An enforced stopover called by British Airways overselling its flight led to a hellish night at a Heathrow hotel.
I was due to fly to Singapore with British Airways on the evening of Friday 6 October, for the Bentley Systems Year in Infrastructure conference (an event I’ve participated in since 2013 – though these were all in London). However, when I arrived at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, I couldn’t check in and was referred to “flight administration”. After a short wait, I was told that the flight had been oversold and that I probably wouldn’t be able to fly. Given a voucher for a coffee, I was told to come back an hour before the scheduled departure time.
When I did, I was one of a gaggle of around 20 people all bumped off flights (to Hong Kong, Brisbane, and Shanghai, as well as Singapore). A group of four were given boarding cards, but any spark of optimism was soon extinguished. Three others, myself, included, were told we couldn’t fly, and that we’d be put up in hotels and booked on to new flights. Two of us were phlegmatic about the situation; the other, flying on Singaporean government business, was incensed, raging about the inefficiency and saying: “BA treated its customers like shit.”
As I had to be in Singapore for a Bentley event meeting on the Sunday morning, I pleaded for the first available flight the following day, which turned out to be a Singapore Airlines departure. After patiently deflecting the Singaporean, Steve, BA’s manager at T5 was efficiency and helpfulness personified. He sorted out a compensation payment, hotel accommodation and bus vouchers, then ensured that I was allocated a seat on the Singapore Airlines flight. In a few minutes, my frustration at BA’s overselling had been replaced by quiet admiration for his customer relationship management skills.
My positive outlook didn’t last overnight however.
Heathrow Hopper 55 took me to the Holiday Inn Express T5 at Colnbrook, a four-story concrete block situated alongside the A4 dual carriageway. I checked in at the hotel’s reception OK, but – ever the social media user – while I was waiting I also checked-in on Swarm, glancing at a tip which warned “don’t have a far end room as the pipes are noisy and you’ll have to change”. Sure enough, room 89 was at the end of a snaking groundfloor corridor.
It seemed quiet enough – not that I lingered long, as the hotel’s dinner buffet was set to close a few minutes later. I retraced my steps, and ate a plate of rice and Thai vegetarian curry (it looked like sick, but tasted OK). I had a beer, got online and checked in to my Singapore Airlines flight, and then returned to my room around 11.30, mindful that I would be catching the Hopper again at 6.15am.
But any hopes I had of a getting a decent night’s sleep were soon dashed. Pipes behind the walls of room 89’s bathrooms were rattling and banging. Closing the bathroom door muffled the din a little, but the noise carried into the bedroom. The sound wasn’t constant – sometimes it would cease for a few seconds, lulling you into thinking it was going silent, only to restart even more loudly.
I tried to sleep, and, after a long day, I managed to fall asleep until around 2.30am…. The rattling seemed louder and more incessant …. Just after 3am, I gave up, got dressed, gathered my bags, took a quick video on my phone, and stalked back to reception.
The duty manager seemed surprised that I had a complaint, and offered barely a word of apology or explanation. I got a card for a different room, on the first floor. It faced the A4, but the noise of the passing traffic was more manageable than the din I’d endured earlier. I finally fell asleep around 4am, sleeping fitfully for a couple of hours before my alarm went off.
“Have you enjoyed your stay?” I was asked when I returned the keycard to reception. The young man seemed surprised when I grumpily responded: “No, it’s been dreadful!” I explained about the “diabolical din” of the pipes, noted that I wasn’t the only one to have reported the problem this year, and said I’d be complaining. He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, I hope you have good day.”
Once I got to Heathrow, dropped my case, and passed through security, I emailed a complaint to the hotel. The attitude of the staff I dealt with, though, doesn’t give me any confidence that I will get anything like the positive customer response that BA provided. In the meantime though, I’ve had some tweets from the InterContinental Hotels Group.
Update (14 October 2017) – While I was away in Singapore, the twitter exchanges continued and eventually, I got a reply from the manager. It doesn’t use the word “sorry” or “apologies” (though I have been offered a 50% discount on any future Holiday Inn stay)….
Having gone through your email I can understand how frustrating it would have been for you not to have a quiet sleep especially after the events of day that you had gone through. …
Mr. Wilkinson, as you can understand for the size of the building and the volume of room inventory that we hold, maintenance issues are unpredictable and cannot be fully abated – especially ones relating to plumping [sic] when the air bubbles get trapped into the pipe lines.
Going through your booking I understand that your accommodation was paid by British Airways via hotel voucher and hence I would not be able to offer you a refund but Mr. Wilkinson, as a good will gesture we would like to offer you 50% discount on your room rate when you decide to stay with us next.
So the noisy pipework may continue to disturb guests. You have been warned.