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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Joy of travel

07:20 UTC, 10/11/07 - A Hotel in Los Christianos, Tenerife.

The news in brief. The airline reschedule the flight for mid afternoon, then have a hydraulic leak delaying us another two hours and we get to Tenerife after the last ferry has left for La Gomera. But we find a good and cheap hotel and have slept well so onwards, good friends, onwards. Read on to find stories of airline incompetence, interesting maintenance techniques, a vignette of English life under pressure, and the delights of Los Christianos, tiny fishing village turned mega-resort.

Back in September, the plan was simple. We booked a flight to Tenerife from Stansted, a mere half hour away from Cambridge, and it would get us to Tenerife mid afternoon with plenty of time to catch a ferry to La Gomera and reunite me with Ty Dewi.

Oh the naïveté.

In the middle of September, we had discovered that the airline we were booked on had canceled all their flights and were refunding passengers. Our agent managed to book us on a flight from Gatwick, leaving at 10:30 in the morning and arriving mid afternoon, just as we wanted. Gatwick's a bit further away from home but that's OK.

So Ian and I leave Cambridge at 6am and have a comfortable, if sleepy, journey across London and to the airport. Dave and Ed, meanwhile, have concluded that they can't get a morning train from Coventry so left at midnight and have been snoozing in the airport.

Imagine, then, our delight to find that the airline have rescheduled the flight for 14:15. They claim to have emailed the travel agent a few weeks ago but the message hadn't got through to us. If it had, we'd have had a much more relaxed journey down to the airport, although the new arrival time only leaves two hours to get off the plane, collect bags and get to the last ferry at 20:30. Still not a problem.

It rapidly transpires that we are not the only ones who didn't know about the flight change. It seems that about two thirds of the plane has been sitting in the delightful surroundings of Gatwick since 8am. They are giving out vouchers for a fivers worth of food or duty free to us all.

They call our flight, we get on the plane, settle into our seats and then the captain announces that they've just noticed an oil leak from an engine so we'll have to get that looked at. Very sorry to have got you on board, but bear with us. Outside, a couple of chaps climb up on the wing and start removing bits of aircraft with a philips screwdriver and a swiss army knife. I kid you not. This panel appears to be secured with about 50 little screws which take a long time to undo, then some sort of tape on the underside which he has to slice through with the knife.

After an hour, the natives are getting very restless. A holiday company flight to Tenerife is an interesting place to watch a cross section of society behaving under pressure. The captain has graciously, or perhaps bravely, positioned himself in the middle of the cabin and begun chatting to passengers when he is harangued by a determined looking women who is jabbing her finger at him in a rather threatening manner. We can't hear the conversation, but he must be trained for this as her hand gestures become gradually less aggressive until she is patting him on the arm and smiling a bit more. He has clearly calmed her down, well done, but it soon becomes clear that he has been put in a catch 22 situation. A flight attendant arrives and give the woman a CUP OF TEA!!!!

Perhaps you have to be English to understand the full ramifications of this. 233 rather pissed off people are trying to keep their annoyance beneath a thin veneer of English politeness. With some, the veneer is thinner than others, and a few left the factory in a distinctly unfinished state. All of us have been watching the complaining women with thoughts like 'oh, do please sit down and shut up, the poor captain's only doing his job and anyway, if we all got up and complained loudly we'd never get anywhere.' And here she is rewarded with the ultimate English pacifier, the cup of tea. 'Cup of tea all round, please mate', pipe up the three lads in row 21. As she walks back towards us, a couple of passengers ask pointedly why she's got a cup of tea. 'Well, I've just about had it haven't I? Bin ere since 7 o'clock this morning and I haven't had a fag since then, going bleeding up the wall int I? Told him I'd just go and light up in the plane toilets cos they wouldn't let me get off and anyway there's nowhere to 'ave a bleeding fag now and I 'ave 60 a day like. And me blood sugar's droppin, I can feel it.' Turns out she's not diabetic though, just conscious of her blood sugar and knows how to talk her way into a cup of tea.

A riot is narrowly avoided by the announcement that the leak is found, it's just a joint in a piece of pipe and they've tightened it a little bit more (oh the trusty swiss army knife with built in aircraft pipe spanner) and we'll be off once the engineer has replaced the panel. An sure enough, matey is out there with his screwdriver slowly putting 50 little screws back in with one hand whilst holding his mobile phone to his ear with the other. So is he saying 'do I put the screws in tight or a bit loose like?' or maybe 'be home a bit late love, bloody leaky pipe on the 14:15 to Tenerife'.

So we have a tedious but fairly uneventful four hour flight, punctuated by a mixture of amusement and amazement when the attendant makes an announcement to request that anyone changing babies puts the nappy in the bin, not down the toilet, please, as we've had to close one of the toilets which is now blocked. Observing the various child care strategies of the passengers in the baggage hall, we have a guess at who was responsible. 'Will you bleeding come 'ere now, Kevin, you little git, stop that Tracy oh my god where's 'e going now?'

Tenerife baggage handlers have a relaxed, languid attitude to the delivery of bags, as the conveyor gently pops one up every 15-20 seconds and a collective sigh emerges from all but one person in the baggage hall. After about 45 minutes we have our bags and find the airport information, who are sympathetic to our problem of 25 miles of water between us and our destination and find us space at a hotel near the ferry port, quoting 80 euros per room, of which we need two. Fine, no problem, be good to sleep, where's the taxi?

In fact, the hotel is pretty good and have only charged us 115 euros for all four, in two rooms, with breakfast. That's 20 quid each which is close to amazing really. Things are looking up, and now as the sun rises over the mountains, we'll get ourselves down to breakfast and go find a ferry. Ty Dewi, here we come.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Julia said...

Gave me a bit of a giggle, thank you Nick. With your colorful account of your trip to the airport, and your time on the plane I am really missing the UK at the moment. Might even make me a cup 'a tea to help me get to sleep.

Safe Travels!

Julia and Co.

9:44 am  

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