'YES, BUT WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE DAY THOUGH?!'
Of Flying in aero planes and all that...
Today is July 23rd, 2002. Today we are ending our visit to relatives in the UK and flying back to our home on Crete. Our theory is that we need actually do nothing beyond making ourselves available for transportation. Sit back, feet up and enjoy the ride…..
It is 3.45 am. We are arising from our borrowed bed at the home of our niece, Susan, in order to board our pre-booked taxi to Gatwick Airport at 4.45am. Having of course prepared our bodies in Sue's tiny bathroom, dressed, coffee'd, made sure we have everything - especially essential documents, money and all baggage - and presented ourselves on the pavement outside without
waking Sue, her family or the neighbours dog! Or attracting the attention of passing policemen by standing outside someone else's house, in someone else's town, with a couple of suitcases in the grey pre-dawn. Previous experience had made me a bit uncertain when it came to policemen, and that includes women!
I mean, have you ever tried to convince a curious police officer of your innocence? It could take long enough for you to miss a plane….. I remember being stopped by a police patrol doing "spot" checks on motor vehicles. "Just routine sir… Is this your vehicle?…. Could you tell me the registration number?" My initial honest responses were perhaps a
little naive - 'Just routine' - that's ok then; 'Is this my car'? Certainly is.. 'Could I tell the officer the registration number'? I suppose in all honesty that my climbing out of the car to read it from the number plate must have gone a long way to convince the gentleman that all was not well. In addition, asking him, in order to explain away my own inability, if he knew the registration number of his police car
went a long way to clinch it! Especially since he didn't! However, after a brief delay while he wrote out a ticket telling me to take my documents to my nearest police station within 5 days I could, "On this occasion, proceed - driving safely." I thought that driving safely was exactly what I had been doing before being stopped to take a roadside intelligence test. I also thought it better not
to mention that belief.....
The taxi did not appear at the appointed time - ten minutes later Pam went back into the house to telephone our missing cab driver, this time leaving the front door open with me outside with the possibly stolen bags. Not easy to explain to any curious passer-by, and maybe attracting the attention of any curtain twitching neighbours with a telephone! As it happened our driver arrived before the police found us! She
whisked us to the airport in one of those people wagons at seriously high speed, whilst following instructions on the route from a computer strapped to the dashboard. It directed us to the wrong terminal. Well, it was the right terminal actually but the computer didn't know that check-in was in the wrong one. We had to monorail to the wrong one, check in, and monorail back to the right terminal for departure. Exciting at
5.30am, especially when surrounded by seasoned travelers wearing Tee shirts, Bermuda shorts, sometimes even swat team caps and sunglasses inside the terminal buildings! One guy looked like a Crocodile Dundee look-alike, but that was probably just Paul Hogan…..
"Are these your bags sir?" "Certainly are!" "Did you pack them yourself?" "Certainly did." "Have you any of the following (illegal) items in them?" "Certainly haven't." "Have a nice flight!" The girl on the check-in didn't look remotely like a police officer. Not did she ask me, as my number plate policeman had, If "sir was by any chance trying
to take the P…. Because if he was……………." I remembered also a previous occasion checking in a Manchester being asked in all sincerity "where was Chania?" by the young lady who had just made my bags vanish on the conveyor belt. Boosted my confidence no end… Not today. Today was all efficiency and competence! No problems….
The problems started with boarding. Two of those superb coaches with the high overhead straps for hanging onto by mostly too short passengers holding babies and bags took us about 5 miles around the airport to a free-standing Airbus A300. A touch of class - no old Boeing 737 for us. The problem was that although the cabin crew were on board and the doors open, the pilots were not. Until they were we couldn't board.
Couldn't even leave the bus. Ever tried staying on one of those buses for 15minutes, kids getting bored and twitchy, bags you can't put down in the cramped space without giving your neighbour a limp….. No food trolley and no duty free….? Mind, we were better off inside the bus than outside it - the wind was brisk. Good for lifting aeroplanes. Or maybe levitating wheelchair of the odd elderly sun-seeker.
The pilots arrived a few minutes later. A few minutes later than the 15 minutes we had already been waiting that is. We all embarked, found our seats, not difficult as, in spite of my deepening premonitions, they were on the same aeroplane. Someone was on our side.... We buckled our belts and became silent while the Captain made his maiden speech of the day. It went something like "Good morning ladies
and gentlemen - sorry about the short delay, but we will be departing shortly and expect to make up lost time because of strong tailwinds. We expect to arrive in Iraklion on time." This caused a few titters and a few white faces, until he realized his mistake and corrected 'Iraklion' where we were not supposed to be going, to 'Kania!' where we were. An easy mistake, they are both on the same Island. The
comfortable feeling this latter thought gave me - that even if he got the wrong destination on arrival it was only a longer bus ride home - was dented somewhat by my starting to wonder if in fact this was really the crew of the Iraklion flight. That our intended crew was on the Iraklion flight - telling everyone that they were going to Chania! If they were I only hoped that they announced it "Hania" and not
"Kania." Still, if the wrong crews did fly us to the right destinations - or even the wrong destinations - we would at least be landing at different airports. More safety that way. But then it was early morning…. Though no one had mentioned Crete!
The flight was routine. Apart that is from the captain spending about twenty minutes in the galley squinting at us through a tiny slit in the wall and occasionally peering around the galley door at us. Maybe he was looking for his mother, though I thought that chatting up the purser at the same time was nice camouflage. Maybe they were discussing the sales strategy for the ₤1 per bottle spring water she was to
try to sell everyone towards the end of the flight "it being more expensive on the ground." I would have thought that 350mph Caledonian Spring, or whatever the name was, would have cost an absolute bomb to keep moving. If she had sold us one each at a quid she would certainly have made one! If anyone ever tries this on you remember - not traveling across Europe at 350 mph keeps local water cheaper…. The water on Crete is absolutely safe directly from the tap, though you
shouldn't of course drink directly from the sea, you never know what's in there. Or where it's been. Though you may of course have your suspicions and not like the look of them at all......
The landing was, to say the least, a little different. Well, at first it seemed to be the same. Being a fairly regular "Lander" at Chania over the last twelve years and a lover of flying, I always seek to acquire a window seat. Especially good for enjoying take-offs and landings. Today, arriving over the bay between Chania and Rethymnon on the north coast, we began our banking descent on the western approach,
buffeting round nicely until we were lined up, level and descending well. Over the runway now, a bit high maybe, but then it is a big runway - today it also looks like the second (older) military runway. Unusual. We are about to touch down, but then don't seem to get any lower - I watch the distance markers flicking lazily past, lazily past… The penny drops quite suddenly! Even if the boss sticks it down now there
isn't room to stop! He was obviously using the same penny because the power comes on, with some very sincere alacrity, instead of off! We accelerate on the level in a straight line for a few seconds and then, instead of climbing straight out over the sea to begin again, he starts his go-around with a 'G' inducing left bank! Superb! I haven't done this in an A300 before. I haven't done it at all before. Not the left bank towards
the White Mountains. Straight out over the sea yes, but not towards the mountains! The only sound inside the aircraft is the engines outside - everyone inside is holding their breath!
I can't see the White Mountains now - sitting on the left of the 'plane and banking hard left towards them the wing is where the mountains should be in my window, tip pointing decidedly downwards... I certainly can't see the mountains. I get a funny feeling, however, that they have not moved….. I hope that the boss's name isn't Mohammed.
No problem, we level off heading east towards Rethymnon. Now the people on the other side of the aircraft get to see what I should be seeing if we were going the right way! Maybe that was the plan all along - make sure everyone gets the same viewing opportunities to forestall complaints. Good thinking! We bank left again, coming round in a tight buffeting turn to line up once again on our intended target - the
western approach to the main runway at Chania. The boss remains silent. The purser remains silent. The passengers remain silent. Very silent. The engines sound beautiful….. Another buffeting descent until we are almost down. This time I can see the old runway to my left so we must be over the right one. Or not. Nice to be definite. A bump, a fair amount of reverse thrust and heavy braking and we are coasting to the
next turn off to a taxiway and an apron parking spot.
"Ladies and gentlemen - this is the captain speaking. Sorry about that. We were rather busy up here and didn't have the chance to tell you that we were going around. Air-Traffic Control told us not to land at the last moment. However there was no problem, we do this all the time………. No one spoke. Then came his Parthian shot - "Welcome to Iraklion." said
our glorious leader to cries of amazement! He didn't speak at all after that. Not even while the ground handlers attempted to attach the wrong steps to his aircraft. I watched them for 5 minutes before they gave up and took our steps and our buses to the aircraft which had landed just behind us. Not even during the 5 minute further wait, stood in the aisle of our 'plane while the right steps were found and our buses
returned. And he didn't return my smile up at him from the apron. The stewardess on the apron gave us a cheery "Have a nice holiday." She looked dumbfounded when we said we said we wouldn't be flying back with them. Maybe she thought that with the flying display we had just had we wouldn't be able to wait…
I was still wondering what the captain meant by 'the last moment'. Did he mean that Air Traffic Control had told him not to land at the last moment, or that they had told him at the last moment? Or had he misunderstood the latter and not landed, deliberately, at the last moment?
But the day was not yet over……. We were only halfway through doing what we did that day, and hadn't really a clue about what was to happen next…
What happened next was that we were still in the airport three hours later - trying to 'declare' imported currency and depart home, long after the holiday-makers we had arrived with had probably reached their waiting accommodation and started getting on with their holidays.
Us? After queuing at the tail end of two 'planeloads of people for nearly ever, waving our passports and "yassing" the immigration officer, we headed directly to the police currency
control to declare our imported currency. The door was firmly locked. If we didn't declare before leaving the airside we could lose the right to declare our cash for tax purposes. You can't import tax relief on money which has already been imported. Help was at hand in the form of a machine gun wielding policeman who said that it would be OK to go through - the officers we sought were downstairs. He looked a bit young
for a machine gun - about 15 - but then, the older one gets, the younger they look. Down we went - Pam to the customs office - me to baggage reclaim…..
The bad news was that the police we sought were not in the customs office downstairs, but upstairs on the other side of the airport! And the bad news was that our bags were not on our flight carousel. The day was warm, the air conditioning apparently off. The airport almost empty now since the next flight in was not until about 5pm. My guardian angel smiled (probably at the
worsening situation) and a passing woman said that there were suitcases going round and round on the carousel of a different arrived flight - but that no one was collecting them. They had to be ours. They were ours! Though how they had arrived on a flight from Manchester was a bit difficult to work out, especially as we had handed them in at Gatwick. Maybe, just maybe, it was something to do with our 'welcome to
Iraklion' captain having arrived, in spite of himself, at "Kania." Or maybe it had all been a joke! The candid camera crew would leap out from behind the check-in desks at any moment and expect us to laugh…. Try me, I thought maliciously, just try me……….
Following instructions we ascended - baggage trolley now full of suitcases, up the ramp to the departures side of the airport, wondering aloud whether the currency office had in fact moved to Iraklion (or maybe Tel Aviv) and we were about to be taken there to declare our funds. We agreed that it would attract serious attention to try to take baggage which wasn't leaving through the departures side security
checkpoint. I would guard the baggage this side whilst Pam went through the police barrier and found the appropriate officer. Seemed sensible at the time….
She vanished! An hour and a half later, just as I had given up and was about to demand my wife back, she reappeared from the opposite direction. She had, she declared, declared the cash. After sitting for about an hour in an office whilst the officer originally there went in search of the officer who should have been at the office we had originally arrived at, if you follow, he had not returned. But several other
officers had - some apparently going off duty whilst Pam guarded their deposited guns, and some coming on duty to collect theirs! All asked after Pam's presence but had been unable to help. Missing police officers were not, apparently, a cause for concern and anyway, it was only two missing officers in one airport. Several police officers had also looked at me in passing - probably on their way to going missing - sat in front of the departures side security barrier with a loaded baggage trolley (loaded with what did
they wonder?….) in an airport with no flights due. I was starting to have visions of "Is this your trolley sir?" and "Can you tell me the registration number?" - this time in Greek, when Pam returned.
The correct officer had eventually turned up - taken her back to the arrivals-side office through a connecting door and accepted her declaration there. But of course she could not return via what
had now become the departures-side connecting door and was thus returned down through arrivals stairways, after which she had to climb back up to departures to get me back. The connecting door seemed to me a bit of a chameleon. Or possibly schizophrenic! If one stopped in the middle no one would be able to tell whether you were coming or going.. Still, all we had achieved our objective - here we were back home on Crete.
We had declared our cash. All we had to do now
was collect our car, do a bit of shopping, get the dog back and get home. But that's another story……..
Mind, if I had really had been up to no good at the airport - well, only an imbecile would have sat in front an airport security barrier with a baggage trolley loaded with …….. "Could I ask you if you packed these bags yourself sir?" Had the security cameras seen me taking ex-Gatwick labeled bags off the Manchester arrivals carousel?….. "And could I just ask you to explain that also, Sir?"…….. And,
since this would have happened before Pam returned - "Is there anyone you would like us to contact who may be able to corroborate your story - Sir? Your wife perhaps?"………
I wasn't really worried, I could always have said that there seemed to be some mistake. That my captain had said I was in Iraklion……..