Great British hospitality

I’m recently back from a trip to the UK flying Wizz between Warsaw and Luton airports. I should say “London Luton” airport because that’s how it is branded these days but that’s just as stupid as calling Łodż airport “Warsaw Łodż” airport in the hope that people will think it’s near Warsaw. Thankfully I was visiting family near Nottingham so I just thought of it as “Nottingham Luton” airport and ignored the 2 hr drive!

With a bit of luck when the new ‘budget’ Modlin airport opens in June 2012 (ha ha) we will see a far better choice of low cost flights out of an airport close-ish to Warsaw…like to East Midlands for example. Will they call it “Warsaw Modlin” or just not bother with the Modlin part, I wonder? Anyway, at least it is on the right side of town as far as we’re concerned.

I should comment that, as usual as far as my experience is concerned, Wizz did a good job. On time, more space than a standard expensive LOT flight, no fuss flights. I’m not a fan of all the optional extras like priority boarding but everyone does it so they are no worse than the norm. I just smiled to myself when by using the rear stairs I was sat in my seat quite a bit earlier than most of those who decided to pay extra to have the right to occupy whichever seat I might have wanted for myself. Surprising actually how many had paid for priority boarding, or who decided to use that queue at any rate.

Anyway, that’s not the point. I wanted to comment on two examples of the great British hospitality that many Poles living in the UK are so fond of praising by way of dissing their home country. First was the guy in charge of queue for passport control when entering the UK. A man whose family at some time were welcomed to Britain by dint of being from a former colony now in charge of the queue of people wishing to enter Great Britain and, for the most part, wondering what is so special about the UK that they can’t just join the Schengen club and save us all the trouble. I was struck by his rather annoying queue-side manner which consisted of a string of thinly veiled insults and patronising remarks. His exasperated tone was that of a man trying to explain quantum theory to the inmates of a lunatic asylum. I could understand his problem if there were hundreds of people all wandering off in the wrong direction or holding things up but it was nothing like that. The line was short, orderly and pointing in the right direction and yet he insisted in coming out with lines like “Well, if you got off the phone that might help move things along!” (not aimed at me). The worst kind of Jobsworth and not the kind of welcome to Britain anyone would consider appropriate.

Second example was on the return journey. I’d been sent an unhelpful SMS from Wizz saying that “due to congestion” (what kind, where?) I should arrive three hours before the flight time and that check-in would be open accordingly. I arrived exactly 3 hrs before take-off to find no check-in desks open. I wandered over to the Wizz ticket desk, the only place they had to talk to someone but it was unmanned. Some time later someone turned up and my polite question as to when the Warsaw check-in desk was going to open was met with a rude response to the effect that she’d only just turned up, hand’t got a clue and I should bugger off and bother someone else. Clearly no connection then between whoever sends out SMS messages about non-existant congestion and the staff who will have to deal with 150 passengers an hour earlier than they expected. The desk eventually opened 30 minutes later.

Last unusual point was the security procedures. At the check-in desk there was a flashing sign saying “enhanced security measures, please ask at check-in”. I asked and there were no enhanced measures, just the normal ones. Went through to security and something new for me. When the trays got the far side of the x-ray machine they split into two lines, one for people to collect their things and move along and another for ones that needed checking. Mine was in the latter, which was longer than the former and therefore required another longish wait. When they eventually got to my tray I was told they wanted to “do a test” on my iPhone. I asked if there was now a problem with iPhones and was told there is no problem it’s just a random test. Looking at the number of random tests being carried out they seemed to be using a definition of the word “random” that I’ve not yet come across that’s much closer to “compulsory”. We can only hope that iPhones or smart phones generally do not join Zippo lighters on my list of things I have to leave behind when travelling.

I wouldn’t pretend that Britain is in the grip of mass rudeness, most people are still genuinely helpful and polite, which is why perhaps these exceptions stand out so sharply but I would encourage those who like to compare and contrast Britain to Poland in terms of “niceness” to remove the rose-tinted specs. The gap is not as large as some would have you believe and at least in Poland most of the reactions you get are genuine. Not much room for American style painted-on politeness over here, something that is, sadly, more and more apparent in the UK. I suppose it comes as a package deal with the explosion of “We’ll sue anyone for anything” legal services.

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3 thoughts on “Great British hospitality

  1. I had the same experiences at “London” Leeton (or Lu’on). Turned up three hours early as per SMS. Is WizzAir getting a kickback from the groundside retailers for providing them with thousands of extra captive customers each day?

    The border control questions (annoying, insulting, patronising) were in response to the Teresa May/Brodie Clarke punch-up; though why on the way OUT? Why do I need to justify my decision to live abroad to any jumped-up jobsworth who really should be keeping an eye on people coming IN to the UK? Especially those without EEA passports…

    I asked whether I should put my 20 quid wristwatch into the X Ray machine. “No, that’s all right, Sir.” I walk through the scanner, get a beep and a pat-down. “I offered to put my watch (the offending item) into the X-ray” “Jewellery is excluded” I was told. “But it’s worth a tiny fraction of the value of my camera, my laptop and my mobile phone – all of which must be X-rayed”.

    The uniformed folk at Okęcie are far better at their jobs than the jobsworths of the “Border Agency”.

  2. I’m biased but happen to like my presence and/or courteous action (holding a door open, not trying to run pedestrians down at crossings, letting someone go first in front of me at an elevator, etc). It rarely happens here. What I *do* observe is people pushing past. It doesn’t matter the gap between me and who or whatever, they will make a point of brushing up against me or even just bumping me and all without a “przepraszam” or even an apologetic shrug or anything.

    I don’t necessarily want to have a long chat with every Joe Schmoe I come across but the little niceties like [nodding in acknowledgment when you pass someone on a deserted pavement/area], “Good day”, and when in a buyer/seller relationship, “Thanks!”, “Did you find everything ok?”, “Is there anything else I can help you with”, “How’re you doing today?” and “Have a nice day” is preferable to silence and/or a grunted “good day” in return.

    Anyway, I’m never surprised at anything I find at airports now. It appears to be a requirement of the job (check-in, security, whatever) to be a sadistic, rude and mindless jackass. I count myself extremely lucky if I encounter someone with a brain and/or someone who is actually nice (rather than simply not combative).

    If I can drive somewhere, I will.

  3. Edit: I’m biased but happen to like my presence and/or courteous action (holding a door open, not trying to run pedestrians down at crossings, letting someone go first in front of me at an elevator, etc) ^ acknowledged.

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