I’m not at my best at 4.45am, especially when I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet, despite being booked into Courtyard by Marriot London Gatwick Hotel for bed and breakfast. At the Marriott, breakfast doesn’t actually start until 7.30am, not exactly customer focussed for an airport hotel, the whole point of which is to cater for passengers arriving late and/or departing early. Plus I haven’t slept because their air conditioning doesn’t turn off, so it’s fair to say I’m not firing on all cylinders when I get on the airport shuttle bus, pay my three quid and innocently ask:
“Do you go to the North Terminal as well as the South?”
The driver slowly and deliberately turns to me, fixes me with his glassy stare and, pronouncing every word as if he’s speaking to either a two year old or someone with learning difficulties, bellows at me:
“YOU’RE THE THIRD PERSON TO ASK ME THAT QUESTION IN THE LAST FIVE MINUTES! THERE WOULDN’T BE MUCH POINT IN HAVING AN AIRPORT SHUTTLE BUS IF IT DIDN’T GO TO BOTH TERMINALS, NOW WOULD THERE?!”
I’m now standing on the packed bus, my foot trying to prevent my case from falling over as the driver hurtles us around an endless series of roundabouts. In front of me two large red cases are dancing together across the aisle, wheeling over and back in synchronised darts, occasionally accompanied by a small twirl.
Ordinarily the dosey-doe duo would have brought a smile to my face, but I’m livid, and busily compiling my parting shot for when the bus finally grinds to a halt at Gatwick North Terminal.
“You know,” I rehearse to myself. “When someone doesn’t know your city or your systems and asks a perfectly polite question, it really would cost you nothing to give a polite response. May I suggest that you consider long and hard whether being in the public service sector is really the right career choice for you.”
I’m reasonably happy with my speech and as the bus pulls up in front of the Terminal, I move to just beyond the doors and turn to face the driver. But before I can get past “You know…”, a small blonde woman with an Essex accent strides towards the doors and loudly intones:
“Thank you sooo much for that wonderful journey, Driver, and for your happy and caring disposition towards your passengers, you ignorant GIT!”
It seems I’m not the only one who’s less than impressed with the bus driver’s attitude this morning.
But if I thought I was over the worst of my Gatwick experience I was sadly mistaken. Arriving in the departure lounge I check the information board for my Geneva flight which is on time, and head for the two long banks of easyJet check-in desks, each fronted by a single snaking queue that winds itself around five loops and tails out into the central hall. I take pot luck, join one of the queues and began to inch my way towards the start of the roped waiting area, wondering if I’ll still have time for breakfast before I board.
I’ve made about two feet of progress when I hear someone shouting over the heads of the queue on the other side of the hall:
“Anyone for Alicante flight please? Anyone for Alicante? Please make your way to the front of the queue.”
I continue to shuffle forward and a few minutes later a voice on my side of the zone shouts the ‘anyone for Alicante‘ message. Eight or ten people pass by me to make their way to the front. I check the time and see my fruit cocktail and hot buttered toast disappearing into Never Never Land.
After Alicante comes an ‘anyone for Corfu‘ call, then ‘anyone for Amsterdam‘ and ‘anyone for Marrakech‘ as inexorably, I and most of the rest of the queue make no progress whatsoever towards the check-in desk as more and more people surge forward to check in lest they miss their flights. By the time it gets to the ‘anyone for Tenerife‘ call there’s near anarchy in the queue with everyone, including me, clearly able to see that the easyJet check-in system SUCKS.
I finally make it to a check-in desk having been in the queue for the best part of two hours and my flight is now boarding. Not only do I not have time for breakfast, I still haven’t even had a cup of coffee and I’m beginning my journey in a foul mood.
My Gatwick departure was in late June – low season – and the weather was cold. I can’t even begin to conceive of what a nightmare that check-in system will be right now, or worse still, when August Bank Holiday weekend comes around.
It seems some airlines, hotels and public service employees still have a very long way to go in terms of customer service and unfortunately, they all seem to converge on Gatwick, my idea of travel Hell.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+