EasyJet - London to Edinburgh return for just 406.96

I like to think that I'm not one of these people who moans about everything. I realise that the government have to tax some things in order to pay for some other jolly handy services they offer. I realise that car insurance is expensive because we all keep driving into things, and not because the thousands of insurance companies have somehow strung together a clever cartel. I realise that cuts here mean savings there, and I hope I'm comparatively fair in my assessments of how Big Business treats us poor individuals.

I realise that EasyJet and RyanAir are no-frills airlines. I understand that they have elected not to bother feeding me which, given the cost of airlifting food around the place, I think is a sterling plan. I can see why they don't want the hassle of allocated seating, and I realise their airports are all just that bit further away than everyone else's.

I am happy with all these things because they are clear cost savings that they can pass onto the customer. What I am less happy with is the means by which I ended up paying 406.96 for two flights from London Stansted to Edinburgh.

I booked these flights on the 2nd of September, 2004. It always helps to have a human aspect to these gut-wrenching stories of despair so, to give you the full story, myself and a colleague named Shawn Riley were intending going to Scotland on a fishing expedition. I don't fish, but I believe it's sensible to try new things now and again. We were to fly on Friday 26th November, returning on the Sunday. I realise it's only just inside the fishing season, but apparently Mr Riley rarely catches a sausage at the best of times and I was eager to get a grip on his rod. The price quoted was 161.96, which to me looks like a pretty good deal. Grand.

 EasyJet      +161.06
Well-deserved money if you ask me.

So time goes on, and as we approach November, Mr Riley decides that his time working for our great employer is done, and he's off to pastures new. This wasn't going to interfere with our fishing expedition, until he decided that between jobs he'd spend three weeks loafing around the far-east with some other friend of his whose company he evidently preferred to mine. No problem, I'll change the flights.

Fortunately, on the Monday of the week we were supposed to travel, the flights still weren't any more expensive. All we had to pay was a 10 transfer fee. This doesn't seem ridiculously unreasonable to me - obviously as far as the actual changing goes it has a zero cost to EasyJet (the software is already written) but I owe them at least something for making them re-sell these flights in the seven days they had. However, it would appear that the charge was 10 per flight - in both directions. So a total of 40. Seems a lot, but what do I know about air travel.

 EasyJet      +201.06
More time passes, and my fishing companion returns from his trip to the far East, looking much the more tanned for it and with all sorts of grand ideas. Now that he's seen the world, he's jolly keen to run the New York Marathon, and is going to be spending almost all of his weekends training for it.

You'd think he could just dump me like a man. That's fine, I say, I can just change the flights into my girlfriend's name. In fact it's almost convenient, because it had turned out that the re-arranged fishing trip lay straight across the three-year anniversary of our dating. I hopped onto EasyJet's web site and requested the name change. There was another 10 fee per flight of course, but strangely another 15 on top. Was there perhaps a female surcharge?

I phoned EasyJet's "changes to bookings" number from work, to find out what this Female Tax was, and exactly what it covered. My girlfriend is greek, so I thought there was a chance I could slip her through as a bloke. I was on business in the US at the time, and the recorded message told me that I wasn't allowed to phone that sort of a premium rate British telephone number from my US office. It was going to cost me more money than I'd ever seen to do it from my hotel, so I elected to ring it once I got home.

I forgot to do this.

On the afternoon of our departure, I tend to log into airline websites just to make sure everything's on track. Unfortunately, this time everything wasn't on track. My girlfriend appeared still to be called Shawn, and I began to recall the sequence of events which occured while I'd been in the US in January. Oh dear.

I hopped onto EasyJet's website. I was jolly pleased to see that you could change the names of passengers up to two hours before departure. While obviously I couldn't see any technological reason that this might not be possible, it's one of those things that people tend to stop you doing out of paranoia more than anything else. I cheerfully swapped Shawn's name for that of my nearest and dearest.

There was of course the somewhat toppy 20 administration fee to pay. Why? Changing the flight times must cost something as I mentioned earlier, but surely changing the name is a freebie? What could EasyJet possibly lose? Anyway, my grumblings about this were gleefully muted when I noticed that the Female Tax had actually risen to a somewhat eye-watering one hundred and eighty five pounds. Surely some mistake? But no, it appears not. Now I've done a bit of work with computers, and I know that changing the name of a person in a database involves a comparatively simple amount of work. In fact, these days the computer can do all this work pretty much by itself.

 EasyJet      +406.06
The way it appears to work is that if you change the name of one of the passengers on a flight, you must pay the 10 administration fee (for the simple reasons of extortion I mentioned earlier), and also the difference in cost between the flight you booked and a flight booked at the moment of the name change. This is because... hmm... this is because in this particular instance EasyJet are extremely keen to give you a thorough rodgering. Whilst I can see why it really might cost them 10 to change the time of a booking, I have racked my brains and can come up with no even half-decent reason as to why changing the name of a passenger costs anything more than zero, let alone two hundred of our earth pounds.

In my excitement I decided to phone EasyJet and ask them for a thorough analysis of all this money I was forcing them to spend, but sadly my UK office doesn't allow premium-rate calls either.

I've paid up. What can you do? Booking another pair of flights was too expensive; I was desperate. I'm furious. I'm only too willing to accept that I did try and change this flight a few times - if I'd known at the time of booking that the flight was "non-refundable, non-transferrable" then of course I'd not be complaining. I don't really object to being charged for anything that could actually cost the airline money (the changing of dates, for example) but it seems a crying shame that EasyJet should scrimp and save on fuel, airport duties, tax and such to offer me these flights for a mere 80 each to start with, and then see fit to slap a 200 charge on top for a service that is costing them almost exactly zero to provide. They may as well charge two hundred quid for anyone boarding the plane wearing a cardigan, or people whose trip is to go and see their granny.

I'm back on BA - it's a little more expensive and I get a meal that I probably don't really need, but at least if they ask for money it's because further down the line they're having to give it to someone else.

Chris Rae, 18 Mar 05