January 14th, 2005


Fuck you very much, British Airways!

Just to be fair - because I'm British, and we like to play fair, cricket being cricket and all that - I'll say there are a couple of good things about British Airways. They once did a snazzy globalist re-design of their corporate identity which annoyed Margaret Thatcher so much that she covered up the tail-fin with a hanky. (The groovy tails included one by Berlin's own Jim Avignon. Shortly after Thatcher's very public comment on the design, though, BA went back to flying the flag.) Um, let's see, what else? They didn't crash the 747-400 series Boeing on which I flew to Tokyo on Monday. Oh, and there were a couple of good documentaries on the seatback TV, and a map showing our position. Right, that's it for the good stuff. Now here's the bad stuff.

When I heard that Future University had booked me on a BA flight to Japan this time, my heart sank. I don't like using London as my international hub. Skies over London are crowded and usually cloudy. True to form, on Monday a fine, sunny Berlin morning turned, over the channel, into a piece of nasty, windy, cloudy British Atlanticist weather. I mean Atlanticist in both the political and the geographic senses of the term; newspaper reports of the serious flooding affecting Wales last weekend said that it was almost certainly the result of global warming. I won't say that Britain suffers, and will increasingly suffer, storms as a direct result of its support of bad US policies, but there is a connection. You also fly into Heathrow knowing that because of Britain's support of US foreign policy your plane (flying the flag!) is just that teensy bit more likely to be attacked by mortar fire (a serious enough threat, at one point, for Crony Tony to send armoured cars to the airport).

Because of high winds, Heathrow landings were at 50% of their usual rate. So we banked and circled in pea soup fog, being buffeted by gusty westerly winds. Connecting flights were not looking good. I made BA 007, the 'licensed to kill' Tokyo flight, by the skin of my teeth, thanks to a kindly muslim dressed in BA uniform who seemed to know all the shortcuts in the airport and rushed me through security. Unfortunately, my baggage had no such assistance, and stayed in the airport.

The flight was full, and for ten hours I sat crushed by the reclining Australian in front. It might have been nice to read the Guardian, but of course BA doesn't give you the Guardian (due, no doubt, to the paper's reporting of its dirty tricks campaign against Virgin). It doesn't even give you the new tabloid Times. You get a choice of Telegraph or Daily Mail. Great if you're terribly right wing, not so great otherwise.

I turned to the entertainment schedule and wondered why BA doesn't list the country of origin of the films it shows. I suppose because they would all say USA. This editorial policy is extended to the comedy channels; there's a 'Comedy Channel' without national specification, showing entirely American comedies. Then there's a 'UK Comedy Channel' showing British comedies. You'd think that on a British airline (flying the flag!) British comedy would be 'Comedy' and American comedy would be 'US Comedy'. But apparently it's the local culture which is considered exotic here, and requires extra labelling. The menu didn't differentiate between 'Food' and 'British Food', and luckily wasn't offering anything American. In fact, you could even have Japanese beef and tea. Which made the cattle truck aspects of the flight (an impossibly stingy floorplan) no less unbearable, alas.

The charming old British class system made its appearance in the safety announcements; due to the totally different conditions in Economy and Upper Class there were complicated explanations of important safety features. In Economy you brace hunched forward, like a miserable supplicant about to meet death. In Upper Class you brace sitting upright, your hands behind your head, your elbows spread wide, like a self-satisfied country squire surveying an extensive estate in the next world.

There was a little note waiting for me when I reached Narita. The fact that it was printed suggests that this kind of thing happens a lot. Unfortunately, said the card, my luggage had not been on the flight. I should contact a customer service representative in the baggage reclaim area for further instructions. These turned out to be that my suitcase would be put on the next available flight and that I should expect it to be delivered within 24 hours.

I left the airport rather pleased not to be lugging my case. A day passed, calls were made to British Airways. The case hadn't arrived yet, call tomorrow. Same answer the next day. Thursday morning I was told the case was in Tokyo and would be delivered between 3 and 4pm. I waited in, wasting an afternoon of my precious Tokyo time, but no case arrived. I can only hope that it will show up tomorrow. I refuse to believe the rumours which say that BA 'loses' up to 20% of all baggage it carries, and auctions the contents on eBay. I may be British, but I am an optimist.

Nevertheless, British bungling has followed me all the way to Tokyo and cast a shadow over my days here. I've been making do with what I was wearing and what I had in my hand luggage, shivering in light cabin clothes, peering at Tokyo myopically after my contact lenses ran out, trying to eke out the little charge left in my digital camera, hoping that people aren't trying to call me on my keitai. What's worse, I haven't been able to take my fried iBook to the Apple Store in Ginza (it has a 48 hour turnaround policy on repairs) because all the documentation is in the case.

I won't say my week in Tokyo has been ruined; it's always a delight to be here. But it has been somewhat spoiled. Fuck you very much, BA!