Biman Bangladesh Airlines. An Unforgettable Experience
My Experience With Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
It wasn’t as if I had intended to take Biman Bangladesh Airlines to Kuala Lumpur, but at such short notice, the other choice was something like $1000 more. And that’s Economy!
I had been in London over 10 days, had been to the Olympics and done some marvelous touristy things like shopping at a ‘boot fair’ outside of Canterbury and visiting the beautiful Isle of Wight. Though I would have liked to stay longer, I was also impatient to move on to Malaysia to see my family.
Right. My story. The flight was scheduled for 6.15pm, August 18th.,2012. Whatever transpired between 6.15pm and actual boarding at 8pm, I do not know, but after boarding, there was another hour’s delay before taking off for Manchester to pick up passengers for Bangladesh.
I can’t complain about the in-flight service, which is par for the course in Economy. The stewardesses were lovely, and the food was all right. I did not mind the absence of a personal TV screen or even any TV service. The bathrooms were reasonably clean, considering that people just would not clean the sink area after use. That’s not the staff’s fault, since no airline I know of employs an in-flight cleaner. I also can’t complain about the quite empty plane, for that left me the whole 3-seat central row to lie down in for some sleep, arriving at Dhaka Airport at 3pm instead of 12noon.
Now, the upside of being 3 hours late in taking off is that the transit time at the airline’s hub is shorter by 3 hours. Or would have been if the ongoing plane had been on time. Still, it was only one hour late, and I arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 2am on August 20th. So far, let’s consider the trip quite uneventful.
The fun was on the return trip, Oct. 13th, 2.15am. My brother and sister had dropped me at KLIA at 12mn, and I made them go home. I was hopeful of leaving at 2.15am.
A large bunch of people waited to be checked in, but there was nobody manning the desks. At about 1.30am, when we should have been boarding, the desks came to life with four or five check-in clerks. There was a concerted rush, the haphazard queues notwithstanding. It took a security guard at the front to keep order.
I was checked in, and the question the clerk asked me should have alerted me: ‘Does Biman go to London? I’ve never known Biman to fly to London.’
‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘I’ve got a ticket for London on Biman Bangladesh Airlines.’
Everybody sat where they could outside the boarding gate ( there was no Biman plane anywhere). By 4am, they were draped anywhere there was space. We were then allowed in the gate after 4am. The plane touched down at KLIA at 5am, and we boarded at 6am.
Never mind the rule that you could only bring one on-board bag besides your handbag - those people had several large packets each, bedcovers, duvets, luggage, whatever. And many did not fit in the overhead compartments without hard forcing and took more space than one allowed bag. My overhead was stuffed tight by the time I got to my seat, so I had to put my bag in the one in front. Many people were standing around trying to find somewhere for their baggage and I began to understand why Biman flights were so delayed. The stewardesses were frazzled, the noise level was unbelievable.
Then some alpha male pulled out my bag and put his in and no amount of protests moved him. I couldn’t slap him. So, above all that din, I shouted angrily, at top volume, ‘Hoi, where is my bag going to go?’
Shocked silence for a second, and the stewardess hurried forward and found a tight space in another compartment to squeeze in my bag.
Onward. No more drama, until I went to the toilet. The floor was flooded, the sink was flooded, there was a mop among the piles of paper on the floor. Then while I was standing by the sink washing my hands (thank goodness not before), somebody pushed, pulled, banged and kicked at the door until it popped open. I turned, startled, into the angry face of a male, who then banged the door shut. I would have understood an apology in any language. When I emerged in two seconds flat and said he could use it now, he looked like he could have killed me and I thanked my stars he had no power over me. And no, I didn’t overstay in the toilet, and there were other ones there. I suppose they were occupied too.
Now for the piece de resistance. We arrived at Dhaka Airport at 8am instead of 4am. I went to the first desk and said I had an ongoing flight to London at 10. ‘We have no flight to London today.’
‘I have a ticket for London at 10am,’ I said. I showed my ticket.
‘There is no plane to London today. The next plane to Heathrow airport is on the 20th!’
‘What?‘ Dear Lord, please wake me from this nightmare.
At the Transit desk he directed me to, I repeated my information, only to get the same reply. From the computer the officer printed out the information that ‘today’s flight was canceled 7 days ago.‘
‘Nobody told me.’
‘They should have informed you.’
Well, nobody did. And, in answer to my queries, there were no airlines leaving for London or New York, and nothing going anywhere where there would be a connection to London. What was I going to do for a week in Bangladesh, and what about the next leg, from Heathrow Airport to JFK? I must have looked too pathetic, for he told me to ‘go and sit down there and I’ll see what I can do’. I watched him busily making calls and working his computer.
Two hours later, he brought a printout.
‘I have booked a flight for you to Abu Dhabi. It leaves at 5.45 pm. and reaches Abu Dhabi Airport at 8.45pm. You’ll go on Etihad at 2.30am and reach Heathrow Airport at 7.20am. Your baggage has been checked through.’ Such relief, I couldn’t thank him enough. An hour later, he brought my boarding pass and told me to go to the dining room at 1pm for lunch.
I was so relieved I went and got a cup of tea at the cafeteria with some Bangladeshi taka I had exchanged with thirty Malaysian ringgit. With the money I also managed to call to London to inform my family.
An hour later, another officer came to exchange my boarding pass for another that put me in the first row seat. ‘Any complaints?‘ Absolutely not! It was an executive seat! Why would I complain? Gosh, these people were nice!
At 1pm, another man came and led me to the dining room where transit travelers were served a simple lunch of rice, chicken curry and a little cucumber salad. I had a cute waiter who practised his bit of English on me. I left him the rest of my taka.
All’s well that ends well. The Blue Panorama airline plane to Abu Dhabi Airport was very comfortable and clean. The sun was just setting behind the plane while we were waiting to board. I took a few shots of that dramatic sunset. I nearly always have my trusty Kodak Z990 with me when I'm out of the house, just for such moments as these.
We boarded a sparkling clean plane, and traveled in comfort all the way to Abu Dhabi airport.
I got to see the much talked about Abu Dhabi, even though it was only the airport. It was fabulous. And while waiting for the ongoing flight, I befriended two Ugandan-born Indian ladies, sisters returning to Leicester in the Midlands from a trip to Nepal. I now have two new friends to visit next time I cross the pond.
I spent a couple of pleasant hours with my family before heading back to LHR for my flight home to New York City.
I’m not blaming Biman Bangladesh airlines for the unpleasant experiences I had. The transit staff was very helpful and efficient and made up for all that had gone before. The airline is working to overcome a reputation for poor service due to cancellations, and delays caused by an aging fleet. Since its creation in 1972, it has suffered corruption and mishaps and heavy financial losses. Rising oil prices have put additional pressure on the airline’s finances and it seemingly has been unable to pay the state-owned petroleum corporation. It is also now facing rising competition from a number of local private airlines and some international carriers.
An airline industry report described Biman Bangladesh airline as ‘poorly managed, overstaffed, undercapitalised and subject to excessive political interference in its day-to-day management’. Until there is a strong incorruptible management to reshape the airline, Biman will continue to flounder and lose money. Hopefully for the nation as a whole, there will be a turnaround, the sooner the better.
Will I fly Biman Bangladesh airlines again? If they upgraded their aging fleet of planes, retrained their ground staff, enforced stricter passenger rules and behavior and improved their time-keeping, sure, I'll give them another chance. They are a lovely people.