Archive for June, 2012

Return from the Mother Ship

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The return from Blighty was not as dramatic as the trip over, but it had its moments. My wife joined me later in the week from Madrid and she caught the train from Paddington to Land’s End. Little did she know that most of the seats on the Friday afternoon train were reserved and she was forced to change seats twelve times before arriving at her destination. Don’t ticket reservations at the departing station know how many seats are available on the train? Paddington to Land’s End is a long way to stand up with a couple of bags in tow.

Following delightful weather during our enjoyable stay with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter we bade farewell and returned to London for the flight home from Heathrow the next morning. Our objective was the 9.45am flight to Atlanta and my wife was fairly optimistic on our chances of getting on the plane until……the Boston flight leaving at 9.20 was cancelled due to technical difficulties which meant several of the paying passengers would transfer to the Atlanta flight.

Now those who were paying attention will recall that I would return to the subject of inconsistencies in security in the Western World. One is not required to remove shoes or belts at Heathrow which is in contrast to Atlanta. Heathrow regards a “Kindle” as a large electronic device and must therefore be removed from one’s bag. Heathrow does not have the full body scan device, but hire sexual perverts to pat you down.

I inadvertently dropped my cell phone on the security beltway which they reluctantly returned, and we were on our way to the gate despite an airline employee advising us that we were wasting our time attempting to board this flight.

I have to admit it didn’t look good. The gate was teaming with irrascible humanity and I decided to bed down into one of the back breaking seats, read my kindle, and let fate seal my destiny. They began boarding the plane in order of superiority. “Platinum customers please board, frequent flyers with 10 million points please follow suit, and business class (formerly first class) passengers step aboard at your leisure. Okay, Zones 1-56 can take their place in punters class and pick up their oats and hay as they board, but no talking.”

By the time this operation was complete there were a handful of humans remaining including ourselves. We looked like pyorrheas, the dregs of society. But wait, suddenly out of the blue the gate agent called our name and invited us to step up to the plate. Whereupon she handed us two boarding passes; two seats together and in business class. We were flying home to Atlanta in style armed with my Jubilee tin filled with PG Tips. About bloody time!


The Trials and Tribulations of a Standby Passenger

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

My wife is a retired employee of a well-known airline and one of the perks we enjoy as a couple is free flight travel around the world; subject to exorbitant landing fees, local taxes and of course seat availability. Recently I was attempting to fly from Atlanta to London on my own. My wife was on a business trip to Spain and the plan was to hook up in England later in the week.

She is an expert at researching the flights which give us the best chance of a seat, and armed with reasonable confidence but a considerable amount of anxiety. I set off for the new international terminal at Atlanta airport.

My proposed flight was scheduled for 10.45pm and I decided to arrive at the airport early at around 7.30pm to navigate the rigors of airport security. You would assume that rules and regulations for airport security would be consistent throughout the western world, but I will return to that topic later.

I collected my standby boarding pass from the automated machine and tentively made my way to Airport Security. Atlanta Airport has 8 security gates available, but on this occasion only one was open. One of the SS guards on duty, sorry security officers, explained to a beleaguered passenger that they only had skeleton crew working. Why? No reason!

Atlanta operates the full body scan procedure which quickly blows away any lingering inhibitions. Alternatively one may choose the pat down including crotch sniffing which could appeal to those who are touchy feely! Pockets must be emptied of their contents, shoes and belts removed before entering the twilight zone. I would recommend wearing trousers with elasticated waist bands and loafers to avoid further embarrassment of trousers dangling around bare feet.

I was through but not quite. Himmler’s descendant pulled me aside and indicated with a grunt that he wished to swab the palms of my hands.  “What’s that for?” I asked incredulously.  He mumbled: “Checking for chemical residue. You would be surprised how much can build up on your hands. But you’re clean.”

Before I could respond with a cynical quip he said in parting: “In case you’re wondering Sir; we don’t racially profile unless you are a middle aged white male with a modicum of common sense. Have a safe flight.”

Gathering my belongings I made my way to the concourse in search of a much needed beverage or two. The International Terminal may be open, but many of the shops, restaurants, and bars remain under construction. It was just after 8.00pm and my flight was scheduled to leave at 10.45pm. I discovered half a bar was open for business. The only beer available was Belgian for goodness sake, but I ordered a glass  which cost me the princely sum of $9.

I eventually made my way to the gate where a mass of humanity had assembled some of whom were circling the desk agents like a flock of vultures. They began boarding around 10.00pm and a few minutes later the sign I was dreading appeared on the information screen indicating that the plane was full, and no standby passengers would be flying that night.

I texted my wife in Spain with the disappointing news and left the airport to make my way home dragging my carry-on bag disconsolately behind me. Another tip for potential stand by passengers: travel light so you don’t have to check a bag. Otherwise you may never see it again!

A new dawn arrived with the news from Spain that there were two flights I should attempt to board; one leaving at 9.20pm and the other at 10.45pm. My neighbor dropped me off at the underground station and I made my way once more to the airport.

I was beginning to feel like Ingrid Bergmann and Paul Henreid in “Casablanca” pursuing the letters of transit held by Humphrey Bogart. My wife had warned me that the earlier flight didn’t have many seats remaining, but I should sit at the gate and hope for the best. My spirits soared when the information screen revealed I was No.2 on the standby list. My euphoria didn’t last long as a message quickly followed indicating the flight was full.

I was just about to leave for the other gate when they called my name. I approached the agent at the desk with trepidation until she said: “There’s a seat available in punters’ class sitting in the middle of a row. Do you want it?” Do I want it? I nearly bit her hand off. Comfort was not a priority at this stage. I was on the plane, doing a passable impression of a sardine crammed into a cocoa tin, but heading for London.

I know some of you are bursting to know how I would get back. Well that’s another chapter in life’s tapestry and to quote Scarlett O’Hara: “to-morrow is another day.”