Saturday, October 13, 2007

Airline Travel

Anyone who thinks that airline travel is 'romantic' needs to lay off the whacky baccy. I've just completed a round trip to Birmingham (England, that is, not Alabama), then on to Wiesbaden, Germany and back again. Four days. Any surprise that my brain is somewhere in mid-Atlantic?

The first leg of this journey was from Tampa to Newark. Unfortunately, due to a thunderstorm over north Florida, no plane could leave Tampa. We sat on the runway for just under three hours. Outside, the temperature was hovering near the 90 F mark. Inside, it seemed to be worse. There was only a little air coming in, and on a flight where every seat is taken, this makes life somewhat unbearable. Especially if someone nearby has flatulence. Sitting next to a fat lady doesn't help either. Talking of which, there was an extremely fat lady sitting on one row near me. The lady next to her objected to having to share at least a quarter of her seat with the fat lady. A quite heated argument ensued. My view is that the seats are too narrow for a dwarf let alone an adult, and any fat person should be obliged to pay for two seats. This woman must have been well over 350 pounds and only five foot five. No solution could be found, and the thin lady (actually quite plump in her own right) had to endure the fat lady for the three hour flight.

The crew were not informed on anything that might happen to any connecting flights. This was the province of the ground staff at Newark, they said. An Indian gentleman kept walking up the aisle to complain that he had a connecting flight to catch and it was vital for him to be on it. He demanded to speak to the pilot, but was refused. He said that he was a personal friend of the Chairman of the airline. In my experience, they always try that line.

On eventually getting to Newark, I'm informed that I've missed the connecting flight to Birmingham by about 1.5 hours. Now there's a surprise! "Please go to Customer Service and they'll help you," quoth the friendly stewardess. I get to said Customer Service to join about 50 - 60 people who have equally been inconvenienced by the storm in N Florida. It was 8 p.m. After almost an hour of not moving - there were two parties from Sweden and Ireland who wanted to be re-routed - I took a hint from my daughter and called the airline on my trusty cell phone. Very helpful chap. Told me I could have the next flight to Birmingham the following evening. After some mumbling, he offered to send me to London's Heathrow where I could catch a coach to Birmingham. Great! I had almost an hour to get to Terminal B to catch the flight at 9:35 p.m. I was advised to pick up my luggage. This might have a been a good idea, but the luggage was destined for Birmingham, and was nowhere to be found.

Terminal B is a loooong way from Terminal C in Newark. Takes a train journey and a long walk. By the time I got to Terminal B, there was no sign of the plane, until my daughter explained that I'd obviously been transferred to a different airline. A dash to the check in desk informed me that I was too late for that flight as the doors were closing. Sphericals.

Back to Customer Service, but now had to go through Security again. Off with shoes etc, and just before 9:50 p.m. I arrived back at Square One. The Swedes were still doing what Swedes do best. Mumbling amidst sharp intakes of breath through clenched teeth. At 10:00 the desk closed. Not before I expressed my discontent in a manner which one passenger described as a loud manner. Not me, surely. A kindly lady took pity on me, and managed to get me a flight to Manchester, England instead. Once there, I was on my own, quoth nice lady.

To add to all this woe, there was a live S American band playing on the concourse - for the benefit of the customers, of course - together with nubile young things dancing. I have never heard anything so loud in my life. My ears are still ringing a week later.

I got to the departure gate to be allocated a seat. I requested an aisle seat, and the check in lady was so impressed with my German that she gave me three seats! A chance to sleep perchance....

A call to my daughter allowed Pam to drive early on Saturday to pick me up from Manchester. I was greeted with a can of Fosters and a pork pie. What more can a man want? The choice of food on a long haul Continental flight gives one a choice, garlicated beef or garlicated chicken. One must order a 'special meal' if one doesn't eat garlicated stuff. The salad was good though, as was the apple pie (at least that's what I think it was).

My luggage? Well that arrived on Sunday, which was good as I was about to depart for Germany in the morning.

That trip and the subsequent trip back home to the US were bliss in comparison. Especially as the return flight from Birmingham had no children on board! Can you imagine no screaming infant or child on a flight? Maybe they had taken my advice, given them a shot to sleep, and put them in the hold as they do with animals.

Here endeth today's lesson.