s NEVER use this airline. The photo above is an imaginary wave “good-bye” to me from this company. I’ve written to Phillippa this morning, asking her to delete this airline from my life and from my travel plans. I would rather pogo-stick around the nation with a bag of rotting fish tied to my head, than take any more chances with this idiotically inefficient airline. Those who follow me around on Twitter will know that I have frequently been delayed and abandoned by ASW over the last few years. Wherever I use them to travel there are always a number of hurdles to cross:

  1. can their aircraft get in and out of Plymouth?

  2. can they get in and out of Newquay (Britain’s foggiest airport)?

  3. do they have enough aircraft to fly the routes they have sold?

I suspect the answer to the last question is a resounding “no”. About a year ago I reported on a bizarre scene at Newquay, 06:45 on a winter’s morning. I’m due to fly to Leeds/Bradford to meet an implantologist for the day – he has booked out a day for me, so his investment in fees and lost earnings is considerable. We (the passengers, or victims?) are asked for a show of hands:

  1. who wants to fly at 17:00 tonight?

  2. who wants to get a bus to Leeds?

  3. who wants their money back?

And, based upon the results of this poll and similar groups in other airports, I imagine a Mr Burns character flicking his abacus and deciding which routes get pulled. On that occasion, the coaching day was cancelled, I wrote to ASW to explain my feelings and received a standard reply from someone who was possibly younger then 25, a failed English language student and unconcerned at my displeasure. There have been similar days on which a journey to Scotland or London has only been possible because I have broken the world land-speed record and dashed the 87 miles from Newquay to Exeter Airport, or the 100 miles to Tiverton Parkway station. In the latter case, once running down the road from the station car park after a race against time and literally jumping onto the Paddington train with seconds to spare. In the last few weeks I have used ASW to commute to Scotland a number of times – not once has the flight been on time, in either direction. On Monday I flew to Gatwick – the flight was late. And that brings me to last night. I’m simply going to spell this out – like an episode of “24”. 18:39, arrives Gatwick station from a practice visit on the South Coast. 18:45, catches monorail from South Terminal to North Terminal and arrives at ASW check in desk. As I am checking in, airport official arrives at desk with walkie-talkie and tells check-in lady that ASW are reporting that there are “technical difficulties” – my ears prick up. He explains to her and me that:

  1. 19:55 flight can only fly to Plymouth

  2. passengers for Newquay will be bussed from Plymouth (I’ve done this before with ASW – bus means mini-cab)

  3. last time they bussed me from Plymouth to Newquay was on the way back from the Glasgow BDA in March – we ended up with an international taxi-driver who we had to direct as he had never heard of Newquay, possibly Cornwall – and an asthmatic old woman in the front of the cab who drifted in and out of consciousness as the journey unfolded

  4. oh – and by the way – the flight to Plymouth will be taking off “about” 22.30 this evening

I do quick mental calculation:

  1. arrive Plymouth 23:30

  2. on the assumption that there are cabs around

  3. on the assumption that the cab driver knows where he is going

  4. arrive Newquay about 01:00

  5. to find the car park pay station closed for the night (they all go home after 23:00)

  6. and there are no cabs

  7. so maybe I have to call Annie and ask her to drive 40 minutes to pick me up

  8. and arrive home maybe 02:00

  9. with a full day ahead of me today

18:50, ask check-in lady if Flybe have a flight to Newquay this evening – she says “yes” at 19:55 – but the ticket desk and departure are back in the South Terminal. 18:54, run back to monorail and arrive as the doors close – 5 minute to the next shuttle. 18:55, call Flybe ticket sales to discover their office is closed in the evening. 19:05, emerge from monorail and sprint (with briefcase and overnight suitcase) along travellator and into South Terminal – ask first desk I see where the Flybe desks are – “further down on the right”. 19:06, arrive Flybe ticket sales and ask queue of customers if I can jump to the front – they all say “yes”. 19:08, purchase one-way ticket to Newquay – £64.70 (including £13.00 charge for my luggage). 19:10, check in at adjacent desk – suitcase disappears down the conveyor belt. 19:15, arrive a queue for security – about 100+ people in a switch-back line. Ask yellow-shirted student (the ones who ask if you are carrying any liquids and give you a plastic bag) if I can jump the queue. “Computer says NO”. I explain that my boarding time is 19:20 – that’s in 5 minutes. “Computer says NO”. Not wishing to wrestle with, let alone murder “the pig” – I walk to the back of the queue and confirm that I am not carrying any liquids and don’t need a plastic bag. 19:22, start working the queue – simply asking every group of 4 people ahead of me, politely and calmly“ ”Excuse me but my flight is due to board in 3 minutes, could I possibly step ahead of you“ – trying very hard not to look like an escaping jewel thief. My faith in human nature is somewhat lifted by the unanimous agreement of those in the queue, who respond with a Dunkirk spirit and quickly usher me forward with words of encouragement – ”good luck mate“. 19:25, arrive at X-ray machine, deposit Macbook Pro in bucket 1, briefcase in bucket 2, jacket in bucket 3. 19:26, walk safely through X-ray machine and discover that my briefcase has been pulled for a random security check for the first time in over 3 years. I kid you not – I am not making this up. 19:27, slowest lady in Gatwick security carefully empties every single item from my briefcase, swabs the pockets and announces that I’m clear – then walk away, leaving the contents of my professional life strewn across the table, like the innards of a beached whale, savaged by a walrus. 19:28, my arms go into octopus mode as I throw everything back into the case. 19:29, I walk out into the departure lounge to find that passengers are being randomly picked to have their shoes X-rayed. Decide to just keep walking and avoid eye contact – Matrix-like moment as I walk slowly past waiting attendant – who ignores me. 19:30, run to departure screen and see that Flybe to Newquay is departing Gate 10 and the screen reads ”flight closing 19:31, start running for Gate 10 – which, of course, is at the very end of a jetty – about 300 yards away. 19:34, still running, I see ahead a further security queue – about 50 people waiting to have their boarding cards scanned to confirm that the security photo taken earlier matches – I begin to slow down and despair – maybe 100 yards from gate 10. 19:35, the guy on security sees me powering down the corridor, ducking and weaving between buggies, children, adults and trolleys – reminiscent of Indiana Jones at his finest. He waves to me to swerve left and run down a clear shute, past the waiting queue – he scans my boarding card – I fleetingly see a photo of myself back at security 10 minutes ago, face drawn, badly in need of botox. 19:40, I run around the corner to Gate 10, fully expecting another disappointment. The passengers are boarding and a short, round lady in uniform and yellow jacket asks’ ”Are you the chap for the Newquay flight?“ ”yes I am“ ”Well I never believed you would make it in time – you must be bloody fit, that’s a Gatwick record!“ I question her…. ”Can I ask you a favour?“ ”What?“ ”Could I have a hug please?“ She smiles and we hug. The last few passengers boarding the flight look back and smile. 19:41, I board my flight to Newquay and sit in a pool of sweat for 15 minutes as we taxi to take off. 20:50 we approach Newquay and I marvel at a spectacular and beautiful sunset and think about the poor ASW passengers who will still be sat waiting for a nightmare to begin. 21:45 arrive home after my last business journey before we vacation this weekend. Annie has a large glass of Pinot Grigio Blush waiting, with taramasalata and pitta bread as I recount my adventures. To Air South West – my final good-bye – I genuinely hope that the competition from Flybe and others either teaches you that I have your profits in my pocket or that you go quickly out of business. I cannot even be bothered writing to request a refund. To Gatwick Airport, 99% thanks for making most of the experience manageable – just one young boy with no initiative – but overall a fantastic team effort to get me through an obstacle course. To the passengers who allowed me through and spurred me on – thank you for restoring some of my faith in human nature – its not all losers and freaks on Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle – there are still lots of decent people out there. And, of course, to life(!) and the adventures that we are given to write about. NEVER use Air South West.

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