Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Flying Easyjet

Since blogging last, I’ve managed to get to Italy twice -- once for a couple of days in Bologna, for research, and once for a couple of weeks in Cortona, on holiday. The first time, back in June, was something of an adventure. Just as the aeroplane was about to take off, roaring down the runway, it juddered to a halt on the tarmac. We sat there for a little while, and then the co-pilot announced that two birds had collided with one of the engines. We trundle off the runway. We sit about. Mechanics come and look at the engine. The pilot announces that two of the blades are “outside the limit” (whatever it means it can't be good) and that buses will return us to the terminal. This is announced by the pilot in English and French, to sighs and muttering, and then by one of the stewards in Italian, to hubbub. A young man leaps to his feet, seizes his belongings from the overhead compartment, and triggers a rush of thirty or so people into the aisle -- where they stand waiting for the bus for a good ten minutes, all squashed together. People are strange creatures sometimes.

We were shuttled to the terminal, processed through security checks for a second time, shunted to a boarding gate, and left to wait. Eventually, at 6 o’clock, somebody came and told us that a replacement flight had been arranged for 8 o’clock (the original flight had been taking off on time, at 4.15, when the birds so abruptly intervened). Now the problem was, my plan had been to fly to Milan, and then get the Eurostar to Bologna, where I was booked into university accommodation (the simple but pleasant Collegio Erasmus), where I was supposed to arrive before 10 to be let in. Still, nothing to be done about it, so I emailed my friends in Bologna to inform them of developments, and had some dinner with the dinner voucher Easyjet had provided. Returning to the departure gate, I was greeted by the news that estimated departure had moved to 9 p.m., estimated time of arrival 11 p.m. With the flight so much delayed, I wouldn’t be able to get to Bologna that night at all. And what was I to do, unbudgeted, in Milan until morning? Ten years ago I’d have chanced the railway station until the first train, but now I have children to think of. A very good friend of mine lived in Milan for years; might he know someone who would put up a friend-of-a-friend at a moment’s notice? I phone his number - he isn’t in. I speak to his girlfriend, whose English can be patchy, on a poor line, and try to explain my problem. “Thank you for phoning, I hope you enjoy your trip,” she says cheerily, and hangs up. Hm.

Back to sitting at the departure gate, where a young woman of Chinese appearance is trying to get the staff to find her the phone number of the Milan Youth Hostel, so she can confirm her booking and let them know she’ll be arriving at 1 in the morning. I ask her to pass the number on, and we get talking. She suggests sharing a taxi to the youth hostel. Turns out she’s got an engineering degree, and is now a risk assessor by trade: I must look low-risk. Twenty minutes before the new plane finally arrives the staff hand out sheets of paper detailing our rights -- things like free phone calls, and the right to move the booking to a flight the next day at no extra charge, which if they’d informed us from the first we would no doubt all have done. Easyjet has quickly chartered a plane from Titan Airways. I have to keep mentally correcting myself: Titan, not Titanic.

We board the plane. We wait. We wait. Crew walk up and down counting us all. It is announced that we cannot depart until all the passengers who are checked in have been accounted for. One of our number is missing. Heads are counted again. Names are taken. Cabin crew consult with ground crew, muttering about locating her luggage so it can be removed from the plane. Staff put heads around the doorframe. Finally, to thunderous applause, the woman makes her entrance, bowing and apologising. As she takes her seat two rows behind me, I hear her outraged hiss to a companion: “I was stuck in the bathroom.” In the meantime the flight has missed its air traffic slot. We wait. I doze. We arrive in Milan at midnight.

To be continued ...

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