Travel

My Own Heston Aerodrome Speech

My last post told of what I described as despicable money-grabbing behaviour on the part of First Great Western, and the fact that I was clearly lied to by either the conductor or the Customer Service department.

Well, after I was given short shrift by the customer service department (the irony), my ranting was picked up on by someone from the PR department, Customer Relations, and I was assured that I would indeed receive my refund as was originally promised. I am happy to report that the cheque arrived yesterday, and is about to wing its merry little way into the coffers of yours truly. To paraphrase the words of Neville Chamberlain: “…and here is the paper which bears my name upon it…”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have finally received my customer service, but in the same week that a 6% rise in train fares was announced (don’t get me started on the disparaging and exasperating issue of fare prices – haha: “fair” prices! Geddit!?), and general austerity measures are being applied across the board in Europe, I find it baffling that First Great Western has to have a Customer Relations department on top of a Customer Service department – both from a functional perspective, as well as a fiscal one. Surely only one would do? I know which one I’d keep if I were the chairman, btw, Miss Jones. Thank you for your intervention.

I’m sure there’s a moral here – perhaps something about truth and honesty avoiding the need for over-investment in the PR machine? I don’t know. Personally, I’m just happy to have my money back – even if it did only happen through the power of the internet.

FGW Rail: Money Grabbing Bastards

Earlier this month, I had the deep misfortune to travel with First Great Western to London. I had done my part and ordered my ticket ahead of time, and for this dilligence I was rewarded with a compulsory seat reservation. Unfortunately, I lost the reservation stub for my return journey. I didn’t think this would be a problem – I took my place on the correct train, and proceeded to sit. Given that no-one ever seems to care where I sit (never in my allotted – compulsory – seat) on the way out, I assumed the same nonchalance would apply on the way back. Not so…

Despite my protestations, I was forced to buy another ticket for the return portion of my journey. The conductor assured me that I would be eligible for a refund if I later found my reservation stub. I begrudgingly coughed up the money and sulked my way home. I’d bemoan the fact that the train was 20 minutes late arriving (sat out in the dark somewhere), but frankly that’s just par for the course.

But wait, the following day I discovered that I hadn’t in fact LOST my reservations stub – merely misplaced it – so I contacted First Great Western to ask how to apply for the refund that I was promised. Oh happy day!

*insert sound of needle dragging on vinyl*

Here is the response from FGW:
I’m sorry you did not have your seat reservation coupon and were asked to pay extra money to complete your journey. Whilst I appreciate this must have been annoying for you, my colleague was quite correct to ask you to pay this amount so I’m unable to offer you a refund.

1. Seat reservations are compulsory when buying ahead
2. Seat reservations, in my experience, are never enforced
3. The conductor LIED to me about being eligible for a refund if I later found my reservation stub (which I duly did, hence my initial contact)

I find all of this distasteful behaviour on the part of First Great Western, and an extremely poor excuse for squeezing money out of customers who are not in a position to take advantage of alternative vendors.

Despicable.

Warning to all: DO NOT LOSE your seat reservation stub, do not even MISPLACE said stub.

RyanAir Joke

I love a good bad joke, and it appears the CEO of British Airways has been doing the rounds telling a joke about his oppo at Ryanair…

Mr O’Leary goes into a pub, asks for a pint of Guinness and is told by the barman that it will cost him £1.

“Just £1?” asks Mr O’Leary.

“Well, I’m a great fan of yours,” says the barman.

So Mr O’Leary hands over £1 and the barman goes to pour the pint, when he stops and asks: “Would you be wanting a glass with that?”

Mad Dogs and Englishmen – A Heat Wave in Central Europe

Back in May 2005, I took a trip to Budapest in the middle of a heat wave. I’ve just found my notes for that trip, so here they are…

As Paspartout and I got off the plane in Budapest, I immediately thought, “Am I wearing warm clothes again? I am, aren’t I…?”

The coldest it got itself down to was 28 degrees (that’s Celsius – what’s known as “proper money” to all you weirdy Fahrenheit lovers), and that was at 0900 and 1930hrs, respectively. In between that, it darted up and down its own peculiar temperature chasm. No, I’m lying – it was pretty much 36 degrees and higher all the time we were there – what I like to think of as a damned good reason for a nice long beery sit down. Of course, this means that Paspartout’s itinerary went for a Burton because yours truly was lagging behind all the time with a demeanour half way between a surly teenager and a dog with a winter coat on. I’m exaggerating, of course – Paspartout had no itinerary, and I found myself looking up all time (the architecture – that has either been fixed or just not twatted by the earlier communist regimes – is quite stunning), so I wasn’t able to cover the ground with my natural gazelle-like pace. However, she does walk very quickly for a dwarf (I’d never challenge her to a race if I were you, appearances can be deceptive).

The apartment was light and airy (no, I said “airy”), with exactly the right kind of amenities one doesn’t usually make use of on holiday (still, nice to know it’s all there). We were in a building almost opposite the most stunning Parliament buildings I’ve seen, on the banks of the Danube (all together now: “dah dah dah dah dah, da-da, da-da…”).

Just as an aside, after I downloaded all the pictures to my PC, I immediately formatted the hard drive following what turned out to be a rather dodgy backup. Yes – you guessed it – three and a half years worth of digital pictures gone! Luckily, Paspartout has a copy of the Budapest ones (amongst a few others), but pretty much everything is gone. I’m a dumbass (oh, this is probably going to turn out to be a bit of a recurring theme, don’t you think!?).

I’m told that the second language of Hungary has changed over the years from German to English, but what that practically means is that they now have three languages, but English now sits as their first second language, demoting German. Everywhere you go – restaurants, bars, shops, etc. – you here all three being spoken. Which is just as well, as Paspartout and realised that we’d arrived in Hungary without knowing a bloody word of Magyar. Not a word – all we had was the frankly semi-useless bits in the back of the guidebook. Still, it’s amazing how far you can get on hand signals and ignorance!

Along with Venice, Budapest has now become a place I’d like to visit frequently.