Archive for the ‘Behind the wheel’ Category

Passports and life when you can’t find them

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Behind the wheel – An occasional series by Michael de Laine

Should the need arise, Danish citizens can get a temporary, emergency passport at Copenhagen Airport, but foreign travellers who lose a passport face difficulties.

When taxiing, there are times when I have to drive people to airports, railway stations and ports with baggage and not much time. Rushing your packing because of the pressure of time can cause problems, but so do forgetfulness and inattention, as two stories from last weekend show.

On the Saturday I received a radio fare from the dispatcher.

On arrival at the address, I could see a young man who was taking clothes out of a wardrobe, clearly packing a bag. A minute later, while this young man continued his packing activities, a woman and a youth left the apartment block, each with baggage – the woman’s a large holdall, the youth’s a smallish suitcase.

“My other son has only just come home and hasn’t finished packing,” the woman said as I loaded the holdall and the suitcase into the boot. “I hope he’s not taking too much, as I have only booked the one case for the flight – everything must be packed into that.”

“We can do that, Mum,” the youth said.

“When he comes, we’re going to Hellerup station,” the woman added.

They could get a train directly to the airport from the station, about seven minutes’ drive away.

The young man came out at last, with a larger suitcase than his brother’s. The woman repeated to them that they would either have to pack everything in the holdall or pay extra for their baggage. Obviously they were flying by a discount airline, where baggage in any form was an extra cost, and if you paid for it at the airport it was more expensive than paying for it when booking the ticket.

“And you’ll pay for the taxi while we’ve been waiting,” she told her elder son.

We drove off, but after 250 metres, during which he rummaged in a shoulder bag and his jacket, the young man said, “Mum, do you have my passport?”


“Then I don’t know where it is,” he said. “We must go back.”

So we returned to the address, and I turned the taxi round while he went into the flat. A few minutes later he returned empty-handed.

“Dad must have it,” he said, and called his father on his mobile. But dad didn’t have it.

“It’s the same story as last time,” the mother said. “We had to get a temporary, emergency passport issued at the airport.” But that was a problem: “We’re divorced and we both have custody over the children, so the father had to sign a form authorising the police to issue new passports. Luckily he was in Copenhagen.”

We drove off again, and while the young man went though his pockets and shoulder bag again, his mother asked me how much it would cost to go directly to the airport, as they were running out of time. I gave her my estimate.

“Found it!” the young man suddenly said, “it was in a pocket inside the shoulder bag!”

“When does the train leave?” his brother asked, and the young man checked the timetable on his mobile phone. “There’s one in ten minutes and a second one five minutes later,” he said.

As the mother booked their tickets on her smartphone, we made good progress and they could catch the first train.

She paid cash, and I drove round to the taxi rank at the station as the second taxi in the line-up.

Ten minutes later, my telephone rang. It was the dispatcher.

“You’ve just driven some customers to the station.” A question and a statement.


“One of the passengers has left a pair of sunglasses in a door pocket.”

“I’ll check… Yes, they’re here. I’m still at the station.”

“They’re in the train,” the dispatcher said. “Can you ring to them and find out what to do about it?” He gave me the number.

I called the mother. We worked something out. I’d go back to her flat and she would ring to a neighbour, whom I would give the sunglasses to, and she’d pay me via a smartphone-based payment system. And the young man would end up compensating her for the extra costs.

The situation was rather more difficult on the Sunday.

Another radio fare. I had to collect a passenger from one of the hotels we serve.

All he had with him was a plastic shopping bag.

“I have to go to the airport,” he said in English with an accent. “Lufthansa, so terminal 2, please.”

“No baggage?” I asked.

“No baggage,” he said with a sigh.

As we drove that 20-minute trip, he gave me a resume of his situation.

He and his wife, both Canadians, were in Europe on holiday and were taking a cruise from Copenhagen. They’d been in Germany and had flown to Copenhagen from Munich. The cruise line had picked them and their baggage up the airport on the Saturday, transferred them to the cruise terminal and delivered their baggage to their cabin.

But it was as they were checking in that their – his – problem became apparent. He no longer had his passport.

His wife had had their passports and boarding passes when checking in at Munich, but only her passport and boarding passes here at the cruise terminal.

They made a thorough search of their clothes and hand baggage, but still couldn’t find his passport. They were allowed on board the cruise ship to get his baggage, and he went to the hotel – where they would be staying after their cruise finished – while his wife went on the cruise.

Through the hotel the Canadian man contacted the Danish police and Lufthansa in Munich late on Saturday afternoon, thinking that he had dropped his passport in the secure airside areas at the two airports, or on the airplane. Lufthansa was closed and no passport had been handed in to the Danish police. And the Canadian Embassy was closed, of course.

So this Canadian’s immediate mission was to contact the Lufthansa office at the airport in person. I told him about – and showed him – the police station at the airport, and said that, if one of the airport contractors was responsible for cleaning the Lufthansa aircraft, it might take several hours, or a day at the weekend, before lost and found items ended up at the police or airport office.

Then the Canadian said he hoped that either his passport could be located or he could get a new one from the embassy (he had a colour photocopy of his now missing passport, which would be useful as ID) on the Monday, so he could travel to Warnemünde in Germany, where the cruise ship would dock on the Tuesday.

“How much would it cost if I took a taxi with the three large suitcases that I have to Warnemünde?” he asked.

Using my GPS and a quick calculation I said, “From Copenhagen to Gedser, where the ferry to Rostock leaves, the fare would be about DKK 2,500. It’s about an hour and a half sailing time, when the taximeter would be ticking away, and then the journey from Rostock to vessel at Warnemünde, plus return ticket for the taxi on the ferry. But I have no idea of what that would cost all in all, and I suggest you call the taxi company to get a fixed price for the journey.”

“I’ll do that,” he said. “Would you drive me here on Tuesday?”

“I wish I could,” I told him, “but I’m not driving this week.”

I later found out that the cruise ship terminal at Warnemünde is perhaps 25 km from the ferry terminal at Rostock, equating to almost DKK 400; the ferry trip would cost about DKK 650 on the taximeter plus the return ferry ticket.

So the trip would cost him almost DKK 4,000 plus the ferry – which he said his insurance would pay.

I never asked him how he entered Denmark without showing his passport, and I wonder whether he dropped it at passport control, and could quickly retrieve it from the Danish police or the airport authority on the Sunday. And I never heard the outcome of this adventure.

Michael O’Leary’s dead. No, no, he’s on the outside, looking in

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Behind the wheel – An occasional series by Michael de Laine

“Timothy Leary’s dead. No, no, no, no, He’s outside looking in,” the Moody Blues sang in 1968. It is difficult to determine whether Ryanair’s adventures in Denmark were an Irish joke or a total misjudgement of the situation, but the airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, isn’t dead, he’s on the outside, looking in, wondering if other European countries will be inspired by the Danish trade union’s victory over his airline. Passengers are still more than willing to buy the Ryanair’s cheap tickets.

Timothy Leary’s dead. No, no, no, no, He’s outside looking in.

Timothy Leary’s dead. No, no, no, no, He’s outside looking in.

He’ll fly his astral plane, Takes you trips around the bay, Brings you back the same day,

Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary.

This is the first verse of ‘Legend Of A Mind’, written by Ray Thomas and performed by the Moody Blues on their 1968 album ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’ (Deram SML 711), which circled about meditation, yoga, mantras, yantras and aum or om.

Timothy Francis Leary (who didn’t die until May 31st 1996; he was born on October 22nd 1920) was an American psychologist and writer who is best remembered for advocating psychedelic drugs.

Timothy Leary believed that LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, or ‘acid’) showed therapeutic potential for use in psychiatry. Among catchphrases depicting his philosophy are ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ and ‘think for yourself and question authority’.

Leary conducted experiments under the Harvard Psilocybin Project while LSD and psilocybin (a naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by ‘magic’ mushrooms) were legal in the USA, but Harvard University sacked him and his associate, Richard Alpert, amid controversy surrounding the drugs and their effects.

“The most dangerous man in America,” is how President Richard Nixon once described Leary.

Recent weeks and days have brought that song to mind as Danish trade unions have battled against what they see as low pay, social dumping and unfair competition in air transport, personified by Michael Kevin O’Leary, chief executive officer of Ryanair.

Over the past 30 years, Ryanair has grown into a financially successful and popular cut-price airline. In Denmark, it’s operated out of Billund Airport in Jutland for several years. Located just beside Legoland, Billund Airport is a second-line airport about 260 km due west of Copenhagen. Ryanair has set up a base there – so crews could be located and live there and fly out early in the morning on two round trips a day.

Wanting to cash in on the Danes’ wish to fly as cheaply as possible, despite follow-on costs (it charges extra for e.g. some baggage), O’Leary and Ryanair negotiated successfully for slots from Copenhagen Airport, started to operate from the Danish capital earlier this year, and announced their intention to open a base there.

The Ryanair business model builds on reducing costs – pay, airport charges, company taxation. It keeps aircraft maintenance costs down by flying one model, thus standardising spares and routines; it sets its ticket prices at a level to attract sufficient business to give it a high load factor; and it aims at having a quicker turn-around time at its destinations than other airlines, saving time on the ground and thus airport landing fees.

But pay and employment conditions are together the bone of contention for the Danish trade unions. As an EU and Irish airline, Ryanair claims that pay and employment conditions need only adhere to Irish rules. And, by the way, Ryanair doesn’t accept or negotiate with trade unions. The Danish trade unions say that because Ryanair is opening a base in Copenhagen, the airline’s staff based there (and at Billund) are subject to Danish labour market regulations and agreements.

And in Denmark, the labour market is an area where employers’ organisations agree pay and employment conditions with employees’ organisations without outside intervention (well, almost). This is the so-called Danish model – collective bargaining, backed up by strikes, sympathy strikes, lock-outs and the labour court.

And a labour court ruling earlier this month said that the trade unions can legally demand negotiations for an agreement with Ryanair on the airline’s staff’s pay and employment conditions; and that sympathy strikes preventing baggage handling for Ryanair flights and fuelling of Ryanair aircraft at both Copenhagen and Billund Airports would be legal after due warning.

In true Kev fashion, Michael O’Leary held a press conference with a few Ryanair staff, to convince the general public that Ryanair’s staff have good pay and employment conditions. But journalists’ questions were strictly controlled, and mainly answered (or circumvented) by O’Leary himself, and no documentation for the assertions, in the form of contracts or pay slips, was provided.

Elsewhere, on the other hand, the trade unions produced documents from admittedly disaffected Ryanair staff listing several complaints, including low pay without pension contributions by employer, the requirement to buy own uniforms, and even the economic need to collect passengers’ empty bottles to get the refund on the deposits to eke out earnings.

Ryanair says its cabin staff earn between €32,000 (about DKK 240,000) and €35,000 (a little over DKK 260,000) a year without pension contribution by the airline. The cabin crew trade union, FPU, want Ryanair to sign a pay and work conditions contract similar to the one between FPU and Cimber Air, which also flew from Billund. Here, the cabin crew pay would start at just over DKK 260,000 a year, rising to DKK 312,000 a year, plus 10% pension contribution from the employer.

With the sympathy strikes due to start in Copenhagen on Saturday, Ryanair has now announced that it is closing its Billund base as well as the Copenhagen base. In future, Denmark will be served by Ryanair flights to and from Lithuania, the UK and Ireland. Ryanair’s decision to cut the number of its destinations in the winter schedule from Billund will hurt the Jutland airport – although other airlines could take over the slots.

It is difficult to determine whether Ryanair’s adventures in Denmark were an Irish joke or a total misjudgement of the labour market situation, but Michael O’Leary isn’t dead, he’s on the outside, looking in, wondering if trade unions in other European countries will be inspired by their Danish brethren.

As Lizette Risgaard, deputy chair of LO, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, says: “If everyone is paid as they are at Ryanair, nobody would could afford to fly.”

Although the dispute has caused Ryanair’s reputation to fall from ‘bad’ to ‘miserable’, according to a report in the Berlingske newspaper today, passengers are still more than willing to buy the airline’s cheap tickets.