The holiday that went down hill!

EDITOR Terry Mitchinson looks back at his winter skiing holiday and the not very smooth return journey home: THERE is a well-known fungal saying in business circles. And, after my recent experience, it can be justly applied to being a plane passenger.

EDITOR Terry Mitchinson looks back at his winter skiing holiday and the not very smooth return journey home:

THERE is a well-known fungal saying in business circles.

And, after my recent experience, it can be justly applied to being a plane passenger.

"I feel like a mushroom; they keep me in the dark and feed me bull****."

I am moved to write following a six hour delay flying back to Gatwick from Grenoble in France.

This followed a two hour delay going out.

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The entire flight should only take an hour and a quarter each way!

Of course, the 'weather was to blame'. The weather is always to blame, it seems, with flight delays.

Good thing we're in the 21st century!

The saga (no, not them, our holiday was with Neilson and our flights Thomas Cook) began when we had to leave the ski resort over an hour early due to heavy snow (odd that, in a ski resort, still better safe than sorry I suppose).

Needless to say we arrived at Grenoble an hour earlier for check-in than was needed.

Having checked with the reps about possible problems, we breathed easy in the knowledge there were none.

For those of you with no knowledge of Grenoble airport, there is not much there to amuse. In fact, there is virtually nothing.

So the next three hours passed slowly; we then walked through to departures where there is even less to amuse.

At no point were any passengers on our flight told of a delay.

That became obvious only when no Thomas Cook plane could be seen on the runway, with only an hour to take-off time.

That time came and went; only then was there an anonymous announcement that the flight had been delayed to 6.30pm; an hour and a half late. Then it became, 'the plane would be landing at 6.30pm', meaning a possible 7.30pm take-off.

Finally, after numerous questions to French groundstaff, we were told it would land at 7.05pm.

By this time tempers were a tad frayed.

We wanted to talk to someone from Thomas Cook. Repeated calls to the rep/manager in the main hall met with a deafening silence. It appears he/she did not want to talk to us. No-one appeared.

Can't think why!

Eventually we were called to board; and then had to walk through the pouring rain to the plane.

Only once on board did we get some 'official' information from the pilot. Seriously bad weather earlier in the day had meant many problems getting the plane to Grenoble.

Then comes the rub. It transpires the crew knew of a three-and-a-half hour delay at 11.30am; the very time we were trundling along in the coach to the airport.

So why were we not told earlier? Why, indeed, dump us at the airport knowing there would be a hefty flight delay? And why was no-one from the holiday company willing to talk to us?

But the story does not end there.

We then spent a further three hours on the plane; because the turnaround took longer than it should, snow started and we had to get the plane de-iced; said de-icing machine started on us then went elsewhere, fuel was needed; wait for de-icing to be completed, then queue again for take-off!

During that time other planes took off and landed.

As an aside, I have to say it's the first time I've managed to read an entire book on an hour-and-a-quarter flight!

Still there was some good news. Food was served; the first time most of us had eaten since around midday.

Oh, and we got a complimentary drink!

But there's a final sting in the tail. We'd got a coach to take us and pick us up from Gatwick. As we were so late the coach firm hit us with a bill for an extra �140.

I can't say I was overly impressed with the response from the holiday companies, but for the record here is what they had to say.

A Thomas Cook spokeswoman told me: "The situation was caused by extremely bad weather conditions. Geneva Airport was closed.

"A number of knock-on situations earlier in the day impacted on the flight.

"The transfer was brought forward as it may have been necessary to divert the coach if the weather worsened. Better that than missing the flight altogether.

"It is normal when there is a short delay for tour operators to proceed as normal to the terminal as there is alway a chance time can be made up in quicker flights and turnarounds.

"On this occasion this was not possible. Our staff do their best to pass on all information to passengers.

"The turnaround delay came about when a number of planes had to be de-iced when the weather got worse. There were not enough stands to cope as this was not scheduled."

A Neilson spokesman added: "It was a difficult day for all and the imformation we receive from the airlines is forever changing as they battle to get the best slots they can when the weather windows allow."

He added that the airport had accepted more flights than it could handle, but "when weather hits we all work together to get guests in and out as painlessly as possible."

The company representative "doesn't recall hearing any calls" to go to the departure lounge.

He added: "This is our first season using Grenoble and we have learned, through experience, they are not as proactive as we would expect. We are taking more control during delays.