After three wonderful days in Madrid we took a taxi to the airport in plenty of time for our 17.10 flight to Luton. Having decided this time to just take carry-on luggage, we wheeled our teeny cases through security, not even having to check-in as we’d printed our boarding cards before we left England.
Feeling decidedly smug as we sailed through the airport, we made the unusual decision to have a decent meal before we boarded the plane. This wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds; it was extremely difficult to wheel a case and shuffle a tray along the self-service counter whilst carrying a coat over one arm. Rory was sent off as the advance party to bagsy a table.
I chose pasta bolognese for Rory and me (yes, I know we’re in Spain: so shoot me!) and Dougie went authentic with a paella. We were both rather over-heated as we tried to locate our son who had, in his teenage wisdom (i.e. lacking any) picked a spot by the window with the sun pouring in. The pasta was a tad rubbery but it was tasty-ish and probably safer than Dougie’s meal which was generously peppered with even more rubbery shellfish.
“I thought it would have had chicken in it”, he grumbled
“It’s a paella!”
“The M&S one at home has chicken in it”
Queuing at the gate was to begin at 16.45 so, in predictable Brit fashion, everyone started queuing at about 16.30. The speedy boarders were forming their own wiggly queue to the side of the rest of us cheapskates. I couldn’t understand their reasoning. If they have paid extra to board first, why not take a seat and enjoy the privilege.
By 17.00 there was still no-one at the gate.
At 17.10, our planned departure time, someone turned up, the speedy boarders trickled through, most unspeedily, then the cattle class shuffled on. Being sensible, we moved down the plane to choose seats near the back and avoid causing a bottle-neck at the front. We despaired as others looked for seats as soon as they boarded, standing in the aisle trying to find space in the overhead lockers for their oversized bags. One easyJet stewardess was quite a star at this point, re-jigging everyone’s luggage in the lockers so things fitted, insisting people put smaller bags underneath their seats. Granted she was a little bit scary, but she hoisted stuff about like a navvy, far beyond the call of duty or, I suspect, the company’s manual handling regulations.
By 17.30 the engines were chugging and we were all having a root-about in the net bag of the seat in front, despite knowing the literature would be exactly the same as that provided on the way out from England. No matter, the travel mag from EasyJet was a great read and I’d started to plan breaks to Copenhagen and Helsinki based on the information gleaned so far.
17.40, it sounded as if someone had turned the ignition off. It all went very quiet and the ominous boing of the “Captain speaking” announcement was heard. We had been delayed, initially because of a technical problem with a small subsidiary engine which needs air pumping into it in order to start the other engines. Of course all I hear is “technical problem…engine”. Fortunately the airport provides an air-pumping service. Unfortunately it had taken so long to deliver the air that we’d missed out slot. We could be sitting on the tarmac for another 90 minutes.
Now I have coped with delays in an airport. It’s not ideal but there is somewhere to mooch about, over-sized bars of Toblerone to admire and such-like. Sitting in a plane which isn’t moving is a different thing altogether. The sense of unease and stress was palpable. It was contained to some degree with the promise that the 90 minute wait was the absolute maximum: chances are we would slip in the rota within half an hour. They also turned the air-conditioning on which was a huge relief.
Half an hour later things were looking up. Dougie had been queuing for the loo and just as he’d reached the front, he’d been turned back as we were about to get airborne. Everyone was smiling as the Captain came over the tannoy. I think he sounded Dutch by the tone of his voice:
“This is your Captain speaking. Yes, well, there’s been a bit of a cock-up!”
It was explained to us that a new slot had come through for take-off but some chap at the Madrid tower hadn’t told the pilot because he had “forgotten”. By the time the pilot had been made aware, we had missed the new time and, because the 90 minute slot was supposedly no longer needed, we didn’t have that slot to fall back on. All this was made far worse by the air-traffic controllers being on strike in France so only a small number of flights were allowed over French airspace at any one time.
We were going to be sitting on the tarmac for quite some time, possibly another two hours. Don’t panic…don’t panic! I closed the blind and tried to tell myself we were travelling to America instead!
In adversity you see the best and worst in people. The co-pilot (or vice-Captain as Dougie referred to him at one point. Vice-captain? Of what, the local cricket club?) was the essence of calm, a wonderfully soothing balm, spending the whole time in the cabin speaking to passengers and explaining exactly what was going on. I loved him. As he walked past us I asked him what was happening, knowing full well Dougie wouldn’t ask him because he is a man and would therefore rather guess. The suave First Officer went into much detail about the air and the subsidiary engine.
“Oh I see, it’s a bit like jump-starting a car”, husband announced with a knowing nod.
“Not really, Sir, no”, replied the co-pilot.
The Captain meanwhile had invited people to come and have a look around the flight-deck. People liked this. A little queue formed, passengers chatted to each other, nerves were eased.
The poor cabin crew had to deal with EasyJet regulations which meant they weren’t allowed to push a trolley up the aisle when the aircraft was on the ground. Neither were they allowed to hand out free stuff.
“Would you like to buy a Daily Mail for 50p or Hello maazine for £2?
What do you think? I’d rather re-examine the flight safety card for the umpteenth time.
They don’t have much food on board, so what meagre rations they had were sold to people in strict order from the rear of the plane first. As they reached the middle, the stocks were running low and they resorted to hand signals between each other to see what was available. 7 Up was easy enough to decipher but San Pelligrino Aranciata necessitated a quick dash to the back.
“I’m so pleased we had a big meal before we got on”, said Dougie
“Let’s just hope you don’t get the shits then”, I warned.
“That half-packet of Oreos Rory’s got in his bag could be worth hanging onto: might be worth something if there’s nothing left for the poor buggers up front”.
The stewardess with the muscles was becoming understandably stressed. A few rows in front of us were a mature Spanish man and his wife: the husband kept pressing the call button, assuming he would be waited on. He didn’t understand the new “we’re working our way up from the back” concept so Miss Muscle just turned his flashing button off. This button pressing, on and off, by both parties, continued for some time until our angel of the skies put a halt to all further discussion by shouting “I DON’T SPEAK SPANISH” then marching off down the aisle.
We managed to purchase two cold all-day breakfast baps and a muffin and were most pleased with our supplies. Just as the Spanish man was about to be served, and Dougie was turned back from yet another queue for the loos, we were told we would soon be on our way, although as we were four miles from the runway it would take 20 minutes to trundle up there.
Eventually at 20.50 (ten to nine in old money), having spent over three hours sitting going nowhere, we were in the skies.
“When we get to the airport, at least we won’t have to collect our luggage from the carousel”, said Dougie enthusiastically.
“Yup, that’ll make all the difference”