Simon Calder: EasyJet may have had a point when they threatened to ban the passenger that tweeted against them

The man who pays his way

Britain’s biggest low-cost airline has just launched a charm offensive. This month easyJet revealed its first Customer Charter. Among the five pillars of aviation wisdom that it has adopted is the promise that “You can expect a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable service from all our staff”.

Mark Leiser, a postgraduate law student at Strathclyde University, didn’t feel that was what he got this week. He was waiting for a delayed easyJet evening flight from Glasgow to Gatwick. He wanted to know whether he would still be able to get a train from the Sussex airport into London. Staff at the gate could apparently not help.

According to a report in The Drum, an online magazine to which Mr Leiser contributes, he then learnt that: “Delays had prevented a serving soldier – who was on route to take part in active service – making an essential travel connection.” So he vented his frustration on Twitter: “Flight delayed 90min. Soldier going to miss last connection & @easyjet refusing to help pay for him to get to Portsmouth. Get right into em!”

He says that ground staff approached him and told him he would not be allowed to fly: “The manager arrived and told me that, based on my tweet, they couldn’t let me board the flight because I wasn’t allowed to do that and I should know better. He then called over to the girl on the counter to instruct my bags be taken off the flight. It wasn’t until I asked him if he’d heard of free speech that the tone changed. He asked me if I was a lawyer and I told him I taught law at Strathclyde.” He was allowed on board.

Since the incident on Tuesday night, a bucketful of opprobrium has been poured upon the airline. “Careful about criticising easyJet,” tweeted the excellent Undercover Economist, Tim Harford. “Their feelings may be hurt.” Many other comments were far less polite. So allow me to present the case for the defence.

I wasn’t there, but the incident has some puzzling aspects. Travellers could infer from some of the reports that a supervisor at the airport spends his or her time monitoring passenger comments on Twitter. That is fanciful. For staff to have become aware of the offending tweet, presumably other factors were involved – perhaps some kind of altercation about the delay.

Next, Mr Leiser apparently “asked an attendant at the gate when the last train from Gatwick airport into central London would depart”, but without a satisfactory response. Later: “Mr Leiser said he was able to get into London despite arriving late because the Gatwick Express ran all night, something he did not know at the time and no one was able to tell him.”

It is odd that an airline passenger would expect ground staff to know details of rail connections from a different airport in another country – and a pity that Mr Leiser, a student of cyber law, appears unaware of the excellent free National Rail Enquiries mobile app. In 45 seconds I have just learnt from it that two trains run each hour through the night from the airport to London. Neither is the Gatwick Express.

I am also mystified about that “serving soldier”. It appears that he had allowed only 33 minutes between the scheduled arrival of the plane and the departure of the last train of the night that would get him to Portsmouth. If that was the case, it represents a very tight connection, especially if he had a kit-bag checked in.

Mind your language

From what I know about airport procedures, I suggest this was an unfortunate misunderstanding – and a reminder to all passengers about the need to avoid anything that could be construed as disruptive behaviour. Twitter users will interpret the phrase “Get right into em!” as simply an encouragement to give easyJet a tough time on social media. But in a stressful situation, ground staff could interpret the words as something more sinister. While Mr Leiser had no ill intent, lesson one for anyone working in aviation is: a minor problem in the departure lounge can become a major incident at 30,000 feet.

Time wasters

Another promise of easyJet’s new charter: “We’ll make sure you know what to expect at every step of your journey.” How does this noble intention translate to reality? Curiously, by telling passengers to expect an awful airport experience, even though it almost certainly won’t be.

Before a recent flight to Malta, the airline sent me a message warning that I must allow two hours simply to get through security at Gatwick. Given that the departure was at 6.30am, the stipulation implied it would be necessary to arrive at the airport at about three in the morning. Heavens: what was happening at the Sussex airport for easyJet to issue such an alert?

Gatwick’s management team were perplexed when I asked them. With plenty of security staff rostered and a track record of beating waiting-time targets, there was nothing to suggest there could be a hold-up. So what prompted easyJet to issue the dire warning of endless queues? “Sorry, it was a mistake,” a spokeswoman told me. How many people, I wondered, had been similarly misled? It turns out that every passenger who flew on easyJet in June, July and August was given precisely the same warning.

The airline told 15 million people to allow a ludicrous length of time for security. After I pointed out that it was not an accurate or helpful message, easyJet agreed to change it. But the fact that the airline put out the misleading alert at all suggests a certain contempt for passengers’ time and jars with the final easyJet intention: “We will always be straight with you.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea