What happens when ground staff and onboard crew don’t communicate?

Apr 13, 2022

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I’ve just taken my mum up to the Norwegian Arctic circle as a gift for a very big birthday to fulfil her lifelong dream of seeing the northern lights (and simultaneously make some very exciting content for The Points Guy UK YouTube channel!).

The first days of the trip were a roaring success. Three nights in a row of strong and magical Northern Lights — on the ground in Tromso and then two wild nights of green dancing skies aboard the Hurtigruten coastal express.

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Disaster struck, early on the fourth morning with the Snow Hotel of Kirkenes still to go — right up by the Russian/Norwegian border — and a swanky stay at the Hotel Continental in Oslo, we received news that we had lost a family member.

My travel brain spun into action. Within 30 minutes we had a new earlier flight out of the Arctic circle and away from the -28 degree temperatures, from Kirkenes to Oslo. The flight departed a couple of hours after the ship arrived and was operated by a lovely SAS A320. The price of our original tickets was £30, but this had now jumped to £300. Without another option, I paid.

Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy

Next up, I logged onto my British Airways Executive Club account and was relieved to find award availability for the same day afternoon flight to Oslo.

I was surprised at the ease with which the BA online system allowed me to change my award tickets and there was no fee payable. Within minutes I had seats on British Airways flight BA767 to London Heathrow that very same afternoon — albeit not in row 1 (in my opinion the best seats in the house and the only ones giving anything close to a business class feel) but back in row 6 of this 7 row Club Europe cabin.

We made our way quickly to Oslo. With no way to check our bags through, it ended up being a rush without any chance at all to visit the lounge or get my mum a much-needed meal and drink.

In light of the lack of food we’d had and the devastating news, it was a real shock when we arrived at the gate, hungry and ready to get home, only for the gate agent to say “oh, you are the ones who were the last to buy a business class ticket — you bought it too late so there’s no food for you.” It was that abrupt. Clearly, my mum was not in a great state as it was and this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I asked if there had been a mistake, BA had sold me the ticket, and we were relying on getting fed. She simply said, “I’m not the airline, speak to the crew.”

We were some of the last passengers to board — the ground staff couldn’t advise whether we should go and find some food first, though even if that was an option, we likely didn’t have enough time.

I waited until the onboard crew weren’t too busy and went to chat with them. They were very matter of fact and stopped me towards the end of my story to explain that they didn’t understand why the gate agents were telling us there was no food. They thought that they had an extra couple of meals loaded and everything would be ok. We had a nervous wait until dinner time.

They had already run out of the Shepherds pie by the time the crew got to us (obviously, the dish we were both after as a solid northern duo) but at least there was some food for us after all. It was an unnecessary worry during a terrible time, had the crew and ground staff actually communicated; there wouldn’t have been an issue at all. It is also a reminder to carry some snacks in case the worst happens as it almost did on this flight.

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

It wasn’t the only issue on board. Another passenger in row 1 spotted me talking to the crew and realising who I was, had his own story to tell.

Matt Duffy was returning home to Glasgow as his issues began at check-in for his BA flight to London. Matt is a wheelchair user and says that every airline looks at the battery that powers his chair, but this time, the ground staff point-blank said he could not travel with it.

The staff said that due to a new rule they would not allow an electric mobility device. The only option presented to him was to leave it behind. He waited for an hour and, like us, also missed his opportunity to experience the lounge. They said they had to speak to London and after much waiting and without any explanation whatsoever, they did a U-turn and told Matt it was fine and he could proceed. His experience had already been ruined. By contrast, Qatar had no issue whatsoever with the battery.

He actually blamed us for part of his predicament. It was on the advice of TPG UK that he had booked a ticket from Oslo instead of the U.K. in order to take advantage of some excellent Qatar Airways sale fares. His Oslo (OSL) to Bangkok (BKK) via Doha (DOH) ticket cost £1,400 return in business class.

Read more: How to save big by starting your journey from mainland Europe

Had communication have been better here, Matt would have had a relaxing journey after such a long flight, a lovely time in the lounge and no worry that he’d have his all-important equipment taken away from him.

Bottom line

The learning here is an easy one. Open communication is key. This is especially important when airlines are not in their home hubs and confusion between the ground and onboard crew can cause passengers to have negative experiences. In both of these cases, a couple of very quick conversations could have saved hours of panic and stress.

Featured image by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy

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