By RYAN TAYLOR
MAJOR concerns are being raised over the cost and quality of service for air passengers when Flybe takes over from British Airways as Loganair’s partner on routes from Shetland to the Scottish mainland later this month.
Stricter luggage limits, extra charges, and poor communication between Flybe and its potential customers are being widely cited as issues the airline needs to address before it assumes control from BA on 26th October. Despite a standard luggage allowance of 20kg for economy passengers, Flybe is imposing a tiny 15kg limit for those flying to and from Shetland unless they can prove they are connecting to other flights. Customers with more than 15kg will be charged a flat fee of £10. It effectively means travellers who wish to go shopping south will have to use the ferry or pay more.
Travellers who wish to take their golf clubs with them will be charged £22.50 for each flight and they must book their clubs on 24 hours before they fly through Flybe’s call centre.
Most people now book flights online, and in light of the recent failures of airline Zoom and travel company XL travellers are being urged to use credit cards to ensure they get their money back should the airline fold. Yet Flybe charges £6 for credit card bookings compared to BA’s £4 and £2 for debit card bookings which BA did not charge for.
There is also a £6 charge for booking seats, which means costs for families who want to sit together will mount up.
Those travelling beyond Scotland with BA can still book the Shetland-mainland leg of their flight through the BA website, but this is not made clear on the Flybe website even when using the air discount scheme. Booking a Flybe flight south and then BA on to further destinations is much more expensive.
Loganair’s acting chief executive David Harrison and sales and marketing manager Susan Blacklaw visited Shetland recently to re-assure passengers over the switch. Yet The Shetland Times has been contacted by travellers concerned about the service.
One of them, oil worker Tommy Bain, said he faces being charged a £25 fee by Flybe every time he gets stuck on the Lomond platform 153 miles east of Aberdeen because of bad weather.
Mr Bain, who moved from Aberdeen to Sandwick last year, said he may have to move back to the mainland if the extra charges aren’t dropped. He said the range of extra costs which will be introduced make a mockery of the popular air discount scheme.
“I work offshore and fly at least every two weeks from Shetland to (Continued on page two) (Continued on page two) Aberdeen return. With Loganair’s franchise agreement with BA, if I got stuck on the oil rig – which happens frequently – BA would change the return part of the flight.
“When arriving at the airport they checked my oil worker’s ID card to confirm I was an offshore worker. I usually find out about an hour to two hours before my flight if I am to be delayed.
“I was disappointed to speak to the new operator, Flybe, to be told there would be a £25 charge for this, plus the difference in cost between the cheap flight and a full price one – around £100 – plus they needed at least two hours notice.”
Adding that he was one of Loganair’s “most regular customers”, he described the quality of service as “appalling” and called for oil workers to get a fairer deal.
“I was trying to book a single flight home and it came to a screen that said, ‘do you want to choose your seat?’ I noticed it said in very small print there was a £6 charge for booking your seat. “It wasn’t at all clear to see, so I think a lot of folk are going to click on a seat and not realise they are going to have to pay for it. It also charged me £2 extra to pay with my debit card.
“I am already disappointed with all the hidden costs Flybe are throwing into travelling from Shetland. These charges will almost certainly take the fares back up to the levels they were before the ADS scheme was started.”
Ms Blacklaw said the luggage limit applied across all Loganair-operated Highland and Island services.
“If a passenger is travelling on a through journey with Flybe, they will be entitled to carry the hold baggage allowance of 20 kilos, or 30 kilos if travelling on an economy plus ticket.
“If a passenger is travelling on a through journey with British Airways they will be entitled to carry the BA hold baggage allowance of 23 kilos.”
Ms Blacklaw said the budget airline’s website could be used to book “point to point” travel arrangements, such as from Sumburgh to Aberdeen or Glasgow.
“The same website should also be used for onward connections to Flybe UK regional destinations, such as Manchester, and a list of the possible connections can be found on flybe.com.”
A problem arises for passengers hoping to travel to European destinations.
In those cases, passengers are required to contact the Flybe call centre in Exeter on 0871 200 7000 – a number hidden in the depths of the Flybe website.
Some passengers prefer booking by phone, or at a travel agents, and will still be able to do so when Flybe takes over, although the best deals will be reserved for online bookings.
Passengers can book through the BA website when their journeys take them through London’s Heathrow, Gatwick or City airports, or onwards from there to BA worldwide destinations.
However there is nothing on either the Flybe or BA websites to indicate this.
Without that knowledge, some travellers hoping to fly to international destinations may book a flight from Sumburgh to Aberdeen on flybe.com, before booking a connecting flight through BA.
If they do, they will find themselves paying more than they should for their travel arrangements.
Booking a flight to Los Angelese in this way came to £652.80 when The Shetland Times tried this costly mistake online, whereas booking entirely through the BA website came to £560.
Meanwhile, a direct flight to Hong Kong through BA cost £681.40, compared with £785 booking through Flybe and BA combined.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott – who introduced the air discount scheme when he was transport minister during the last administration – said he was “pretty worried” about the future of air services from the isles once Flybe takes over.
He criticised Flybe’s decision to charge an extra £6 for credit card transactions, and £2 for debit cards.
“I’m worried about the big charge system which will cause enormous problems for Shetlanders flying in and out of the islands,” he said.
“Their policy for charging extra for credit cards is a rip off for customers. The only protection people have in terms of getting their money back is if they book with a credit card.
“Even trying to book flights for my own family at weekends has proved to be pretty difficult. I’m profoundly concerned, because it’s not clear what the upsides are. Loganair needs to remember there is no alternative. We don’t have much option.
“We need a service which recognises the challenges of living in the island, and the difficulties people always encounter has been cost. Loganair clearly weren’t prepared to argue for that, and I’m disappointed.”
Chairman of Shetland’s transport partnership, ZetTrans, Allan Wishart said “teething troubles” were bound to emerge as the Flybe service gets underway.
“The whole aviation industry is going through complete turmoil just now,” he said. “Somebody had said in the next couple of years there would be 30 airlines going out of business because of fuel costs and the credit crunch.”
*Meanwhile, The Shetland Times has learned the reason for the early appearance of the light blue fuselage on the Saab 340 aircraft that fly to and from the island. Preparations for the change over from BA to Flybe got off to a rocky start when Flybe arranged for the aircraft to be painted in its own colours, and with the company’s livery.
BA chiefs, annoyed passengers may thing the switch had already taken place, ordered the distinctive logos be removed in the meantime, although they did allow the light blue fuselage to remain.