Friday, November 28, 2008

STORIES FROM THE AIR

Over the 6 weeks of my travels I passed through 11 airports and so caught 11 planes......and one thing is for sure airports ain't airports and planes ain't planes and airlines ain't airlines....and as the ad on TV used to say "Oils ain't oils!"

Sometimes I just sat in the airport, waiting for a connection, and watched the crowds....and crowds there were, compared to Australian airports. At the Washington Dulles Airport the-man-at-the-podium made announcements about flights coming and going from gate 24, every few minutes, and each was like a 30 second act from a live comedy festival. He had that barely comprehendible accent (to me!) of some black Americans and I had to really concentrate to understand the fast speech, in case it was something I needed to know about my flight. The gate lounge was full of Americans.....I could tell because of their size and the volume of their conversations...and I suddenly felt very alien, so was glad of the entertainment coming from the podium.

One of his announcements was...."Ladies and gentlemen, if your name is Margaret or John Cameron, for flight 365 to Dallas, Texas then I am here to inform you that you have missed your plane and there ain't nothin' you can do 'cause that's it taxi-ing past the window! You are too late and shouldn't have had that last drink at the bar!" And another..."If you are waiting for flight 987 to New York then get over here to gate 24A, door 3.....not door 2.....that's for folk headin' to Alabama...why they'd wanna go there who knows .....so I reckon you better make sure you go to door 3 unless you want to get fried 'cause its hot in Alabama today!" He seemed to have lots of reasons why you wouldn't want to go to various American cities. Mostly they had bad weather or he had some relative there that you wouldn't want to meet!

Then there was an announcement I didn't believe until someone explained it to me later...."Anyone want a free trip to Miami for the weekend? Over at the podium at gate 26 they are looking for 2 people who wanna go tomorrow and come back Sunday....free hotel and all flights.... go see the man waving over there". Well, would you have believed that? Evidently they need a certain number of passengers or they have to cancel the flights and this one needed 2 more.....but all the people in this part of the airport were already going somewhere....still, I suppose they could have rung a friend and told them or something....seems to me they should have been advertising it out in the public area!

Twice on short legs, I ended up in the very back seat of the plane. This has its ups and downs...so to speak. Once, in America, it was horrendously noisy...and I wrote a post while on that flight, stating how dreadful it was. But, although the rest of the plane was full, I had the 2 seats to myself and the stewardess sat on a little fold-down seat and chatted (or rather, shouted) to me,  telling me about her flight schedules and how often she gets home etc, which was nice. The other time was the flight from Sydney to Melbourne and I was in seat 57F.....the last seat on the plane. The Steward was chatting up the 3 young women in front of me who were off to Melbourne for a weekend of shopping..... and he gave them extra drinks and sandwiches for lunch the next day! But the bonus for me was that he started by serving me first.....and I was starving....when actually he was supposed to start at the front. He had been an electrician but changed careers only 6 months before...... I couldn't hear why..... and he was enjoying it so far......anyway, the flight was very turbulent .....I mean VERY, especially as we approached Melbourne and it was bad enough not being able to see out a window, but then when we landed, albeit very roughly, those who could see, actually clapped.....at least I was sitting beside an emergency exit! I have never been on such a rough flight and with the plane swaying around after landing, like in a show ride! Probably best I was in a seat with no outside view, just happily eating my lunch!

One of the most annoying things about some airports is the lack of clocks. Can you believe that some airports have no clocks at all. When you are changing time zones and catching connections you need to know the time. No wonder those people in Washington missed the plane! I would check my luggage in and they would say....your flight boards at gate 51 at 3pm......and I would have to ask what the time is now because my watch would have some other time from a previous day.....and every so often have to ask someone what time it is or, do as I did in Washington, just go to the gate and wait until they called my flight for boarding....crazy and stupid and a terrible oversight not to have clocks in all airports.

Some airports have huge distances to walk and it seemed I always needed to board at the gate furthest from where I checked in my luggage. Some have those horizontal escalators that you walk on.....I thought they were great because if you were tired you could just stand there and if you wanted the exercise you could walk....and walk.....and walk. In Seattle, there is an underground electric train that goes every 2 minutes and whisks you off to somewhere near where you need to end up. In Singapore, there is natural light coming in from above and a wall of indoor tropical plants along the corridors so it is very beautiful and I would have missed my flight looking at all the colourful foliage and flowers if I had stopped to look at it all....  Heathrow (London) could do with a long look at the Singapore airport! Actually, everywhere should take a look at Singapore, where they focus on the amenity for the people, first.

One thing Terminal 1 at Heathrow does better than all the rest is coffee lounges, with comfortable couches, coffee tables and a nice, quiet atmosphere especially compared to the noisy, plastic, American airports I visited. There was even a powerpoint for my laptop....a nice touch....

The strangest and cheapest flight I went on was from Bergerac Airport in France to the Midlands Airport, in the UK. The only charge was for the taxes which amounted to something like AU$20....but there was catch! From the minute you boarded the plane until the moment you left the plane you were bombarded with sales talk and special deals on ......anything.....from holidays to watches.....and there were raffles and scratchy tickets and chances to spend, and to win, non-stop.... RyanAir.....very cheap but don't fly with them if you need peace and quiet! AU$20 is an incredibly cheap way to get across the channel, though.

I was very surprised when I approached the plane, across the tarmac, to take me from Seattle to Vancouver.....it had propellers....and only 50 seats. We bounced our way across the clouds to Vancouver, at quite a low altitude but arrived safely, in 45 minutes but it took over an hour to make my way through immigration..... mine was not the only flight arriving at this time.

The best planes I went on were invariably owned by Canada Air and the most comfortable and quietest was a Boeing 777, with a powerpoint for my laptop....luckily I had it with me in my hand luggage this time....and also luckily the plane was only 1/3 full so I had 3, second to front row seats to myself. Nice, especially when I was hungry and because I was at the front I didn't have to wait for a hundred or so other people to be served first! Tip....always take an apple and some nuts....it is embarrassing to have to ask for food in the middle of the night!

4 comments:

Pattie Baker said...

Thanks, Kate! Those are the kinds of details for which I've been waiting! Love the quotes from the guy at the podium in Washington DC!

Patrick said...

You're recount of the couple who missed their flight to Texas is great. I can hear the guy's accent in my head!

I'm glad at least a few things kept you amused along the way. Parts of the trip must of been pretty boring.

Kate said...

Actually, Patrick, I enjoyed every minute of it....honestly. I was surprised too but I had such a good travel agent that I rarely arrived or left at an inconvenient time and never had a huge wait between connecting flights. All the people were so great.I was very lucky to have such a wonderful time and of course, I always had my laptop with me to edit the 1700 photos or write stuff for the blog....that was fabulous.

Kate said...

Thanks Pattie.... more details as they come to mind! I am thinking about the book....