Last week-end (18-19th August 2012), I went back to France to see my family. This was only a couple of days, and was a very nice stay.
However, it all got tarnished by Brittany Ferries’ failure to be on time, and having to spend the night in Portsmouth, stuck between Cherbourg and London.
The reason? The boat being late, I missed the last 2 trains going back towards London that night, and had to spend it in a hotel, before being able to get on a train the next morning.
Brittany Ferries schedule is going out the window this summer. No need to stalk them in harbours, one only has to have a look at their
Twitter timeline (https://twitter.com/brittanyferries) to understand what’s happening: they don’t have enough time to load and unload boats in the time they’ve allocated. So the last services get the cumulative effect of a day of lateness. Any other attempt to explain it would be fallacy!
I unfortunately didn’t spot this before leaving on Friday, but they even seemed to know and acknowledge the problem!
This is seriously disrespecting their passengers and not taking the problem seriously enough.
I wrote them an open letter that is available at the bottom of this post. Hopefully they’ll pay me back the hotel stay, and more importantly, they’ll react properly and stop advertising such aggressive timescales, when they’re fully aware they can’t hold them! Recent history says they won’t, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Everyone gets annoyed at these delays, first of all their staff which is under pressure to deliver despite bad planning. They even recently went on strike to protest against what Brittany Ferries calls their “measures to improve competitiveness”… What competition except their own finances?
While upper deck staff tries to make up for it by being always smiling, cheerful and helpful, I can’t say the same about below deck staff, with its all too often monosyllabic grunts at cyclists and failure to understand how much a proper bike is worth. And No! It cannot be tied up next to the bins, outside, in the spray, at the back of the boat! Some of my rides are more expensive than some of the cars in the ferry! They deserve every single bit of attention possible, if not more, and that should include a proper area to transport them. It’s not that bikes take much space do they?
Now, you might be wondering why I’m not going to check other crossing services to see if services are better? After all, when one’s unhappy, ditch the provider an get another one, right?
Well, it’s not that easy you see: there aren’t any other options! At all! There use to be competition between Brittany Ferries, P&O and Stena Line “back in the days”, but Brittany Ferries are now the only ones left operating this line, and they don’t even run this service in the winter.
My options to go to my parents place with a bike (no concessions on that!) in the summer are therefore as follows:
- Brittany Ferries. Take a train from London to Portsmouth, ride to the ferry port, embark/disembark with the cars and ride home. This usually takes around 8h (If not for the water, I could cycle it faster!!!), plus the time zone change, but with a nice lie-in on the boat. Easy, albeit long.
- Train all the way. Yes, there is indeed a train from London to Paris, and I could take another one from Paris to Cherbourg. But there are a few problems: I have to change train stations in Paris, which is fine in the summer, but in winter: no so easy. But most importantly, one cannot take a bike fully built, as a “walk-in” item, even in a postal carriage (if they existed), on the Eurostar. You’ve got to put it in a bike bag or box, like you’d do on a plane, or leave it on wheels with bubble wrap for baggage handlers to muck up. For having done it once with a hard bike box, I can confirm they receive the same hard treatment than in airpports. If you go for a week-end, given that you also have to drop it off the day before you travel, and reassemble it on the other side (not mentioning what to do with the box!) this solution is just plain stupid. Not an option.
- Take the plane! After all, everyone travels by plane these days! And there ought to be something landing near my parents place! Nope. The closest airport is Caen-Carpiquet, which has no flights from/to London. The next closest one is Paris… And even if it did, traveling to Gatwick, Luton or Stansted with a bike in a box for a week-end is, like point 2, not a viable option.
- Other ferries to other ports. Yes, there’s another one arriving in Ouistreham, but that puts me 120Km away from my parents, 20Km away from the closest train station, and the sailing times aren’t appropriate either to be there in time and justify all this hassle for a week-end. There’s one arriving in Roscoff from Plymouth. 5h away from London and 5h away by car from Cherbourg. And both these are also ran by Brittany Ferries, so even if these routes were better organised, they would be no way better. Other ferries are from dover to Calais. Look for Calais on a map of France, find Cherbourg, 500Km away, and realise it’s not an option either.
So I’m afraid I don’t have the choice! I’ve got to use this ferry on this route, and if I want to spend at least a couple of days with my family, then I need to make the trip from Friday to Sunday evening. Late on Friday? I’m there late, but I can cycle to my parents place. Late on Sunday… Yep! You guessed it! Not so good.
So please please Brittany Ferries, don’t advertise arrival times you can’t hold, and stop thinking all your passengers are traveling in a car for which 1/2h delay won’t make much difference! I’m on a bike by choice and for financial reasons, owning a car doesn’t make sense for me, and I’d like this to be respected.
If you’re late, own up to it and propose solutions to the ones who’s travel plans you’ve ruined by overlooking the time it takes to load and unload your boats. In these cases a twitter apology is nowhere near enough. https://twitter.com/brittanyferries/status/237304111509422080
Public letter to Brittany Ferries
To whom it may concern.
I live in London and my family resides in Cherbourg, Normandy, right across the channel from Portsmouth, about 200Km from where I live, as the crow flies.
On Sunday night (19/08/2012), after a lovely week-end with my family, I had to spend the night in a hotel in Portsmouth, because a 1/2h delay in the boat arrival time made me miss the last 2 trains available to go back to London. The boat was initially supposed to arrive at 22:15, and the last two trains are at 22:37 and 22:53 respectively, which are both perfectly catchable if the boat is on time.
On Sunday, it wasn’t.
Apparently, and according to your own twitter account, the Normandie Express was late at some point during the day, and that delay cascaded down all the way to the last services. This was the case as well the Friday before, as I arrived 45min late in Cherbourg, and judging, again, by the information you post on twitter, was also the case before and after this week end for many other passengers.
This twitter timeline, at the moment, paints a pretty bleak picture of your time planning.
I know that there can be sometimes problems with the weather or harbour operations, especially in Portsmouth, and this is totally fine. What’s not alright is regular delays incurred by what looks like avoidable planning issues.
In the peak season, there’s extra traffic, so extra loading / unloading time of a full boat should be built in its journey time.
When the boat is late, staff gets all worked up because of the turnaround time being too short, and people relying on a connection, even with some leeway as I had, always get the short straw. For most car passengers, this isn’t really an issue. They only arrive at their destination a bit later. Other passengers don’t have the same luxury.
Last Sunday, despite sprinting off the harbour as fast as I could on my bike (and I’m no slouch!), I missed the very last train by 3 minutes. There was no other train to go back to London after this one, and I had to spend the night in Portsmouth, paying a higher ‘drop-in’ fee for a room, and could only take an off-peak train the next morning as I was on a bike.
I am lucky to have a job quite flexible with working hours: arriving 2h late on Monday morning was alright given the circumstances, and will be made up for during the week, but the story might have been very different if not for this flexibility, and I think you’re getting away very lightly when you say “we’re sorry” or “sorry for the inconvenience”, on Twitter only.
This was much more than an inconvenience, and I am asking you to show that you really care about, and listen to, your clients, by paying for my hotel night in Portsmouth. This would show you understand and acknowledge there is a problem in the services you run, and would, indeed, make up for the “inconvenience” of not spending the night, relaxed, in my own home from your own fault.
I have enclosed a copy of my hotel bill and my bank details should you want to make a direct payment, but you can also send me a cheque if you prefer. All my details are below.
Also, if you’re interested to know why I still use your services, I invite you to read my article, accompanied by this letter which I’m making public, at the following address:
Thanks for taking the time to read.