Yesterday I returned to the UK and almost immediately wished that I could have turned on my heel and booked myself a one-way ticket back to Portugal.
When I arrived on board I had to disturb a man of about seventy who was in the aisle seat. We began chatting as the seats gradually filled up – but not the one to my right, the window seat.
An age went by and the cabin staff moved towards ‘take off’ mode. Still nobody came to claim our window seat. The head steward announced that the doors would be closed in one minute. I turned to my companion and suggested that, should nobody come to disturb us, I’d nip into the window seat and (space being at a premium) we could then stuff our accessories into the one between us – he agreed, albeit commenting that he had heard the flight was full.
Literally – and perhaps inevitably in my life because I’m always on the thin end of the stick – just as the steward moved to close and secure the front door, a little chap of about 27 arrived, a bit flustered, and scampered down the aisle … to take my (sorry ‘our’) window seat.
Why do these idiots only rush to get on their flights at the last minute?
In life I’m always ready to go, not just punctually but probably a minimum of 45 minutes early. Though as it happens Mr Late Arrival was completely inoffensive, this did not stop me resenting his presence throughout the 140 minute flight and long into the terminal after we touched down.
These budget airlines do make me smile – and here I’m ignoring the experience of being herded on and kept in the sort of conditions that a sheep on board a lorry bound for slaughter in France might feel entitled to protest to the Court of European Human Rights about.
On this occasion I found myself actually paying attention to the standard pre-flight safety lecture – spoken rapidly just before we pulled away from the terminal by the senior steward and acted out for our benefit by the others.
At one point our lecture commented “… and, if we should land on water, please do remember …”
I paused for a moment to think about the phrase.
It was all a bit surreal. When an aircraft is coming down, it doesn’t ‘land’ on water – the key is in the word – in normal circumstances you ‘land’ on land.
If a plane coming down on water, it is going to do something else, surely. ‘Ditch’ in it perhaps.
Ah well, I suppose someone more senior in the airline hierarchy has evidently decided that using the word ‘ditch’ would be a bit more frightening to your average aircraft passenger than taking the line that the plane would be ‘landing’ on water.
MY GATWICK EXPERIENCE
I’m afraid that the omens began to go wrong about forty minutes to our landing when the cheery co-pilot came on the intercom to announce that we might like to know it was raining in Britain and the temperature was 10 degrees Centigrade.
This compared to my two days based in Lagos, where the sky was blue, the sun was out and the temperature was at least 17 degrees. In other words – cold nights apart – the equivalent of being in Britain in early May.
That was depressing enough, but it was as but nothing compared to the scrum that followed at Gatwick itself.
Having no luggage in the hold – carrying just a cabin bag – in advance I had been harbouring fanciful thoughts of reaching my car in the long stay car park within 15 minutes and then getting home by about 1.30pm, about an hour after touching down.
Instead somehow the Gatwick authorities had contrived to arrange for about 500 passengers from two or three fights all to reach passport control simultaneously.
To try and bring some sort of order to the chaos they had decided to herd us all into those parallel zig-zag lines that go back and forth past each other like a transparent Hampton Court maze. Thus everything slowed to an absolute crawl as we funnelled into the hall.
God knows what our fellow EU passport-holders felt about it – perhaps, because they had probably learn in kindergarten that the British love queuing, they just took it in their stride.
However, I can reveal to my readers that some of the Brits caught up in it were less sanguine about the situation.
As I passed endlessly back and forth in line, I happened to catch at least four random whispered exclamations of ‘ridiculous’ (two of them with mild swearword adjectives attached), one “I just don’t believe it!” [that was from me] and two long discourses from middle to elderly gentlemen on the theme that – with all the experience, brainpower and money available to them – you’d think the Gatwick powers-that-be could have come up with a system better than this.
In summary, I eventually collected my car and managed to join the M23 going north towards London exactly 65 minutes after touchdown.
Had I had been able to walk up to a passport control counter and effectively walk straight through, it might have been less than 20.
God alone knows how long it would have taken me if I’d also had to stop off to wait for any luggage from the hold!