Seasoned travellers – the worst sort?

As you know I’ve been trying not to use this platform as a place I can shout at people or things. Even if I want to! I figure it’s not what you want to read.



I have been observing on my various flights across the planets surface a breed of person who really is quite despicable. The plane traveller. They are typically frequent flyers and think they have shares in the planes. You certainly get to know about their presence.

On our short flight to Toronto out of La Guardia it was busy. And nearly everyone had carry-on luggage. I groaned at the sight of some of the bags – mine were within millimetres of the allowance. Some people must have used hands to approximate.

There were some prize specimens on the flight. Parents with single child and buggy half the size of my car – with bottles and food for a week (it’s an hours flight). The stroppy girl who was just out of High School who had no intention of being helpful when she was asked if she would move – I can only assume at 14b is her lucky number? But the real prize was to a lecturer from one of New Yorks Colleges (I saw the free case) – who wanted to fight with the stewardess because the overhead lockers were full – he did not want his bag to go in the hold. Delicate little flower (and bag presumably).

Flying really does bring out the worst in people.

I have two more flights to look forward to this week…

Virgin Atlantic – a lesson in English?

I blogged before about my lost luggage and the blind man in New York last month.

When I got back from the USA I sent of the receipts for some emergency stuff to Virgin with a fairly short letter suggesting they reimburse me without too much fuss. After all it wasn’t my fault – or was it?

This week I have received a cheque (thank you Mr Branson) but with it a letter which I have read and re-read to try and understand. I have decided that I don’t get it. I wonder if you could help me… I transcribe part of the letter exactly as it was written…

It’s my understanding that you have been informed the passenger who had your bag was visually impaired an therefore an operative assisted them with collecting their baggage, however they collected your bag in error on their behalf.

Taking this into account, I also searched for the report that would have been created when the other passenger’s bag was left behind, and Im afraid there is no mention of any assistance on their report.

Therefore I should explain that usually this is something we would not offer any reimbursement for.

We have however eager to finalise this matter for you, and as a gesture of goodwill, I am happy on this occasion to enclose a cheque for £x to cover the cost of expenses incurred whilst you were without your baggage.

I think I follow. It wasn’t really their fault because the blind man didn’t really lose his bag because he didn’t report it. And eager to finalise me, they’ll send me a cheque.

I don’t really care; I have been reimbursed. But the letter is gobbledygook. Why can’t they just say – yes it was our fault and here’s your money back. We’re really sorry.

Do I sound old by suggesting that English standards have dropped? I must qualify for the grumpy old man award of the day?

The Branson Pickle

As you might have gathered I have been having fun in trying to re-connect with my luggage in New York. Finally the bag I entrusted to a nice girl at Heathrow has been delivered to my hotel in New York, it took 36 hours. It arrived in the middle of last night.

The Blind Man sent the bag back to the airport and Virgin then had it shipped to the Hotel. It was the least they could do. I did note Mr Branson that you had it delivered by the ‘regular’ service as opposed to the ‘rush’ option the delivery company offer.

Virgin Atlantic are an organisation who pride themselves on excellent customer service. Well, on their performance over the first 36 hours of my holiday were woeful. A few issues:

1. A member of their staff picking my bag up for the blind man in the first place – a good idea to check? He was blind after all.
2. My having to suggest that there had been a swap as the blind mans bag was similar and still on the carousel?
3. Giving me a USA number to call to get an update which didn’t work. It was unobtainable.
4. A warning that I should keep my spending to a minimum for emergency stuff only. $50 doesn’t go far when you need 2 x sets of basic clothes and toiletries.
5. That I had to call Virgin three times in the UK to get an update – despite the fact that they promised to keep me posted – they had my mobile and email addresses – but didn’t use either. Ever.
6. They use a delivery company in the USA who they can’t talk to (!) – so although they knew that my bag was with the delivery company they couldn’t tell me where it was / make contact with the company – other than by emailing them!
7. When they did dispatch the bag from JFK they used a ‘regular’ delivery service – within 12 hours when there was a ‘rush’ option.
8. Being unable to find my details on two occasions – despite me having a reference number. Hardly confidence inspiring.

This is one of this occasions when you are completely powerless to do anything. The staff say the right things but didn’t do anything pro-active.This is a very short break, spending the first 36 hours wondering what to – especially if the case didn’t turn up? At what point do you go out and start replacing some of the things in there…

One very unimpressed Virgin customer. Back to BA next time I think.

You couldn’t make it up….

There were some omens in place before this trip to New York. Like I couldn’t book the seats on-line or do an on-line check in. I should have known really.

The M1 was shut at Milton Keynes so we skipped around the M40. We were still on-time. Parking at Purple Parking was easy and friendly. Check-in was remarkably smooth.

The trouble struck. Apparently Heathrow was ‘busy’ and they swapped the runways round – this cost us an hour on the tarmac.

But the real fun started when we picked our bag up. Or rather didn’t pick our bag up – because it wasn’t there. After a bit of detective work we established that someone had left a similar bag spinning on the carousel and wandered off with ours. To make matters worse the person is ‘visually impaired’ and so had some help. Presumably she just pointed at a blue bag and that was that – my bag with someone else.

I would have thought the ‘helper’ might have just checked the name tag?

Alas not. So the first night in New York is without any toiletries or clothes. I do have a laptop and kindle, but have found these to be poor substitutes for the likes of toothbrushes and deodorant?

I shall blog ‘properly’ soon…

New York – 2012 – part one

This morning I leave Blighty for Manhattan Island. Some have suggested I have stirred enough of the Mayor debate up that I need to leave the City. Whereas some fine citizens get the key to the City I managed to get barred from filming with the BBC in ‘my own’ Castle. I found it amusing. It’s now my claim to fame!

But the trip was arranged some weeks ago, when Virgin dropped their flight prices to half of what they were in March when I blogged about the coincidental pricing arrangements between Virgin and BA. In fact it is the cheapest I have ever paid.

So, it’s across the pond for a few days. To the City that never sleeps.

As we have been discussing the Mayor in Nottingham over the last few weeks I was reflecting on the Mayoral position in New York. In the easy days when I went it was a very different place – crime was high and feeling safe was not how you felt. The Subway was out of bounds and going past 100th was considered suicide.

But Guiliani was credited with changing that. He cut crime and made the place safe again. He cleaned the City up.

I wouldn’t dream about travelling other by the subway. We have been into the Bronx. In some ways i think it is safer in New York than in Nottingham on a Saturday night! The Police presence is high – they are on every corner and at rush hour on station platforms. It’s zero tolerance.

So for the next few days, The Big Apple is home. It’s a chance to see some art, some music (I’ll blog about that later!) and lot’s of coffee shops. I get to go to some great independent music shops – and buy some more vinyl. A trip to John’s Pizza is essential as is the Milk Bar in the Chelsea Flower Market. The High Line is great at dusk.

I really ought to write my guide book this time…

New York – 6 months on, the prices are still fixed!

I blogged last September about my observations about Messrs Walsh and Branson having coincidental prices for flights to New Yoork. You ca read that rant here.

I was having a look at the weekend for flights again. It’s time I was back in New York – it has been nearly four months! That is far too long to be away from the worlds greatest City!

Guess what though? The prices have gone through the roof. Last September it was around £675 return on Premium Economy. At the weekend that had risen to £1,105 -for the same flight. An increase of around 65%. This is just outrageous and cannot be justified – can it? I know that fuel has gone up, but not by this amount. Most other costs are being held.

But what is really amazing is that the prices I managed to obtain on-line (flying from London Heathrow to JFK) for the same days and approximately the same times (within an hour) were:

Virgin – £1,105.16
BA – £1105.16

Clearly this is the second coincidence on price fixing. That is an amazing coincidence too. The prices match to the penny (again). At least they don’t try to pretend that they are calculating the prices I suppose. If it would have been 5p difference then they might have a defence?

I wonder who investigates this sort of thing? It surely warrants an investigation? Price matching (like the John Lewis system) is one thing – as this means that there is a lower common dominator. But this looks to me like there is a clear price fix – and the consumer doesn’t benefit. The prices have just climbed up…

Looks like Skegness beckons? And premium economy seats too?

Shanghai – the final day

My second trip to Shanghai comes to an end today with a long flight back to the UK this morning. It is an odd flight because it takes around 12 hours, but I ‘win’ back the hours I lost travelling East. So I take off at 11.30am Shanghai time and land (hopefully) at Heathrow around 4.00pm UK time.

The Butcher of Shanghai

Yesterday I had a day to myself – what my office colleagues would call a ‘Jolly’. But it was Saturday!

My day started in the Lanes of Taikang Road – I went there last time I was in Shanghai. I think it’s a great place – lots of narrow lanes to get lost in. The place is mainly ‘art’ orientated but the coffee at Kommune was as good as my Starbucks tipple. The food market left me a little queasy – although they will kill the animals for you. Fresh isn’t the word. I had light lunch at the Liuli Museum nearby – the building is great and the food wasn’t bad either.

The metro in Shanghai is brilliant for getting around – and is very cheap – around 27p or 37p depending on how many stops you go. It got me across the River into Pudong where I wandered around the Financial District. The tallest building in China is here – The World Finance Centre – all 101 floors of it. By 2014 it will have been usurped though – by the building next door which will stretch to 128 floors and be 200m higher!

Next was probably one of the worst bits of Shanghai – The Bund Sightseeing tunnel. I can only describe this as a tunnel with fairly lights. It was truly awful. I can only describe it as a 2 minute ride into a 1970′s disco. It features now at the top (or bottom?) of my World Class Attractions (not) category.

It didn’t take long on The Bund for me to find the Rolex Dealers – and £30 for a Gold Perpetual Oyster isn’t bad? I could have had a Louis Vuitton bag too – but I was concerned about how much I could carry back.

My day finished back in Xiantiandi – to meet up with some of the Conference goers I had met this week for dinner… How quickly the time has gone!

New York & Flying – part one!

As I blogged about before I am in New York for a few days.

Our choice of carrier has, since the demise of Silverjet, been Virgin Atlantic.

Travelling is the least favourite part of my day – and a seven hour flight is not a lot of fun. But Concord days of three and a half hours are over – even if I could afford it!

As you might expect I have some observations about flying. And they are not all good.

Firstly, at Airport Security – you guys need to lighten up a bit. I am not a terrorist as I am too scared to blow myself up. So the undressing bit is all a bit over the top. It’s my dignity that you are messing with. I have few sharp objects on or about my person.

The second (identical) check before I boarded was less amusing still. The significance of whether the laptop belonged to me or my firm was lost on me. I just wanted my shoes back. I got them after I confirmed the torch on my keyring was ‘normal’. I had contemplated offering the Star Wars light sabre explanation, but this man was not for joking with.

The strutting (male) trolley dolly when we were airborne also needed to chill a little. I can see the seatbelt sign when illuminated and I actually managed to fasten the belt all by myself. But thanks for checking – loudly so everyone could hear.

As for the nice chap who sat behind me – I don’t need to know when you need the toilet – nor did everyone else – honestly. And when you are at home choosing your tea are you that particular about the ‘mix’ of food? At least the (female) trolley dolly saw through your peculiarities and suggested you left what you didn’t want – probably like your mother would?

I have particular praise for the lady in front too – who discovered the recline button. It was interesting to have you so close one minute, but so far the next. And thanks for warning me about your desire to lie down suddenly; the drink I managed to spill will wash out, I’m sure. And it was only a bit hot.

Don’t you just love travelling?

I will stop being grumpy now as I’m on holiday – I’ll try to blog some cheery stuff tomorrow!

Can the cold weather improve service?

No – it seems not.

It might be cold in our office but we carry on!

I do accept that we have had some exceptional weather over the last few weeks – the sort Alpine Ski resorts see every year.

For many years I have had British Gas three star cover at home, but we changed it last year when our boiler was replaced. We didn’t use British Gas – they were around twice the price of a local private plumbing firm. I have no issue with this – we simply chose the cheaper firm – the boiler specification was the same and twelve months on it still works. The private form offered us a four year servicing deal which we took. But I left in place the British Gas cover for electrical appliances and plumbing (except for the boiler). Three weeks ago we noticed a leak near a radiator. We called British Gas. They initially adopted the stance that this might not be covered as we no longer had the boiler covered! No matter that we have been paying for the last twelve months for such cover. They then decided that it probably was covered, but they could not prioritise it as urgent – due to the unprecedented level of calls they were getting.

I guess that someone without heat is probably more important than my little leak! But that’s not really the point?

Then on the Radio yesterday I heard that the major airlines (BA, Virgin and Air Canada) were asking people not to ring them for updated flight information. Joe Public was to enquire on their web site. Except that their web sites were being hit so hard that most had crashed!

It seems to me that we do have bad weather – I’m not sure it is “unprecedented”. It’s cold and snowy.

Service providers need to staff up and resource things accordingly. These organisations are very quick to make sure their phones and web sites are working when they want our cash. When it goes a bit pear shaped it seems we are not very important…

(I have cancelled my contract with British Gas)

New York – it’s been too long!

This may be the first year in the last seven or eight when I have not been to New York. I was last there in September 2009 with The Sheriff of Nottingham as part of our trip to look at world class attractions. I seem to have run out year – although I did manage a trip to Shanghai (which I would describe as New York on acid).

I really need to go back. And soon. I wonder if a quick trip before Christmas could be achieved….

There are just so many great things to do and see on this little part of the world. I never tire of the place. There is always something to do. I think I could actually live there. It is difficult to explain to people who haven’t been what it is like. It’s big, brash, noisy and fast. And a little bit mad.

Last week there was great news demonstrating the madness of New York.

Apparently a cop parked his car in a bike lane and then as the cyclists swerved around him – he gave them a ticket for not riding in the bike lane! One of the victims of this apparent crime said his ticket was for $130 for “Reckless operation of bicycle.”

This could only be New York? I think this is what I miss!

So Mr Branson, can you get some offer started please on you nice airline