Dom Joly: My low-altitude air rage

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The Independent Online

I'm very tired and arrive at Heathrow on my way to Australia. I've got a business-class ticket, for which I'm very grateful. I get to the queue for Club and a British Airways man steps in front of me. "What class are you flying, sir?"

"Club, that's why I've come to the Club queue." Maybe I was a little glib, but I can read and was tired.

"Can I see your ticket please, sir?"

"I don't have a ticket on me, it's an e-ticket but, believe me, I'm in Club. If I'm not then I'd be wasting my time queuing here wouldn't I?" I just wanted to get to the lounge, but the brute persisted.

"Sir, what class are you flying in?"

"I just told you, Club Class, now can I please get through?" The brute stepped to block my attempt to join the queue. This was becoming ridiculous.

"Sir, I need to see a ticket."

"I don't have a ticket, I've got an e-ticket."

I managed to squeeze past him and stood in the queue. This was a mistake. He started to stare at me as though I'd just pulled a gun out. I tapped my finger on my head in a "you're crazy, haven't you got anything better to do?" kind of way. Big mistake. The brute came straight down to me and told me that I won't be flying today as I'd sworn at him. I denied that I'd sworn at him. He said I'd made a sign on my head. I agreed but said that this wasn't swearing, just an indication that he was behaving a tad crazily. Was he aware that I was a paying customer?

Then it all went totally Kafka. He went to get the "customer relations manager" who pulled me out of the queue and told me that it was very unlikely that I would be flying today. "Alan", the brute, was apparently offended by my behaviour and unless I apologised I would not be able to fly. After an extraordinary stand-off of about half an hour where "Alan" went off on his coffee break and refused to return to hear my apology, he finally appeared. I told him that I thought he had been very rude but, nevertheless, I was sorry if I had offended him. He refused to accept my apology, saying that I was still lying about his rudeness. The "customer relations manager" told me that I could not fly if "Alan" did not fully accept my apology. Security was tight at the airport, she said, and staff were on high alert. After an hour and a half of this nonsense I eventually managed to drag out a long and elaborate enough apology to be told by yet another manager that I could fly. I was also told that other passengers had complained about my attitude to "Alan", although none were produced as they didn't exist.

All this is just another bad day in the world of travelling in 2006. It does, however, highlight the ludicrous state of affairs that now exists in airports where, because of the security situation, staff are, essentially, gods who cannot be disagreed with, complained to, or even have a voice raised to.

You know you're in trouble anywhere a sign says something along the lines off "our staff have a right to be protected from verbal abuse". What this sign actually indicates is the presence of a system which might make sense to them but you have absolutely no say or rights in. The sign is basically admitting that you will definitely have cause for complaint but you are not allowed to do anything about it. Thus, the system never needs to be changed as anyone who complains is banned. This nightmare now applies in all airports, the Passport Office and any London borough parking office to name but a few. These places are now sources of unbelievable stress for thousands of people a day who are not allowed to raise their voices in complaint.

BA gives you a card with a number to ring for complaints. Obviously, it's an answering machine where you have to leave your message to be picked up by someone in a call centre in India who throws it into a huge cage staffed by parrots who occasionally drop one of them through a hole where it might be read by someone who won't like the tone of the complaint and will dispatch someone to shoot you. I think I might stay in Australia.