‘There’s a damn good reason why we won the war,’ ranted DH, on the morning we were supposed to have left Dubai to begin our first holiday back home in two years. ‘It’s called manners, and the ability to rally under extreme adversity!’
‘Too bally right!’ I nodded enthusiastically. And so did several other British passengers who’d had ‘just about as much as they could jolly well take’ at 5am on a Monday morning in the check-in area at Dubai International Airport.
The reason for our sudden regression into 1940’s sentiments was this: Air Berlin, a carrier with a typically Germanic reputation for efficiency, reliability and vorsprung deutsch teknic, we’d discovered, has absolutely zero customer service skills. None. Nicht. Zilch.
In retrospect, we shouldn’t have bothered even getting out of bed. The fact that the children, high on excitement had barely slept the night before, was just one reason. But once we got to check-in, the real trouble began.
Instead of politely informing all travellers prior to airport arrival in an email, that the flight we were lining up for was grounded, the staff waited until the bleary-eyed passengers had checked in all their luggage and collected their boarding passes, before quietly telling them, ‘the plane has been delayed for 21 hours. Can you come back at 2am – tomorrow morning?’
I’ll say that again. 21 hours.
Horrified whispers rippled disbelievingly down the line. Travelling mums with kids even younger and less manageable than ours, looked wild-eyed with panic. ‘Surely – surely this wasn’t true?’ And then; ‘We’ve checked in all our bags! We have no clean clothes for the baby – and no formula – and only two nappies! OMG!’
By the time, we reached the desk (the queue was horribly slow because everyone was trying to find out what on earth was going on) we’d been trying to negotiate our way onto another flight for three hours. The boys, horribly disappointed and stir crazy with sleep deprivation, kept attacking each other like a pair of angry hamsters. Hair flew and clothes were ripped as they rolled around the floor. Then the toddler filled his nappy (and it leaked all over his trousers).
But there was worse to come.
‘What do you mean you can’t get us on another flight any sooner?’ ranted DH (usually as cool as a cucumber under fire) once the ‘person in charge’ eventually got back to us.
‘It’s not Air Berlin policy sir. We can’t help you,’ he shrugged, adding that he was from Dnata – and not the actual airline, so there was no-one there to advise him, because the office in Germany would not be open for another four hours…
By now, we were panicking. Our ongoing flight was booked on another airline. DH and I hadn’t wanted to do the 12 hour stopover in Berlin with over-tired kids in tow, so we’d bought tickets to London on British Midland – with a respectable six hour interval instead. Now we’d miss that connection, by ooh, about 24 hours. And Air Berlin didn’t give a rat’s arse.
‘But we’re going to miss our flight because of your delay. We’re going to lose money on those tickets. It’s going to cost us a fortune to book a last minute flight to London. And it’s all your fault! [brief pause for added effect] Don’t you care?’
‘Really? You really don’t care?’
‘Not even one little bit?’
And they meant it. We weren’t offered a sausage (or an apple strudel, or even a sauerkraut sandwich) by way of either apology or compensation. In fact, we received about as much sympathy as a Spitfire pilot who’s asked a member of the Luftwaffe if he would ‘please just go home and potter around his garden instead of bombing everyone all over the place.’
To top it off, oldest son, who never likes to left out of the drama, decided to show his British solidarity by pooping his pants… And after many baby wipes had been sacrificed, along with a pair of Roary the Racing car underpants which were duly stuffed into the bin in the ladies’ loo, (although they would have come in mighty handy if an Air Berlin staff member had bothered to show up), we were ready to throw in the towel.
We arrived home again (in Dubai) mid-morning, much to the surprise and annoyance of our maid Agatha, who, already in holiday mode, had taken root in our sitting room, feet up on the coffee table, mocktail with mini-umbrella in one hand and the television remote in the other.
Thankfully, we were too exhausted, frustrated and appalled at the money we’d lost to care. How could the airline have been so inept, so rude, and so completely unsympathetic, when they were causing us to lose two precious days of our holiday, and several thousand dirhams to boot?
Eventually though, in true British style, we pulled ourselves together and got on with it. After all, you win some you lose some, and Air Berlin has certainly lost our custom forever (along with most of our vacation spending money).
Indeed, if I were a certain kind of person, I’d say that the airline is clearly run by the offspring of the very same humourless Krauts who mismanaged a stab at world domination some 65 years ago. But dwelling on the past is never helpful, and I suppose I should actually be grateful to them in some small way. After all, a British airline is now the beneficiary of our hard-earned dosh, and rightly so, what, what…
So put that in yer pipe and smoke it Jerry. Tally ho!