Guest post: Does My Airline Hate Babies?

Mark Chipperfield is a seasoned traveller, and a rusted on Qantas frequent flyer. But even he was shocked by his treatment by codeshare partner Emirates when flying with his new baby.

Every traveller knows that sinking feeling when you arrive to check in for a long-haul flight only to be told: “Australia? Mmm. Looks like your original flight has been cancelled. Let me see what we can do for you.”

At Heathrow Terminal 3 last week, the ice maiden from Emirates soon discovered she could do very little for us – or our five-month-old baby. After a month in the UK showing off Myles to his granny, cousins, uncles, aunts and other admirers it was time to head home. Our nerves were frayed and Myles, who had begun teething, was ratty. The 22-hour flight loomed ahead of us, as ominous as having root canal surgery while watching The Block.

All consumers know they are basically just fodder in a great capitalist meat grinder, but few of us feel as powerless as when we are clutching Economy tickets for a flight that no longer exists, pleading with a lowly airline operator who couldn’t give a monkey’s (dreaming no doubt of that cushy job in the First Class Lounge) and waiting for your baby to start wailing.
“Okay, we can get you on another flight,” she makes even this sound like bad news. “But getting a bassinet from Dubai to Adelaide is going to be a problem. Let me see if I can ring my colleagues in Dubai.” She does (several times), but Dubai is otherwise engaged. She punches the speed dial on her mobile with increasing frustration. Her immaculate eyebrows narrow in distaste as she surveys us: her problem. “Why didn’t you book a bassinet in the first place?” she snaps. I explain that we actually bought return flights with Emirates’ code-share partner Qantas which had told us it was not possible to book a baby cot beforehand. “Just turn up at the airport and we’ll sort things out,” our Qantas consultant said. Qantas were as good as their word. We were assigned bassinet seats all the way through to London. No worries, mate.

“We have a different policy,” said our Emirates check in executive. “You need to go online to reserve a bassinet seat. I suggest you go and speak to the Qantas desk.”

I felt like a drowning man being thrown a lifeline. Surely the sensible folk at Qantas will sort out this mess – especially for a long-time frequent flyer and loyal member of the Qantas Club? My optimism was premature. “Let me just have a quick word with my supervisor,” said the Qantas liaison person. At least she looked genuinely concerned but the supervisor proved to be as elusive as the desk in Dubai. I showed her my Qantas Club card, my business card, my baby. Pearls before swine.

“This happens all the time,” said the Qantas non-liaising person in the efficient looking blue suit. “Basically Emirates and Qantas have different systems and we don’t talk to each other. It was much better with BA.”

After almost three hours in the grubby American Airlines lounge (Qantas does not have its own in Terminal 3) we were herded onto our flight to Dubai. I would like to report that Emirates – yes this is the airline which features in all of those glossy TV commercials – was able to redeem itself once we were in the air. Not so. The young female cabin crew struggled to install the bassinet, seemed reluctant to heat a bottle and never asked whether the two nursing mothers, including my wife, in our row needed any assistance. Maybe they were at the first class bar upstairs chatting to Jennifer Aniston over a mojito and a bucket of foie gras? They certainly managed to avoid too much contact with the prisoners in Economy.

Every so often I managed to corner one of these elusive queens of the desert in the galley. “Could you heat this for me please?” But the sight of a baby’s bottle seemed to cause genuine alarm – as though I’d just asked her to perform open-heart surgery right there on the floor with a swizzle stick and a mini bottle of scotch.

“I know you don’t have a microwave, so I need you to put the bottle in a small jug of hot water,” I would dutifully explain. “Jug?” said the Russian speaking one. “Oh, I see. For how long, this jug?” I’ve seen dog owners display more pleasure scraping canine faeces off the pavement than the crew of EK440 when handling a baby’s bottle.

Flying with a small child on Emirates was truly awful. The check-in was brusque, we were not fast tracked for boarding and the cabin crew were hostile. Oddly enough I could cope with that rubbish. After all, who expects decent treatment when flying zoo class? What really hacked me off was that at the end of our 13-hour ordeal from Dubai to Adelaide, one of cabin queens asked us to pose for some happy snaps. Are you kidding? They were lucky I didn’t have a fully loaded nappy close at hand.

Like many other rusted-on Qantas customers I am left wondering about the merits of a code-share arrangement that delivers such a poor standard of service and truly abysmal food. The fact I paid more to fly with Qantas and an extra loading for seats I couldn’t use only added to my sense of outrage. I have written to Qantas – the ultimate act of the impotent traveller who knows there is only one thing worse than flying Emirates Economy, and that’s flying Emirates Economy with a baby.