Au Revoir or Adieu?

Whether you jet set on business or love going on cruises, you can’t have failed to notice there are more hazards to travel lately. Your cruise ship may weigh anchor and keep all the passengers hostage – in quarantine because of Coronavirus, which we now have to call Covid19, though that doesn’t slip as easily off the tongue. If you’re lucky you may get to have your own videoblog as self appointed spokesman to your national television channel and the folk back home. If you’re unlucky you will have a cabin without a balcony, a government that will not evacuate you and test positive for the virus.

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Is flying any better? You may not be allowed on the plane if you have a temperature, you may not be allowed off the plane until you can be hermetically sealed and sent off to a quarantine centre; though that could be the start of a pleasant fortnight’s holiday if a nice hotel has been commandeered. World wide plague is not the only hazard for fliers. Storms hurling themselves across the Atlantic to Europe have caused mass cancellation of flights, but that is better than the Ryanair passengers on a flight from Prague, that in hindsight should have been cancelled. Thrice, pilots attempted to land at Bournemouth Airport as passengers screamed and hyperventilated. They abandoned the attempt and with petrol running low were diverted to Brussels from whence they returned to Prague…

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Although I hardly ever go anywhere outside this kingdom I can give advice on ocean liners and airliners. Cyberson 2, builder and pyrotechnics expert, has often worked at Southampton, sending up fireworks to farewell passengers on their trip of a lifetime, or often their twentieth or perhaps their last… The first time he worked there, one of the regular workers on the docks described the arrival of an ocean liner ‘The first thing that happens, they bring all the bodies off.’ Whether this is due to the age of the passengers, the vast amount of food provided or terminal boredom, I cannot say, but it sounds like a good way to go. Perhaps if you pay extra you can have a burial at sea. My longest voyage was on ‘The Pride of Bilbao’ from Portsmouth to Bilbao and back again on an off season excursion, where the only hazard was the live entertainment.

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Storm Dennis was not the only problem at Heathrow Airport on Sunday as ‘technical issues’ created chaos. Whiteboards, marker pens and extra staff were drafted in to ensure chaos continued. When I worked at Heathrow I won’t pretend I was not occasionally envious of passengers jetting off somewhere exotic, but mostly I was glad I could go home and would always advise DON’T even THINK of flying at Easter or Christmas. One Christmas Eve, working in Singapore Lounge, the evening flight was delayed, putting Christmas on hold in Singapore and Australia for those who celebrated it. I cringed as a young colleague said in a loud voice in front of the passengers ‘That’s ALL I need.’ We would be late finishing, but she only had to get home to Osterley Park and none of us were going to miss Christmas.

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Singapore Airlines treated their customers with oriental respect and had letters printed out and delivered to them explaining delays. When we worked in British Airways lounges catering staff were left to soothe disgruntled passengers. The huge lounge in Terminal 1 catered for the many short haul flights, very different from the serene atmosphere of quieter business lounges. There was an endless  surge of passengers, the buffet bars constantly replenished, platters of sandwiches devoured instantly. I only worked there a couple of times, but one weekend a story came from our colleagues. There was a strike on; passengers kept coming in, but none went out. Then the British Airways staff abandoned the desk leaving the catering staff to deal with the ever increasing braying mob; in the end they called the police.

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What were your worst travel experiences? You can tell us about your good journeys, but that might not be so amusing…

17 thoughts on “Au Revoir or Adieu?

  1. Coming back from Vietnam with Air China. I couldn’t find the check in desk and there was nothing on the flight information boards. The woman on the information desk was becoming increasingly irritated with me as I returned again and again to tell her the desk she’d told me to go to was for somewhere else entirely. A man in uniform asked what the problem was he suggested information woman make a call to check. She was very put out out but did so and then had to tell me the flight was cancelled. I rushed of the the Air China office where they told me not to worry! I did think it was odd that, apart from two Afghan men, I was the only passenger trying to find out what was happening. Finally, they came up with an alternative which would involve a change in Paris. I was led to a check in desk and was half way through the process when the man from Air China office whipped my suitcase off the conveyor belt and led me back to the office. The Afghans vanished and were never seen again. It was finally decided I could go on the next Air China flight – in eight hours time! I thought about calling my friend but she lived miles away and had no car so I reconciled myself to a long day of reading and people watching. They did give me a voucher for a meal. Even when I went to check in the nightmare wasn’t over because I was told I couldn’t as I didn’t have a visa for China. ‘But, I’m not going to leave the airport in China.’ My friend from the office intervened and finally, finally I got my boarding pass and everything must have been plain sailing after that because I don’t remember a single thing about the flight home!

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  2. I travelled by air extensively towards the end of my working life and any associated glamour or excitement was extinguished in me very quickly. That’s why I don’t want to be buried in a coffin; it would remind me too much of my gradual transformation into a sardine and carbon footprint criminal.

    In 2014 I was in Shanghai on business and waiting to catch a flight to Hong Kong when the Chinese Air Force, as is their wont and common practice, commandeered the skies for an exercise. After some hours we were cleared to board our flight and the first of the buses arrived to ferry us to the plane, which seemed to be parked somewhere in Mongolia.
    Remember that these were all ticketed passengers and the flight wasn’t going to leave without them. The first bus filled and left and suddenly one of the remaining passengers still in the queue went bananas, yelling at the top of his voice and threatening ground staff. All attempts to re-assure him that he would get on the plane eventually were to no avail. He seemed convinced that this was like the No.49 bus that only ran once a day and he was determined to be on it.
    When the next bus arrived he fought his way to the front of the queue and refused to leave, all the while screaming at staff and eventually putting one in a headlock and pulling his hair. Other passengers intervened and then to my amazement he was allowed on the bus. (Remember this is China and during the entire incident, which must have lasted at least 15 mins, not a single security guard appeared to settle the matter with an Uzi or a tank or somesuch.)
    Once I was on the plane and settling into my seat I noticed with some consternation that the recalcitrant hair puller was seated across the aisle from me, so I called one of the cabin crew over an enquired politely as to why a man who had just assaulted one of their staff was being allowed to fly on their airline. She smiled sweetly and said if I felt unsafe I could always catch the next flight. I rolled the dice and lived to tell the tale.

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  3. The bit about how the cruisers met their demise made me laugh out loud. 🙂

    A travel story? My cousin was detained, at length, when a small recorder packed for a conference she was attending started spouting things from inside her bag. I believe it was on the same trip that she accidentally locked herself out of her room in baby doll PJs. My own trips have been less eventful, thankfully.

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