Can you remember the days when booking a plane ticket was fun? That happy anticipation of a journey in the making, the prospect of stopovers in distant cities, the growing realization that for just a few dollars more it might even be possible to detour via Manchuria or Manchester.
Cast back to the days of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC — now part of British Airways), and the printed timetable reminded would-be travelers to Australia that “stopovers may be made at many cities in Asia at no extra cost.”
And passengers were invited to pay a modest ten percent of the flight cost at the time of booking, the balance falling due just prior to travel. BOAC even invited its customers to “fly now and pay later,” an arrangement where the fare was paid in monthly installments after the flight.
Booking flights nowadays can be deeply depressing. Gone are those happy interactions in an airline’s plush city center offices with a polite agent who has evidently over-wintered in both Manchester and Manchuria and clearly knows the merits and shortcomings of both. These were folk who really knew their stuff.
Mint tea and Turkish Delight
And what happens nowadays? We stagger from screen to screen on the websites of “SlyanAir” or “QueasyJet,” watching the fare we thought we had selected double or triple as we impertinently opt to take a change of clothes on our month-long journey, pay with a credit card or complete a booking.
That’s really evil, don’t you think? A fee to make a booking! BOAC never demanded that. Heavens, we can remember being offered mint tea and Turkish Delight at the office of one major airline, so evidently pleased were they that we had opted to book with them.
Of course, flight prices have plummeted relative to incomes and we, like the vast majority of would-be travelers, welcome the democratization of air travel and appreciate that low prices mean minimal service. So it is hugely impressive when we come across an airline that still handles bookings with calm courtesy and without stacking on a plethora of extra charges.
We had occasion a day or two ago to call an airline that flies to over sixty cities around the planet. No complex decision tree with a mechanical voice inviting us to “choose from the following options.” Merely the reassuring cool voice of an agent who slipped easily from Arabic to English, and evidently was fluent in several other languages besides.
No booking charge
The airline agent listened carefully and then quoted a fare (the same fare we had found online but which seemed too good to be true). She discussed options. “Had you thought of flying into Munich instead? It might be easier for you. I could take a look at what the onward train connections would be like for you.”
We thought we had died and gone to traveler heaven, all the more so when the agent explained that the fare quoted included every last cent. No booking charge, no fees for payment by credit card. This was one of those phone conversations where you end the call feeling that life is very, very good.
We’re now wondering if we could call Etihad Airways from time to time for therapy. If their flights are as good as their telephone agents (and, for that matter, their website), then other airlines should tremble in fear as Etihad extends its network. Perhaps things are just done differently in the Middle East. Whatever, it was a wake-up call, reminding us that booking a flight can still be fun.
Your positive airline experience?
We are now pondering whether there are any airlines in Europe that still offer the Etihad factor. Do tell us if you’ve found one.