Letter from Edinburgh 05.12.08
THE PARLIAMENTARY shop was in full sales mode this week. A Christmas shopping night was held on Wednesday night, complete with mulled wine and mince pies. Staff and MSPs rushed in to buy Christmas presents such as mints and Scottish Parliament tea towels, for family and friends. I was dragged there under duress you understand. “She who must be obeyed” had forgotten her handbag and was therefore without money. Funny that! However, on the up side, Burra Bears were prominently on display. As the economy stalls, Parliament was doing its bit to help retail sales.
Of course, whether I can get the shopping home to Shetland for the festive season depends on Flybe. I met Loganair’s Scott Grier and David Harrison this week to look at our lifeline air services and what needs to be done to improve the current situation. The biggest concern, now that credit card charges have been reduced, is how many cheaper seats are actually available. I have had many messages from both Shetland folk and visitors to the Islands saying they cannot find cheap fares, or at least that far fewer such fares seemed to be available than before.
This is not helped by the Flybe website. The BA one does at least show the range of fares available across the flights. And, in passing, it also doesn’t have you pay for travel insurance unless you opt-out – I am pretty sure that that is incompatible with various rules and regulations and if nothing else is really sharp practice. Flybe should drop it. So Loganair are going to see what can be done to increase the number of cheaper fares on Shetland routes and to address the built-in sharp practices on the Flybe website.
The other air issue, which a local man raised with me last weekend, is that of transferring to an earlier flight if a seat is available. This is principally about the service north from Aberdeen. Before, if you turned up in time for the mid-afternoon flight to Sumburgh, but were booked on the last plane, BA would put you on the earlier flight if there were seats available. This made sense all round. The passenger got home earlier. The airline freed up seats for the last plane which they could re-sell and, above all, people didn’t have to hang around Aberdeen airport for hours on end. A win – win! But I hear that the system has changed so that people can certainly go on the earlier plane – if they pay for a new ticket or the difference. I’ve asked Loganair to look at this too, as the previous system helped everyone. The new one doesn’t.
What so many of these issues come to is the flexibility for ground staff at the different airports to make sensible logical decisions. The Flybe company rule book doesn’t appear to be a very forgiving document. But well trained staff, given some flexibility to solve problems and getting credit for doing so, would be a real step forward for passengers. That is the case in the islands, but some work is needed at the Scottish mainland airports.