Friday, 23 April 2010

Friday 23rd April 2010

This too will pass

Well, the intrepid Andalucian group crossed the Channel on the 01.30hrs ferry and were at Gatwick by 03.30hrs - wow, that was a long trip. By mid morning we had two calls to the office from passengers thanking us so much for what we had done.

Letters are flooding in to the office from grateful Bulbfield passengers

'Top marks to Brightwater for getting everyone home to their varied destinations' Mrs Banks Balerno

'I can tell you our party of eight were most impressed - they say that the best managers show themselves in how they handle a crisis, and given your performance on this occasion, we all feel that you are the kind of company we will want to travel with in the future, congratulations, well done, and thanks' Mr Drennan, Rutland.

'My wife and I have just returned from the Dutch Bulbfields Cruise which we enjoyed very much in all respects. We arrived home a day late on account of the volcanic ash from Iceland, but we consider ourselves most fortunate to have done so, when we have become aware of the logistics necessary to ensure our safe return - Thank you very much' Mr and Mrs Banks Edinburgh.

The office is settling back to normal with Joining Instructions being sent out for future tours and bookings and brochures being processed.

I see a gap in proceedings and decide to head for home. As I head out the office Alison gives me a hug, and I think we both realise that it has been a very stressful few days. We have a saying in the office when the chips are down that 'This too will pass'.

Driving through the Scottish Borders watching prancing lambs and displaying Lapwings you would think nothing could be wrong in the world. Then I listen to the radio and hear the rants from stranded passengers, the complaints about who is paying for what, compensation for extra expenses etc, then there is the build up to the Political Debate in the evening -

Excuse me Mr Brown ..... who is going to compensate me for our cancelled tours, lost turnover and margin?

All is forgotten when I arrive home in Somerset and my wee Linsey runs out to greet me with her hands outstretched.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Thursday 22nd April 2010

The dust settles

Wednesday was another fraught day, trying to make sense of what planes were flying and which routes were still cancelled.

Our intrepid group in Spain made it to Bilbao and then started their long drive through France by coach. The last we heard at about eight-thirty last night (Wednesday) was it was doubtful if they would catch the ferry at 11.30pm so would have to just get the next available sailing. We have arranged overnight accommodation at Gatwick and onward domestic flights back to regional airports later today (Thursday).

Latest news is that the Epsom's Coaches are back in their depot, so they must have caught a ferry at some point - but as yet no-one has surfaced at the hotel - best let them sleep!

Meanwhile in Madeira, flights are starting to arrive today to repatriate stranded holidaymakers on a longest delayed returning home first basis - presumably there will be others who will jump the queue if they have extenuating circumstances such as medical reasons to get home as soon as possible. Our Agents in Madeira seem to have the situation under control and are keeping our customers advised. In the end our Crete passengers returned yesterday on schedule and were not delayed at all.

Our domestic tours are all operating as normal with only one gentleman's flight from Manchester to Glasgow already cancelled for tomorrow - so he will be travelling by rail.

It will be interesting to see the fall-out from the Volcanic Ash drama - airlines already are trying to squirm out of their legal responsibilities, Government has admitted that they were 'too cautious', The CAA are sticking to their guns - but just like always the Tour Operator has to take it on the chin, and do the right thing for their customers whatever the cost.

I have not been home for six days and my two year old daughter is giving me grief down the phone to 'Come home daddy!' All being well I'll be home tonight.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tuesday 20th/Wednesday 21st April

Tuesday 20th/ Wednesday 21st April 2010

Wow, what a day Tuesday was. Passengers still stranded in Malaga, Madeira and Crete, and domestic flights grounded.
Madeira and Crete passengers are still in their resort hotels being well looked after by our agents. The big group in Andalucia are the main worry and we spend all morning looking at options to get them home. About mid-day we find out that a friendly British Coach Operator (Epsom's) has an empty coach in Bilbao in the north of Spain that is heading back to England on Wednesday morning at 0600 local time.
There is no sign of any change in the 'No fly' situation, and the earliest Easyjet can re-book any return flights is around the 3 - 5 May!
We swing into action to look at all possibilities at getting our passengers up to Bilbao.
Michael the Tour Manager has been sent to the airport in Malaga to see how things are on the ground - and has to wait hours in a queue. Meanwhile I take a call from one of the passengers in Malaga who is calm and appreciative at what we are trying to do.
I speak with our Agent in Madeira who is very downhearted - he has had a lot to deal with, especially after the floods in Funchal a month ago - and now this.
All passengers have booked to stay another night near Malaga, and have been told the next meeting with the Tour Manager is at 8.00pm and that they should go out for the day or relax at the hotel. Two passengers take it upon themselves to leave the group and make their own arrangements.
Meanwhile we confirm that Epsom's definitely are free and willing to help, but their drivers are on an 11 hour rest break.
Jenni is a blur on the Internet looking for flights between Malaga and Bilbao, and finds availability on a flight leaving Malaga at 21.50hrs getting into Bilbao at 23.30hrs on an airline we have never heard of before. OK so we can get our passengers there - but will they go for it? We think it is our best option.
We try and contact the airline to see if we can hold the seats - no response from any of their numbers.
Meanwhile our internal UK domestic flights are another issue and we look at options and quickly realise train is the only viable option - so Kerry phones all the northern passengers who are travelling on Thursday to inform them that they must travel by train. All passengers are OK about that - but we must contact all southern passengers to inform of new timings.
One passenger has gone missing en route to Cornwall - who was supposed to be flying from Leeds/Bradford, but he seems to be a resourceful chap - we are confident he will turn up at some point. (He does - arriving at St Mary's at 7.00pm).
Back in Malaga we realise that time is running out if we are to catch the evening flight, and we tell Michael to bring forward his meeting to 5.00pm local time, and tell passengers that we are prepared to get them to Bilbao and home by coach. So we start phoning as many passengers as we can, and tell them if they see other passengers to get them to the Hotel's lobby at five for instructions. Half the group have their phones switched off. I speak to one passenger's daughter-in-law in Glasgow to see if she has another number. (she doesn't). Andrew arranges a coach transfer to the airport.
All passengers agree to travel by 5.15pm (UK time) and we try and book the flights online with Vueling (the previously unknown airline) Jenni types in all the names and presses the 'buy' button, while we hold our breath - System error! We try again - System error! We try another card - same problem. Alison phones a contact who is a Flight Broker in London to see if she can help.
Meanwhile we a have still not made contact with 2 passengers in Malaga. One of the passengers who made their own arrangements has re-appeared and wants to be part of the group again.
The flight broker is making a killing on our booking (but what can we do?) - then she cannot get payment from our cards - I phone the Bank to see if there is a security problem - there is none.
The last two passengers turn up in Malaga and pack in five minutes.
Andrew eventually gets through to someone at Malaga Airport who says no tickets can be bought online for this flight, it must be purchased at the airport. By now the group are at the airport and change queue from Check-in, to the Booking Desk.
Confirmation comes in that our hotel in Balbao will hold the rooms until midnight no problem and they have arranged a coach to pick them up from the airport.
Alison, Andrew and myself slump on our desks at 7.30pm somewhat exhausted. Jenni gets the giggles.
Of course while all this has been going on the day to day life of the office has been going on with people requesting brochures for holidays, paying balances etc.
As I write this blog 0900hrs Wednesday we assume that the group made it to Bilbao and are en route through France - but they are not home yet - I am sure there will be further developments as the day unfolds.
On the ten o'clock news last night it is announced that the air closure has been lifted and it is over. The political ramifications are about to begin.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Tuesday 20th April 2010

More Volcanic disruption!

Another frantic day trying to sort out the mess from the Volcanic Ash.

All groups home safely from Holland with minimal disruption.
So far two tours cancelled Genoa 19th April, and Andalucia 20th April.
So far passengers still stranded in Malaga, stranded in Madeira and stranded in Crete.

Still disruption in Penzance with helicopter flights to and from Scilly Isles and domestic flights to the south west.

Michael Gill (Tour Manager in Malaga) has been great, constantly on the phone looking for up-dates and offering suggestions, but as things stand it looks like they might be stuck in Spain for a few more days yet as the majority of flight restrictions are still in place. The airlines seem to be coming round to the assumption that they are liable for picking up the tab for the accommodation costs, under EU rulings.

Might this be a good time to consider a nice UK coaching holiday?