London Gatwick to Florence, on Vueling. The tale of a short runway.
I was sent to attend a conference in Florence by my company, and since I knew plenty of other people that we’re going to the same conference we all agreed to get the same flight.
The flight we chose was from London Gatwick to Florence on Vueling, a Spanish budget airline that is part of the same group as British Airways and Iberia. Being a budget airline this was a no frills trip, I had to leave all my fast track, priority boarding and lounge access perks behind.
All was going well until we reached the gate. This particular gate was one where you get placed in a holding area until boarding. Naturally, the gate was not big enough to seat everyone on the aircraft. My friends and I gathered in one corner thinking it wouldn’t be too long until we board. Time ticked by and nothing happened. Eventually, an announcement came stating that “there has been rain in Florence and as it is a short runway, larger aircraft cannot land when fully laden”.
Our aircraft was an Airbus A319. This is not a big plane. But apparently too big for this runway, or at least when it’s wet and fully loaded. Therefore they were asking for 12 passengers to leave the flight, to make it lighter. Of course, nobody volunteered.
The next time they asked they made an offer of €250 to anyone who would agree to leave the flight. This is where I made my big mistake, I had already checked and direct flight from London City airport to Florence, on BA, which would have cost me less than €250, and with my refund from Vueling, I would have made money. Also, the subsequent disasters that happened to my luggage would not have happened. However, I was with my friends, we were having a good time, so we decided to stick together.
I noticed the captain coming up the jet bridge, looking quite irate. He proceeded to have strong words with the ground crew. It turned out he was starting to run out of hours and we needed to get going. Next, they announced that they will be forcing the last twelve people to check in to offload, which they did, much to those people’s disappointment. Eventually, enough people were removed and we boarded the plane.
The next step would have been for the baggage handlers to go through all that luggage and find the 12 bags that they had to offload. For safety reasons, they can’t fly bags without their passengers. This process of course would have delayed the flight even further and the captain was running out of time… so we left… without any bags.
I was so relieved to finally be on my way, that I hadn’t really noticed what was happening.
The flight was perfectly pleasant, I bought an overpriced G&T and relaxed totally unaware of the luggage situation that would present itself when we arrived.
Arriving in Florence
Upon landing in Florence we walked into the building expecting the conveyor belt to fire up and give us our bags. It was at this point a member of staff stood in front of us and announced that every single bag had been left in London. So we would all have to go to the complaints counter to fill out a form.
The somewhat overwhelmed employee working at the counter started issuing out forms to every passenger. Needless to say, everyone was pretty annoyed that every single bag had been left behind. As this was a work trip, I of course did need to make sure I found clothes and toiletries so that I could perform my job. We had flown on a Saturday with the idea of having Sunday off to view Florence, and the conference began on Monday. Instead, I spent Sunday in day-old clothes touring the shopping malls of Florence. I found Italian clothes aren’t particularly well designed for the slightly larger guy like myself.
The Vueling website informed me that the lost luggage allowance was €90. I spent that on underwear, socks, shorts, t-shirts and of course toiletries. My friends and I showed up to the first day of the conference in slightly more stylish Italian clothing than we’d normally wear, rather than the usual company polo shirts. Duly the bag did arrive at the hotel on Monday and life returned to normal.
Ever since then I’ve never left home without a pair of underpants, a pair of socks under fresh t-shirt in my hand luggage.
What’s the lesson?
- If they offer you cash to take another flight and there’s any way you can make that work – do it.
- Always carry something in your hand luggage so that you can survive the next 24 hours if your luggage doesn’t arrive.
- Don’t expect budget airlines to look after you properly, you get what you pay for. With Vueling, they didn’t plan for the circumstances of rain at the destination very well.