By Gillian Rae

After attending IMEX – the international events industry trade show – in Frankfurt earlier this month, I was supposed to return to Edinburgh on a British Airways flight connecting through London City.

Unfortunately, due to a fire alarm at City, the BA flight had to land in Southend. Having never been or heard of Southend, I had no idea where I was landing and as it was already close to 8pm I could assume that I was never going to get home that Wednesday evening.

On leaving the plane, the BA staff informed me to talk to someone at the Southend airport or make my own way to London City airport where they would change my flight and get me accommodation.

Having never been to this airport, it became apparent that BA does not fly from this airport and therefore there were no staff to help or guide you. The airport looked as though it had closed for the night and apart from a man from Eurocar rentals there were no other people to be found. The majority of people on the flight appeared to work in the city and seemed to know that you could get on a train to London.

I decided that my only option was to make my way to City airport and perhaps a taxi would be the best option which was not as easy it sounds; since no flights were arriving at the airport, there were also no taxis.

Thankfully, a friendly lady from the local taxi company who had just finished her shift realised that a flight  had been diverted and she helpfully spent an hour calling local taxi drivers. I waited in the cold for my taxi to arrive with no real idea of where I was going or how far the journey was to City Airport. I attempted to phone someone at British Airways to rebook my flight and hopefully be told that they would book me a hotel for the night. After 45 minutes on hold I got through to someone at the other side of the world who told me his ‘system was down’ but if I called again I would get another office which could help. Eventually, I managed to speak to a BA rep who rebooked a flight for the following day but told me that I would have to book my own hotel and claim it back online.

It is not easy to search for a hotel on an iPhone in the dark with 20% battery. I had no idea what location I should be looking at and the majority of hotels close to City airport were fully booked. I was lucky that I found a friendly taxi driver who asked his friends to search and book me accommodation at a Travelodge in  Barking.

I do travel regularly and understand that flights are delayed and airports can close but I was surprised by the complete lack of assistance from British Airways on landing in Southend.

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We’re sorry that Ms Rae’s flight had to be diverted following a fire alarm at London City Airport.

“This was plainly beyond our control, and we took the decision to divert the flight to nearby Southend Airport as we felt this was the most convenient option for our customers.

“As this is not an airport we fly to, we do not have staff based there.

“We rebooked Ms Rae onto the next available flight the following day, and quickly repaid in full her hotel and transport expenses.”

Gillian Rae is Account Director at Spectra, an Edinburgh-based Destination Management Company (DMC)