Thursday, March 16, 2006

Letter from London 16th March 2006

from the Bahrain Tribune

Back in London after my flying visit to Bahrain for the Grand Prix I regard myself as very lucky to have been part of the event and to have been able to report on it for Tribune readers. You will know that I was pretty enthusiastic about what I saw not just the excellent circuit and facilities but also the terrific hospitability of the Bahrainis and expatriates who looked after me. British F1 driver Jensen Button clearly thinks that Bahrain is a pretty cool place to chill out for a while (having bought a house there) and I can now see why.

My trip started well with an excellent flight with Gulf Air from Heathrow. In my once business career I was accustomed to Club Class travel and became a little spoilt. But in my new life as a (mainly) sporting hack it has to be travel in the back of the plane – and with Gulf Air very good it was as well. Gulf Air once had a pretty terrible reputation in the region, but in the last few years (judging from my experience) they have got their act together in a big way. Their sponsorship of the Grand Prix was exemplary and I found my flights to and from London comfortable and even enjoyable. Service was good and friendly and even the seats were comfortable and the food not at all bad. It is this experience (of which you old Bahrain hands are perhaps familiar) that prompts me in this epistle to give you some good advice if you are planning to visit Europe this summer. Be very careful with whom you book your internal European flights!

My wife and I travel frequently to Spain and the airport nearest to where we go in Catalunya is dominated by the Irish airline RyanAir. There are other ways to get to our destination, but Ryanair’s airport is by far the most convenient. If you travel frequently with this carrier you get to know their idiosyncrasies. Although their flights are cheap (if you are flexible on dates and times) they will always be looking for new ways to fleece you. Flying out to Spain we had a fair amount of luggage, but returning we had very little so we were clearly going to be well within the 30Kg allowance for the two of us for check in baggage. We put one suitcase inside the other to make handling for us (and the airline) easier and approached the check in desk at Girona. The bag was weighed and it was only 16kg – a big 14kg within the limit for the two of us. But no, RyanAir has a new rule that each passenger must be within the limit and a couple flying together cannot aggregate - so our one and only case was one kilogram over the limit! Have you ever heard of this scam before? No, nor had we. So we either had to pay excess baggage for one Kilo or take one of the bags out of the other one and check in two pieces of luggage instead of one. The two pieces would, of course, still weigh 16kg but would now be subject to twice the handling and take up twice the space on the plane.

Now all of us are under some pressure when travelling and even very frequent travellers like me can buckle under the pressure occasionally. I protested about the absurdity of this new RyanAir imposed rule whilst fighting to turn our one check in bag into two to satisfy them. My protest (which whilst not mild, was not an out and out rant) caused Miss Girona 1971 at the check in desk to tell my wife and me to go to the back of the line – and she called security to enforce this instruction!

The moral of this tale is please avoid the ghastly RyanAir like the plague (there are dozens more stories to be told, but space and my good humour precludes this). Enjoy Gulf Air and Bahraini/Arab hospitality during your summer vacation – but don’t be tempted by RyanAir. They are a cheap airline in more ways than one.