It’s official; Barcelona’s aptly named El Prat airport is a complete nightmare when it comes to checking in for flights home.
With lines like a column of Bosnian refugees stretching back for what seemed miles, the BA check in desks in Terminal One- four of them- were advertised as two for bag drop, and the other two for Club Europe passengers. Being booked in Euro Traveller, this could have been quite confusing, save for the knowledge that the chaotic Spanish system allows you to check in at any desk you can actually reach. A novice passenger might have fared a lot worse.
To add to the misery, there were no staff on duty to help with the lines, or to offer any kind of information. Now, I know that this is not the fault of British Airways; this is a Spanish operation, and would fall under either the jurisdiction of their airline partner- Iberia- or the airport management. Both of which proved to be about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
It caused quite a level of stress for some of the people in our group, worried about making the flight and in the full knowledge that we had yet to go through both security and passport control. When I finally made the check in desk, the staff were polite and helpful. As requested, they got me an aisle seat (14D) so I was happy with that.
Actually, security was pretty decent, and passport control was no trouble, either. Still, the time wasted in the serpentine morass of the crowds meant that any chance of doing some meaningful duty free shopping was effectively knocked on the head. Or, at least, it should have been if the flight was on time.
It wasn’t. Eventually, the plane- a Boeing 737-400- rolled up to the gate something like forty minutes late. No delay was announced or explained beforehand. Annoying, and merely compounded the already bad impression of this car crash of an airport.
Boarding itself was relatively quick. I got to my seat, settled in to my thirty one inches of blue leather real estate, and suddenly found myself being joined by two children- no more than three and four years old- who had been separated from their mother. She was expected to sit some eight rows away; away from her already visibly distraught children. She was understandably upset, as were the little ones. What kind of stupid thinking was this?
So I gave the mother my seat, and moved down to her original one- 6E- a middle one in the row of three. This wasn’t entirely for selfless reasons, if I’m honest. The idea of spending two and a half hours stuck next to two crying toddlers didn’t fill me with any kind of joy. But at the end of it, the mother’s obvious distress was what really moved me. Quite literally, as it turned out.
BA 737’s come with seats configured in two columns of three down each side. Thirty one inches of legroom was more than adequate for me (5′ 6″ in height) but the seat in front of me- and those beside it- had torn, tatty blue leather hanging limp from their frames. This plane was in dire need of some TLC.
The pilot- a lovely lady- apologised for the delay, explaining that they had arrived late. Fair enough. We push back some forty minutes late and are soon clawing at the sky. At this stage, I’m still mildly fuming over the sheer, pig headed insensitivity of wilfully separating a mother from her two kids. I just can’t get my head around it.
Once up there, the flight settles into the usual, properly regimented BA way; there were chicken and herb wrap sandwiches for lunch- two of them. Quite tasty, but distinctly light in terms of actual chicken content. The white wine, however, was more palatable, and went some way towards making up for the seat I didn’t want to be in.
The staff were polite and brisk, though not in an unfriendly way. The plane was pretty much full, as it turned out. We did make up some time in flight, but nothing like forty minutes.
The mother I mentioned earlier made a point of coming and thanking me after we landed as she disembarked with her little ones. The three of them seemed calmer. And I appreciated the fact that she had the kindness to do this. It made up for a lot.
A decent landing was followed by a painless passage through customs and immigration. Baggage claim was also prompt and easy. Gatwick somehow always seems to do this better than Heathrow; quite why I don’t know. But I do know that the smaller airport is generally far more efficient, and a lot less hassle than it’s neighbour in Middlesex,
So, in sum; a lousy airport experience, and miffed at having to change seats. Neither of which are the fault of British Airways, to be fair. They can only work with the hardware, facilities- and attitude- of the host airport. That said, the plane was tired and tatty, and needs a good deep clean.
Flight: BA 2709
Type: Boeing 737-400
Recommended: No (On account of ground experiences detailed above)