Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A nightmare in the skies


It’s April: so I’m off to Europe for a spring and summer of music, opera food and friends. And nowadays, since I’ve switched to business class travel, I have even been looking forward to the huge, four-part plane flight with Emirates Airlines.


All started well. Jo from North Canterbury Shuttles picked me up and delivered me to Christchurch airport. Small annoyance, no on-line boarding passes: so I had to wobble to Emirates check-in, and thence to the Lounge (pleasant) and the plane (ditto) and off to Australia.
At Sydney I boarded my first wheelchair (no more wobbling) to go to their lounge (very superior), to relax, sup, write and wait. And wait. And wait. The nightmare had begun.

We finally boarded the plane (what can suddenly be wrong with a plane that self-fixes in an hour?) two hours late. And waited and waited. And then we were told that the flight had been cancelled, due to curfew restrictions. Everybody out. And chaos began. I got to the door, was dumped unceremoniously into my wheelchair by a fat man and shoved to one side while hordes of folk headed off to be rebooked. And I waited and waited and waited. But I never saw the fat man again. Finally Colleen, a fellow passenger, took pity on me, and trundled me off in pursuit of the throng.
Colleen was to turn out to be my saviour over the next hellish hours.
But where were Emirates? Where the Sydney ground staff? You don’t leave an old man in a wheelchair sitting in nowhere land!

Colleen took control, got me to (re)check in, and, and after an eternity, managed to get the one lady of the seven who seemed to be actually working instead of chatting to rebook us for 6am the morrow. Right through to Berlin? I queried. Yes, right through. I just had to pick up my boarding pass at the end of the Emirates flight at Munich. OK.

It was now after 1am. Our flight would check in at 3am. No use taking the proffered bus to an hotel, we’d just have had to turn round and come straight back. The lounge was unavailable (why? And why did we have to immigrate into Australia, anyway …) but there was a coffee shop….

Not for long. A little man told us to get out. The airport was closed. And he meant it. I was trundled by my saviour out into a car park … becoming, by this stage, a mite teary ... and there we sat until 3am. $10,000 for a night in a carpark. Food and drinkless, lavatory and medicationless.

At three, we re-entered the fires of Hell, and struggled to check-in (I’ll swear those seven people were still chatting) and just looked forward to getting back to the lounge! Why did we ever leave it!?

But no. Security didn’t open till 4am. Another hour. So we waited and waited. I should add that we, as business class passengers, and I as a handicapped traveller received, in all this time not one iota of aid. Were it not for Colleen, I would still be there.

6am back on a plane. Where we were 9 hours ago. All the staff bright and cheery (yes, but where were you when you were NEEDED?), I bleary and teary and 36 hours without sleep. I fell into my seat, and shut my eyes. No sleep of course, every few minutes an announcement. In multiple languages. Well, last time this flight was 14 hours of enjoyment. This time it was 14 hours of suffering. NO! I do not want some huge meal! NO! I do not want bubbly reflux-making champagne. No I do not want to hear this or that publicity, or listen to the next man’s murder movie. I want to shut my eyes until Dubai. Or, better, Berlin.

Calvary. And more to come. Something made me look at my ‘revised’ ticket. How long would I have to wait in Munich? And …Where was my Munich-Berlin flight? There wasn’t one. The last Berlin flight of the day left even before we landed. Was that woman evil or just incompetent?

But even calvary had an end. At Dubai, I bid farewell to Colleen (who’d slept, damn her!) and was trundled some more to the rather unattractive lounge and curled up in a corner where, with the help of a kind waiter, I managed to finally get on a slow internet to let everyone know that I woudn’t be reaching the heaven of Berlin’s Katz Orange in time for tonight’s show .. I was stuck in Purgatory. And my Dante had gone to Abu Dhabi!

It was a broken Kurt who got back on another Emirates plane. Some nice person had put me in row 7. I thought it was a consolation prize, but the staff didn’t know about Sydney, and were all keen to hear about the aborted flight. ‘No one tells us these things’ confided the head lad ‘there’s no contact between ground staff and air staff’. TELL ME!!!!!!!

I slept solidly the 5 hours of the flight. Shame. It was the cleanest plane, with the sweetest staff ... and they ordered me (and an entire family of crippled Arabs) a splendid wheelchair with the most splendid driver who trundled terrifically. We negotiated Passkontroll (stern man ‘what are you doing here?’ me: ‘nothing’  sous-entendu ‘what do you think a 70-year old man in a chair is gong to do in Germany? Dance in the ballet?’), customs … and then our next trial. Get me a ticket to Berlin for the morrow.

Teddy the trundler excelled himself. Through terminus after terminus to Air Berlin … ah finally my luck has turned! Two ladies … at ten to ten. What? We’re closed. Come back at 4.30am. But its not 10! Come back at 4.30. Like Hell I will.

Unfrazzled Teddy’s next mission was to get me to the Kempinski Airport Hotel . But the lift was broken. Poor Teddy had to cheerfully trundle to the next terminal… Well, he got me there before 11pm. Got me booked in. And promised to come and get me in the morning and take me to the plane which the Kempinski boys had promptly booked for me on line without problem. I’d stopped tipping since the Sydney fat man: Teddy got the lot!

So here I am, at dawn, after 3 hours sleep, in my nice white bed in Munich. It doesn’t matter that its cost me 215e plus 11e for wifi which doesn’t work properly. Cost? The flight to Berlin from here, bought last minute, cost me over $1000. Ah yes! Lufthansa is on strike tomorrow!

I should have been in my little bed at Invalidenstrasse, after a lovely luxurious trip.  It’s been none of those things. Colleen and Teddy have saved it from total disaster … which is what the next week will be! I hope I didn’t have too many engagements …

My worst flight in sixty years. Not to mention the most expensive.

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