Essay On the Wonders of Modern Air Travel
Written in March, 1995
It was a dark and stormy night.
Actually no it wasn't. It was one of those drab English gray
November days which everyone says they hate, but I actually quite
miss. The trip was a simple one, I had it planned to perfection,
and had performed it without flaw many times before.
Simply put, I was to fly to Stuttgart from London Heathrow.
This is a direct flight which normally takes about an hour and a
half (not including time spent sat in the aircraft while the
pilot explains for the thirtieth time why we've missed our slot,
and why the half-a-mile-an-hour crosswind is delaying our
Although the airlines tell you to be checked in two or more
hours before departure, inter-European flights can be left until
an hour or forty-five minutes before, or even later, and on one
notable occasion, three minutes before. But that's a different
I suppose I should have been alerted to my impending
predicament by the clusters of angry-looking travellers thronging
the information desks and milling around in a good impression of
Brownian motion. But I barged my way with a friendly smile,
inflicting broken toes and dislocated shoulders willy nilly, to
the British Airways check-in desk where a tired and despondent
lady whom I shall henceforth call Madame Haggard took my tickets
I was, of course, operating purely on Airport Autopilot. The
frequent travellers among you will know what I mean: airport
experience goes from exciting and exotic, through routine, to
helishly boring; at which point the Autopilot goes on and one
navigates check-in, metal detection and boarding in the kind of
Zen-like trance usually experienced after finding yourself at
your front door after a night on the town and having no
recollection of the journey home.
"BA926 to Stuttgart, I'm afraid that's been
cancelled.", said Madame Haggard, bracing for impact.
"Just the one piece, the other's hand luggage" I
intoned, working through the Airport Prayer.
"I'm sorry, didn't you hear me? I said your flight's been
cancelled", she repeated, looking at me as though I was an
"Just the one piece, the other's hand luggage", I tried
again, staring into the middle distance.
She snapped her fingers in front of me, and slapped me about a
bit. Well, actually she didn't, but she'd have liked to, I'm
"Mr Hawksley," she said, very slowly, as though I was
from Mars and only spoke Martian, "Your, flight, has, been,
"WHAT?!?" I exploded, finally roused out of the trance.
"Yes, you'll have to go over the information desk and ask
about a other options."
I joined the queueing masses (it's okay, I'm British. We
queue.) at the BA information desk. I failed to notice that there
were in fact three or four intertwining queues, and I picked all
the wrong ones before meeting Madame Haggard's twin sister. I
thought about loosing a volley of abuse against BA management for
allowing a strike to happen, but she looked on the very verge of
death and I thought better of it.
I was told that I could catch a flight later that evening from
Heathrow to Munich, where a BA bus would transport me to
Stuttgart airport. I thought 'No problem, I can catch the train
home from there' and accepted.
The flight to Munich was delayed. By two hours. We were told
that as public transport would have ceased by the time we got to
Munich, the BA bus would take us to our doors.
By this time, the group of disillusioned Stuttgart-bound
travellers numbered four and we trudged off to the cafe and
plotted terrible revenge against BA. I vowed to try to beat my
record of four cups of tea on this flight and reduce their
profits by about thirty new pence.
We boarded the flight, which passed without (major) incident.
The pilot announced the major towns as we flew over - one was
Stuttgart, oh the irony, just let me out here please. I drank
about eight cups of tea and felt smug.
Actually, funny things happen when I ask for tea on airplanes;
usually just as soon as the stewardess has asked "Tea
sir?" and has poured it out, we invariably hit turbulence.
Now don't get me wrong, I love turbulence. Seriously, I think
it's great. It's rarely life threatening and can be darned good
fun if you like roller-coasters and that sort of thing. The only
problem is, flying boiling liquid is rarely good in enclosed
spaces like aircraft. On previous flights, people have had my tea
in their laps, down their fronts and in their faces. Sometimes
two or three rows back, although I never seem to get hit.
We landed at Munich, barely three hours late and deplaned
through the maze that is Baggage Claim, sped through Customs in
the Green European channel (leering obligatory at the
non-Europeans queueing to be glared at by the Frontier Control -
well, they all leer at me when I'm out of Europe), and made for
the BA bus to Stuttgart, non-stop, air conditioned luxury, mind
the gap, tickets please, off we go!
There was no bus.
The gang of four - one of whom I learned was the Engineering
manager for British Airways at Stuttgart - roamed up and down
Munich terminal looking for the bus, but to no avail. The
check-in and information desks were already closed and the
remaining people filed out and left us alone in the billion-mile
long hallway that is Munich airport.
In the middle distance, we spied a bus driver, but by the time
we'd got to where he was, he'd gone home, had a shower and gone
to bed. Probably.
We cast around, nearly desparate to get home, it being abount
midnight and us being alone in a foreign city with about zero
Deutschmarks between us.
After about thirty minutes, our own flight crew emerged from
about three doors down. We shouted and started running for them,
but they were too quick and escaped in their crew bus to their
luxurious hotel while we died of exposure. Seldom have I seen
four cabin crew and two pilots run so quickly.
Finally, as we swept the carpark, runways and most of Bavaria
for the BA bus, the resourceful engineering manager, whilst
attempting to dial out on a phone located at one of the
information desks, noticed the number for the 'BA Duty Manager'.
Ten minutes later, the duty manager appears from the inner
temple of the BA office to try to calm us down. He achieved this
one hundred per-cent by giving us free beer. Oh, our flight was
delayed was it? Yes, he had heard about the strike. No, there is
no bus. No, sorry, nobdoy had told him. Just wait here, he's
going to call HQ and see if he can do anything.
We pointed to our tickets which say 'To: Stuttgart' and
mumbled about legal obligations of carriage. He began to look
squeemish and hastened off to delegate the decision upward,
which, I have learnt, is the thing to do if you don't want the
After about twenty-four hours, he reappeared, with more beer
(hooray!) and told us that they'd put us in a taxi to Stuttgart
airport, would that be okay? Uh, provided that they pay, of
So we rode the two hours back to Stuttgart in a Mercedes taxi
at about Warp Speed 8. On the way, we bullied the driver into
doing a door-to-door trip. I got home, absolutely dog-tired, at
about two in the morning.
I was the last one out of the taxi and the meter was reading
DM 600, presumably it would up to DM 1000 or so by the time he
got back to Munich.
I thought of this and grinned evily, revenge is sweet.