Having flown rather a lot in my life and endured the Eighties flying the cheapest ever carriers to India twice a year, passing through Kuwait, Sharjah, Muscat, witnessing airports full of men in white and women seeing in widescreen, internal flights that were incessantly delayed (Indian Airlines) but always ended up putting us up in 5 star hotels until the next available flight, and once the flight resumed the call to prayer of a hundred Indian men all asking for Whiskey even though they don’t serve alcohol on internal flights, and the biblical assurance that as soon as the plane lands everyone will get up to try find their bags even though you are still breaking on the runway and the Flight Attendants are barking “Please wait until light is switched off before unfastening belt” in the mic. I’d venture a guess and say that out of 40 internal flights, 38 of them were delayed. Some by up to 8 hours. Back then the only bonus was A. We didn’t usually have anywhere pressing to go. B. They put you up in a hotel or fed you by a pool. Every cloud……..
Aeroflot, multiple times, evoked a plethora of experiences I have no wish in ever repeating: think hygienically challenged Russians sitting next to you on an old Soviet plane with no air-vents, shaking so violently because it can’t fly above the weather, engines rumbling louder than a BASTARD and then to add a bit of intrigue to it all the stewardess brings you your meal consisting of a boiled egg with mayonnaise squeezed all over it, a piece of “meat” that looks like a cat abortion, and a cold limp piece of cabbage that probably committed suicide at the sight of the other things on the plate. The only silver lining was the generous portions of Russian standard vodka that quelled the fear and took a slight punch out of the guys armpits to the right of me.
If the plane was a mystery, Sheremetyevo Airport was a dank hole of epic proportions with overweight women running between make-up shops in shocking colours, Africans literally lying side by side all along the floor with thin blankets covering their faces to hide the shame of being seen in transit at the worlds shittest airport, broken toilets, broken seats, broken lightbulbs, in fact the only thing that seemed to work was the cash register at the perfume shop which seemed to get lavished with attention. The need for food overwhelmed any other ideas of exploring the airport further, and with a 7 hour layover I had been provided with a free lunch. Food coupon in hand I walked -arms outstretched- in the dim lighted terminal building to the restaurant. Ticket exchanged for seat at grubby table in damp room I was enlightened to the true luxuries of living it up with a cold cabbage soup that had a sad potato floating in the middle of the cloudy pond, and a piece of bread that could be used as a bullet proof eye-visor lying perfectly erect on the fingerprint smudged side-plate. Hunger is sometimes the best option.
Upon transferring to my connecting flight to Mumbai, and enduring yet another chemical assault of sour B.O. resonating from the white shirt wearing hairy oof beside me, another meal of grey meat and boiled cabbage, another large helping of vodka, and yet more bone-shattering shakes as the plane flew helter skelter into storms over the middle east, it would have all been so utterly laughable until the plumpest stewardess of all, who was not exactly first in the queue when God handed out the best faces, turns up at my seat and hands me a BOOK with 30 pages detailing various positives or negatives that I would have encountered with my inflight service. Examples of questions: Was your Flight Attendant attractive? Did she smell good? Did she have a welcoming personality? A slight fart escaped my clenched butt cheeks as I dream’t up scenarios of a hellbent 400 pound Russian stewardess tearing my Scandinavian asshole to shreds as she foamed at the mouth screaming ” I nyet fat. I nyet smell”.
In the interests of international relations I left it blank.
Not too far below Aeroflot on the elevated table of airline persecutions, are the yanks.
Suffered through countless journeys on American carriers which employ the most bitter, rancid, vapid 50 year old chubby grumpy 80’s permed “glory girls” to continually scowl at you, smother you with their enormous ass as they hand out dehydrated snacks to the person across the aisle, balk at the mention of the world “free alcohol”, tirelessly chew their f***** gum while talking to you from behind deceptively bright painted eyes- mean streaks of bright blue makeup smothered on thick and hard to cover the decaying decades of jet-lag, abuse and menopause. The food in its television dinner appearance that tastes of baby food laced with Giardia, cramped seats without screens to idle away your time watching the latest and greatest that Hollywood has to offer and the constant feeling that while enjoying your 10 dollar glass of awful California wine you are secretly being profiled as another one of them “European Alcoholics” who simply refuses to believe that being on a plane for 11 hours can be enjoyed soberly.
United Airlines made me a celebrity (laughingstock) for 1 minute. Flying from London to LA after having changed planes after an 8 hour trip from Tanzania, I was bursting for a piss but didn´t have time to go due to rushing around trying to transfer. The plane took off. We hit turbulence immediately, the seatbelt sign stayed on. For over an hour. Even after there hadn´t been a single bump for almost 40 minutes. I decided I was about to explode and ran to the back of the cabin where I was accosted by a dreadful looking sarcastic 30-something beast who informed me the seatbelt sign was on. I told her I needed the bathroom and was it ok. She replied `Only if your about to piss your pants`. I said technically no. So I was shown back to my seat while she conveniently took the mic and shouted “We remind all passengers to NOT get up when the seatbelt sign is on, and remain seated until it is switched off”. Funnily enough, 20 seconds later it turned off. Perhaps the pilot actually had forgotten. Needless to say, while I walked back to my seat the whole cabin stared at me, and a few British tossers clapped as I hurried down the cramped aisle to take my seat beside a kicking 4 year old who thought my legs were footballs.
The adventures continued in Indonesia. Having financially chosen the dodgy sounding LION AIR to fly from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur (mainly to avoid taking the overnight ferry again which was literally crawling with cockroaches and left us incapable of surviving it lest we were ploughed with valium so our numb faces couldn´t feel the little beggars crawling all over) we boarded the plane, which happened to be a Russian aircraft. My bones started clicking in fear. After take-off the entire cabin of the plane filled with thick smoke, so thick indeed that I couldn´t see my own sister sitting in the row behind me. No announcement was made. We carried on flying, landed in KL and just before we were mounted by the exit ramp the demure captain announced `Sorry for the smoke earlier, this is perfectly normal and nobody should be alarmed`. Perhaps in the hope of ever attracting return passengers to their failing airline they could have mentioned something before. Ah well.
Fast forward to present day. Cebu Pacific. The airline I have spent most time on in the past 2 years. The largest carrier in the Philippines. With a superb safety record (apart from the DC-9 crash in which everyone died) and a modern fleet with a comical side to their daily goings on. My first flight with Cebu was uneventful. We laughed at the mid-flight quiz when one of the stewards started singing karaoke on the intercom and you won a bag if you guessed the song. The second, third, fourth, fifth were all similar. Then came the flight from Bangkok to Manila which shut down completely after having left the gate and stood on the tarmac for 1 hour trying to restart the engines. Hmmmm.. Then the most legendary of all the Cebu Pacific flights (until yesterday) when our small propeller plane came in to land at the tiny island of Siargao and totally overshot the runway, SLAMMED on the brakes, started skidding sideways and came to a stop 1 meter from the end of the tarmac and 3 meters away from a collection of trees. Burnt rubber smoke soaking the cabin and making sure that the panic didn’t dispel until people were long out of the terminal building. When the Air Hostesses look as scared as the passengers you know it was a close call.
Another memorable situation on Cebu happened when we were boarded onto our bus, sat waiting for half an hour, told to go back to the terminal, informed we were delayed due to a “cockpit emergency”, taken back to the plane moments later only for the stewardess to tell me “Don’t worry Sir, something is broken in the cockpit but you will be fine”, my sister pale with fear on her first propeller adventure. Said plane moments before landing “Ladies and Gentlemen the airport at Caticlan is closed so we will hold for a while”. Plane circled for 30+ minutes while the agitation grew, then suddenly we were diverted to Kalibo airport and came down in one of the most insane landings ever, swirling and swaying meters above the raging sea doing crazy turns and finally coming down with a huge bump and severe wind resistance.
Another hard landing in Coron and I thought we had left the worst of it behind until we boarded our flight last night to head on the leisurely 2 hour journey to Kota Kinabalu. The day started frantically heading across town to the Indian embassy to get our visas, then having to ply a hysterical American with xanax and San Migs before he caught his flight to Hong Kong retching at the insanities he had experienced in, quote, “The craziest country on earth”. The poor bugger had been on Boracay for a week, so I’d hate to imagine what he would do in Cebu or on a mountain road local bus in Bontoc. We took off. Sat back. Slept. Landed. The plane stopped immediately, strange. It didn’t move. The pilot said something about the airport not wanting us to come any closer and stairs would be rushing out to help us disembark 20 meters from the runway. Rumour´s that the engine had broken down were circling as we waited over FORTY minutes to disembark and were told to stand 50 meters away from the plane while others landed right next to us and you really appreciated the noise of an aircraft. Suddenly guards, cops, army all surrounded the plane leaping out of jeeps with police tape and cordoned off the entire aircraft. We started getting suspicious that maybe this was a Bomb threat and tried to move a little further away from the potential bomb site, but were told to stand where we stood. Almost an hour passed until they sent 5 jeeps to pick us up. Jeeps. Jeeps that had to stand by the runway playing chicken with landing planes because they had to drive DOWN the runway to get to the terminal building… me just sitting in the front seat seeing the lights of an approaching plane and just prayin’ the guy would floor the accelerator. What followed then was Asian confusion at its best. Total arsefest of officials arguing about what to do, told to form lines, searched head to toe, told to sit, told to stand, told to move to the other side of the room, passport details taken, reporters flashing away from behind the screen doors, then FINALLY at 8.30pm we are allowed to get our bags and leave the airport. Still knowing NOTHING.
Our bleedin’ taxi driver turns to us and goes “Ah were you guys on the Bomb plane?”. Even he knew and we didn’t. Apparently the plane had been on alert for at least an hour in the air but the pilot continued on to KK, left us waiting in the plane for 40 minutes for the stairs, then another 40 or so on the tarmac next to a potential disaster. Nobody informed us of anything during the whole debacle, and frankly it was probably for the best. Panic would have been insane, scattering people running helter-skelter across runways while Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia flights attempted to land amongst the sprawling ants.