Monday, 24 September 2007

Flying Solo - A Cautionary Tale

Alexander finally came home this weekend for a brief visit. It was fantastic to see him and it felt like a life time not two weeks ago since I had dropped him at school. His dad picked him up in the UK and flew into Florence with Meridiana with him. Unfortunately the flight was delayed so by the time he came home and we had caught up it was past 2.oo a.m. in the morning! To say the weekend was exhausting would be an understatement! Saturday was spent buying all the toiletries and other stuff he needed to take back to school and Sunday was spent re-packing, reading and then travelling out to Pisa for his flight back.

His flight back... Those with sharp eyes will spot that the plane above is a BA jet, not Meridiana. This is the plane he flew back on unaccompanied, or as BA call them, as a Solo Flyer. A Solo Flyer ticket is not the easiest thing to book in this day and age of electronic tickets. Firstly, you cannot book it online, it has to be in a travel agents or over the phone. After approximately six phone calls I finally managed to get his ticket booked. A friend booked it with her UK registered card, my are all to overseas addresses. On Saturday I checked his booking online. Everything was there, including his seat number.

On Sunday we set off for Pisa at 4.15 p.m. to catch the train from S.M.N. in Florence. We arrived just as check-in opened in Pisa at 6.30 p.m. Within seconds of handing over his passport things started to happen. The check-in guy was on the phone almost immediately! What was wrong we asked. Firstly, we were told, Pisa doesn't have the staff to do Solo Flyer's!! There might be someone available to take him to the gate, but then again... As this is the service we had booked and paid for we were a little shocked to say the least. But then, oh yes, paid for... hmm. There was no ticket for him at the desk, but because he was a Solo Flyer that was right, we should have been sent a ticket - who get's a ticket through the post these days! Plus no-one had mentioned needing one at any stage. We trundled over to the ticket office where we were told we would have to buy another ticket! Apparently when the booking was made the card had been pre-authorised but BA had never taken the payment so the booking had dropped off the system and no ticket was issued! The ticket office then tried to charge us 3 times what we were originally supposed to pay. Luckily I was paying with my Bancomat so it wouldn't have gone through anyway. The price then dropped pretty quickly back to what we were originally going to pay!

We eventually got booked in and bags sent through. My husband took Alexander to security, where, surprise, surprise, no-one could take him to his gate. After we saw him go through we called him until we knew he was safely where he should be. We took the above picture from the restaurant while we waited for the plane to take off - we had also not known that we have to hang around until 30 minutes after take off in case the plane has to come back!! Once we saw its tail lights disappear we set off back to Florence. We arrived back in Florence at the same time Alexander landed at Gatwick. I was speaking to him while we waited for a taxi to take us home from the station!

At Gatwick the saga continues. My friend, who is his school Guardian in the UK, met him at the airport. She arrived early to make sure they were expecting him. Pisa on his own is one thing, Gatwick quite another! As it was someone met him and brought him out to arrivals. On making the booking I had to provide all my friend's details and was told if she didn't have the correct ID they wouldn't let him go. Because of the booking cock-up her details weren't on the list of people doing pick-ups. So did my son spend the night at Gatwick as you would expect? Of course not! "You obviously know each other, you can go." Will I be using BA again? I think not! And if BA are this bad what would an unaccompanied with one of the cut price operators be like?!!
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