A breathless young lady climbed onto the bus. She was one of the Thomson airport team and she told us to head for the check-in desks displaying the Tui smile logo. So we tumbled quickly from the coach to make way for other buses seeking a stop-off space, and trundled our cases into an airport building bursting at the seams with travellers.
Our flight didn’t take off until 9.55pm, but we were collected from our hotel at 5.10pm, and after picking up more passengers from a few other hotels headed to Rhodes airport where we arrived at 5.50pm. So we had over four hours before take-off. I quite understand that to keep costs down on package holidays some compromises must be made. Nevertheless Rhodes airport is not geared to deal with a mass influx of thousands of travellers, and when we rolled in with our cases out of an afternoon that remained very hot into the teeming terminal we were faced with something akin to the mass movement of refugees we’ve seen on our television screens for months.
Gripping in our minds the direction to head for the Tui smile logo, we looked in vain. All we could see were people, the smile logos too far in the distance and hidden by too many travellers to be seen. But those around us were joining the heaving mass so we attached ourselves to what could be considered the back of queues.
Happy faces, even tempers, people who have just enjoyed a great holiday relaxing in the sun. But as time went by and we hadn’t moved, smiles like the Tui logo began to fade and change. How long does it take to check in each family group? Two weeks previously, in Glasgow airport, with no queue, it had taken, at a guess, about two minutes for check-in and to see our cases weighed, labelled and disappearing. But in Rhodes after nearly an hour we had moved about two yards.
Rhodes has a reputation, and when we managed to collar a Thomson rep they curtly informed us this chaos was normal. Well, it wasn’t normal on any of the travels we’ve undertaken in the last few years. Yes, queues can be normal, but they usually move.
Having eventually been ushered to another queue, we finally made it to the front to check in. Then it was off to join yet another queue to have our bags scanned. The process had taken us over an hour and a half. As we turned to climb the stairs to security (the two escalators were not in operation), we saw small groups of people enter from taxis, stroll up to a desk and be processed immediately.
So Rhodes as an airport has problems, but Thomson Tui must accept their responsibility for the way they decanted large numbers of travellers within a brief timespan into an airport known to have problems coping. We as customers were being treated like animals, herded and penned with no thought for the way elderly people and those with young children might fare.
If we thought the worst was over, well it wasn’t quite. We did manage to find a seat at the departure gate, but many people didn’t and ended sitting on the floor. I went off to the toilet – no seats on the pans, soap containers empty and hand driers not working. Husband then went off to buy some water. He took so long because of queues that I became seriously concerned I might have to board without him.
Then on some whim, the doors were opened onto a ramp down to the tarmac and within a few seconds people swarmed to the desk, waving boarding passes to be checked, and rushing down the ramp to be stopped at the bottom. Soon the mass of people were backed up to the desk and processing had to stop. Another queue not going anywhere. A woman shouted that we should all join it, but many of us stayed in our seats until the front of the queue started boarding the plane and we could join without standing around.
Back in Glasgow, at one o’clock in the morning, in an empty airport, a further slow-moving queue for passport control.
Any system of transportation that moves large numbers of people and luggage is bound to spawn queues. But inadequate processing facilities and baggage handling systems at Rhodes airport, and a large tour operator who thinks such queuing and poor facilities are acceptable, will impact on travellers’ decisions on where they travel and who they travel with.
German companies are renowned for their efficiency, diligence and attention to detail. Tui with the smile logo is a German company, it’s time it took a hard look at itself and used its not insignificant influence with airports to pressure them to provide acceptable facilities, for it to review its own strategies, and for its staff to treat customers with respect and consideration, otherwise in the eyes of customers the Tui smile will quickly turn into a Tui grimace.