Friday, 2 November 2012

Of Fog and Food Poisoning

When air travel goes wrong it usually goes wrong badly. Not just a flight delay but as the poet expressed, “When troubles come they come not singly but in battalions.”

And so to last week’s trip to Munich. Luggage was checked --- luckily underweight, and no funny business at security, such as losing (yet again) my pocket knife. We’re in the departure lounge to take off for Heathrow. But alas there’s fog over Heathrow. First one flight and then an entire board of flights are delayed. Ah whenever we get too big for our boots and think we've mastered nature, pesky weather reminds us that we are on Earth, and planet Earth has the last word. I ask about the Heathrow-Munich leg of our trip, but the BA lady assures us that the flight will be similarly delayed and so we should make it.

After three hours wait, we board, and then wait  another hour on the tarmac for Heathrow fog to make up its mind whether to lift or roll in. We sail! Land in Heathrow and then Amber and I sprint for Terminal 5, ducking under barriers when they pop up in our path. The good news is that we make the gate as the flight is still boarding. The bad news is that  BA took us off the roll and placed us on a later flight. They figured that we wouldn’t make it. I suspect that we got bumped by a celebrity who pushed his/her weight about. So our flight is to leave ---four hours later. More fog rolls in. Signs of “Enquire Airline” pop up all over the departure boards, but our flight is still on. What do you do while waiting? You drink, shop, eat, drink some more. After a while you suspect that flight delays are so profitable for airport businesses, that Gucci, the caviar bars and liquor establishments pool together a bribe for BA to delay certain flights.

And so we finally board! I phone my cousin in Munich that we’re on our way. Will only be six hours late. We sit on the tarmac, for an hour at least. Finally comes the news that the pilot got sick from food poisoning and had to deplane. The co-pilot can’t fly the plane as maybe he’s got what the pilot has. So, no flight that day. Just get off folks, pick up your luggage and our staff is there to help you. Right?

We get off only to find ourselves in a large crowd of everyone whose flight was cancelled. One BA chap at the counter is trying to sort them all out. The line isn't going anywhere. Some have sat down. A guitarist serenades us with “We shall overcome.” Amber and I are at the end of this line. We study our lack of options. Finally a chap appears from a doorway with a stack of papers and heads for us. “Who wants a hotel?” he asks. Sighting a couple with a baby he gives them some coupons then disappears through the doorway again. Ten minutes pass and he appears again. Several Spanish speaking people corner him, almost threatening to rough him up. He protests, “Back off or I’m going away and I won’t be back.” He gives out the coupons then disappears again. A young chap addresses me in German. Finally he breaks into English, says that he knows what is going on. But before he can divulge the secret, he breaks into a series of German swearing and marches off down the corridor.

 I’m sure we've seen the last of the guy with the coupons when he pops up again. This time he hands Amber and I the goods. The only open hotel is the Olympia, in Central London. But, he warns us of dire consequences if we take our luggage. Luggage stays in airport; our bodies go to the hotel. We have to come tomorrow to be re-booked, or we dial a pricey BA phone number and hope you don’t go bankrupt while we’re on hold. We exit the room with the crowd and guitarists, pass border control and come to the baggage collection hall. All our suitcases are scattered there, with no supervision. Anyone could walk off with them. A sign boldly declares TO DELAYED PASSENGERS: PLEASE TAKE YOUR LUGGAGE IF NECESSARY. If necessary? ~ Are they being funny? We grab our luggage. 

Outside the terminal, there’s another unending line. This time for a taxi. We team up with a German couple, just back from a Star Trek convention. And so for the next hour we trade Star Trek trivia. Taxi pulls up, we cram in, three couple plus our luggage. Upon arriving at our hotel,  the Taxi man asks foe £66. We ask for three receipts, as we each have to reclaim our taxi expense from BA. “I suppose you’re giving me a tip too,” he says. We pull together £80, ask for change. But he pockets the money and says, “Thank you.”. At least he hands out three receipts.

From our hotel room I call the BA number. After 15 minutes a voice comes on. He puts me through to the “Excecutive Club”. Then, I lie on the bed for 45 more minutes; on hold. I hang up. After calling again I reach the first voice. Letting all my dignity go to the wind, I plead, almost cry to the chappie in Bombay not to transfer me but to book me on a flight. Which he does.

After that our fortunes take a turn for the better. Amber and I sleep well, eat a great breakfast, coffee, then lunch on BA’s expense account. Our Munich flight leaves on time and the rest is uninteresting.

I’m left pondering how rarely we appreciate our planet and the weather systems, except when our travel plans go wrong. Then, rather than expressing contrition, or understanding, even acknowledging that the Earth has a right to exist, we’re reduced to swearing.