Sebastian Allaby: Edinburgh Airport’s level of service shames Scotland

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Despite a positive CAA report about Edinburgh Airport last week, Sebastian Allaby describes his unhappiness with service provide by staff and how he was “herded” through security amid belligerent shouts.

Calmly and peacefully the tram trundled into Edinburgh Airport. It was probably around 5.30pm on Sunday, 24 June. It was a pleasantly warm, tranquil day. And we had had a wonderful holiday in Scotland.

Edinburgh Airport was not a pleasant experience for one passenger, Sebastian Allaby. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Edinburgh Airport was not a pleasant experience for one passenger, Sebastian Allaby. Picture: Ian Georgeson

We went to check in our luggage, my wife and I. Our flight was FR8824 to Stansted scheduled to depart at 19:35. But we were unsuccessful in operating the machine. I ventured to ask one of the staff, who was presumably tasked to help passengers accomplish the necessary procedure.

I was quite unprepared and indeed taken aback by the willful and spiteful torrent of abuse and sarcasm we received. I can’t quite flesh out her words, cloaked in a contemptuous and haughty demeanour, but suffice it to say I didn’t expect to be spoken to in that manner.

Apparently I was to ignore the warning the computer was displaying and just accept it was malfunctioning. This was not exactly reassuring. This behaviour was unnerving and also quite uncalled for – I knew myself to be more sinned against than sinning. Her eyes sparkled and bristled with the joy of mockery. She seemed thrilled with this opportunity to flagellate yet another unsuspecting customer. She appeared to be verily bingeing on it, as though, for her, this was a perk of the job.

The luggage has been booked in, and we move on. The lady guarding the check-in desk had that glare of defiance that feared at all costs breaking into a smile and there was an odour of menace that invariably subdues pleasantries.

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Phew, we made it this time unscathed. Then onto security. Not even the most indifferent or callous cowhand would treat a herd in this manner. The air was harsh and heavy with belligerence and threatening shouts, only the cattle prods were missing.

Wow, we made it through in one piece, ears scorching. We sought refuge and respite care with coffee in Costa, then went to the gate to catch our already delayed flight.

We were invited to muster and wait. All the while the tannoy announced numerous gate changes and I surmised that, probably, the airport authorities were doing their bit to ease the obesity epidemic, helping people get fit and lose weight by encouraging them to scurry to and fro. Would we be next?

But no, there was another pleasure in store for us – waiting 40 to 45 minutes in a stairwell to get on board a plane we could see yards away.

And the huffing, puffing, resentful member of staff with her walkie-talkie was neither informative, pleasant nor reassuring. Apparently passengers were still on board the plane because buses had not turned up to take them off.

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Then we got on ... and departed, leaving behind an alarmingly harsh atmosphere in an aggressive airport not fit for purpose. Got back home and did some reading.

In The Scotsman on 26 August 2017, Gordon Dewar, the chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, was quoted as saying: “We know if you make people wait for 20 minutes and don’t treat them very well that’s ... a really silly thing to do.”

This seems laughable based on our experience at Edinburgh Airport, a place where unbelievably rude, arrogant and aggressive staff seem to have the whip hand and rule the roost.

The culture of bullying passengers can only thrive when permitted to do so. Down-trodden people are less likely to be anything else but quiescent and compliant, when they are barked at and herded into submission.

It feels as though the main qualifications, attributes, etc, desirable in a job application for this airport are the willingness to display the following: rudeness, sarcasm, mockery, indifference and contempt. Having a “look” is probably an advantage and the opportunity for further training to acquire appropriate characteristics surely available.

The following are “Passenger Commitments” on its website: “We will welcome you with a smile and excellent service; we’ll listen to you; we’ll give you great service; we’ll give you the support you need; we will provide you with a seamless journey through our airport; we’ll make it easier and quicker for you to check in; we’ll make it easier and quicker for you to clear security; we’ll make it easier and quicker for you to clear passport control.”

Mere words ...

Maybe if extracting profit is the main short-term objective, I doubt if complaints from weary, frustrated and indignant passengers will make much difference. And it feels that Edinburgh Airport relies on the fact that for many travellers there is no viable alternative and that complaints can be easily ignored or brushed aside. This is such a pity and, in my view, misguided.

A charm offensive could be instituted to make Edinburgh Airport a more attractive place, especially if the staff recruited are pleasant and polite. From my own experience, I find people considerably more tolerant, patient and understanding if they are kept informed and treated well. It is probably not a good idea for people to develop a thoroughly jaundiced view of Edinburgh Airport. Trustpilot and Tripadvisor reviews amongst others make depressing reading, especially as many seem to share my unhappiness after similar experiences.

What is galling is the feeling that Gordon Dewar is probably a bit of a likeable, charming rogue who is actually genuinely rooting for the success of Edinburgh in a determined and energised way.

I am not sure that Scotland and the City of Edinburgh can afford to have such a lamentable, fractious gateway, which as its stands is not fit for purpose and tarnishes its image and that of the country.

• Sebastian Allaby is a contributor to The Scotsman newspaper