Monday, October 22, 2007

British Airways or Free Crisps and a Pint of Bitter

Is there's anybody out there, anyone at all, who understand how justice attaches to British Airways' policy of deliberately overbooking seats? Surely there must be someone?

Apparently, many airlines do this. No doubt BA can hide behind the safety in numbers argument. But which airline started this practice, I wonder. And is that an excuse?

As it happened, I actually benefited from the scare that I received when told that despite having a seat on my night flight to Kuwait I would have to wait to learn if I had a seat on my night flight to Kuwait. First, I got a five pounds food voucher which I spent on two packets of highly fine crisps and a pint of bitter. Then, when I heard my seat was real, not an illusion that I'd been lied to about, I learnt I'd been upgraded to World Traveller Class, at which point I felt really pampered and privileged and looked forward to some serious luxury. Alas, World Traveller Class is nothing like the opulent first class I walked through to get reach it, but perhaps I got an inch or so extra arm breadth and some softer cushions.

Actually, by the time I boarded the plane I'd fully recovered from the initial shock of learning how British Airways' scandalous policy of injustice threatened to apply. I'd learnt, moreover, that they put the displaced up in a nice hotel and even give them cash compensation of up to 400 pounds(!?). Realising that in my specific circumstances I didn't really need to get to Kuwait immediately and learning that because the next flight wouldn't be for twenty four hours I'd have time to take a subsidised trip into London, possibly to see 'Control', I was actually hoping I'd be kicked off. Eventually it was with some real disappointment that I boarded the plane.

Still, that's no excuse, British Airways, to feel complacent about your deviousness. I might have really needed to get to Kuwait that night. 400 pounds, if that's what it is, and a glitzy hotel might meant nothing next to that. How exactly can you dare to play smug gambler with other peoples priorities, people you'd only pretended to sell a product to? Oh, I forgot. You are a big corporate beast and what is a piddling little consumer on economy class next to you.

Tired as hell from the previous nights excesses, I slept through most of the flight, missing BA's evening meal completely. Luckily, sleeping that much meant I missed a great deal of the intercom's announcements too. That was lucky. Never since being a small child have I felt an adult voice addressing me in quite the way that female voice did that night. If she'd had her way, moreover, I'd have kept my seatbelt on all night. I'd have become the fully trussed up baby she presumably wanted me to be, or is it imagined I already was? Customer service is one thing. I do, to be fair, appreciate how Britain comes in from the cold in this respect. But this was embarrassing. Too matronising and overprotective, almost interfering and imposing in its paranoid caution.

Ok, one can imagine it might have seemed nice. But how much was this motivated by a genuine concern for the passengers, how much related to the mere fear of being sued? How much was it linked, in other words, to an actual fear of the passengers? In that situation I grant, we, we the ever increasingly litigious opportunists that we are, play our part in creating the problem. And what is the problem? The development of a plastic culture of the banal triumphing everywhere, a synthetic, sanitised, artificial public world in which nothing can be allowed to happen that hasn't been pre-formatted; from which all eventualities that might possibly entail unfortunate economic consequences for the management have been removed, in which human relations are mediated and distilled through the prisms of a merely economic, profit driven relation. What we have become to each other is just money, or routes to money. And if pretending that we are massively concerned for each other's well-being is a route to that money, all well and good. Such is the world that we have chosen to live in. I trust we are satisfied with it.

Or maybe I was just grumpy and tired. Well I was that too.

No comments: