Sunday 22 December 2013

Taking Flybe to the Isles, a cautionary tale

If you are flying home to any of the Scottish Islands with Flybe/Loganair over the festive period take  my experience at Glasgow airport as a cautionary tale.

I arrived the other morning with 45 minutes to spare before check-in to be confronted by a snaking queue at the Flybe desk almost out to the doors that the airport bombers once attempted to drive through.

Only one member of staff was dealing with check-in while the others busied themselves with the new-fangled automated bag drop.

I was halfway down the queue before I realised that I had checked in online (and remembered to print my boarding pass) and so could go straight to bag drop.

I switched to the shorter bag drop queue feeling smug about by technological advantage. It took another ten minutes to reach the front of that queue, where you scan your boarding pass and the machine prints off a hold label for your luggage and you deposit the bags on the conveyer belt.

Except...the staffer explained my friend and I were flying to Stornoway on a Loganair flight, and Loganair which sub-contracts the island routes from Flybe, have not bought into the new automated system.

Back you go, - it didn't matter if you had bought your ticket from Flybe, checked in on their website or flew in their liveried planes, you were not getting their service.

Like a bad game of snakes and ladders we had to join the end of the now longer check-in queue and reached the desk just as our flight was closing. Flights to Sumburgh, Tiree and Stornoway take off in close order but the queue marshall didn't seem to know which was which.

The poor guy at check-in confirmed that Flybe's new system didn't include Loganair and that automation meant the company  had cut back on staff and reduced everyone else's contracted hours. Not great for him when confronted with various Vikings and Hebrideans anxious about getting home.

Using that old "excuse me, my flight's in ten minutes" line we rushed through security and made it onboard, but what a hassle and with no signage or explanation from Flybe staff until it was nearly too late.

That, and the lack of a fortifying drink onboard (they stopped that a while ago), made it feel like this is becoming a real second-class service for island passengers. Either employ enough staff for peak periods or get Loganair onto the automated system - it's a no brainer.

It also struck me that this could be part of a Flybe exit strategy from the island routes that the island group of councils and their politicians ought to take note and take action.

I haven't checked in with the Flybe press office for confirmation of Loganair's contract on automated baggage drop, but the evidence of my own eyes and the word of staff seemed convincing. I'll file this blog as complaint when business starts tomorrow.

Meanwhile, leave plenty time for check-in at Glasgow and Edinburgh, even when you have checked in online. And remember to print your boarding card, and take your passport and...och, you know the drill.