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Monarch vs. Sciopero

Phespirit reports - May 2007

Notes from the Cadogan Guide to Bologna & Emilia-Romagna:

"Emilia-Romagna has an excellent network of railways, highways and byways, and you'll find getting around fairly easy - until one union or another takes it into its head to go on strike. However, by law, unions are not permitted to strike during the high holiday season, or over Christmas and New Year. Just in case, learn to recognise the word in Italian: sciopero (SHO-per-o)"

22nd May 2007, 02:30

Phespirit's alarm clock nagged him into wakefulness. As is usual when he takes to his bed knowing that he has to rise at a shatteringly early hour, Phespirit had only managed a drifting shallow sleep. Even so, a few more hours of drifting shallow sleep wouldn't have gone amiss. He blearily got up, had a bowl of cornflakes, a mug of tea, washed, dressed and awaited the arrival of his chariot.

22nd May 2007, 03:20

The Gatwick Flyer minibus arrived to take Phespirit to Gatwick Airport where he would be checking-in at the South Terminal. This home pick-up service operates a 24/7 timetable, with drop-offs every two hours. As Phespirit's Monarch Airlines flight to Rimini, Italy, was due to depart at 08:30, it would have been convenient if a drop-off was scheduled for around 06:30. Unfortunately, the nearest preceding time was 05:00. Hence Phespirit's early start.

22nd May 2007, 05:00

Having arrived preposterously early, Phespirit was convinced the check-in desks would not be ready to process him for at least another hour. Happily this was not the case. Queues were minimal, so he swiftly collected his flight ticket and immediately made his way to the international departure lounge. Phespirit doesn't particularly enjoy hanging around airport foyers and check-ins; whilst he does not live in fear of terrorism to the extent the government would like, he remains mindful that these places are patently among the most vulnerable of all attractive targets for bomb-strapped lunatics.

22nd May 2007, 06:00

The queues for passing through immigration and security control were substantially longer and more tedious than those for checking-in, but by six o'clock Phespirit was in the departure lounge. With time on his hands, he wandered up to the viewing area next to the Sports Bar above Yates Wine Lodge, where he made himself comfortable with a book and kept an eye on the information screens. Upon arrival at the airport he'd noticed that a number of flights had been cancelled but, as his own flight still indicated the standard 'Please Wait', he thought little of it. When 'Please Wait' changed to 'Next Info 08:30' (the time he ought to have been departing) he was naturally less than overjoyed, but was still reasonably unconcerned.

22nd May 2007, 08:30

Shortly after 08:30, the information for Rimini flight MON5932 was updated from 'Next Info 08:30' to 'Next Info 10:00'. This was not best news, but given the choice of getting upset and animated over something beyond his control, or sitting back down and continuing with his book, he chose the latter option.

22nd May 2007, 10:00

As promised, the next information was indeed at 10:00. It said: 'Rimini MON5932 Next Info 11:00'. A joke's a joke and all that, but now Phespirit felt inclined to find out what was going on, and for how long the airline intended to keep adding an hour to their estimate. Only at this point did he overhear another passenger in conversation on his mobile phone, apparently talking about a strike in Italy. Phespirit looked back to the screen and realised the truth that had been staring him in the face for over five hours: all the cancelled flights were to Italian cities. If he had spotted this earlier he may, for what good it would have done him, have upgraded his concern a notch or two.

22nd May 2007, 10:15

And so to Monarch Airlines' information desk in the departure lounge. Other passengers had likewise decided that the novelty of waiting hour upon hour for updates was starting to wear thin, and they too converged on the desk to obtain a little more substantial information. In anticipation of this, the Monarch staff had put two piles of A4 photocopied sheets on the desk. The first was a letter from Monarch's Customer Relations Officer, which began:

22nd May 2007

ITALIAN AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL STRIKE

Dear Monarch Passenger

Monarch Airlines would like to apologise, for the delay experienced with your flight today, which is due to air traffic control problems.

The disruption has been caused by Italy Air Traffic Control staging a strike today. Unfortunately, this is completely out of the control of Monarch Airlines.

Fair enough. The second sheet was "Regulation (EC) 261/2004: Passenger Information - Delayed flights". In regulation-standard jargon, it set out two points, with five sub-points between them, which in turn shared seven sub-sub-points, listing passenger entitlements when flights are delayed. But then comes the killer punchline:

Important Note:
If the cause of the delay is beyond the control of the airline, then the above provisions do not apply. Passengers travelling on Inclusive Tour flights may be offered assistance in these circumstances by the tour operator.

The concurrent appearance of these documents appeared to indicate that Monarch would be washing its hands of any responsibility for taking care of its passengers during this period of disruption. How wrong Phespirit was .....

22nd May 2007, shortly thereafter

An announcement from the Monarch desk reaffirmed that a strike was afoot but then continued with the uplifting news that:

When Phespirit queried the 15:45 time, it was confirmed to him that the strike was due to end at 18:00 local time in Italy. He later found out that it had been planned all along as an eight hour strike, from 10:00 to 18:00. So, with the facts known and a flight still very much on the cards for that day, Phespirit looked forward to his lunch.

22nd May 2007, 11:00

Passengers were advised that if they had any Duty Free shopping they should notify the desk staff who would take the necessary steps to ensure that there would be no problems upon leaving and re-entering the controlled area. Phespirit did not have any Duty Frees, but it was only after leaving the terminal that he remembered the bottle of water he had purchased. Too bad. Now he would have to drink it or bin it. Never mind. Over in the North Terminal, the Sofitel Hotel is connected to the terminal building by a short walkway not far from the transit trains. Phespirit found a comfortable armchair in the hotel foyer, settled down and waited to be fed and watered.

22nd May 2007, 12:00

Lunch was served at midday, but as Phespirit had nodded off in his comfy chair he was the last to join the queue. The Sofitel, courtesy of Monach, provided an unlimited buffet that would credit any four-star hotel. Phespirit had bread rolls, chicken breast in cream sauce, new potatoes, pasta, freshly squeezed orange juice to wash it down, followed by chocolate profiteroles with fresh cream and raspberries for dessert. This represented a substantially better feast than would have been available on the scheduled flight, and was far superior to any of the meals on offer at his hotel when he finally made it to Italy.

22nd May 2007, 15:00

Feeling well-fed and satisfied, Phespirit settled down in the foyer to read a few more chapters of his book. In due course he returned to the South Terminal lounge, where he was relieved to find the 15:45 prediction was still looking good. When MON5932 eventually cleared the runway, Phespirit glanced at his watch and noted the time: 15:57. The plane touched down in Rimini at 18:44, Italian time. A local representative reported that it was the only plane to have made it through that day; one final flight from Manchester was set to follow.

In conclusion

Phespirit has had harsh words for Monarch Airlines in the past. He considers it highly immoral that they charge for water (other than the water served with meals) and he remains bitter that extra-legroom seats are only available to those willing to pay a fee rather than on a basis of need; especially as the standard seats are so cramped. Nonetheless, on this occasion they did exceptionally well, exceeding all realistic expectations. Phespirit gives credit where it is due: well done Monarch Airlines.

Now, how about incorporating these high standards of customer care into the regular service?

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