Friday, October 5, 2007

In the land of Penelope...

I had some good fun time again at my favorite airport. Happened just yesterday. Flight IB 4210 Barcelona, Spain to Brussels, Belgium, departure time 16:15. That's what I thought...

Arrived at the airport at 14:35. It's still early afternoon, I thought... most locals were still lunching right now, queueing to check-in would be a slam dunk. That's what I thought... until I found myself at the back end of an Iberian queue and a check-in clerk who seemed to take long minutes, as opposed to few secs, to process each passenger (nowadays it shouldn't take longer than half a minute but... that's what I thought...) Anyways, 35 minutes gone by and it was my turn... no bags to check in, so, there I was, checked-in, lean and mean in less than 20 sec. How come that idiot in front of me took ten minutes then? Did he buy the ticket at the check-in? Or were they talking about the Barca win in Germany the day before? Anyways, rush-up real quick to security control next...

I couldn't believe my eyes... six simultaneous stations processing passengers and a queue double so long than Dallas-Fort-Worth immigration after packed flights from London, Paris and Frankfurt arrive all at the same time. Got the picture? The poor sod in front of me, a smart middle-aged manager in business attire, looking purple red from stress like a cooked lobster, had to take his shoes off. Belt as well and he almost had his pants fall off. I take a look at his feet and there it was, a huge hole in his sock. 'About time they gave him a salary raise', I thought. This thing about taking off shoes started six years ago after that al-Qaeda moron, Richard Colvin Reid, carried explosives in his shoes on a AA flight from Paris to New York, Dec 22, 2001. Now serving life, the reckless coward. Look for the term 'stupid' in Websters and you'll see his photograph.

Only metal I left on my body before passing the metal detector belonged to my tooth bridge fixed in my jaw. The rest of the metal I carried (watch, spectacles, cell-phone, belt) I hid in my bag and my vest and let them pass through the real hard X-ray detectors. My vest has been thru this ordeal so often in the past that if it was made of human tissue it'd be long dead of cancer. In the meantime it was 3:30 pm; well done, a whole hour from leaving the taxi to reaching the departure gate! How marvelously efficient! On October 4th, 2007 presumably after the summer is long gone and forgotten!

Anyways, I arrive at the gate, 30 minutes before scheduled departing time... fine, just fine. Two ground staff standing behind the desk at gate 21, our gate... right then I was pretty sure, together with about another hundred waiting passengers, that the boarding was about to start. You see, the Iberia aircraft was standing out there, and seemed to be telling us: 'c'mon buggers, crawl in my seats, an' I'll bring you back to your dull Belgian capital real quick...' Little we knew then.

I took out of my bag a book I picked up at the Brussels airport two nights earlier: The World is flat (Cool stuff I knew all along but it's good to hear it from someone else too!). Few seconds in reading, when I turn my head to find out the desk staff were suddenly not there anymore...both gone! Shoot me... where did they go? They didn't leave for the bathroom together, did they? Time, in the meantime, 3:55 pm. It felt fishy... 20 minutes before departure and no desk staff? R U kiddin' me?

4:15 pm. Official departure time. Nothing moving. Gate 21 desk left alone... no ground announcement. Outside a stormy rain. Inside a bunch of travellers like myself, looking each other and speculating... TV monitor, still showing normal departure, without marking 'delay' or somethin'.

4:35 pm. Nothing official yet. No announcements from loudspeakers... all appearing normal, notwithstanding we were already 20 minutes in the late. Passengers getting increasingly nervous. Some went to talk to the staff of some other desks to ask for info. Answer always the same... 'we do not belong to that flight; we know nothing!' like Manuel from Faulty Towers...'Noothiiing!'

Someone heard that the only way to find out anything was to exit the departure hall and go back at the check-in info desks. Meaning, to get back in you had to go through security checks again... Must be kiddin'. Not many volunteers seemed to be compelled by the idea. A smart kid with his girlfriend on a romantic city-trip to Barcelona called home and found out that in Brussels already they had announced arrival delay by two hours! Then, at 4:50 pm the monitor shows 'delayed'. Wow, we are saved... Praise the Lord! We now know officially that we are delayed! Iberia found out that one of their planes has been waiting there for 30 min over schedule. Cool!

5:15 pm. Two swinging good lookin' attendants, with IBERIA uniforms and signs all over, show-up at the desk. Thank you Lord... there is life after death after all... They didn't forget us alltogether like in 'Lost'. The two women had hardly any time to sit down and a crowd of about a dozen wild passengers rush upon them! Most of them Spaniards who, showing full contempt to them, two pityful low-paid attendants, and in a mixture of Catalan, Spanish, English, French and Swahili (that last I made up, but the French is right, among the shouters was a French speaking native from Brussels whose Spanish sounded as 'good' as his Flemish, if you know what I mean...) they kept taking the piss on the two defenseless girls... Them two, all they were told by their boss to respond to angry passengers was 'I know nothing!... NOOTHIING!' A smart looking guy with white earphones and a 60G iPod in his hand, started arguing with them too, then back to his seat to calm down by listening to Kitaro and Indian guru music. Namaste!

In the meantime the clock advanced to 5:45 pm. I suddenly realized I was having fun for two hours watching my life go by in useless wait-time. 25 meters away, a large flat monitor showed continuous commercials and from time to time a local soap opera, interrupted by the ad spots over and over. The voices of complaining locals shouting at the two attendants covered any other ambient sound. Next to me, a Spanish good-lookin', one of the cheer leaders shouting at the desk staff, suddenly realized some nail was hurting her foot inside her boot. She takes out both of her boots and starts hammering the nail with the second boot on the sitting bank leaning support. All of us sitting on the same bank feel the vibrating knocking in our bellies... we look each other and start laughing our asses off! The scene looks so hilarious, sprung out of Fellini's fantasy! I thought such things only happened in Greece and Italy.

The TV monitor kept on flashing delay but nobody still had a clue for how long and for what reason... I definitely knew it wasn't a technical problem... the plane stood there, ready to taxi. For laughs, I says to my neighbor, a young Dutch lad: 'I bet you they're looking for the pilot!' I says. The kid looks at me with eyes wide open! 'Say what?' he goes! 'Oh yes', I says, 'it happens. Maybe they are busy sobering him up after he got lucky with one of the flight attendants...' the kid knew I was pulling his legs, by then.

6:00 pm. I call a guy on my cell whom I was supposed to meet at the airport in Brussels while he was still waiting for his flight to Zurich. 'Mark,' I said, 'our destiny is not to meet today at all. I am stuck right here for I don't know how long. Sorry for that...'

And then out of no-where, like nothing happened, the monitor shows 'now boarding' and everybody jumps within micro secs to get the hell outta there.

In the aircraft itself, seeing the passengers entering in fire and fury, the flight attendants looked so stunned and pale like a lightning had struck them. They had no clue. The Brussels native I mentioned earlier wasted no time to take the piss on the flight Director...'you are going to give me a drink and I am NOT going to pay for it!!!'... Forgot to say, in Economy class on IBERIA and SN Airlines you'll have to pay even for the water they give you if you got a heart attack and lie down to your death.

The flight went on fine... the Airbus 317 flew at 35K feet, pretty high for a European flight, and cruised at 850km/h to make up for lost time. Anyways, after 2 hrs and some bumpy flight here and there we arrived at the BRU airport. At last!

Oh, yes, forgot to say... We only found out the reason of the delay, one hour and a half in the flight. 'This is your captain speaking... Apologies for the delay...Bla Bla Bla...' Turns out I was right in my earlier speculation about the missin' captain. Our crew were indeed stuck in Alicante in stormy weather and needed two extra hours to get to Barcelona and join their plane. Captain was sober, turns out, and didn't fool around with the flight attendant. Never blame them buggers, helpless crew members (low pay-checks too). They just can't help it when their bosses are more stupid than a monkey's ass.

Who's to blame then for such a humongous cluster f*ck? I guess Iberia for their lack of process handling of such exceptional cases, about informing Les Miserables passageiros, helpless and hopeless, who look like attending the funeral of loved ones. If I was in charge of anything making decisions in Iberia, I'd fire the guy responsible for process planning at their airports in a heartbeat! Not just fire him. Wrong words used! I'd send the SOB to Guantanamo Bay for the rest of his life.

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