I have been traveling with British Airways (BA) for the past 5 years. They do not compete on bargain price for a trip around Europe for the price of a sandwich, but I find them good value for the comfort, security, and the whole experience. Now, like every other travel or leisure industry business, they have taken a hit... 🤕
My experience starts with my request to get my March 2020 return ticket (which they cancelled!) either refunded or converted into a voucher. Back in March, as soon as the flight got cancelled, I applied for a voucher. In the dire situation we were in, I thought this would get me more chances of getting what I asked. And I also thought that I will continue to fly with them anyway, so let's give them a break, not ask for a refund but for a voucher. Their automated system confirmed my request with my booking number, and a week later I received their answer. I am way too naive it seems, because I was really expecting a voucher. Instead, I got an email saying that I had badly entered my booking number (the one they confirmed was correct a week earlier) and therefore they could not issue a voucher. That's what you could call an automated deception system... I got too busy with other things and had set this aside for a few months. They had seemed to win at the first No 😳.
As I booked my tickets for this mid-October trip, I took the chance to request again a voucher (via the same online form). A few days later comes the reply: "Unfortunately, your booking isn't eligible and we can't exchange it for a voucher the booking reference provided has not been recognised". Followed by a "We apologise for the inconvenience" which is supposed to give me a morale boost. They seem to have won at the second hurdle and with 6 months delay... 😡
So I booked my October trip with real money 💶, not with any funny voucher money...
So first, there is this website called iatatravelcentre (https://www.iatatravelcentre.com) which will want to capture a lot of your personal data in a very dated user interface. As you have no choice, you do it and finally reach the last page (3 of 3) where you expect that they will give you a kind of code to reuse, or approval of some sort to prove that you can fly... But no! The only thing you get in exchange of having given them all your data, is a nice message on the final page saying that you are OK to go. 🙄
But I have good news. The website for registering a travel to Spain (https://www.spth.gob.es) works on most browsers. And as it says, it was made to protect my health, so there is no excuse for not registering in there. The interface got a relooking probably in 2002, but it is functional. To my amasement, I somehow managed to get through it after a few try and error, and passed what I thought was their last barrier to entry, the infamous captcha!
Of course I tried various combinations which led me nowhere. By the time I re-registered / retried the whole process, I received an email from them (in my spam box of course, where else!) detailing what my ID and password are, with a "secure link" to complete my registration. For sure, whoever invented this process has not tried to check in a few hours before flying! The email states that my ID is either "my Passport number, DNI, NIE or Personal ID number" (thanks for being precise), and it encloses my password twice in the text, probably in case I forgot what it was when I got to the bottom of their long email... It also says prominently that my form identifier is "bebd7e76-4ef8-474c-95ec-4ba873e4d6a3" (I changed a few letters for my privacy protection in there, but you get the picture). Now, what is my form identifier used for? I have no idea... But the government seems very clear that I should keep this code safe as it is written twice right in the middle of the email.
Dear friend, do not fear nor despair because we are nearly there. By logging in with my ID and password, I could then ask for my QR code (why didn't they send me the QR code in the first place, don't ask!). So a few minutes later, I received QR codes in my mailbox 😅, one for my wife, one for myself. They added that I should destroy my QRcode after it is shown to health control, and that "I pledge that I will contact the health authorities of the autonomous region in which I am by telephone", but they will not give me this phone number...
In the safe assumption that automated machines will also politely reject our second ticket check-in, we went straight to a "human interaction". The lady looked at the situation, and saw on her system that the issuing of the second ticket was indeed blocked. She tried to contact support (wherever they are) from her phone desk, but it rang with no-one to be heard. At this moment, she started to get minded to override the system, and issue the ticket anyway 🙏. It is always good to know that humans can override stupid systems from time to time 🤗. But then bad luck stroke!
For some reason, the 10min we spent together trying to resolve our little problem got her into extra time. Her shift was done, and another lady came in to replace her. Not that she wanted to leave, but now that they were two on the case, there was not going to be a free pass with an override of a stupid machine 🤦. So we are back to re-explaining the situation, having again a mutual agreement between the four of us that this is not making sense, and calling back the mysterious support line. By luck, the support line answered after some time. And the magic got revealed!
The system had determined that my wife, with a French passport (like me) had to be living in France, and not in the UK. There is no field to enter the country of residence of travellers with yourself when you book for them. So the stupid system determines that they must live in the country their passport originated from. In normal times, who cares, but in Covid19 times, that is a great deal! We discovered that had we been French resident flying from UK to Spain, unless a compassionate human bypassed the machine, we would not have been able to fly. Fortunately, this was not our case as we are UK resident. So with the blessing of the hotline support, the lady assistant corrected the field of residence of my wife and confirmed that she lives in the same country as I do 🙄, and miraculously... we got the second check-in from the system, all without any human override of covid policies 😇.
Then, just as you get out of the screening, you stare at what a covid-times airport looks like. So few people and so many chairs "covid-blocked". Everybody was wearing a mask, although it is plainly obvious that Western Europe is not a part of the world where mask wearing has been practice from childhood. And let's not even talk about the etiquette of mask wearing in public...
I have not yet assessed if the toilet experience is better now than it was in the past, but for sure, there are other positives to take.
It was better because although you purchase a relatively cheap ticket for flying in second class, their put you in the biggest plane they have (at least 200 people capacity) to then fill only one seat out of three... So you do not feel congested, you do not have babies crying in your ear from the seat behind for 3 hours long, and you have a rather enjoyable experience.
I must say that I have rarely enjoyed being served a pack of crisps more than yesterday. Because to eat the crisps... you are allowed to take your mask off 😂.
Now, with the crisps, they also serve you with another same version of long list of information to fill for the spanish government, the same that you had to fill-in online before, and for which we ultimately received our QR codes. I only show you page one, there is another page two to fill... At this point, I wanted to cry... I filled up the form once more, but discovered when we landed that it was not useful as I had the magic pass: the QR code!
Then we landed, as I mentioned already a little bit ahead of schedule.
Well, just after a quick passport control, we had the joy to put our QR code to good use and skip the queue of all those people who had missed the opportunity of filling their information online, missed the opportunity of filling their information on flight, and had to do it now in a vague setup where they would be slightly isolated from each other but queuing in packs anyway... 🙃
So in the end, even if the QR code was a real pain to obtain, I recommend doing this for the ease of getting out of the airport by the fast lane. Also, as soon as our QR code got scanned, we got an email notification of the famous phone number to call in case of symptoms. I finally start to believe there is a value in this weird system 😂.
Do not think for one minute that I am a toilet freak, but I have been accustomed to think that you judge the quality of hotels by looking at how well they attend their public toilets. There is a lot revealed in such attention to detail. 😮
We exited the airport shortly and took a taxi ride to the villa. €15 for two with two baggages. I never had it so cheap! The morning after, I had the pleasure of having a quiet coffee on the sunbathed top terrace. Moments like this make you put aside the smaller and greater challenges that one encounters in life. In the end,we all come here to cherish those moments.
If you are interested in booking your next holiday at Villa Panorama, please contact Eric directly (info [at] villapanorama [dot] net). These are challenging times, but we are fully operational and welcome our guests with even more love than ever before.
Until then, stay safe and practise online form filling for when the time comes 😂.