Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fly Air Madrid? Sorry, I Don’t Have The Time

As I walked to the departure gate for my flight to London last Friday afternoon, I passed a large group of passengers gathered around the gate for the Air Madrid flight to Santiago in Chile. It was already around 16:30 when I got there, and I could see from the screen above the gate that the Santiago flight had been scheduled to leave shortly after 11 in the morning. A few minutes later, an almighty row erupted around this gate as the waiting passengers were obviously informed that their plane was not about to depart. On my return flight from London to Madrid on Sunday afternoon, I opened my copy of El País and discovered that the unfortunate people who had expected to arrive in Chile on Friday didn’t even take off from Madrid until Saturday afternoon.

None of this surprised me, Air Madrid have constantly been in the papers recently for the late arrival or departure of their flights, and the police have had to intervene on several occasions to try and calm the situation as irate passengers try and find out exactly when they can expect to leave for their destination. The airline offers low(er) price flights from Madrid to several South American destinations. It is absolutely clear that they do not have enough planes to adequately cover themselves when something goes wrong with one of these flights, so a delay with one plane is causing severe delays for those who are waiting to board the same plane for the next flight. Yesterday it was reported that 8 Ecuadorians had been denied the right to board their severely delayed flight, Air Madrid claimed that they had abused ground staff at the airport.

The situation has now reached the point where government inspectors are apparently recommending that the airline have their operating licence withdrawn. This is a measure that the government is reluctant to take, given that it will create a difficult situation for all of those who have already bought tickets for future flights; finding space for them on other airlines over the Christmas period would not be easy. On the other hand, the erratic performance of the company does not seem to improve.

I can write from personal experience on this issue, I flew with Air Madrid for a trip to Mexico last year and it was undoubtedly the most unpleasant long haul flying experience I have had. On the way out to Mexico the cabin crew turned off the main cabin lights immediately after dinner, and all of those who wanted to pass some of the remaining 9 hours reading then found out that the individual reading lights were not working. I ended up using the seat-back video screen at maximum brightness as a reading light. The return flight was much worse; as departure was delayed several hours until 4 in the morning. After a couple of hours flying I got up to go to the toilet. That is when I discovered that the chewing gum left on the seat belt from a previous flight had now spread itself over my clothes, 3 out of 4 toilets in my section of the plane were out of order; and the reading lights still didn’t work. Still, at least I got home. I did wonder at some point what else might be wrong with the plane if the owners cannot even get the lights to work.

In short, you might get a cheaper flight with this company but if you have to arrive on a particular day, or if you have a connecting flight on arrival I would suggest you look at alternatives.

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