British Airways could have made our Californian holiday start on a good note by letting my wife and mother-in-law into the executive lounge at terminal 5. I called customer services two weeks ago, tweeted them again a couple of days ago and embaressingly asked again at the South side of terminal 5 if we could go into the lounge and the answer was NO!

My silver card executive club membership allows me access into the lounge with one guest. Yes, this is a rule, I get it, but there should also be exceptions to the rule or a wildcard or something for loyal customers. I travel a lot with them, and purchased all three tickets using my account. So my wife and I can get into the lounge but her Mom must wait outside. That is ridiculous!

We ended up going to the Huxley restaurant next door to the lounge, and they were pathetically slow to take our order, instead chose to walk past our table making eye contact at least twelve times but not offering a menu. We eventually got served and the food was okay be it expensive!

After our meal and a short walk/shuttle and wait at the gate we boarded what looked like a new Boeing Dreamliner 787-8. The plane was empty. It was going to be a good flight.

After about 30 minutes the captain welcomed us on board with a 5 hour delay. ENGINE TROUBLE! He promised us an update in 15 minutes, and it was 35 minutes later when he came on again to say the problem was still there and maintenance were working hard on one of the engines.

No more updates for about an hour or so, or perhaps even longer (it was long enough for me to watch an entire film). The captain told us we were being moved to another flight later that evening. He or one of the crew told us to walk from Gate C55 to Gate B34 (normally one would take a shuttle, but there was a vague explanation about not taking the shuttle this time). Our replacement plane was waiting for us there. The walk wasn’t bad, down a long well lit tunnel. Another world deep under the ground. They gave us a £10 voucher for food and drink and that was that. At the new gate there was chaos because no one had told them anything.

There was a BA lounge right next to the gate so we went and tried our luck again. I explained to the rep the delay, mentioned I was concerned about a car rental booking/pickup we had in San Jose at a certain time, asked if we could call someone. I showed my silver card executive club card and the young, smiling, friendly person let us ALL in. Yay! common sense had prevailed.

The lounge was great as one would expect, lots of snacks, food and drink and nice comfy chairs.

A few hours later we boarded the plane, buckled up and we were off. There was a lot of apologizing from all the crew including the captain.

Ten hours later we stumbled into AVIS customer area to pick up our car rental. Typically there was only one person on the desk, and the queue was long. Finally after many attempts by the Avis rep to sell us insurance that we didn’t need, a further puchase of a GPS/WIFI dongle for some ridiculous amount, we headed into a lift to floor 5 to meet out car. A FORD Expedition. We called him “TANK”!

TANK was massive. There were two back rows with a total of 7 seats, flashy buttons and bright electronics on the dashboard, way too much blue light. Everything was on the wrong side, there was no clutch, my left foot was going nuts pressing the floor for no reason. No gear shift, just a hundred and one buttons on the steering wheel. Pulling out of the parking space was a nightmare. The breaks were sooooo sharp, we almost went through the window each time I pressed the pedal with my left foot (wrong foot). It took at least 30 minutes to get out of the garage, down a steap ramp 5 floors down and onto the motorway or highway. The GPS was telling us to turn left on 880 and right onto 17. Talk about confusing. Cars were wizzing past us on the left, those breaks were so sharp!!! Eventually we made it 27 miles down/up and around and through the forest to Scotts Valley. There was one small car park and a task I can normally do with my eyes closed ended up taking about twenty minutes. TANK was so huge, getting into the space was a nightmare.

In the morning (Wednesday 30th August), I called AVIS using their phone/GPS/Dongle thingy they rented us. It took ten minutes to get through all the menu options and to speak to a human being. I explained the problem. TANK had to be swapped for something a little smaller. The phone cut off in mid-sentence. Another ten minutes to get through all the options again and another human being. I explained that TANK needed to be swapped for a smaller veh-icle, and the rep said “No Problem Sir let me see what we ….“, and the phone cut off in mid-sentence again. WTF!

I called AVIS again, this time with the room phone and ten minutes later got through to another human being who sounded like they were in a tunnel. I explained that TANK needed to be swapped for a smaller car. The customer rep said “No problem sir, we can do that for you, San Jose Avis Airpoirt Branch has a lot of stock, so bring back TANK and we’ll sort it out for you, heres your reference number“.

We had some breakfast and headed back 25 miles to San Jose Airport. We got stuck in some nasty Californian traffic, but made it up the ramp to floor 5. TANK was actually feeling not too bad at that stage and we were a little sad to see him go. We handed the car back and went for a walk around the garage to see what smaller cars they had. The Ford Explorer model looked to be the one we were after.

Back on the ground floor we had another wait in long queue. Finally it was our turn. I explained everything and showed the rep the reference number. A fellow rep standing next to the person we were talking too tells us without actually making eye contact with us “they cannot swap the car for anything smaller because its a package deal” and then walks off leaving our rep confused and scratching his head. He spent 5 minutes going through a list of cars with us and eventually found what he believed was something smaller. (Actually he sounded like he didn’t have a clue what he was looking at because he kept asking the other rep what the code XL means). He confirmed our doubts seconds later when he handed the new contract back to us and it was the same car we were trying be gave back. (Unreal!).

After much faffing about with the computer he found an alternative car. He told us it was mid range and smaller. He gave us the name Toyota Sequoia, which we looked up online. It looked smaller, but pictures can be are deceiving. We said “OK“, signed all the paperwork and headed up to floor 5 to pick up the car.

The car was maroon and had not been cleaned. It stunk of smoke inside, was old and crappy with cloth seats and was the same size as TANK. The dashboard was old and dated. It was rubbish. We were not accepting this car. We headed back down to the ground floor. Of course there was a queue eight people deep and only one rep on the desk, the dumb bloke who served us previously. I told him the car was not acceptable. He showed no emotion. He looked through the stock again and wrote down 5 lot numbers. He said “Go up to floor 5, have a look at these five cars, pick the car you want, and come back down here with the keys“. This was looking better!

Back up the lift to the 5th floor and we looked at all of the cars he had offered. Four of them were Ford Expeditions, same as our original TANK just in different colours and one was a Cheverolet Tahoe, which looked old and dated. We decided to stick with one of TANKs brothers. Back down to the ground floor and an even longer wait in the queue to speak to a young lady this time, who processed the car and that was it. Our first morning of holiday was gone. What a waste of time?

Suffice to say our TANK 2 is a lot nicer than the TANK, maybe because it has Nevada plates. It’s not so in your face with all the dashboard lighting. It drives very well and I really like it. It’s still too big, but it feels safe.

This will be the first and last time we EVER rent a car from AVIS again! Their service was atrocious.

As for British Airways, their service is a bit of a mixed bag. We’ve had more good than bad so I’m willing to let the few bad apples go. However we will be looking into that delay.