I work the first part of the week in London and from home in Exeter otherwise. I used to travel by rail but it meant leaving on a Sunday evening as there isn't a way to arrive in the office by nine o'clock. So now I take advantage of Flybe's relatively new service between Exeter and London City Airport that leaves about six-thirty and gets me by eight-thirty if all goes well. And it normally does go well; the majority of cases where I've been delayed have been due to either a strike by French air traffic control or poor weather, and train journeys suffer from similar problems.
However, Flybe's customer service when things do go wrong can be very frustrating. Little can be done online and the operators have very little power to do anything other than quote the company's policy manual. I once spent three months trying to get credited with some AvIos points (air miles) that I hadn't received because of a fault with their system. I have an audit trail of seven phone calls and even more emails detailing my efforts.
Then take the following which occurred recently...
I normally get up shortly after five when I'm flying and reach the airport around six but just after four, I received a text from Flybe saying my flight was delayed by 75 minutes. Normally I would just have got up and gone anyway but that morning I had a meeting that I couldn't miss. I could attend by video link but couldn't afford to be in transit and I probably would have been if the plane took off over an hour late. So I decided to get the train later in the day and told my wife, who takes me to the airport, that she could have an extra hour or so in bed.
About forty-five minutes later I got another text. The plane was back on schedule but it was too late for me to change my mind. For one thing, my lift was fast asleep and for another, I had now told everyone that I was attending by video and, more importantly, I had booked a train ticket.
So I attended my meeting, caught the train and then the next day tried to check-in for my return flight. Now I'm not really claiming to be as unfairly treated as Josef K. in Kafka's novel but it did seem that I was in a horrible situation through no fault of my own.
Firstly, once you have missed the outward part of the journey you can't check-in online, you have to call them. That's when the fun really started.
Me: I'd like to check-in for reference XXXXX
Operator: I'm sorry, that journey has been cancelled as you didn't turn up for the outward flight.
Me: Well that was hardly my fault but even so if I pay for a return ticket I still expect the return part to be honoured.
FO: We may not have any seats left.
ME: Okay, then please refund my money.
FO: We can't do that, it's a non-refundable ticket.
Me: Non-refundable means I can't initiate a refund, not that I can't get one if you won't let me travel.
FO: I will check availability... we do have a seat would you like it?
Me: Yes, please.
FO: Okay, there's no charge but next time please tell us before you fly that you won't be taking the outward flight.
Me: Fine, how do I do that - online?
FO: No, you need to phone in.
Me: And when do you open?
Me: So how do I tell you when the flight leaves at 06:30?
FO: Ummm, well tell us as soon as you can.
Me: That's what this call is...
The operator then tells me he will email me the new details and then I can check-in online - but it's not over yet.
The next day, the day of travel, I receive an email asking me to complete a survey on the quality of their customer support. After I've calmed down I realise I never received the email following the previous day's call and I still haven't checked-in. I try again online but no, it's another phone call.
I explain the situation and am told that they are having problems with emails (but failing to explain how I got the unimportant one) but eventually it's all sorted and I log in online print my boarding pass.
I am still inwardly composing a letter of complaint about their policies when I see a tweet that there are no trains from Paddington due to power lines being damaged; so a good job I didn't get that refund :)
While I'm ranting about Flybe I might as well mention their mobile app that used to let you check-in and download a boarding pass. Then they announced an improvement to their services and now you can't do either, you just get shunted to their website which is more difficult to use from a phone. They have also shut the machines at the airport so you can't get a boarding pass that way. Not sure how this counts as an improvement.
Update on 22 October 2018: I received the confirmation email regarding my flight on the 17th :)