Simon Calder: Sunday night flight into the unknown

The man who pays his way

You can fly from Geneva to London in just over an hour on a good day. Last Sunday evening, though, was not such a day. By midnight, two plane loads of passengers who had expected to fly from the Swiss city to London were nowhere near where they wanted to be. The passengers booked on easyJet's flight 8485 faced a long old wait. As you may have read in Tuesday's Independent (, after their flight was cancelled the airline emailed to say that they would not be going to Gatwick until the summer of 2099. At least they knew they were due to fly home before the end of the century. Furthermore they were all tucked up in their hotel rooms.

In contrast, those of us who had chosen to fly with British Airways to Heathrow were queuing for hotels in a city that had never featured in our travel plans, with no certainty about when we might get home. Our Airbus A321 had taken off about an hour late. Halfway through the intended journey, the inflight maps were switched off and retracted. When the setting sun swung around to appear through the right-hand windows, it was clear that something was awry.

The cause: "a potential fault with an air speed indicator". That's serious, since the pilot's single most important reference is the speed through the air. Which explains why we headed for Paris Charles de Gaulle, to be greeted by three truckloads of pompiers, who sped along the apron parallel with the decelerating aircraft.

Having landed the plane safely in stressful circumstances, Captain Andrew Jones turned his attention to the passengers' prospects:

"As Paris was not our original, intended destination it seems to have caught them a wee bit on the hop, despite the fact that we did send a message forward that we were coming here. I do apologise. We'll get things sorted out as quickly as we possibly can and hopefully take care of your onward travel." That's a man who is on your side. But not everyone else appeared to be.

In the three hours between the diversion being declared and we passengers being offloaded, you might imagine that BA's operations team in London, and the airline's staff in Paris, would be organising meals and accommodation for the passengers and crew, and finding seats on other flights or Eurostar trains. But they were not. Capt Jones stood at the front of the aircraft and candidly told the passengers: "Our local staff, the airport manager and such, have been very difficult to get hold of."

'It's like swimming in Marmite'

Half-an-hour later, we were still waiting. Capt Jones appeared again: "It's totally embarrassing upon my part as a representative of the company to be faced with such a situation as this. We do expect to get the back-up and it hasn't happened today. So all I can do is, on behalf of British Airways and your crew doing their utmost to try and facilitate your onward travel, is apologise. It's like swimming in Marmite or treacle."

Other thick, viscous substances are available, but BA's operations team had evidently declined to oil the wheels. Instead, the airline poured a big heap of, er, trouble, on its passengers.

Most of us eventually found our way to the BA check-in area at a deserted Charles de Gaulle through the one doorway that was not locked and bolted. Several staff from BA's ground-handling firm, though no-one from the airline itself, were sitting behind desks. At this stage, the custom – and legal obligation – is to hand out vouchers for hotels and meals, and rebook passengers by whatever means necessary to get them to their destination as quickly as possible.

Instead, we were given the name of a hotel written on the back of a baggage tag and told to go there and await instructions. No mention of meals nor options for continuing to London on Air France, easyJet or Eurostar. So I asked if I might remind passengers of their rights, trying to encourage responsible behaviour by stressing that alcohol with dinner would not be covered (while secretly craving a Kronenbourg). The first passengers reached their hotels at around midnight. After a hiatus because our only proof of entitlement was a baggage tag, we were eventually checked in – dinner not included.

Next morning, a dozen of us decided to ignore the instruction to await information and instead head back to the terminal to try for the first flight out. We all squeezed aboard, having promised not to eat a meal (providing the interesting revelation that BA's first flight from Paris to London is catered the previous afternoon at Heathrow).

A BA spokesman said: "This was not a good experience, and we apologise for that. There is no doubt that this could have been handled better on the ground in Paris."

Swiss disarray

Back in Geneva, easyJet moved its replacement flight forward by 86 years. But it was still 13 hours late, which triggers a possible claim under European passenger-rights legislation.

Whether the airline owes every passenger €250 compensation depends on the cause of the delay. But easyJet doesn't seem to know. On Sunday night, the reason given was: "continued weather activity around the airfield and on route to London Gatwick. This also caused your crew to exceed their duty hours limit." By Monday morning the story had changed to "a technical issue with the aircraft". Sounds like the Swiss could have a role as mediators.

Wherever you venture this August, good luck.

John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'