Posted by: scottishboomerang | February 28, 2008

The British Travel Experience: A BAA Complaint.

The trouble with knee-jerk regulations is that they are the product of panic, and are usually done for political reasons rather than to ensure safety. Of course, our safety on flights IS political, but flying anywhere is becoming so gosh-darn unpleasant that I’m wondering whether it really is cheaper, easier (and possibly quicker) to take the train. They are also a wonderful excuse for Airlines and BAA to employ tactics to relieve travellers of their cash at the airport.

I made an internal journey by plane, using Ryan Air. I flew from Glasgow Prestwick to London Stansted, for an appointment in London, and the following day I flew back. I had with me one small wheeled overnight bag, such as is commonly used by travellers for cabin baggage, one small handbag/briefcase, which had (among other things) my anti-nausea medications for the flight, and a blue folder with my reading material. That is all. I had dutifully put all toiletries (gels and liquids) into a ziploc bag in advance. It should be noted that I am a frequent flier. I never have ANY problems when I fly directly to Scotland from Europe. The problems always arise in English – and dare I say it, London Airports.

This time was no different. Apparently my briefcase and my wheeled bag was dangerous on the way BACK to Scotland, but not on the way DOWN. The attendant at the Ryan Air ticket desk didn’t seem to think my briefcase broke regulations. When I tried to enter the security, an uppity, nasty BAA attendant told me I couldn’t take my briefcase through. I asked her who made the rule. She told me (wrongly) that this was an airline rule. To save time, I tried to consolidate my baggage there (oh, she didn’t like that!) and I said that the rule was ridiculous, inconvenient and humiliating (and I didn’t berate her or raise my voice, or make a personal attack in any way) she actually stood up, while I was on my knees, and aggressively barrated me because she “didn’t like my tone” and it was “your airline’s fault”. Then she decided that my luggage was now “too big” to be allowed through as hand baggage and sent me back to Ryan Air.

Back at the Ryan Air desk, I was told that to check my cabin baggage in would cost £12 (that’s about $24). I told them that that was ripping their customers off and I would not pay it. So I made a lengthy show of repacking my suitcase again, while I was waiting for their manager. I took my blue folder out my bag and asked if taking reading material on the flight incurred an extra charge was well. She replied that I could take it. The manager then came and informed me the one-bag rule was BAA, not Ryan Air, (but the decision to charge passengers £12 for checking cabin baggage was ryan air’s rule, wasn’t it?) and that I should complain to BAA. I asked them why, as BAA’s clients, the airlines didn’t complain to BAA. He then said ” Your smirking. Stop smirking! I’m not going to talk to you any more because you’re smirking!” And he stormed off, leaving me to wonder whether he had some sort of autistic spectrum disorder which rendered him incapable of reading facial expressions. Certainly a smirk is used when you have got the better of someone, not when you are making a complaint.

Having repacked my bag, and tucking my folder under my arm, I got through security. When I got home I tried to complain to BAA and to Ryan Air. Mysteriously though, there are no central complaint numbers for either organisation. Both organisations have been informed that I have placed material on the web and invited their press offices to respond.

So for BAA, (don’t worry, Ryan Air, I’ll deal with you separately) here are my questions.

(1) Why do we have a one-bag rule?

It’s stupid, it’s not uniformly enforced in the UK and Ireland and certainly not enforced elsewhere in the world. It does not make security checks quicker, or more effective, it makes things much harder for families or parents travelling with children. I does make security slow and unpleasant, and stressful for the staff and the passengers. There is NO earthly reason why, as before, we cannot take a handbag/briefcase, a wheeled cabin bag, and reasonable reading material for the flight. I would remind BAA that women’s clothing does not have pockets, as men’s clothing does, and therefore when you deprive us of our handbags you make our passports, boarding cards and travel money less accessible. This holds everything up. In London airports (but no-where else) you scream at us coming off long-haul flights to consolidate our baggage, yet make us remove toiletries and laptops for the check. So why don’t you just be sensible and allow the laptop bags to go in separately of wheeled cabin bags? Or is there something wrong with your x-ray machines that you cannot see through a few millimetres of canvas or leather? I also notice that since the Duty Free started protesting and sales of airport-bought goods started plummeting, you are now allowing people to carry on their shopping. So much for having our safety at heart, when it might hurt your commercial enterprises.

2) Have you lost your bottles?

A truly determined bomber (and most suicide bombers are pretty determined) will not be put off by the fact that you restrict liquids to 100ml. And in fact, there was a recent Channel 4 dispatches programme where an explosives expert combined two innocuous 100ml of clear liquid together and blew the side of an aircraft. Now, you may be screaming RISK ASSESSMENT at me and other passengers, but basically, you know, and I know, and the terrorists know that you can’t test every bottle going through security, regardless of whether it contains 100ml or not.

3. The Little BAA who cried wolf…

BAA might just have to accept that you hand terrorists a victory with every knee-jerk, ill-thought restriction it places on travellers, and also diminish how seriously we take you. And this is very bad, because security threats DO exist in airports, and really, you want to be believed when you say there is a real one.

Might I suggest a return to the following:

Each passenger is allowed one cabin bag, one handbag/briefcase/laptop bag, and reasonable reading material for the flight.

If you make a security rule at one British Airport, enforce it at all of them, not just at London. For example, if you want people to take their shoes off, have them take their shoes off everywhere, every time. That way, people will know to wear slip-ons when they come to the airport.

Remember that not everyone travelling through airports is a single man. Consider applying common sense to families. They have enough on their plate without you making it harder.

Before you make a security rule, consult frequent fliers of both genders, and with families, to find out how those rules are likely to affect things on the ground.

Be aware that London culture is a rotten, hard-bitten, aggressive, rude one. That aggression is displayed by your staff, which you hire locally. This culture is not representative of the UK and those of us from outside London object to being treated like that. That your airports are busy is not an excuse.

Finally, do not expect your staff to deal with complaints and place firewalls up between decision makers and your service-users. Train your staff to forward customer feedback to you regardless or not of whether a formal complaint is made. I consider my complaint to have been made the moment I speak to your staff. I don’t have the time to find the “desk”. Encourage feedback from the airlines,. who are your clients primarily. Act on the information you receive. I was not in any way impressed that when I tried to make a complaint there was no central number I could call, and the number that did exist was a premium rate one. Customer Complaints lines should be central, and they should be free.

BAA (and Ryan Air) made what should have been a simple, one hour flight an absolute misery. BAA should bare in mind that the very first people that foreigners meet when they come to Britain are BAA staff. What kind of first impressions do they get about the UK?

The BAA press office is particularly welcome to respond.

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Responses

  1. Very well written. I am shocked by the almost complete lack of investigative journalism about these issues.
    Just the other day I was forced to surrender a bicycle lock at Heathrow because “it could be used as a weapon”. I asked the security monkey to show me this rule because I had never heard of it, and she pointed me to “the BAA website”. This is (A) assuming that I have access to the Internet and, more importantly, (B) false.

  2. how depressing the above accounts are , being forced to fly weekly from London /Stansted I can only confirm all of the above . Yesterday I was critized by security for looking miserable! and as I have observed in the past if one in any way gets slightly annoyed they threaten with airbort security,police- I moved to the UK 28 years ago and cannot believe how things have developed –

  3. Good website. This press article needs no further comment !

    Mail on Sunday 30/3/2008

    http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_a

    Airport security chief was humble duty-free store detective (… and
    guess what, she lives with crisis-hit Heathrow’s managing director)

    It was she who gave the order to ban liquids on flights to/from the
    UK.

    THE woman in charge of security at Heathrow – Britain’s biggest single
    terrorist target – was a store detective at the airport’s duty-free
    shops just six years ago.

    Donna Boote, 37, is now not only in charge of thousands of security
    staff, but also shares a £1.2 million home with Heathrow’s managing
    director Mark Bullock – the man with overall responsibility for last
    week’s disastrous opening of Terminal 5.

    Yesterday, the airport’s authorities refused to answer questions about
    the couple’s relationship, whether they are married, or confirm any
    details of Ms Boote’s career path.

    However, in the light of the chaos at the £4.3 billion fifth terminal-
    which has seen thousands of passengers forced to abandon their bags
    and hundreds of flights cancelled – the security chief’s rapid
    promotion and her relationship with Heathrow’s MD must raise questions
    about Spanish-owned BAA’s suitability to run Britain’s biggest
    airport.

    Ms Boote, a 37-year-old mother of two, was formerly in the Military
    Police, which she joined aged 17, and eventually became a sergeant in
    the Special Investigations Branch. But she quit the Army in 2000,
    claiming she was forced to leave after becoming a mother for the
    second time.

    She later successfully sued the Ministry of Defence for sex
    discrimination.

    In 2002, Ms Boote began working at Heathrow, starting out as a store
    detective in the duty-free area.

    A former colleague said: ‘She was one of two full-time BM staff
    working on loss prevention at the World Duty Free stores to minimise
    theft by staff or passengers. This involved her working undercover on
    the shop floor, monitoring CCTV cameras and supervising agency
    staff.’

    Ms Boote later transferred to the small team helping oversee security
    of a duty-free bonded warehouse off the airport complex, where her
    boss was a former military police major.

    Yesterday, BAA refused to give a full breakdown of her career path but
    confirmed that after six years Miss Boote had risen to the post of
    head of airport security at Heathrow.

    The Mail on Sunday understands that she was given the job by
    Heathrow’s former managing director in late 2005.

    Her rapid rise surprised other aviation security experts.

    Despite having no civilian policing, counter-terrorism or intelligence
    ser¬vice experience, she became chief in the face of stiff competition
    from senior retired Army and police officers who were interviewed for
    the job. Ms Boote now has legal responsibility at Heathrow for
    compliance with the National Aviation Security Programme, which sets
    strict standards for screening people at airports to prevent
    hijackings and terrorism.

    Her role also includes liaison with the Home Office, senior Government
    Ministers, the police and MI5.

    And last year it was Ms Boote who issued the BAA security notice
    banning liquids on flights after MI5 exposed an alleged plot to blow
    up transatlantic jets using explosives disguised as soft drinks.

    At the time she said: ‘BAA has long been a world leader in airport
    security. We intend to retain that position. Heathrow is working hard
    to make sure that the airport continues to be secure for our
    passengers.’

    Since 2006, Ms Boote has lived with Heathrow managing director Mr
    Bullock at his newly-built £1.2 million home in Ascot, Berkshire.

    Some neighbours on the private estate said they married last year.

    Mr Bullock, 44, an accountant who previously worked for a large
    distri¬bution company and electricity suppliers EDF, joined Heathrow
    in 2004 to oversee the design and building of Terminal 5. A fitness
    fanatic, he describes his interests as rowing, running, skiing, wake
    boarding, motoring, rugby, music and reading.

    According to his BAA profile, he is accountable for ‘assuring cost,
    time, quality and safety’ and ‘directly responsible for finance,
    commercial and risk management’.

    He had ultimate responsibility for the new Terminal 5 opening on time
    and is accountable for its ‘operational success’. In 2006, he was made
    managing director of the whole of Heathrow.

    Mr Bullock explained his overall approach on the airport’s web site
    with the words: ‘If we are to be successful we need to build a
    business which provides a predictably good experience for passengers.

    ‘Not just some days, but 365 days a year. This is the hugely important
    job that all of us who work at the airport have and one I am committed
    to.

    ‘It is true that we are now operating in a different market due to a
    number of external factors, such as our change of ownership, the
    global ter¬ror threat and the issue of climate change. These things
    will require us to be more commercial, delivering value for money and
    great service.’

    Ms Boote was previously married to fellow Red Cap John Boote but the
    pair split around the time of her tribunal against the Army.

    The hearing was told how her dispute with the military centred on a
    document she was required to sign, which was a condition of service.
    It contained a clause requiring her to be deployed overseas at short
    notice at the same time as her soldier husband.

    Ms Boote, who had served in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Northern
    Ireland, said she could not agree to that because it would mean having
    to put her children into care – and claimed sex discrimination.
    After her divorce, she moved out of the couple’s £140,000 home in
    Basingstoke, Hampshire.

    Last night Julia Gillam, Heathrow’s passenger communications manager,
    said she was ‘not going to get into a debate’ about Ms Boote’s
    competence and experience.

    Ms Gillam said: ‘I can confirm she is the head of security at
    Heathrow. She is absolutely ultimately responsible and has very
    competent, very senior staff reporting to her who will manage
    projects.’

    The spokeswoman refused to discuss Ms Boote’s relationship with
    Heathrow’s managing director.

    She added: ‘Donna was appointed to her current position before Mark
    Bullock became managing director. ‘Both Mark and Donna always keep
    their professional roles and private lives absolutely separate.’

  4. To Whom It May Concern:

    National Lampoon’s may find the Honeymoon from Hell quite humorous, but for those who have actually gone through a bad travel experience, the humor is lost. On November 16th, 2008 my husband of a day and I began our journey to the Atlanta airport with high hopes of a wonderful honeymoon. We planned a wonderful trip through Travel Impressions, paying up front for an Ocean View Junior Suite with 24-hour room service, private Jacuzzi, champagne welcome and All-Inclusive adults only package at the brand new Majestic Elegance Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. We received a phone call from our travel agent two days before departure alerting us that the Majestic Elegance had delayed their opening but had arranged for an equivalent resort with the same amenities for us to stay in. As a consolation we would be offered a complimentary 3 night return stay. A little disappointed but assured we would have everything we requested and paid for, we kept our plans. After a seamless wedding ceremony and reception, you can imagine our dismay when our luck began to run out as we discovered upon arrival in Punta Cana that Delta had not put our luggage on our non-stop flight to the Dominican. We waited for over 45 minutes with several other people until they closed the luggage belt. No one informed us that many pieces of luggage had not arrived; instead we were forced to seek out answers ourselves. The customer service we received from the Delta agents at the Punta Cana airport left much to be desired. No one seemed to have any answers and rather than getting an apology or an explanation we were asked to fill out forms for missing luggage and told they didn’t know where it was or when it would arrive. There was no offer of vouchers or overnight bags to provide those who did not receive any luggage. We were sent away without so much as a toothbrush. Attempting to keep our spirits high, we tried to focus our thoughts on the wonderful resort we would be heading to.

    Upon arrival at the Grand Bahia Principe in Punta Cana, we were dropped off at one of the many lobbies in the complex. We were told at the reception desk that we would need to check in at a separate lobby, and were shuttled to it. When we arrived there we waited for 15 minutes before anyone acknowledged our presence. We were then told to wait at the bar while they checked us in. Over thirty minutes later we approached the reception desk to find a representative for the Majestic Elegance attempting to handle our check-in. Almost an hour after arrival we received a room key and a shuttle to our room. As soon as we entered the room we immediately realized it was nowhere near “equivalent” to what we purchased. The room was a one bedroom with a view of a construction site, 16” Television, and a small bathroom that had not been cleaned. The room had no available room service, no Jacuzzi, no complimentary robes or champagne welcome. We immediately returned to the front desk to inform them we wanted to switch rooms to get what we paid for. Surely there had been a mistake. The mistake, we found, was trusting Travel Impressions and the Majestic Elegance to honor their promises of equivalent accommodations. We were told at the reception desk that there were no more rooms in the hotel, unless we wanted to pay for an upgrade to a section of the resort that did receive room service. When we realized they wanted us to pay again for what we had already paid for and had been promised we would receive. Bait and Switch came to mind. We immediately called our travel agents with Travel Impressions. Once again, we were told that no other rooms were available and we would have to wait to see if something opened up. After the horrible customer service we received at the Grand Bahia and from the Majestic Elegance representative, we did not want to stay. So within hours of arriving we arranged for a change of flight for us to leave the following morning. After another several hours of receiving poor customer service, we checked out of the Grand Bahia and headed towards the airport. We boarded a flight to New York, then another flight from New York to Atlanta. It’s a sad to think you would be so happy to be home from your honeymoon after only one day. Once arriving in Atlanta we made our way to the Baggage Claim center (whom we contacted earlier in the day to hold our bags from being sent to Punta Cana). We dealt with a pleasant employee who could not locate our luggage and offered us a measly $50 voucher for our next flight with Delta as condolence for our troubles. We have been without luggage for well over 48 hours, with no explanation or apology from Delta, who instead had the audacity to give us vouchers towards our next trip. As if there would be one. During all of this, Travel Impressions told us that we would be receiving a full refund. It was only until later that evening that we were told via email that our refund would be $1968, almost half of the original package price of $3692.80. When we purchased the package on September 25, 2008, there was no differentiation or distinction of airfare vs. hotel costs. While we did use the airfare, had we known the experience would have been such a disaster and left us feeling deceived, we would not have done so. Had we been given adequate notice or accurate expectations of what to expect we could have easily made other arrangements with the same Travel Agency. Instead we were given promises that were left unfulfilled, and now, on our third day of marriage, we sit at home waiting for response from the Travel Agency and Delta. We have left several messages with Travel Impressions, and have yet to hear back from them regarding the full refund that was promised and is expected. We have yet to hear from Delta about where our bags are or when we can expect to get them back. On our third day of marriage our hopes for a magnificent and romantic honeymoon are dashed and what was supposed to be the time of our lives has turned into something we hope we can someday forget.

  5. I agree with all of you. I just flew home from Orlando via Miami and Heathrow. After 24 hours on the road one would forgive me if I am not in my best attention.

    I was going through security when it all started. I dutifully put all my belongings onto the conveyor to go through the x-ray scan. Since the personals over the metal detectors were just standing around, I thought I could walk through it and so that I can subject myself to a body searched. (Why are the women subjected to body search while the men are not?)

    Anyway, the male BAA security started shouting at me. He said that I can only go through if they asked me to. I apologized and went back over the metal detector. Then he started to scream at me because I went back. I again apologized for my behaviour. I told him that it was my first time at Heathrow and all airports operate differently. I didn’t know what to expect. You know what he told me? I can only move if he said so and do not speak. So, I stood there until he said I could move. Why is it that we cannot raise our voice at them but they could treat us like animals? I paid BAA airport taxes, meaning, that in some way I paid for his income. Shouldn’t the security people treat us more like humans and less like livestocks? So I guess, I have no human rights. He scared my 5 year old so badly.

    I think I should try to avoid using British airports whenever I can. And the government is worried about dwindling tourist numbers. One wonders why….

  6. To Whom it May Concern
    I want to express my strong complaint against the measures undertaken by the British airport-Gatwick, last week. On Monday the 16th of November at 20.45pm, I was travelling back to Dublin from London, (flight FR 117 with Ryanair). At the last official check of my documents in Gatwick airport, I had to be exposed to an unjustifiable taking of my picture, as well as each one of the people waiting behind me in the queue. I asked on what grounds each one’s picture is taken, which is the exact law that can back up such a procedure, and the only answer I got is: ‘This is the rule, so that internal flight passengers don’t mix with international ones’. I still try to fathom the meaning of the phrase, the logic behind it, and honestly, I cannot find it. I cannot understand the reason : no law was presented on my lawful request in support of my civil rights, and my choice not to have my picture taken hasn’t been respected, not even considered as a possibility.
    Moreover, just before entering the plane, there was a scanning of everybody’s tickets before we entered the plane. With every scanning, each passenger’s previously shot picture appeared on the screen. I am wondering which British law actually supports such procedure, and I really wish, as part of my civil rights, to be informed about it in writing.
    I wish to receive a reply from the British authorities on the issue…

  7. It is shocking how widespread the ignorance and idiocy of Heathrow’s security staff is. Have recently been through another mind-numbing experience by so-called security staff.

    Were treated to 15 minutes of delay while she methodically looked at every piece of paper and clothing in the bag, ostensibly looking for liquids!! No doubt she found a few 25ml bottles of miscellaneous moisturisers and shampoo, which the French security had ignored. However it is totally mystifying why she believed that paperwork had miraculously transformed into possible liquid.

    Serious lack of commonsense and logic. Of course courtesy is unknown at Heathrow, so let’s not even talk about that.

    You can read my entire account at http://listentothepeople.co.uk/airline-complaints/london-heathrow-lhr-complaints.html

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