Tag Archives: airlines

Welcome to Bangladesh

It’s been a long weekend. I travelled from São Paulo to London on Friday, landing on Saturday. Then I went straight up to Leicester, spending a day in the Midlands before heading back to London on Sunday. Instead of staying in central London I headed off to the wilds of Hendon and Harrow to see mates like Ronan and Enda… worth it, but tiring as I was on a plane to Dhaka in Bangladesh the next morning, via a really rushed connection in Dubai.

I haven’t had jetlag for a long time, perhaps because I am doing a lot of north-south flying these days, but it’s hitting me quite hard today – I’m writing this wide awake at 4am and paying the price for flying East.

Arriving in Dhaka was certainly an experience. Passport control takes ages. Each passport is subject to checks that drag on for several minutes. Now add an entire plane-load of hundreds of passengers and even the locals were complaining about how long it was taking.

I needed to get a visa on arrival, so I joined the visa queue – even slower than a regular passport check. Once I got to the front of the queue they told me that I should have gone to the bank to pay first… no sign or official had told me.

I went to an ATM, withdrew cash, went to the bank, deposited the money – for some reason the bank would not just take the debit card, I had to get cash.

Then, I returned with my receipt and they stamped my passport. The visa official said that I needed to come into his office to check on something in my passport. I went to the office, he asked me for 100 Taka for his help in giving me a visa. That’s only something like $1.30 – he was not asking for a big reward and it’s hard to even call it a bribe as he asked for the money after stamping my passport.

But it’s not the best welcome, having airport officials asking for tips because they did their job. I’d better tip the captain the next time my plane lands safely if this is the precedent being established.

Then the journey into town started. The traffic was horrendous. It took around 2 hours to get from the airport to my hotel. Not because it is a long distance – like in Tokyo – it would have been faster to just walk.

In the end, from landing to getting a glass of water at my hotel took over 4 hours – not much fun. But complaints aside, the hotel is nice, the food has been good, and I’ve met some really interesting people on my first day in town.

World Class Traffic Jam

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Mexicana struggles – no surprise there then

Mexicana airlines is in complete turmoil. Having filed for protection from bankruptcy, they are now fighting off a complete collapse as the unions refuse to allow restructuring and the management have axed services – including the Mexico City to London route.

I had the misfortune to use Mexicana to go to Mexico City from London last December. It was possibly the worst airline I have ever used in terms of service, aircraft, and overall experience. Imagine catching the 73 bus from Hackney to Oxford Circus in the rush hour and you get an approximation of what it’s like to travel with Mexicana… including the crowding and lack of any form of on-board entertainment, despite the long-haul nature of the journey.

I took an American Airlines return flight from London to New York last week and I encountered similar chaos on board – the crew wanted to charge me $7 for a glass of wine despite my ‘economy’ ticket costing $1475.30. The cabin crew were upset with me when I told them to take the wine back. But they had spent the entire flight calling me ‘special’ because I had ordered vegetarian food… somehow not realising that it makes me sound more like an asylum inmate than José Mourinho…

Airlines all over the world seem to be in chaos, yet surely they can see there are two basic business models. No-frills like Ryanair, where the service is cut to the bone so that the price reflects only a safe journey and nothing else, then the regular full-service airlines where a price comparison is still important, but value enters the mix… airport used, ability to select seats, quality of service… This is where airlines like BA can stake themselves out as leaders (if the unions don’t bring them down first) because they have the quality on-board service and innovative online services.

Having got used to ba.com allowing me to set my meal preference, choose a seat, and get my boarding pass before I even leave for the airport, I’m not really all that tolerant of companies like Mexicana who tell me that online check-in doesn’t work “because you live in London…” Will anyone be sorry to see them go?
Rolls Royce jet engine

Ash disruption to last for a generation?

When the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland erupted and caused air travel chaos a few weeks ago the reporting of the chaos was presented as if it is a story that will literally blow over.

Aviation expert David Learmount yesterday reminded BBC viewers that this might change air travel for a generation.

Nobody can predict when this – or other – volcanos will stop pumping ash into the sky so there are only a couple of realistic long-term solutions:

1. Build engines that can fly though the ash without any danger to the aircraft

2. Build better real-time warning systems so pilots don’t need to cancel flights, they can take evasive action to go above, below, or around a dangerous ash cloud

Today we aren’t in a position where either is feasible, and the second option looks more feasible than the first. So we might face years of ash chaos and uncertainty now, until the boffins produce a system that can model an immense area of our atmosphere in real-time.

Don’t forget, a regular airliner can cruise along at more than 20km a minute… so even 10 minutes of cruising can cover 200km. Now imagine multiplying distance east-west with north-south and depth to an altitude of about 13,000 metres.

This is a problem that’s not going to be solved anytime soon.

Planes over Ealing (3 planes heading west))