Wednesday, July 6, 2011

(Another) unpleasant flight experience !

Last week I flew from Moscow to London, a route I am frequently travelling and I chose the 10am BMI flight.

A lovely Moscow summers day made the wait on the street quite manageable. After the horrific terrorist attack in January, security has finally been stepped up and every person and every bag is being scanned at the entry of the airport ... Understandable, but they simply can't cope with the volume of travellers leaving on their summer holidays.
So 20 minutes later I was inside a packed Domodedovo airport. I made my way to check in counters, and at least could avoid the unwieldy lines by going to business class check in by virtue of Virgin gold card (which is recognised by BMI ... Or at least that's what I thought!). I handed my Virgin card and passport to the check in lady, who looked at the Virgin card with virtual disgust and almost threw it back at me! I asked her what was wrong and told her that this card is accepted by BMI.
"This is not a BMI flight" was her abrupt comment, at which point I looked up at the screen above her desk and it said check in for flight BD2904!
OK, I understand this is a code share flight, but since when did that mean the "sharee" took all the rights and the "sharer" had no rights?
I started to dispute this with the check in lady, but was clearly informed that this was a Transaero flight. I didn't have the energy to argue with her at 8am, and I was anyway getting the benefit of skipping the check in queue, so I left it ... Until I was told that my suitcase was 9kg overweight. I had to go to the Transaero cash desk to pay this excess, and I figured there may be a more sympathetic ear there.
So off I went, and handed the cash desk lady my "receipt" saying I had to pay some excess weight.
I announced "I have a Virgin gold card", to which she replied, "only Visa or MasterCard"!
"No, you don't understand. I have a Virgin Airlines gold card" I clarified.
"No shto" came the abrupt reply (basically translated as "so what" in Russian) "My Virgin card entitles me to some benefits on BMI and that includes some extra weight allowance".
"This is a Transaero flight" ... This was going nowhere, and at no point was there any form of a sensible explanation, or an apology, or even any form of basic courtesy.

So $150 later, I am on the flight along with my bag, but hugely disappointed. BMI has always been one of my favoured airlines for short haul in Europe, but this was a frustrating experience. What's worse, is that in this case I can understand that it was not entirely BMI's fault. While they are responsible to choose their code sharing partners carefully and get involved in how they act this just seemed beyond what they could have reasonably expected.
I can understand that on a hot day in a busy airport it is easy for staff who work there to get irritated, but this is no way to treat passengers and customers. I know Russia and especially Moscow well, and I like to think the country and capital city have developed a long way in the 17 years I have been travelling there, but this was back to Soviet era attitudes. Airports are the face of a country. A warm welcome and farewell by a nation to it's visitors leaves a lasting mark, as does rudeness, so it's truly a shame that a couple of ignorant people can  wield this much influential power. So come on Transaero ... Get your act together. I don't care about my Gold card status, I don't care that I had to pay the excess baggage, but I do expect some manners and politeness from customer facing staff.

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