|Helsinki and Heathrow to Melksham - Saturday
I had, mentally, ruled out Saturday for anything more that a day of travelling from Helsinki to Melksham; a good job too as I could - all too easily - have been frustrated many times along the way.
The day started well - indeed the Finnish leg was enjoyable, with a chance to see Helsinki (pictures) sandwiched between a trouble-free Metro ride in from the suburb where we had spend the week, and a comfortable bus ride - no wait, no queue, out to the airport. There's even a left luggage facility as the station that isn't so tied up with security that you wonder why you had bothered for a few hours. And Finnair checked us in excellently, easily through and onto the flight. We were glad not to be on the BA flight that was scheduled out earlier - 07:45 - as it didn't leave until 13:15.
Heathrow, Terminal one, Baggage - what a zoo! We waited over an hour for our luggage, with (at times) up to 10 other flights also on "wait". I think our flight was especially bad - we were told that baggage couldn't be got off due to a technical problem, but still the business class travellers got theirs in about half the time. Odd, that ;-)
Heathrow to Melksham by public transport isn't great - coach to Chippenham and bus on home is about the best when you're flying in and can't rely on timing. If you're really delayed, you might just get the 18:45 direct bus in the evening.
A Spring Saturday, a week after Easter with crowds returning from Holidays, so how was the ticket desk staffed?
Yes, you're right - queue control barriers and too few staff to handle the crowds, who clearly WERE expected.
The Bath bus, good on the operator, HAD been doubled up, with a second coach layed on and the two drivers sorting Swindon passengers on to one and passengers for other destinations onto the second bus. Loading, though, was less than efficient with the driver of our (non-Swindon) bus taking each individual he checked in arouns the back of the bus, one by one, to load their luggage, and the coach left some 15 to 20 minutes late. An extra stop at Membury services (I don't know why - I've never had it happen before) added a few minutes and, to my suprise, the bus still went through Swindon even though all the passengers had been sorted ahead of time. A straight "drive through" of course, even down to driving straight in to one end of the bus station and out of the other - but what a wasted opportunity to sensibly make up some time.
Chippenham, and we spotted the 234 heading on its loop up to the station as we drove into the town. "Oh - excellent - he'll be back past the bus stop in a couple of minutes". We unloaded our case, thanked our driver, and hailed the 234 as he returned ... and STRAIGHT PAST he drove.
Now - I know the evening 234 service is subsidised by Wiltshire County Council, and I do know that the operator puts profit before passengers ... but you would have thought that the driver would have stopped (at the bus stop!), wouldn't you? Well - he didn't. The bus appeared to be empty and perhaps he couldn't be bothered.
We caught a taxi from the rank just a few yards away; by this point, I was less than inclined to wait a further 90 minutes or so for a bus that *might* stop next time, and we had an absurdly un-green and inefficient journey in a taxi that passed the bus we should have been on as he turned into Lacock.
So why wasn't the transport system able to transfer us from one service to the other neatly in Chippenham? Lack of joined up thinking between operators? No - that's not the case. Our National Express Coach was operated, I kid you not, by the First group. And the 234 bus was also operated by First. I suspect from exactly the same depot. Ah - "Shareholders First" - of course ...
Written 2007-04-15 09:43:16
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