Earlier in the year we had flown from Stansted Airport to Pula in Croatia and the grotesque behaviour and the appalling lack of manners shown by the airport security staff prompted me to write to the airport to make a formal complaint when we got back home.
I often threaten to make complaints and then calm down and forget all about it but not this time. Because of the complete contempt for the customer and the apparent determination to be as rude and ignorant as possible to passengers being processed through the security lines I imagine that quite a lot of other people might have complained as well and I would like to think that all of those complaints collectively did some good because on this occasion there was a completely different experience.
The man that checked the boarding pass actually smiled and wished us a pleasant flight, the woman at the scanning machine purred instead of snarled as she asked for our liquids and furthermore didn’t demand the transfer to a £1 Stansted plastic bag and the man who does the frisking when I set the alarm off actually apologised for the inconvenience of having to carry out the body search. I hope it wasn’t just an extraordinary fluke and that the airport is paying more attention to improving customer service skills and if they are then I for one will say (and I really didn’t think that I ever would) ‘well done Stansted Airport’ it was so much nicer being treated like a human being!
This was my second Ryanair flight to Carcassonne in the south of France as I had been there previously in November 2003 on genuine 1p fares and on that flight I got to sit in a row of seats in front of a television celebrity. My daughter Sally noticed him first and told me that the person behind was the man in the Vauxhall Zafira adverts, I turned and looked and agreed that it certainly looked like him but I argued that it couldn’t possibly be but then I heard him speak to his wife in that perpetually silly comedy voice of his and there was no mistaking that it was indeed Griff Rhys Jones.
Carcassonne is not a big place so we saw Griff several times the next day when we were sightseeing at the castle and the day after that when we sheltering from the rain in an unusually expensive restaurant for me and we had now bumped into each other so many times that he was beginning to recognise me. It was a cosy place with not a lot of room between the tables and he was sitting right next to me. As we had already been on nodding to each other terms for forty-eight hours it seemed rude not to speak so I said hello and we lamented the weather and then, not sure what to say next to a television celebrity, I stupidly asked him what he was doing on a 1p Ryanair flight. He thought about it and then simply said ‘Well, why not?’ and I think that was just about the perfect response.
We were staying in Carcassonne for two nights but we didn’t see him in the evenings because we were in a cut-price Ibis hotel on an edge of town shopping centre and I guess he was staying in a swanky hotel in La Cité because I could think of a lot of reasons why he wouldn’t have wanted to stay at the Ibis regardless of the price. We did see him again on the way back though because he flew back to the UK on the same flight as us.
I didn’t spot anybody famous on this occasion and after the short ninety minute flight we landed at the tiny municipal airport and after clearing customs found the car hire offices. I had booked a car with EconomyCarRentals.com and I was satisfied with the price I was paying but as so often with car rental companies there was going to be a problem. The girl at the National car rental office went through our paperwork and then charged me €65 more than the quoted price. I pointed this out and she explained that this was the correct price and that EconomyCarRentals.com were quoting incorrect rates and that as it was their fault that I could rest assured that they (EconomyCarRentals.com) would refund the difference and that they (National) would arrange for this to be done.
I have been ripped off by car hire companies before so I was not very confident about this but there was nothing that I could do except turn down the car which would have left us with an even bigger problem so I reluctantly agreed to a car hire trick that I hadn’t been the victim of before, took possession of the keys and complained about this all the way to the silver Citroen Picasso that was waiting for us in the car park baking in the warm midday sun.
Carcassonne has changed in eight years – for some reason they have removed the grass and replaced it with limestone chippings – a mistake in my opinion!