After recent events and posts it is worthwhile lightening up a little. What I had in mind to write for this F4TFriday veered off in to an ugliness of spirit that had to be scrapped.
Instead, I thought I would be more jovial and visit some of the close calls from my 20+ years of travelling. International travel sounds glamorous and if you go away on holiday once or twice a year it can still feel that way. Do it every other week and your view will rapidly change.
I started travelling at the end of what can be called the golden age and it’s a sad contrast to what it’s like now. It was about convenience, smoothing the path of the passenger. Let me give you a glimpse of that bygone era from when I first started in 1990. I got seconded to work in New York. My first flight out there wasn’t quite so propitious since it was the one year anniversary flight of Lockerbie. Except for that first flight, checking in an hour before the flight was considered overkill – contrast with the required three to four hours today !!
When they added pre-clearance of US immigration at Heathrow, the smoothness of the trip was amazing. Business class, meant something beyond a few inches extra legroom. For most of the flight a group would form, stood smoking in the door well having appropriated a drinks trolley. Cabin crew happy that you were sorting yourselves out and never an officious command to return to your seats unless the turbulence had you jumping more than six inches.
The real smoothness came once landed. No need to line up for immigration – already done – a quick wave of the customs form and that’s it. Well not exactly, the business class ticket included a helicopter flight to Manhattan, the heliport on E 34th – it still makes me smile when I watch The Thomas Crown Affair remake with Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan which plays out in that heliport.
The final little extra was that there were always limos outside the heliport. The New York glitterati would take a limo to the heliport and the drivers would hang around for cash fairs that were barely more expensive than a typical rickety New York cab.
My absolute record from the wheels touching down on the runway to reaching my apartment on Columbus Circle was 45 minutes.
That’s how good travel could be. It now feels so unreal that the memories should be in black and white.
Best Laid Plans #1
When it goes wrong it tends to be a series of cascading events that magnify the chaos at each stage.
I was at our Dublin HQ for the day with a colleague and as the afternoon wore on I received a call from the admin that there was a new schedule, RyanAir had changed their schedules and what we thought was the last flight to Bristol was no longer flying.
All things considered that’s not a major problem, just find a hotel for the night and fly back in the morning. Not an option this time as I was due at Heathrow at 7 am to fly to San Francisco. Cue panic and rapidly changing plans.
The hastily called taxi did his best to speed along the hard shoulder of the motorway to the airport. I think he called it the Alex Ferguson service 😉 Even so, the last RyanAir flight had departed.
Now it wasn’t just a case of getting back to Bristol, anywhere in the UK would do and the options were very limited that late in the day. We found the last flight to the UK, a tiny propeller job to Cardiff that took twice as long as a jet.
Getting on for midnight in Cardiff I found the last hire car in the lot. A drive to Bristol Airport to drop off the hire car and transfer to my car, a detour to the wrong side of Bristol to drop my colleague off at his home and back to mine for about 3 am.
Lots of coffee, some packing and off down the M4 to Heathrow.
A close shave.
Best Laid Plans #2
Another trip, this time to New Hampshire via Boston. This wasn’t off to a good start as it was only approved the day before.
By this time I’d long given up eating airline food, so I would give myself plenty of time to eat a full english breakfast at Heathrow – this proved fortuitous. Setting off from home to head down the M4 seemed familiar and normal in the early morning sun. Sort of out of habit just past Reading I felt around behind the driver’s seat to check everything. And promptly broke out in a cold sweat. I counted three items, which was what I normally carried. Only this time there should have been four and the missing item was the laptop with all the software required to be tested over the following week.
Just as well the motorway is empty that early on a Saturday. I ended up reaching 110 mph to retrieve that laptop and not much slower on the return.
The next bit of stress was due to the fact that the fuel gauge wasn’t working. Off the motorway to join the Heathrow spur and the engine ‘coughed’. I managed to get a splash in it before reaching the car park at the expense of time rapidly ticking away.
I made the last call for check-in and didn’t stop running until I was one of the last to get on the plane as the doors closed.
I never got that breakfast. And later discovered that I’d blown the head gasket on the car.
No life threatening close calls in this post, but life has many variations.
Occasionally from the chaos of cancelled and overbooked flights there could be some nice compensations. It’s another story as to how I got to fly on Concorde.