Belfast Telegraph

How did my ‘bargain’ flight of £46 get to cost more than £200 — or nearly £500 due to an error?

Oh, I see, Stepford humanity, corporate greed and utter intransigence...

By Frances Burscough

One of the few drawbacks of living in Northern Ireland when you’re a “blow in” from England — as I am — has been the sheer time, effort, inconvenience and, most crucially, the cost of travelling home to visit family on a regular basis.

Having been here now for more than 20 years, I’ve tried every mode of transport imaginable (except hot air balloon and going on the back of a dolphin, Marine Boy-style) and would probably be pretty darn close to purchasing my own private Learjet with the money I’ve spent in the process.

I’ve done every possible ferry route in every type of craft, from the Seacat and HSS to the traditional roll-on roll-off ferry, and even crammed my Mini into the gigantic overnight freight liner and tried to blend in with the burly lorry drivers.

Then there were the flights. Often described as “short-hop” routes, still they could never be short enough for me with my acute fear of flying. FlyBe, easyJet, British Midland, British Airways, Ryanair, Manx Airlines, you name it, I’ve flown it and taken the beta blocker.

But after my last “short hop” over the water — in February — I hereby vow never to fly with one particular airline again.

It all began with an email, which dropped, unsolicited, into my inbox one day early in the new year: “January sale — return flights from as little as £19.99! Don’t miss out! Book today!”

At the time, I was feeling guilty for having stayed here for Christmas and hadn’t seen my elderly dad in weeks. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to book a flight for me and my 14-year-old, while the prices were so low.

First, I phoned dad to check the dates, and he was so delighted I knew it was the right thing to do, even though I was skint after the expense of Christmas. So I went ahead with the booking. At that price, it would be a shame not to. It was only when I was committed to the trip that the hidden extras started to mount up

  • The initial flight from Belfast cost me and my son £23.08 each. Fair enough. Happy days, or so I thought.
  • Then they added “taxes and charges” of £101.80.
  • The cost of bringing one piece of luggage was then slapped on, at £27.98.
  • “Airport service” of £14 was then included.
  • And then, of course, came a credit-card fee of £18.

In four simple steps, my “bargain” fare of under £50 was now more than £200 — £207.94 to be precise.

Of course, I hadn’t budgeted for this. I couldn’t afford it. But my dad was expecting me and looking forward to it, so I had no choice.

When the day came to travel, we arrived at the airport to be told that we owed the airline a further £10 “to check in”. By this stage, my patience was wearing thin, but I was told that the boarding card would not be issued until the surplus amount was paid. No ifs, no buts.

So the tenner I’d put to one side for drinks on the flight (a double brandy to calm my nerves) was already swallowed up and I had to do it cold turkey.

But, of course, that’s not the end of it. C'mere; there's more. On the return trip, I arrived at my destination check-in desk and discovered to my horror that the wrong date was on the ticket.

It was my mistake, because I’d made the booking myself online.

I then made another stupid mistake of appealing to the staff there for clemency, or at least to look with some sympathy on my dire situation.

There I was, with only 45 minutes until take-off, a single mother with a child, already almost bankrupt by my travelling schedule, and with no choice but to take that flight. My dad was long gone and lived 50 miles away. I had nowhere else to go.

“Look, go over to the ticket desk over there and tell them what’s happened,” the woman said. “There are plenty of seats still available and it’ll only take her a minute to change it.”

Phew, I thought. Thank God for that.

Sure enough, the lady at the ticket desk changed it within a minute. All it took was a single phone call. Then came the double-whammy. “That’ll be £260 please.”

Seriously. One phone call and they charged me £260 — on top of the £217.94 I had already forked out on their “bargain bonanza”. “Please is there no one I can speak to about this? It’s urgent that I travel today, I have to get back to my other son, who’s at home alone. Can’t you waive the charge out of common courtesy for a stricken traveller?”

Common courtesy? Aye, right. That’ll be the day. “Look, I’m the only person here and I’m telling you these are the rules. If you don’t pay it you don’t travel, it’s that simple. Makes no difference to us. Take it or leave it.”

She stood there, staring at me with all the warmth and humanity of a Stepford air stewardess, oblivious to the tears in my eyes as I envisaged our summer holiday fund going down the pan for nothing other than corporate greed and utter intransigence.

I had to take it. I had no choice. I handed over my beleaguered credit card for the last time ever to that particular airline. Never again, as long as I live, will I give them my custom.

When I got home that night, there at the top of my email in-tray was yet another message from them, advertising yet another special offer, with the familiar cute, cuddly, family-friendly logo enticing me to fly with them again.

Not on your life, I thought, as I sent it directly to my junk-mail filter. I’d sooner swim across to England.

Belfast Telegraph