Saturday, January 26, 2008

Flights to Road to California

I have just been teaching at Road to California. I loved it - the best combination of good organisation, nice and happy students, and I shared a room with Gloria Loughman who is probably my favourite Aussie tutor.

However - I flew there. I have decided that I really do not like long flights. On the whole I endure them, but this seemed much worse than usual.

It all started so badly that I should have realised. I had made bookings about six months ago and had noticed, and groaned over, the eight hour standover in Frankfurt. That seems worse when the flights are so long anyway.

Driving through traffic in central Cairo one day with four people in the car and in a traffic jam which was not stationary enough to be quiet, but slow enough to have everyone leaning on horns, I had a call from my travel agent. She pointed out that I had eight hours in Frankfurt and would I like her to find a flight with less time to wait? Yes, I would. Well, she had. However - with eardrum-blasting sound levels combined with her strong Egyptian accent and the fact that the more I said I could not hear her, the more she shouted and the more my phone buzzed - I just could not work out most of what she was saying. I said that if I had less time at Frankfort I was happy for her to change the flights, and would trust her judgment.

Dumb. I went off to Houston having made arrangements to have the ticket to California issued while I was away. I came back from Houston, and dropped the ticket into the ticket drawer and went off on my long desert trip. Yes, I know I still have the Great Sand Sea crossing to write up.

I came back from the desert trip and my younger children arrived with my eldest grandson. I went on a Nile Cruise. I returned three days before Christmas and when the fuss and flurry and turkey was all over and my young ones departed to the White Desert I took time to glance at my tickets.

There was the first leg - Cairo to Frankfurt. Then the second Frankfurt to Los Angeles. The connection was now so tight that it looked worrying and I muttered that another half hour might have been a bit better. Then I flicked over the page to look for the bit that took me from Los Angeles to Ontario.

It wasn't there. They had changed my flight all right - and changed the destination. With only two weeks to go to a major teaching booking and a huge conference in a small satellite city - I had no way to get to the conference.

Finally the agency found me flights - but now I had to route through San Francisco to get there, and through Denver to get home. Worse - the tight Frankfurt connection was now at critical point - one minor holdup and I simply would not get the flight.

I finally received the new tickets only the day before I left.

I had asked them to book seats for me for the flights - I like aisle seats near the front of the plane - especially with tight connecting flights. On the first flight I was near the back of the plane - though not in the final seat this time. Last time that I sat there they ran out of food. I could survive without, but the meals punctuate boredom and I was annoyed. Then they had to give me duck from the first class menu and I forgave them.

We hovered over Frankfurt - and it was very bumpy. Then the pilot announced that there were very heavy headwinds and we were being put into a holding pattern. This was a matter for panic. Then I realised that my ticket actually had us landing an hour later and it was not as bad as it looked as the agency had not allowed for the time change to Germany and I had an extra hour. Then we circled for half an hour and finally landed. We taxied to our parking space - out on the outskirts of the terminal. The bus was late. I was still on the plane a long way from the terminal when my plane was supposed to be boarding. I was arriving at the terminal when it was supposed to take off.

German security is very very thorough. I had to get a train to the new terminal area. then go through security. In Australia when in queues they keep calling for passengers who are booked on flights about to leave - and you jump to the front of the queue. In Germany they tell you if they let you through everyone will want to go. I had seen that my plane was still there but flashing a final call notice and I was only four gates away when I was in the security line - but stuck totally with all the unrelenting hopelessness of a Cairo Traffic jam but note of the kindness.

We made it. Seven passengers sprinted almost neck and neck through the terminal and lunged for the gate - and they let us on with everyone else seated and tapping watches and looking daggers at us. The headwind that had slowed us on landing had also stopped us from taking off.

However - now I was in the front bulkhead row. Good legroom perhaps - especially since I had managed to talk the woman who was occupying my seat to let me have it back. I should have left her to it. The sweet little eighteen month old angel sitting on her mother's lap beside me changed within seconds to a wailing and kicking virago. Then I realised that she did not have a seat - and I was facing a twelve hour flight beside a bad tempered toddler, and a couple of very indulgent women - one the toddler's mother, and one her grandmother. They were Algerian. Before we even took off they were telling me to sit somewhere else. I had been told the plane was full and said so. "No it isn't," said the older woman. "I know as I sell their tickets".

Don't you hate it when people flatly contradict you when you are sure you are right. She immediately called over a hostess to complain that the baby woudl need the seat I was in and could I be shifted. I wasn't arguing much - I had been royally pummeled by the baby already and we had not even taken off - and her shriek was piercing. The hostess pointed out that the baby could not have a seat if it had not been paid for. She also said the flight was almost completely full.

Then the meowing started - behind us. We took off. The meowing continued. I have actually never been on a flight with a cat in the cabin. It was in a cat carrier and it had a paid for seat! However they said the carrier could not actually be on the seat - it was just a way to make sure that it was in a cabin. Four men nearby complained to the hostess and she pointed out that the seat was paid for but she woudl move the girl and cat to another location if she could find one.

It was at about this stage that the smells started. The baby contributed part of it with a nappy that obviously needed changing. Her mother had given her a bag of very sticky strong-smelling fruity sweets and she was sucking one, clutching another and my sleeve intermittently.

Then a frightened and distressed cat fouled her cat cage.

I managed to find another seat by pointing out to a hostess that the food tray in my seat was not folding out and I was very very uncomfortable. Finally I was wedged in a centre seat at the back of the plane but it was blissfully quiet - except that the ladies beside me looked daggers at me for daring to intrude on the empty space between them that they had counted on.

We arrived over San Francisco. There were a few dark hills coming out of a pure white sea. San Francisco was fogged in. We went into holding pattern again. With a dreadful sense of deja vu I watched my watch as we circled and my connecting plane should have been loading. I had also realised that it was unlikely my luggage would catch up with me.

We landed and I was last off the plane - they had stashed my bag when we were last on and it was not where I had been told it was.

I still cannot believe it - but the fog that delayed us so long had also delayed all flights taking off and they were HOURS behind. I sat for three hours. By then I was feeling better about even the possibility that my luggage might make it.

We loaded into the final flight - on United. We took off and I was feeling good - not even as tired as I had expected to be. As the seat belt light went off the hostess moved forward and started to set up the drinks trolley. She was gorgeous. Very tall - at least 5' 11''. She was very long legged, with the stunning body and marvelous strut of many African Americans. She secured the coffee pot on top and came forward. I was in the front row. She stopped beside me and asked what I would like. I said Ginger Ale - we cannot get this in Egypt.

Without saying a word she took the trolley back. She removed the coffee from the top and lashed it back into place. I was utterly bewildered. What had I done to have her move away when I placed my order? Then she reached into a drawer. She pulled out a pair of surgical gloves and slowly and deliberately pulled them on.

There is something terribly ominous about surgical gloves. She looked as if she was about to perform a very unpleasant medical examination. She moved slowly down the aisle to about two seats behind me and now I could see the problem. A couple were both vomiting into their airsickness bags. We had only just taken off. She removed the bags, replaced them with clean ones, removed the gloves and washed, and then set up the trolley again and brought me a ginger ale.

My luggage did make it - but it was a memorable trip.


Blogger Nancy said...

Jenny - What an incredible series of flights! I am very grateful that a) I have never flown that far in my life (with all the attendant complications), and b) I've never experienced so much "yuck" on any flights I've been on.

I'm very glad to hear from you again. I'm hoping to hear (and see!) much about your adventures at Road to Cal!!!

11:05 am  
Blogger Feather on a Wire said...

I'm old enough to remember flying to be a joyous exciting experience.
Our last few flights have nearly put us off flying ever again.
I remember one flight back from LA with a refuelling stop in Phoenix. A young lad came on board and slept the entire fight to London, not waking until touch down. If you have to sit next to someone this was the guy.
Did you get to see the show?
(and please write up the rest of your other trip, we're waiting)

11:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Jenny, what wonderful descriptions. Sorry, I had to smile -- we've been there, done that, I think! look forward to the next installment! Much love, Tena

6:07 pm  
Blogger Tanya Brown said...

You've brought back some "happy" memories. When we took our son on the obligatory visit-the-grandparents trip, he had an almost unlimited capacity to vomit. I was personally anointed numerous times, most memorably in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve. (I rushed to the toilet with my son's head buried in my chest, trying to keep other patrons from having to share the joy, as it were.)

It was the most horrid, humiliating trip of my life. We haven't been on a plane since then. Perhaps when he's fifteen years old or so, we can give it another try.

7:03 pm  
Blogger Sam Bowker, somewhere distant and exotic. said...

What an extraordinarily bad and yet coincidentally well-timed journey Mum! My return to Australia on the A380, the Singapore-Sydney leg, wasn't very comfortable but at least that had nothing to do with passengers around me. I hope future trips will be kept as simple as possible - even eight-hour stopovers can be good opportunities to take city tours?

Looking forward to your highly-antiicpated conclusion of the Gelf Kabir saga,
Love lots,

10:53 pm  
Blogger Gail said...

Google brought me to your blog during a flight of fancy about teaching English in Cairo. I've been reading for a while now and just want you to know how much I enjoy your blog - especially this entry about the flight from hell! Great story!

10:34 pm  
Blogger Intlxpatr said...

Thank God you were able to change seats. What a nightmare. I was on a full KLM flight Ams-Sea once, next to me was an American twenty-something who had just finished his European adventure and I swear, he had not bathed during his entire trip. I spent the entire 10 hours gasping for a breath of fresh air. You have my entire sympathy!

It's just a shame business class has gotten SO expensive.

3:30 pm  
Anonymous Jane aka Glenice said...

Moggie says that cats on planes must be worse than cats in cars and that is pretty bad in her humble yowling opinion. She is pretty vocal about it...Makes 1km seem a long way..thank goodness the Vet is close.
She says she hopes the cat did its business in its owners laps to teach them a lesson. LOL
Loved the comparison of photos. I am not turned off yours, but can imagine your lust for the camera....what are you going to make to sell, to own it? I am sure there is an image in there somewhere...
Glenice aka Jane

9:43 pm  
Anonymous vishav bhraman said...

Nice article..

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11:04 pm  

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