Flight Paths Paved with Good Intentions

By Calder, Simon | The Independent (London, England), September 28, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Flight Paths Paved with Good Intentions


Calder, Simon, The Independent (London, England)


The man who pays his way

Britain's biggest low-cost airline has just launched a charm offensive. This month easyJet revealed its first Customer Charter. Among the five pillars of aviation wisdom that it has adopted is the promise that "You can expect a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable service from all our staff".

Mark Leiser, a postgraduate law student at Strathclyde University, didn't feel that was what he got this week. He was waiting for a delayed easyJet evening flight from Glasgow to Gatwick. He wanted to know whether he would still be able to get a train from the Sussex airport into London. Staff at the gate could apparently not help.

According to a report in The Drum, an online magazine to which Mr Leiser contributes, he then learnt that: "Delays had prevented a serving soldier - who was on route to take part in active service - making an essential travel connection." So he vented his frustration on Twitter:

"Flight delayed 90min. Soldier going to miss last connection & @easyjet refusing to help pay for him to get to Portsmouth. Get right into em!"

He says that ground staff approached him and told him he would not be allowed to fly: "The manager arrived and told me that, based on my tweet, they couldn't let me board the flight because I wasn't allowed to do that and I should know better. He then called over to the girl on the counter to instruct my bags be taken off the flight. It wasn't until I asked him if he'd heard of free speech that the tone changed. He asked me if I was a lawyer and I told him I taught law at Strathclyde." He was allowed on board.

Since the incident on Tuesday night, a bucketful of opprobrium has been poured upon the airline. "Careful about criticising easyJet," tweeted the excellent Undercover Economist, Tim Harford. "Their feelings may be hurt." Many other comments were far less polite. So allow me to present the case for the defence.

I wasn't there, but the incident has some puzzling aspects. Travellers could infer from some of the reports that a supervisor at the airport spends his or her time monitoring passenger comments on Twitter. That is fanciful. For staff to have become aware of the offending tweet, presumably other factors were involved - perhaps some kind of altercation about the delay.

Next, Mr Leiser apparently "asked an attendant at the gate when the last train from Gatwick airport into central London would depart", but without a satisfactory response. Later: "Mr Leiser said he was able to get into London despite arriving late because the Gatwick Express ran all night, something he did not know at the time and no one was able to tell him."

It is odd that an airline passenger would expect ground staff to know details of rail connections from a different airport in another country - and a pity that Mr Leiser, a student of cyber law, appears unaware of the excellent free National Rail Enquiries mobile app.

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