And Then The Knob Fell Off……

September 12, 2008 at 9:23 am 3 comments

cockpit

I had to fly in and out of Schiphol Amsterdam airport again this week. This was a bit of a shock to the system because my 4am get-up followed a leisurely two-week holiday. 4 am doesn’t look good from any angle, but especially when you have to drive yourself to the airport.

The second shock to the system was the new security and departure arrangements at Manchester Airport. You now have to go upstairs, where you will be lost for quite some time in a queuing system akin to that you might find when they open a new ride at Alton Towers. It is slow. Lots of grumpy bleary-eyed red-faced holiday makers and stressed businessmen shuffling behind each other with all the enthusiasm of shackled prisoners walking the Green Mile.  I felt like shouting at some of the parents with kids: “Why aren’t your kids at school!” The schools here have gone back a good week or so at least, so clearly these parents were prioritising a cheap week in Marbella ahead of their progenies’ education. Mind you, the kids themselves did not look overly concerned.

Consequently, they were already boarding my plane when I arrived. This did not help my stress level as, as regular readers will know, I like to board early in order to ensure I have space for my luggage in the overhead lockers, and, so that I can check out the other passengers as they file past…….checking for potential hijackers and terrorists and the like (see here and here for a better explanation). Nevertheless I boarded fine and tried to reconnect with my human side after the trials and tribulations of the early start, the dash to the airport, the queue and the rather disgusting egg and cheese sandwiches that were served as my breakfast.

I was relieved, however, that my trip this week was to be a short one. I was keen to avoid travelling on Thursday, it being the 7th anniversary of 9/11. Al Qaeda seems to have a thing for anniversaries and for the number seven. I was also a tad concerned that I would spend my last seconds alive in a foreign land as a result of the Big Bang (Large Hadron Collider) experiment in Switzerland creating a black hole and causing the end of the world or something.

So, it was somewhat with relief that I found myself safe and sound back at Schiphol airport in good time to make my flight home, having survived the two hour drive from Doetinchem to Amsterdam – my boss, who was driving, seems to get a speeding fine every other trip and likes to change lanes as the best mechanism for ensuring he stays awake!

At the airport I bought a newspaper and read all about the collapse of the Liquid Bombers Terror Trial – which was probably not the best material to be reading just ahead of boarding a plane. In good time I made my way to gate D6, knowing that this was a security check and holding area ahead of boarding the shuttle bus which takes you to the plane. Exiting via D6 makes it even more difficult to ensure that you are amongst the first to board as, a) there is no obvious place to stand/queue in order to ensure that you are first on the first bus (it generally requires two busses to ferry all passengers to the plane) so people push in, b) you need to know where to stand on the bus to facilitate a quick exit at the optimum position to be amongst the first up the steps of the plane. This is not as easy as it may sound because there are doors on both sides of the bus and there are three doors on either side. Usually the middle door on the right side is best but you still have to gamble on how close to the plane the driver will park. Also, you cannot always retain your position on the bus due to people pushing and frequent requests to “move further inside please”. Today, my desire to be amongst the first group was even greater due to the fact that I was sitting in row 1, meaning that my overhead luggage compartment options were limited and I would not be allowed to place my bag near my feet. Also, it was a smaller plane which meant that if you couldn’t stow your luggage it would be removed to the hold which would mean a further hour of one’s life being wasted at the luggage carousel at the other end.

Gate D6 was horrible. It was hot and everyone was a little sweaty and agitated. The queue for security was long and chaotic due to a number of drunk Geordies who had left it to the last minute to leave the bar and head to the gate for their flight to Humberside – they pushed to the front. Security was strict, so, the laptop had to come out of my bag, and, my see-through resealable liquid bag was checked (a bit of a worry as a colleague who had flown via Birmingham had had her’s tested and her shampoo had tested positive for traces of explosive – mind you, if you could see the shocking red colour of her hair you could see how this was possible 😉 . They also insisted that I removed my shoes and my belt. It is not the most pleasant experience being frisked by a large, sweaty security guard when you are half-naked and trying to hold up your trousers!

Fortunately, I positioned myself leaning against the optimal pillar to be first through the ticket check to get on the bus. The wait until boarding was thankfully brief as, as well as being hot, I was becoming irritating by the annoying spiv who was walking up and down in front of me talking loudly into his mobile and by all the elderly people who insist on going to the desk to confirm “is this the flight to Manchester?” – can’t they read the bloody sign?! I was third on the bus, behind a Chinese couple who pushed in the queue just ahead of me. I was able to retain my optimal position on the bus. The driver parked optimally. I was second up the stairs, stowed my bag successfully and sat down to survey the cabin crew and passengers. This was far from ideal, however, as most of the passengers seemed to be carrying large, heavy bags and insisted on bashing them into my shoulder (I was in the aisle seat of course) on the way past. Nevertheless we all boarded in time and they were just about to close the doors for an on-time departure……..when the doorknob on the door to the cockpit fell off!

They tried to fix it unsuccessfully with one of the stewardess’ hairclips and a piece of chewing gum. It took them a further ten minutes or so to find a maintenance man with a  screwdriver. He seemed more intent on chatting up the stewardess than fixing the knob. They then decided the knob could not be fixed and that we would all have to offload, get back on the boss, and move to a different plane, which fortunately they had spare and fuelled. I did wonder why it would be quicker and easier to relocate a full plane of passengers with their luggage and to prep a new plane rather than, a) fixing the knob (presumably they could have used the one from the spare plane), or, b) swapping the door.

The joys of business travel eh?

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