20150316 I booked a flight with Etihad Airways. This is what happened next…

So I argue again. The plane is there. I was here before the cut-off time. I did not book a short turnaround independently: I booked the turnaround as set by the airline on its website. I am asked if I want to fly without my luggage. How will it get to me? I ask, aware that luggage without a human on the same flight is considered high-risk even if it’s the airline’s fault. In any case, I have good reason for not wanting it to be left around in a hot climate, in Abu Dhabi and / or in KL. She shrugs.

Then she tells me the story: while we were in the air, before the notice appeared telling me which gate to go to, before the aircrew told me there were a dozen of us going to race through the airport, the airline had made a decision to cancel our boarding passes because the transit time was too short. It seems that, equally, a decision was made not to tell us until we had raced to and fro through the airport looking for the gate and standing in a pointless transit desk queue.

It is true that we had left London some 20 minutes late. But, we landed on time. I know that because the Captain made an announcement saying we had made good time due to tail winds. I pointed this out to the shrugging woman but as I did so, the aircraft door closed and the airbridge was withdrawn.

Surrendering to the inevitable, I went to the transit desk. The airline’s solution was simple: we would be put into a hotel and we would have to make sure we were back at the airport in five hours so as to check in for our connecting flight which would depart 8 hours after the aircraft we were booked on and which had just left.

No way, I said. I’ve not been to bed for 30 hours. I’ve already been travelling for twelve. If I go to a hotel and fall asleep there is absolutely no chance that I will wake up to be back here in five hours. The staff at the transit desk didn’t care. All they cared about was that Etihad had people it wanted out of the airport so that they became someone else’s problem. Making sure we got to the next flight was not Etihad’s job, it seemed.

I was given a boarding pass for a shitty seat. I gave it back demanding the same seat as I had already had booked on the aircraft that had just pushed back. “That seat’s not available,” I was told. No suggestion that they would at least try to find a seat similar to the one I’d booked nor how to fix it. “Fix it,” I said. A dozen people clustered around, no one being told that the water on the counter was for us, all getting hot, tired, thirsty and angry. I got allocated a seat that was at least not horrible and a boarding pass was thrust at me with a scowl. At least it wasn’t a shrug.

I had perishable food items in my bag. Instead of spending the entire trip, except for an hour in transit, in the cold of the hold, now it was going to sit around in Arabian heat for 8 hours. I was told that they would “try” to get it into a cold store (they did and the cheese I was bringing home was fine when I got back).

But as to any form of accommodation, the airport was crammed with people, too many for the seats, many lying around on the floor. I was given snack tickets and told that was all the airline could do. Well, I had five hours to make that not so. It could certainly do more.

My entire sleep pattern, carefully calculated so that I did not suffer jet lag was shot to pieces by the airline’s decision to dump me in Abu Dhabi for 8 hours instead of me having a good sleep en route to KL. My meetings were ruined as were my dinner plans. I would arrive home at about 23:30 instead of mid afternoon. And the last thing I would want to do then would be to socialise.

I went in search of a manager. The transit desk staff were still shrugging, not even bothering to answer and it was clear that they did not intend to call a manager to deal with the melt-down that was engulfing them as a dozen passengers were effectively dismissed with a voucher and told to go to a hotel.