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TEMPo 15025G35KT 0100 +SN FZFG OVC000 SNOCLO

TEMPo 15025G35KT 0100 +SN FZFG OVC000 SNOCLO

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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:07 pm
  #1  
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Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Exile
Posts: 14,563
TEMPo 15025G35KT 0100 +SN FZFG OVC000 SNOCLO

NOTE : This report, in a slightly edited/refined format, is now available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.com.


TEMPO 15025G35KT 0100 +SN FZFG OVC000 SNOCLO

Behind the scenes of an airline during a snowstorm.





(DISCLAIMER : The below narrative is based upon a true story but names have been changed, abbreviated or withheld for various reasons. Some details may have been withheld or modified to maintain the integrity of the storyline and protect the privacy of individuals. Any resemblance to the official version of actual events should not be assumed nor is implied.)

TEMPO 15025G35KT 0100 +SN FZFG OVC000 SNOCLO

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night shivering at the thought.

Some people are afraid of demons. Others have a mortal dread of insects. Stil others are scared of the dark. Me? I fear TAFs.

What is a TAF you may ask? TAF stands for "Terminal Area Forecast", a fancy term to describe what most normal people would simply call "the weather at the airport". Like witchcraft, it is a black art that most God-fearing people don't understand. Indeed, a sizeable chunk of TAFs for the civilized world are generated by a gaggle of cackling warlocks poring over a bubbling cauldron in a windowless basement at the Met Office in Exeter. From there are unleashed plagues of rain, snow and locusts upon the unsuspecting travelers of the Northern Hemisphere....

INDEX

Part 1 : Mid-December
Part 2 : Cologne
Part 3 : Christmas
Part 4 : New Year
Part 5 : Togo and Algeria
Part 6 : Epilogue

Last edited by B747-437B; Jun 5, 13 at 2:56 am Reason: Updated Amazon.com links
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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:09 pm
  #2  
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PART 1 : Mid-December

And so it came to pass that my Monday afternoon meeting was interrupted by one of our dispatchers knocking on the conference room door with a slightly scared look on his face. His hands were sweaty and clutched a faded dot matrix printout with the letters EGKK emblazoned on the first line. The TAF for tomorrow morning was in and the Gods were primed to unleash their wrath upon London Gatwick. This was especially unfortunate for me as I was part of a team supposed to be heading to Dusseldorf tonight to host an event celebrating one year of our service to Germany. The team was flying via Gatwick with a connecting flight on flyBE, so any delays could throw our entire carefully planned itinerary out of synch.

I sent a text to Roger who was scheduled to be our captain tonight asking if he had seen the TAF. He replied a few minutes later with a few choice expletives. The die had been cast however. The tickets had been sold and 160 crazy souls had forked over their hard earned cash to leave the African sunshine behind and venture into the harsh British winter. Our mission was to deliver them safely to their destination.

At the crew briefing that night, we pass around thick stacks of weather reports and high level wind charts for Western Europe. Whereas the earlier TAF seems to have been especially alarmist, the latest one was obviously generated by a statistician. It was peppered with PROB40 qualifiers, which in layman's terms basically means "it may happen, but there's a good chance that it won't happen either" and is about as useful as a chocolate teacup for flight planning purposes. Roger is finally satisfied. He passes a fuel number along and mounts his trusty steed for the 6h28m flight north. The RB211s fire up and off we climb into the tropical darkness.

London the next morning is nowhere near as bad as the TAF predicted. There has been some snow, but for the most part it's just fricking freezing. The flyBE flight over to Dusseldorf is allegedly on time and our team trudges off to their checkin counters. Part of our checked luggage today is 60kg of fresh pineapples intended as giveaways to the attendees at the event and this elicits a bit of envious laughter from the flyBE staff. They have spent the morning readjusting the bucket behind the ticket counter to catch the drippings from the leaky roof. I am tempted to offer them a pineapple each but I get distracted and forget. There are 4 others on the team with me today - two managers from our sales department and two cabin crew who have been selected for their ability to look pretty and pose for PR pictures. Our CEO has gone directly there from another engagement and will catch up with us at the hotel in Dusseldorf.

At baggage claim in Dusseldorf, our pineapples fail to appear. I head over to the baggage services office and they confirm that there were no pineapples offloaded from the aircraft at Dusseldorf today. Houston, we have a problem. Well, Gatwick actually. I call over to James at Gatwick and task him with finding the pineapples in time to make the next flyBE flight. He jumps right into it. As we head off to the hotel, I get a call back. The pineapples have been located sitting at the bottom of the oversized baggage belt. Hmm. Maybe I should have offered the flyBE folks the pineapples after all? Nonetheless, they are being rush-tagged and will be with us at 830pm. We might just manage to pull this one off.

The party itself goes fabulously well, despite the crappy weather. My only regret is that I have to dash out in the middle of dinner to go meet the flyBE flight and rescue the fruit. Thankfully, the wonderful baggage services supervisor was already wheeling them out to the curb just as we pull up, enabling us to be back at the event no more than 25 minutes after we departed. The pineapples are handed out to the attendees amid much glee and then we pack everything up and head back to our hotel. After a few rounds of Altbier and a 1am trip to find some Doner Kebab (Ed Note : Beer and Doner Kebab at 2am = ), it is time to retire for the night. The return journey goes smoothly the next morning. We connect at Gatwick without any hassles and soon I am back in the African sunshine where snow is but a distant nightmare. Distant perhaps, but a nightmare nonetheless. My week was about to get much much worse.


VIEW FULL ALBUM OF EVENT : http://www.facebook.com/album.php?ai...5&l=83126ec8d6

Thursday night. The snow falling upon London seems a world removed from the muggy atmosphere I find myself in. Our demons from Monday night have not gone away, but are just waiting for a new opportunity to strike. We have 169 passengers tonight - a full house - and James is busy herding them to the gate where their ride awaits them under the command of Captain Alex. Departure time is 1110pm, making us one of the last flights out of Gatwick for the night. At 11pm, my mobile rings. Caller ID displays Alex's name. My heart sinks. This can only be bad news. They are shutting the runway at Gatwick for 30 minutes to clear some snow. My heart sinks even further.

1130pm ticks past and soon we are at midnight. Passengers are now on board and getting a bit antsy. I'm frantically working the phone with everyone from the handling agents to airfield ops to a witch doctor who lives down the street. Nobody has any information beyond the usual "we're optimistic but...". I talk to Alex again. He has been researching on his iPhone. He is not optimistic. I pull up a satellite image and I understand why. There is a second front right behind this one which is going to be far worse. But the TAF didn't forecast this!!! Somewhere in a basement in Exeter, a shrivelled old wizard is cackling away in evil glee.

Contingency plans. In reality, this weather front is not likely to clear until around 6am. Airport will maybe be open for 730am. Crew have till 3am before they run out of hours and then won't be able to go again until the afternoon. I call Crewing and beg them to find me a replacement crew for 7am reporting. What can we do with the passengers? There are no concessions open at the airport so no point offloading them into the terminal. We can try to hotac them but by the time we offload baggage and take them through customs, it will be time to check them in again. Not to mention the road conditions are getting worse and there will be no way to get them to the hotels. I talk to the Purser and to Alex again. We decide to serve the hot meal to the passengers immediately while James tries to figure out what to do with them. He calls Terminal Operations. We are not the only ones in this situation - there are 4 other aircraft who are also stranded.

Coming up on 130am now. Terminal Operations have only a skeleton staff overnight but they have finally conceded that we can put the pax into the departure lounge overnight. There are a horde of late Easyjet inbounds that are diverting so that will mean corresponding cancellations tomorrow morning and lowered throughput. Alex breaks the news to the passengers who strangely enough take it pretty well. We advise them to take pillow and blankets from the aircraft with them. Its a slow process but eventually they are all safely huddled on the benches by about 3am. James finds a chair at the info desk and settles down with a spare pillow for a nap himself. He has a pile of vouchers to hand out for breakfast at 6am. Alex and the crew secure the aircraft and head off for the Hilton.

Meanwhile, Eric at Crewing has worked his magic and conjured up a whole new set for 7am. We set departure for 815am subject to all services coming together. They don't. At 630am, James calls me to let me know that Gate Gourmet can't do a hot meal in time for 815am departure as they are short about half their staff due to road conditions. We have leftover breakfast boxes from last night's flight and they can maybe get us a few boxes of frozen chicken pastries for a second snack. I tell James to go ahead with that, but to also give all pax a second voucher and advise them to buy something from the terminal for the flight. Meanwhile, we are awaiting updates from airfield ops. I don't want to start re-boarding until we know the airport is up and running again. Finally at 830am the go ahead is received. We call the flight to the gate and the passengers trickle aboard. With ATC restrictions and de-icing it is past 10am before pushback clearance is received and almost 11am before they are finally airborne. James is exhausted. I tell him to go home and that I will fly up tonight to cover tomorrow with Luc.

Saturday morning finds me back at a Gatwick airport that is slowly limping itself back to normalcy. Despite the airport's new ownership, the infrastructure is still older than me for the most part and doesn't really hold up in bad weather. The baggage belts are usually the first thing to collapse, especially under the weight of the huge trunks that the average passenger heading to Africa for Christmas lugs with them. Sure enough, there is soon a sickening crunch-thump sound followed by the high pitched whiny beep that can only signify something mechanical is not doing what it is supposed to. After watching the check-in lines grow progressively longer for 20 minutes, we move to plan B. This involves physically dragging every single checked bag manually to the oversized belt. With 165 passengers and an average of 2.1 bags each, this is not a pleasant task but we get on with it. I'm absolutely beat by the time we are done with this and heave a big sigh of relief when the aircraft pushes back just 47 minutes late. Has another bullet been dodged?

At 11pm, I find out that although we may have dodged the bullet, it has ricocheted and hit us squarely in the back. Dusseldorf airport is snowed under and Eurocontrol's CFMU has a ground stop on all traffic destined for there. We wait. And wait. And then the crew run out of hours to do a multi-segment day so there is really no point waiting any more. We dispatch to Gatwick with the Dusseldorf passengers on board and pray that we can crew change in the morning and hop over to Germany. As the aircraft gets closer to Gatwick, we rack our brains and pray for a break in the weather. Checkin is running at Dusseldorf even though the airfield is still closed. Thorsten is on the phone every 30 minutes with updates from there.

Aircraft is now on the ground at Gatwick and Dusseldorf is still closed. We've got an almighty problem on our hands. We have passengers going to Germany stuck in the UK and passengers going to Africa stuck in Germany. We deplane the Dusseldorf passengers and send them through Flight Connections with Transit cards and meal vouchers. We ponder alternatives. There aren't many. Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels are snowed under. CFMU has slot restrictions for all UK southbound traffic so we can't even skip Germany and go straight back to Africa. The new crew shows up. Mike is the captain. He used to fly for DHL in a previous life. He suggests flying to Cologne instead. Evidently they "never close". I call Thorsten in Dusseldorf. He thinks it might work. He needs to round up buses for the passengers though. The Autobahn is also pretty dire so that is easier said than done.



It's all a bit too much for one of our young passengers.

Things begin to come together. AHS in Cologne can provide handling. Thorsten has found a bus company but they estimate at least two hours to get between airports (usually about 30 minutes) due to the weather. I tell him to get moving. We call the passengers for boarding. One of us needs to go with the aircraft to coordinate things in Cologne and hop back on the late Easyjet. James hasn't brought his passport, so I draw the short straw. Everyone aboard now, doors closed and jetway off. I go up to the cockpit and Mike has a sheepish look on his face. Uhoh.

"Remember when I said that Cologne never closes?"
"Yeah"
"Well...."
"*%*$%#"

I call Thorsten. The buses are already on the road taking passengers from one closed airport to another. Daniel is driving to Cologne from home to meet the buses and oversee the departure. We try to call him but he's not answering. AHS Cologne calls. They are confident that the airport will reopen by 2000z. I do the mathematics. The crew will be barely legal using max discretion if they can get into Cologne and pull off a 45 minute transit. It's Mike's call. The weight of the four stripes is heavy on his shoulders.

"Can we get hotels here?"
"Sure"
"Can we get hotels in Cologne?"
"Probably not, that entire area has been shut down all day so we're late to the party."
"Then I'd rather be stranded here than take our chances timing out in Cologne and having to sleep on the plane."

He's right but we still don't like it. James has been watching this discussion through the cockpit windows from his vantage point at the gate. I signal to him to get the jetway back on. He holds his head in his hands. Mike steels himself and gets on the PA system. As expected, the passengers don't take the news well. Not for the first time, I am extremely grateful for the reinforced cockpit door that stands between us and the mob.

Removing passengers from an international flight is known in the airline world by the wonderfully euphemistic artificial term "decontrolling". All passengers have to be processed through immigration, collect their luggage and then proceed through Customs before we can even start getting them into hotels. This is complicated by the fact that half the passengers on this aircraft were never supposed to be in the UK to begin with. We scan the APIS details and find 8 passengers who are visa nationals but do not hold UK visas. I call the CIO at Immigration. He agrees to grant 24 hour emergency landing permits on a case by case basis.

The ticket desk has managed to snag enough rooms at the "Europa Hotel", a nearby fleabag. I'd personally never stay there voluntarily but it's the only establishment that had enough rooms available for a group this size in a single location. I'm not taking chances with splitting the group up in this weather. Servisair has organised 3 buses for the passengers but luggage is going to be a problem. I call Customs and get approval to place unclaimed checked baggage in bond overnight. Next call to the porters. They will have a group at the baggage belt to help haul things.

The phone rings from "PRIVATE NUMBER". Strange. It's Sussex Police. Some of our disgruntled passengers have decided to take a diversion from the prescribed path to arrivals and are now holding a sit-down protest to barricade a cancelled Ryanair flight from disembarking its passengers. Quite what they are protesting nobody is really sure. They need me to meet them there immediately to sort things out. Just perfect. I head there and find a veritable riot brewing. Gatwick Security have placed themselves between the two groups of passengers (ours and Ryanair) but there is a lot of shouting and abuse being hurled from each side. To my misfortune, I seem to be perceived as the common enemy and they redirect their mutual loathing of airlines at me. The Gatwick Security folks form a cordon around me but I am beginning to get a little anxious. I am very glad when Sussex Police show up a few minutes later.

Thank God for Police with submachine guns. They have the ability to make even the most argumentative and irrational passenger shut up. All except one guy. He's a recently naturalised US citizen (as he keeps informing us while he waves his passport in our faces) and somehow thinks that this entitles him to immunity from weather disruptions. "How can you do this to me? I'm a US citizen! Look here, United States of America!! How dare you do this to me. I will call my Embassy to protest. What a worthless country. This would never happen in the USA!!!". One of the Police Officers pulls him aside and whispers (presumably) threats in his ear. He stops yelling and calms down. Well, he stops yelling at least.

Down to baggage claim. It's a zoo. There are about 20 flight cancellations all trying to retrieve their luggage. To make things worse, many passengers from various cancelled flights are not claiming their bags and simply walking out through Customs. The floor between the baggage belts is full of abandoned luggage from flights throughout the day. I start helping our passengers locate their bags on the belts. We have a platoon of Servisair staff and the porters helping out as well. I relax for a minute. Then the phone rings again.



It's Immigration. One of our passengers is being denied entry to the UK. I go back upstairs and am not surprised to see (hear) my American friend screaming again. The CIO explains that when he approached the desk and was asked what the purpose of his trip to Germany was, he replied sarcastically that he was going there to seek political asylum. When he was told not to joke about those matters otherwise he would be denied entry to the UK, he lost his temper again and began yelling at the Immigration officer how stupid Europe was and that they wouldn't dare deny him entry as he was a US Citizen. They dared. Now he's going to have to spend the night sleeping on the floor of the transit lounge. Karma's a b1tch.

An hour later and everyone (sans one!!!) is safely ensconsed in their hotel rooms for the night. I call Daniel in Cologne and he sounds like he's not having a pleasant evening. Thorsten has only been able to find 1 hotel room at Cologne and there are almost 100 passengers. Daniel offers the room first to a family traveling in Business Class (who decline in favour of going home) and then to another family with a young baby who accept. Now the rest of the passengers are rather vociferously voicing their disapproval of his choice. I advise him to go hide for a while to let them calm down. The airport has set up a humanitarian relief operation handing out bedding and coffee to the hundreds of stranded passengers from all airlines. That's the best we can do for now. The German passengers love quoting EU regulations about hotel accomodation but last I checked the EU didn't have a magic spell to help us pull hotel rooms out of our arse in a snowstorm.

Last edited by B747-437B; Jun 5, 13 at 2:36 am Reason: Updated image links.
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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:11 pm
  #3  
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PART 2 : Cologne

Cologne is open again. Crewing has everyone ready to go for 9am departure, except that Mike is being replaced by Steve, one of the training captains who is affectionately called "Napoleon" for his ability to command authority from a height of 5'1". To add to the irony, he is paired with Ivan, our 6'5" First Officer. All we need now is a dancing horse and the Christmas panto cast will be complete.

Buses are at the hotel to pick up the passengers at 530am. Servisair have a bag drop running for the luggage that went to the hotel and ICTS is re-scanning the bonded bags at transfer search. I pull the cash float and head out to the aircraft on the crew bus. I'll make my way back on easyJet this afternoon. The passengers are already filtering their way to the gate. The snow is picking up again. The Servisair dispatcher is waiting for us with bad news. Gatwick is closing for snow clearance. At least an hour delay. My heart sinks. Sussex Police have proactively sent a couple of armed officers down to our gate following last night's drama. Thank you Sussex Police. I brief them first and then break the news to the passengers. Oh dear. The natives are extremely restless. I leave a poor Servisair girl to deal with them as I go back to the aircraft to consult with Steve.

For a change, airfield operations were accurate with their estimate. The airport opens an hour later but now we have to de-ice again. It will be 45 minutes wait for a truck. We start to load the passengers and hope for the best. Unfortunately, we have a child running around the gate area who trips over someone else's carry-on and cuts herself. The parents get in each others' face and start yelling. Paramedics are called. The kid is fine but now we've lost our departure slot. Another 40 minutes wait. Meanwhile, poor Luc is at checkin trying to deal with the passengers due to depart on today's flight. We are running just under 24 hours behind and yesterday's flight isn't even moving yet. Steve is watching the precipitation on the wings carefully but he is satisfied enough to accept our clearance to Germany when it finally arrives at almost 1130am.

Meanwhile, Lothar has relieved poor Daniel at Cologne and is presently under Bundespolizei protection. The Africans and Turks have been swapping horror stories during their overnight delay and have decided to combine their frustrations and target him as the only visible airline manager. After 20 minutes of valiantly protesting that he has nothing to do with Pegasus Airlines, he admits defeat and slinks back to the Bundespolizei office.

As we make our way across a frozen Netherlands, Ivan comes back to have a quiet word with me. They are in the middle of another blizzard at Cologne and conditions are borderline CAT-III. The airport is still running... for now. Steve is confident of getting in but the unspoken challenge is going to be getting out again. Not for the first time this week, I wonder what sins of a past life are coming back to bite me.

We are finally established on the ILS. The cloud base is very low and visibility is almost zero. When we finally break through, there is a gasp from the passengers when they see the conditions on the ground. A few seconds later we touch down on the only clean patch of grey concrete in an ocean of white snow. In the terminal, a cheer erupts from the passengers. Lothar can show his face without fear again! On board, there is a hushed silence as we taxi our way to the terminal. If it wasn't covered with snow, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Dubai with all the Emirates diversions sitting around. I count at least 4 of their widebodies, together with another dozen or more from other carriers.

We pull onto a stand at Terminal 2. The glass and steel structure looks especially resplendant in the gloomy weather. The doors open and Lothar greets me with the warmest handshake he can muster. He has arranged train tickets with DB for the disembarking passengers to get back to Dusseldorf. As they stream off in silence, the passengers seem quite stunned by the severity of the weather. Even our American friend from last night comes up to me rather sheepishly, shakes my hand and says "you've done well".

Luxury accommodation at Cologne Airport for our passengers.

I go into the terminal. The mood is buoyant now. We start passenger boarding. One passenger has elected not to travel so we have to find her bag and offload it. That takes a while as we are using manual bingo cards today. The tags were printed in Dusseldorf and the local BRS systems are not compatible across airports. (Ed note : EU regulations still permit airports to hold monopolies on BRS services which severely handicaps the ability of airlines to implement BRS/DCS linked IT solutions. Please lobby your MEP!).

Meanwhile the snow is getting heavier. It is barely afternoon, but it looks like night outside. Winds are gusting up to 45 knots and you can feel the jolts when standing on the jetway. An empty LD3 container goes skidding across the ramp and upends itself in a snow bank. The handling agents call their staff back in. These are nightmare conditions and it is not safe to be out on the ramp. Steve's jaw is set grimly as he stands on the bridge and surveys the disaster zone below. He looks at his watch. I get the upspoken message. With the present flightplan, we have to be airborne by 1428z to be legal with max discretion.

P brings us some steaming coffee in styrofoam cups. She has the ability to produce a fake smile on command, but even she is struggling right now. The AHS supervisor joins us. He is sending a ramp team out again as the dangerous gusts have ceased, but the storm itself shows no signs of abating. The fuel truck shows up. I suit up in winter gear and head down with the fuel numbers. The conditions are far worse in person. I have to use hand signals to communicate as the wind is too strong for normal conversation.

Tick tock. It is now past 1230z and Steve is already into discretion. The loading is almost done. I ask for a deicing truck. The AHS agent radios for one. There is a reply in rapid-fire German on the radio. Lothar's face turns white and he mutters "sheisse". Ok, even my high school German understands that. The AHS agent pleads. No dice. He turns to us and explains. "Unfortunately, some of the deicing trucks have been damaged in the recent wind. There are only 3 trucks operational now and we are number 15 in line. They are estimating a wait of up to 6 hours."

Jack Bauer is a lucky guy. He gets 24 hours to save the world. I have just over 100 minutes to find a solution and save Christmas for my passengers. I call Thorsten. He knows someone who knows someone who can arrange something at any airport in Germany. He says to give him 15 minutes. He calls back in 5. The problem is that the Emirates A340s need all 3 trucks to de-ice them due to the short holdover times and they have priority over us for now. I tell him to cut a deal if neccessary. He calls back in 2 minutes this time. His contact says that there is someone who might be amenable to be "incentivised" to help us skip the que. I do not hesitate. "Do it. US Dollar cash at the plane."

We wait. Assuming a 20 minute deicing procedure, we have to have the truck spraying by 1400z if we are to make our times. The passengers are restless and demanding information but Steve can only tell them that we are "waiting for the de-icing trucks". At 1330z, the truck shows up. I go down to the ramp and talk to the driver. He has been briefed by Thorsten's contact. He is out of fluid but he will return to us immediately he tops up at the depot. I hand over the first installment of his "Christmas bonus".

I start to walk back to the aircraft and disaster strikes. I slip on a patch of black ice and my knee twists under me. I lose my balance and fall against the deicing truck. My cheek strikes the side of the truck with a sickening crunch. I fall onto the ice and scream in pain. I can feel something in my mouth and I spit it out. The snow turns red with blood and I realise that I've lost some teeth.

The next thing I remember, it is 10 minutes later and I'm back on the aircraft sitting on the mid-galley jumpseat with a blanket wrapped around me and P kneeling by my side with a look of concern. My mouth feels strange. I try to stand up and I can manage to limp a few steps at a time without too much pain. Nothing seems broken. P has wrapped the knee in a sports bandage from the First Aid Kit and given me two painkillers. Looks like I'll survive. I check my watch. 1350z. Time is ticking and the snow is still falling.

Our friend the deicer pulls back up at 1352z. He has bad news. Due to the short holdover times using their current mixture, we will need at least 2 trucks for an aircraft our size. There is another one finishing on the Pegasus 737 next door but he's off to an Air Berlin next. Is he open to being "incentivised" as well? Is it all going to be in vain? Steve looks grim again. I look at the faces of the 169 passengers who just want to get home and make my decision.

It's time to play the "nuclear option". I tell Lothar to call the Bundespolizei and inform them that if we don't get this deicing started in the next 8 minutes, there will be 169 irate passengers stuck here for the night. If they thought the 100 African passengers sleeping at the airport last night were a problem, I can promise that the terminal building will have been burned down by morning if they are stranded another night. Lothar makes the call. I don't understand what he is saying but the drama and fear in his voice are real. 1356z. The truck has finished with the Pegasus and is ready to drive off to Air Berlin. Our "incentivised" driver flags him down and they start to negotiate. 1358z. The Bundespolizei promise that they will make the calls and sort it out.

1401z. We're out of time. The deicers are still talking. No sign of the Bundespolizei. I slump back onto the jumpseat. It's over. Or is it? Steve says we have another 9 minutes because we will be using two rigs simultaneously instead of just one. 1404z. The deicers stop talking and listen to their radios. Our friend gives me a thumbs up signal from the ramp and rushes back to his rig. The Bundespolizei have delivered. 1405z. I pass along the deicing instructions to our friend together with the rest of his "bonus" and a "little extra" for the other rig driver. He grins. "You are welcome back to Cologne anytime my friend!".

1406z. Doors closed. P gives me a quick hug before she closes the door and admonishes me to "get that knee looked at!". 1407z. Jetway off. 1408z. Rigs in position. 1409z. Spraying commenced. 1416z. Spraying complete. I can see Steve strumming his fingers on the console impatiently. 1418z. Rigs clear. 1419z. Ivan calls the tower for pushback clearance. It is immediately granted. 1420z. Push and start. Two clean starts. 1421z. Pushback tug clear. The ramp agents holds up the gear pins and waves. Ivan waves back but Steve is already in the zone and throttling up to taxi. 1422z. Taxi direct runway 02L threshold. 1424z. Cleared takeoff runway 02L.

I stand with Lothar and the Bundespolizei supervisor in the terminal. The Rolls Royce engines power up and churn up clouds of snow from the sides of the runway. Steve is standing on the brakes to heat them up. The distinctive high pitched whine grows stronger and the snow clouds grown thicker. We can barely see the aircraft through the gloom now but the flashing beacons confirms she is still there. She is straining desperately against her restraints. Finally the whine turns into a deep growl and she leaps forward with the enthusiasm of a spring that has just had its tension released. Less than a minute later, the beacons are quickly swallowed by the low clouds. The bird has flown. 1426z. We have won this battle with 2 minutes to spare but we are still fighting the larger war.

I call Luc at Gatwick. They are putting today's passengers into the same rooms at the Europa that yesterday's passengers just left. This is going to be a nightmare. There are only 3 days till Christmas and we are probably going to have to scratch a flight and ruin some passengers' holidays. Lothar gets me a coffee as I desperately sketch out scenarios on the back of a napkin. There may be one other option but it is going to be a challenge. I call our CEO and explain. She asks about the costs. I give her a ballpark estimate. She doesn't hesitate. "If you think we can get everyone home for Christmas, you have a green light."

I call Operations and give them the rough schedule. It's ambitious. We will have this aircraft in the air for 65 out of the next 75 hours. We have two critical points. We will need to ferry the aircraft back to London from Africa tomorrow afternoon to start catching up the schedule. And we will have only a 1 hour buffer to get out of Dusseldorf on Wednesday before the night curfew kicks in. Operations is cautiously optimistic. They pass it on to Crewing to crew the extra sections. I brief Lothar. He'll be in charge of the Dusseldorf turn on Wednesday. After today's drama he understands the stakes are high.

Now I need to get back to London. I call our ticket desk at Gatwick and ask them to book me on the Easyjet. They deliver the bad news in a cheerful tone. "Oh, Gatwick is closed again. All Easyjet flights are cancelled." The shoe is on the other foot. I'm now a stranded passenger myself! I scan the departures board desperately hoping for options. There is a Lufthansa to Heathrow leaving immediately and a Germanwings to Stansted in a couple of hours. Lothar helps me limp to the Lufthansa ticket counter. "Sorry, the London flight is completely sold." Down to Germanwings. Yes, they have seats available. The girl looks at me very suspiciously. I don't blame her. I am wearing an airline uniform with blood on the collar, no checked bags, no carry-on bags, speak no German, buying a one-way ticket to London on the next flight and counting off US hundred dollar bills from a thick wad. Lothar explains something in German and she nods in understanding. A few keystrokes and I have a boarding pass. Lothar says she has blocked a whole row for me. I flash her a painful semi-toothless smile. "Danke schoen!"

I take Lothar's leave and head down to the gate. Unfortunately, passport control doesn't like the fact that I haven't got an entry stamp in my passport. Oops. We were so caught up with the departure drama that I forgot to legally enter Germany. I ask them to call the Bundespolizei supervisor who had helped us earlier. A phonecall is made. A few minutes later, the Bundespolizei supervisor arrives with an entry stamp that he stamps my passport with. The other officer then affixes an exit stamp a few seconds later. Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland! I think they just wanted to get rid of me quickly and forget today ever happened!

Mixed news. Gatwick has reopened but Stansted is now closed for snow clearance. CFMU has ground holds on all flights headed there. We are looking at a further 3 hour delay in Cologne. I'm past the point of caring. Germanwings decides to board the flight anyway and hope for a slot improvement. I find my row, seatbelt myself in and curl up immediately with my jacket as a pillow. Next thing I know it is 3 hours later and we are about to land in Stansted where the local time is just after 10pm.

I stand up and my leg just gives way. I have never felt such horrendous pain in my life. I try again but I can't put any weight on the leg. The Germanwings crew rush to help. I struggle to the door but can't go any further. A wheelchair is ordered. I feel helpless as I am wheeled to Immigration. The lady looks at me quizzically but wordlessly. I show her my airline ID and simply say "Long story!". She smiles and stamps me into the UK. Thank God for the British sense of understatement!

I ask the wheelchair guy to drop me off at Boots where I buy myself a knee brace and the strongest OTC painkillers they have. I can move again under my own steam, albeit very slowly. I have to decide between a taxi back to Gatwick or taking my chances with the trains. I ask the taxi company what the roads are like. The Dartford Tunnel is closed. Ok, easy decision then. Downstairs to the Stansted Express. Ride to Liverpool Street, Tube across to Victoria and then the Gatwick Express. On the way, my phone beeps with the information that the aircraft has left Africa on its way back to us. It has taken me longer to get back from Cologne than it took them to get to Africa and turn around!

My good friend Geoff, the Iceland Express station manager, has offered to help us out this morning until the reinforcements arrive. Moses is flying up overnight from Africa to backup the troops here. Geoff is just coming in by the time I get to Gatwick at about 3am. He's prepping the bag drop for yesterday's delayed passengers who will be coming in from the Europa shortly. We are hoping to have them out by 8am and the aircraft ferried back by midnight or so to send today's passengers out with "only" a 12.5 hour delay. I need a hot shower desperately so I retire to the Hilton for a few hours.

7am finds me riding the crew bus out to the aircraft again with my knee tightly taped up and in its brace. Today's captain is Dave, a grizzled veteran with a reputation of being absolutely unflappable. I can personally vouch for his nerves of steel after an eventful Lagos trip a few years ago, but thats another story for another day. He is paired with Achilles, one of our younger FOs whose last attempt at getting home with Alex on Thursday night didn't get very far. Geoff has everything organised at the gate so I just take a seat at the podium and help out by making the PAs for boarding. Some passengers are unhappy and vent their frustrations at me. (Note to self : Must check with mom if those nasty things they said about her are true.) Hey, thats what I am here for you ungrateful ba$tard. I should have cancelled your flight and left your lousy arse in London for Christmas. Snow's a b1tch init?

Anyway, off they go "only" 22 hours late after a short wait for deicing. Job done? Nope, today's passengers are already checking in. I swear it never ends. If the other end can turn it around in 45 minutes for the ferry, we could have the aircraft just after midnight. Do we put the passengers at the Europa again? It's a difficult choice. If we want to be ready for a quick turn at midnight, we need to pull them back out starting 8pm for transport and bag drop. The rooms won't be ready until at least 2pm anyway. Is it worth "wasting" 100+ already scarce hotel rooms at Gatwick for only 6 hours of daytime passenger use? Executive decision is made. Passengers will get LRVs (Light Refreshment Vouchers) for lunch and dinner and we'll keep them at the airport for 13 hours. I'm not going to be popular and I have to pray that nothing more screws up as there won't be any hotel rooms to fall back on later tonight. I leave things in the able care of Luc and Moses and retire back to the Hilton for a while to ponder my personal circumstances.

Last edited by B747-437B; Jun 5, 13 at 2:36 am
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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:13 pm
  #4  
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Join Date: Aug 2000
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PART 3 : Christmas


I am due to make my annual pilgrimage back to India for Christmas but my luggage is still sitting unpacked at my apartment in Africa. Being the last minute planner that I am, by the time I finally made my booking the only seats I could find to fit my schedule were on British Airways in Club World from London to Hyderabad, connecting to Jet Airways to Mumbai. I can make it to India without the luggage but I do need to acquire the Christmas turkey and other items on mom's shopping list if I don't want to be disowned. I nip down to Horley (where there is a Waitrose conveniently located just across from the station to minimise the walking) and stock up as needed. My flight is at 1pm from Heathrow tomorrow so I can work the late departure tonight with James before catching the National Express bus.

Evening arrives and the aircraft lands safely in Africa. The team there works feverishly and pulls off a 60 minute turn. Strong headwinds however means that the aircraft won't be back with us till after 130am. At best, that is going to mean a 230am departure. This is also eating into Lothar's already slim Dusseldorf buffer for tomorrow night. I head out to the airport at 8pm to relieve Luc who has spent the whole day being abused by the delayed passengers. The poor lad feels like absolutely crap and I feel sorry for him. I ask if there are any passengers we need to keep a particular eye out for and he bursts into laughter. This must be good!

We have a lady on the flight who claims to be the queen of some tribe in Africa. In her day job however, she is a social worker from East Croydon. She has been a handful from the moment she pitched up at checkin identifying herself as royalty and demanding both an upgrade and a waiver of her excess baggage charges. When this went nowhere, she decided to play the race card. "If I was the Queen of England you would upgrade me! But because I am a black Queen you are treating me like this!" Well honey, if Queen Elizabeth pitched up at Zone E with a minicab driver lugging her cheap soft-side floral luggage that still displays its "ON SALE" tags from ASDA, she'd probably be treated the same way.

The evening drags on. The weather is getting better so I am optimistic we can catch up some time on the turnaround. The passengers are understandably getting very restless but there's really nothing we can do except wait. Finally around 145am, Servisair calls to advise they are on finals. I limp my way down to the gate very slowly accompanied by James and Moses. The aircraft touches down at 157am and we call the passengers to the boarding gate in the hope of being able to push a quick turn. The outbound crew show up a few minutes later. Where is the aircraft though? Nothing seems to be moving.

I call Servisair. The news is not good. We have sheet ice on the ramp and there is a groundstop in place while the taxiways are salted down. It is 230am by the time the aircraft finally pulls onto stand. The movement restriction also means that our service providers are handicapped in their ability to get out to the aircraft. Catering shows up just before 3am but we are still waiting on a fuel truck. Cleaners have only a skeleton staff on hand but the two sets of crew get their back into it and start grooming the cabin themselves.

Meanwhile "The Queen" has decided to become a populist. She is standing on a bench in the gate area and preaching to the rather sleepy masses huddled around her that they must fight for their rights and demand compensation. Her subjects are largely ignoring her. We call for pre-boarding. "The Queen" lines up with the Business Class passengers. Moses checks her documents and advises her that she needs to board only when her row number is called. She explodes. "How dare you! How dare you speak to me like that? I am a Queen! I am Royalty!". Moses keeps a straight face but James and myself struggle to keep our giggles under control.

Loading is proceeding slowly due to the icy conditions. I'm beginning to worry about tonight's flight and the already slim margin we have in Dusseldorf. Still, the focus needs to be on the present challenge. Passengers are trickling their way on board. I limp my way down the jetway and hear raised voices in the Business Class cabin. This can't be good.

"The Queen" has boarded and pushed her way past the crew at the door to turn left into the Business Class cabin. The cabin is however full and the last row houses a British family with 2 young children probably around 8-10 years old. "The Queen" is furious. She screams at Becky, the Purser for tonight who is serving preflight drinks.

"HOW DARE YOU!!! HOW DARE YOU!!!"

Becky looks a bit confused.

"Can I help you ma'am?"
"HOW DARE YOU!!! THIS IS ONLY A CHILD!!!"
"Um, yes."
"HOW DARE YOU PLACE A CHILD IN BUSINESS CLASS AND LEAVE ME, A QUEEN, TO SIT WITH THE COMMONERS!!!"

The child's father across the aisle is beginning to get a bit upset now. "The Queen" is almost about to explode.

"GET UP! GET UP!" she screams at the child. He looks very scared.

The father is now on his feet.

"Who the hell do you think you are to speak to my son like that?"
"I AM A QUEEN! DO NOT ADDRESS ME LIKE THAT! YOU... YOU... WHITE MAN!"

This has gone too far. I decide to intervene. I ask "The Queen" to please step aside to have a quiet word. She will have nothing of it.

"YOU!! YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN THE OTHERS!!! YOU ARE RACIST!!! YOU HAVE NO RESPECT!!! IF YOU WERE ONE OF MY SUBJECTS I WOULD HAVE YOU PUNISHED!!! YOU DO NOT RESPECT ME BECAUSE I AM BLACK!!!"

By now the other passengers have had enough of her nonsense. They just want to get on their way. One of them shouts back at her.

"Hey lady, he doesn't respect you because you're a crazy .....!"

The ice is broken and everyone laughs except "The Queen" herself. She does however consent to step onto the jetway to have a quiet word. I give her a firm but polite warning.

"You have two choices. Either you go sit down in seat 14B without one single word to anybody or else you are not going anywhere today. I can also tell you that there are no seats available until December 28th, so if you don't fly today you won't be spending Christmas where you planned to either. The choice is yours."

The message sinks in. She isn't pleased but she nods. For good measure, I decide to gate check her hand baggage as well. If looks could kill, I'd have dropped dead on the spot but she doesn't say a word. Becky silently mouths "thank you" at me from the door.

We're finally ready to go. It is almost 5am by the time we close the doors and send her on her way. We decide to swing by McDonald's for a bit of breakfast as we plot today's operations. Luc will be back to open check-in in a couple hours but there's no way our planned schedule is going to work because of the Dusseldorf night curfew. We appear to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

We nibble on our McMuffins and ponder the options. We can go via Cologne (which "never closes", remember?), but after Monday's drama I really don't want to risk that again. Moses comes up with an idea out of left field. Why don't we reverse the flight and go via Dusseldorf first? I sketch a schedule again on the back of a napkin. The aircraft will be arriving into Africa at around 1130am. If we can get out of there by 1pm and go straight into Dusseldorf, we'll have more-or-less the same 45 minute slot we originally wanted to run except we'll be coming from Africa and going to Gatwick rather than the other way around. We will be oversold by a handful of passengers due to the combined loads, but this is probably the best option we have. I call Ops. They think it can work. I call Lothar in Dusseldorf. He thinks it can work. Ok, lets do it then.

I take my leave from the guys and wish them the best for tonight. I hate to abandon them and head home for Christmas but in my hobbled state I'm probably more of a hindrance than a help anyway. A quick nap and shower later, I'm on the National Express to Heathrow armed with my still frozen turkey carefully packed in layers of insulation. As the bus trundles around the M25, I call Dave who will be bringing the aircraft back this afternoon. He's seen the change in program on his online roster already so all I have to do is explain the intricacies of the Dusseldorf curfew regulations. Basically, an aircraft has to be off blocks by 2050z and airborne by 2100z. Dave is unruffled as always. He tells me to leave it to him and enjoy my Christmas.

It is a miserable day at Heathrow. The 90 minutes on the bus has not done any favours to my gammy knee and it hurts like a mofo when I step out at Terminal 5. I stumble my way upstairs to the departures level and retrieve my boarding pass from the kiosk. Then to the bag drop line which is totally empty. I ask the BA dragon guarding the barriers if it would be ok for me to simply cut under the barriers as I have a leg injury. I get a very cold stare in return.

"There is a queue system sir."
"But there's nobody in the queue!"
"The queue is still there sir."

So off I go limping my way up and down the snaking tensabarriers under the stern gaze of the matron. What pisses me off even more is that while I'm doing this, a lady arrives with a baby in a stroller and is immediately ushered under the barriers and to the front of the line ahead of me. I confront the matron.

"Sir, the lady has a child."
"So? I have an injured knee!"
"I'm sorry sir, but you should have requested mobility assistance in that case."
"Well, can I request mobility assistance then please?"
"I'm sorry sir, but you need to do that at least 36 hours in advance."
"But I wasn't injured 36 hours ago!!!"
"I'm sorry sir, the next counter is open for you now please."
"Hang on, I'm not finished."
"Sir, I suggest you get a move on as security for your flight will be closing shortly."

She's right. The dreaded "compliance" deadline is looming and much as I would have loved to stand and argue the intricacies of EU regulation 1107/2006, I have a flight to catch.

To my chagrin, we are departing today from one of the B gates which are a solid 15 minute hike on a good day. I decide to skip a lounge visit and head straight there under the circumstances. A wise move as it takes me the better part of 40 minutes to limp my way there. This whole gimp thing is getting annoying. Thankfully the lovely BA lady at the gate is more sympathetic of her colleague at checkin. She fusses about and gets me somewhere to sit while boarding commences and then allows me to use the lift with the wheelchair passengers rather than take the stairs like everyone else. Yes, this also means that we're going to be bussing out to a remote stand. Ugh.

Finally, we arrive at our ride to India. G-YMMS is one of British Airways' newest 777s and she is shining and spotless in the wintery noon. I limp my way aboard at the tail end of the process and the friendly crew show me to my seat. I'm quite surprised that there are only 2 other passengers in the entire Club World cabin today, no doubt a function of the BA strike threats, but still surprising considering how hard it was to find a Business Class seat on any airline into India this week.

I'll concede a point about BA Club World. I may spend my working life trying to convince people to fly with my employer instead, but when it comes to a reliable premium product for my personal travel, it is hard to top Club World. The most recent seat upgrade (sorry that I can't refer to it as NCGDWTHGK or whatever other confusing abbreviation has been assigned by the Frequent Flyer community this week) is just another feather in its cap. It doesn't provide chauffeur service or inflight showers or stand-up bars or drop dead gorgeous models or cordon bleu cooking by celebrity chefs, but it just relaxes you in that faux-posh way that only the Brits can pull off with aplomb. Tally-ho and all that old chap.

The crew today are wonderful people. Not just wonderful crew, but wonderful people. The lady serving my cabin has seen me limping and comes around to enquire about my injury and if she can do anything to help. I thank her for her concern but tell her it will be just fine with some heat packs and plenty of alcoholic beverages. She winks in perfect understanding. I never had to ask for a top-up during the entire flight. Attagirl.

Lunch is served. The starter is a prawn and mango salsa salad which I devour hungrily. Main course is a lobster based seafood medley of some sort. Finally cheese and port, with a coffee to finish. Nothing overly fancy but it hits the spot nicely. Then its time to press a few buttons and conjure up my flat bed. My last conscious thought as I drift into dreamland is to wonder how things are going in Dusseldorf. I wonder if they zzzzzzzzz.......

After the longest and most restful sleep I've had in a week, I wake up nearly 6 hours later. A mug of steaming coffee prepared exactly the way I like it (someone was paying attention during the lunch service!) arrives a minute later without having to ask. I limp around to get the circulation back in my legs and then its time for breakfast. I'm ravenous once again, so while I'm surprised to find that its a full hot breakfast service rather than the usual apology of a Continental Breakfast I am definitely not complaining. I start off with Muesli and Yogurt with a Danish and progress to a nice greasy fryup. All this accompanied by a strawberry smoothie. Soon it's time to land and we touch down at the new Hyderabad Airport just a few minutes after 5am local time.

Rajiv Gandhi International airport in Hyderabad is one of the two new "greenfield" airports in India that have opened up since 2008, the other being in Bangalore. The terminal is a very impressive glass and steel structure with all the amenities one expects from an international airport. Immigration is swift and efficient and I hobble my way down the escalator to baggage claim. From the moment I stepped off the aircraft however, my mind has been wondering how things went in Dusseldorf and whether the gamble paid off but I've refrained from calling. As I stand and watch the empty conveyor circulate in anticipation of a 777 worth of baggage, I can't take the suspense anymore.

I call James. His voice sounds quite solemn. My heart sinks.

"How did it go?"
"Umm... have you spoken to Lothar yet?"
"No, how did it go?"
"Well, perhaps you should talk to him first."
"JAMES! HOW DID IT GO?"
"I'm afraid we have a bit of a problem..."

My mind fills with a million thoughts at once, none of them good. I soften my tone.

"Tell me what happened."
"Well, the aircraft isn't here."

Oh no. That's the worst possible outcome. She's stuck overnight in Dusseldorf with 160 passengers. I curse.

"Oh $%£$. What happened?"

Suddenly James bursts into laughter. I've been had!

"You .......! You m%$£$*%"£ing .......! I'll get you for this!"
"Hahahahah! Nice and smooth like a knife through butter. Well, at this end at least. She's just pushing back right now. Lothar had a bit of fun in Dusseldorf though!"

It's too late to call Lothar so I have to rely on James for the details. The problem was such a basic one that I would kick myself for overlooking it if my leg were not already injured. When we rerouted the flight to run via Dusseldorf, we removed the advance seat assignments in the reservations system but didn't transmit an ADL to Codeco in Dusseldorf to clear them at a local level in the DCS (which we needed to do as the flight was already under airport control). As a result, Dusseldorf originating passengers were being assigned the same seats that were already assigned into London since the computer thought that the flight would be stopping in London first.

As any airline passenger knows, the easiest way to kick off World War III is to arrange for multiple seat duplications while boarding. For good measure, ensure that these split a few families up and for best results do this with families that speak minimal English. Now do all this during a 45 minute transit stop with a night curfew looming and only two days to Christmas and Lothar was probably glad he took his blood pressure medication that morning. Still, it all ends happily with Dave demanding the door be shut with passengers still arguing with each other so he could receive his takeoff clearance before the deadline hits. The Germans are only too happy to oblige. An hour later, they're in London and the seat dupe issue solves itself. James really did have it easy in comparison.

My bag emerges onto the belt and I head through Customs and upstairs to departures. It's barely 6am and my connecting flight isn't for another 4 hours. I try to buy a walkup ticket on either the Kingfisher or Indigo flights leaving imminently but they are both sold out. Kingfisher does have availability on their 930am flight but if I'm waiting that long I might as well just fly on the Business Class ticket I already have for Jet Airways at 10am.

The Jet Airways counters are opening up as they have an earlier Delhi departure. I ask them nicely if they wouldn't mind checking me in for the Mumbai flight so I can go through security and rest my leg in the Lounge. A supervisor is called and she okays me to receive a boarding pass but declines to provide a lounge invitation until the Mumbai flight officially opens for checkin in about 30 minutes. No big deal. I go through security and head to the lounge anyway. Jet Airways uses the Plaza Premium Lounge in Hyderabad, which also provides public access for a rather reasonable price (Rs.650 I believe it was, which comes out to around £10). The lounge is nothing special but was ideal to relax in for a few hours. It was a bit disappointing though that Jet Airways were being so rigid with their rules for a Business Class passenger.

The flight down to Mumbai takes just under an hour and is quite uneventful. Service is a snack tray in Business Class which I skip in favour of a nap. A remote stand means a bit of struggle down the stairs but I'm soon in the terminal collecting the rapidly thawing turkey at baggage claim. On the drive home, James calls. He's back at Gatwick again the poor lad. Today's flight, the last before Christmas, will be running just under 4 hours late so we are not mandated to hand out refreshment vouchers under EU regulation 261/2004. I authorise him to go ahead and do so anyway. It's Christmas after all. It all goes well and I am proud to say that every single one of our passengers (including me!) made it to their planned destination in time for Christmas. For that reason alone, the last week of hell has been worthwhile.

My few days at home in India pass far too quickly (and painfully). My leg is not improving and my damaged teeth are obviously not growing back, so I head off to visit my local medical professionals. The news is not good. I will need surgery and two root canals. We set some dates in January for me to return and I stock up on prescription antibiotics and painkillers in the interim. And then its time to head back to work. No peace for the wicked.

I've decided to fly Emirates back to the UK. I had some miles due to expire and figured I could use them to upgrade an el-cheapo fare before the Skywards changes took effect at the end of the year. Unfortunately, the only route with upgrade availability on my preferred date was to Glasgow rather than London. No worries. I made plans to meet up with some friends there for an afternoon of drinking and booked a British Airways one-way down to Gatwick for later in the evening.

My Emirates flight departing Mumbai is oversold (as usual) this morning, but my offer to bump and reroute directly into Gatwick is politely turned down as I'm in Business Class and I guess they don't want to "inconvenience" me. If only they knew. To make matters worse my late booking means that only awful middle seats are available on the first leg. Still, I can deal with it for the short sector to Dubai. We are about 60 minutes late pushing back (sadly, also as usual) reducing my transfer time in Dubai to less than 30 minutes. I'd usually start getting a bit worried by now, but I've become quite numb to travel catastrophes after the last week. Breakfast is served as we wing our way across the Arabian Sea to Dubai. This is the hardest meal to cater on a plane because there are only a finite number of things you can realistically offer as a Western option. Eggs, pancakes or....? I pick the eggs and they are typically insipid. A short nap later, I am disembarking into the Dubai terminal with only 20 minutes till the scheduled departure of my connection.

I'm fortunate enough to be near the front of the aircraft, so despite my limp I am one of the first folks through transfer security. The departures screen is already showing GATE CLOSED for my flight but I decide to take my chances. The agent at the gate initially apologises that the flight is closed but when he sees "BUSINESS" on my boarding pass his demeanour changes. He radios down to the Despatcher that a late runner is en route and I'm hustling my way down the jetway seconds later. I step on board and the doors close behind me before I even get to my seat, the last empty spot in Business Class. Unfortunately, this is one of Emirates' two-class Boeing 777-300ERs. They feature the horrible old seats in Business Class that really aren't up to scratch with some of their other brilliant product offerings.

Pet peeve. Virtually everyone on these morning Emirates flights to Europe is connecting from somewhere. We've all had breakfast already on our inbound flights, so another full breakfast immediately on departure is a complete waste (unless you're a greedy fat ....... like myself). More so because the second meal service is then simply a "light snack" (they take the "light" part of it seriously) consisting of a choice of tiny finger sandwiches and pastries. I'd much rather see a continental breakfast service with a full lunch instead like they do on the similarly timed flights to Africa.

On arrival in Glasgow, I'm not surprised to find that my luggage has taken up the offer of a free Dubai stopover. I request that it be please routed directly to Gatwick rather than detouring via Scotland and that I will pick it up there tomorrow morning. Worldtracer is updated accordingly. Then I'm off to my waiting complimentary chauffeur drive and an afternoon in town with friends.

In Gatwick the next morning I check WorldTracer to find that contrary to instructions, the bag is now on board today's Emirates flight to Glasgow. I call bmi (who are the handling agents for Emirates there) and arrange for them to re-retag it and rush down to Gatwick. In the meanwhile, I have my own flight to deal with tonight. It's New Years Eve and we have an 1110pm departure. James and I have plans to catch up with the crew at the Hilton Crew Lounge after we see the aircraft off. It is a surprisingly busy load tonight with over 100 passengers choosing to spend their New Year in the air. Among them is a TV personality who graciously agrees to host a "countdown to midnight" on the PA system. We've ordered a few extra bottles of champagne as well. Everyone wants to get this flight out early. It pushes 15 minutes ahead of schedule and we're back in the crew lounge with time for a last few drinks of the old year before a new one is upon us.

Last edited by B747-437B; Jun 5, 13 at 2:38 am
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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:18 pm
  #5  
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Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Exile
Posts: 14,563
Part 4 : New Year

Saturday evening rolls around. I'm sitting in the Hilton lounge with the crew waiting for our Chinese food delivery. My phone beeps. It's Operations. The message is a single word. It is an expletive. I call. We have a new problem. The oil access panel latch on #1 engine appears to be damaged somehow. The panel is jammed in the open position and all efforts to close it have failed. This is potentially an AOG situation. We don't have a spare access panel down there either, so it might mean having to send one down on tomorrow's British Airways flight. Not good at all.

I talk to Keith who is the duty engineer at the aircraft and to Daryl who is the RB211 specialist. Daryl claims that he has an idea but he won't tell me what it is until he's spoken to Rolls Royce in Filton. I tell him to get back to me in an hour. I pick half-heartedly at my chow mein as the hour ticks past. Daryl calls back. Filton is ok with the proposed fix. Basically he needs Keith to remove the access panel from its hinges, then refit the panel flush with the cowling and secure it with hi-speed tape both internally and externally. If the reverser is then locked out (with corresponding performance penalty as per MEL), Rolls Royce will grant us a single sector dispatch dispensation back to maintenance base. It will then be a 2-hour fix to fit and certify a new access panel at Gatwick.

The temporary fix authorised by Rolls Royce

Good plan. This of course means that our poor Dusseldorf passengers will once again be rerouted via Gatwick instead of nonstop. Why does everything go pear shaped only on Dusseldorf days? Departure time approaches and I get a call from Glen, our captain tonight. Keith is having a few problems getting the panel to fit flush with the cowling. It appears the hinges may have gone slightly out of alignment (which is what probably caused the panel to jam in the first place). They are still working on it. All hands are on deck. Even the KLM engineers come over to assist. I'm getting a little antsy as the crew duty time clock is now ticking. Finally, everything is set for a 230am departure. I turn in for a few hours of kip before I have to meet the arrival.

My phone rings as I go through the staff security checkpoint on my way to the gate. It's Operations again. Glen has called up with a medical emergency inbound. A young lady appears to be having a seizure. We'll be on the ground in 22 minutes, can I set things up for the response? I take the passenger's details and start making the calls to the various agencies. Immigration calls me back about 2 minutes after I finish giving them the information.

"What is the destination of the passenger?"

I check the manifest.

"She's in transit to Dusseldorf."
"Can you confirm the date of birth?"

I check the APIS details and respond.

"Under no circumstances should the passenger be permitted to leave the aircraft without our clearance."
"What? This lady may be having a seizure. We need to get her to a hospital."
"We have reason to believe that the passenger may be intentionally falsifying medical symptoms in order to gain access to the United Kingdom. A person with a similar name and date of birth has attempted this before."

Oh great. Not only do we have a possible medical emergency on a diverted flight with a problematic engine, but we might have an asylum claim to boot. The day is quickly going downhill and it's not even 9am yet.

The aircraft is on the ground now and hustling on to stand. GAL Security, UK Border Agency, Sussex Police and Surrey EMS are all waiting with me on the jetway. The doors open and we rush on board. I make a PA announcement for all passengers to remain seated while the immigration and medical teams head towards the girl at the rear. One passenger does not like this. He stands up and blocks the paramedic from proceeding down the aisle. He's a monster of a man, at least 6'4" and built like a tree.

"What is this nonsense? Why cannot we get off?"

The paramedic tries to brush past.

"Sorry sir, I need to take a look at this lady who needs attention."

Monster Man loses his temper and shoves the paramedic. He goes sprawling into the lap of the lady across the aisle.

"I DON'T ....ING CARE ABOUT HER! LET HER DIE FOR ALL I CARE! WHY THE .... CAN'T I GET OFF THE DAMN PLANE!"

Immigration steps up and tries to calm him down.

"Sir, can I please ask you to take your seat while we sort this issue out..."

He shoves Immigration. Oh dear. Bad move. Sussex Police is next man up. He chooses to be assertive rather than polite.

"YOU! Sit down NOW if you know what's good for you."

Monster Man gives a look of pure venom but he complies. The paramedic picks up his kit and continues to the lady. I'm just waiting at the door with my head in my hands.

We finally get the go-ahead from Immigration to disembark. I ask Servisair to ensure that the Dusseldorf passengers collect transit cards and meal vouchers while disembarking. One lady in transit needs a wheelchair. Fortunately G4S has sent a motorised cart so we load her up on that and arrange for a wheelchair to meet her at Flight Connections. Sussex Police are having a few words with Monster Man. He seems a bit more contrite now. He walks up to Immigration and apologises for his behaviour. Immigration accepts good naturedly and they shake hands. Paramedics have given the girl an all clear. This seizure seems to have been genuine. The young lady has a prescription to control it but she has left it in her checked luggage. The paramedics plan to transport her to East Surrey Hospital for observation. Immigration is ok with this. They won't confirm or deny if this was the same girl involved in the last incident.

Passengers are all off now and I turn my attention to the engineers. They were swarming as soon as the aircraft stopped and have already started work on the access panel. Daryl is out supervising the troops in person. He sees me on the jetway and gives a thumbs up. Looks like the work is going as planned. We may escape with just a couple hours of delay on the southbound sector.

Boarding time. We are still missing one transit passenger. We page him while the rampers go looking for his baggage. A few minutes later, we get a call from GAL Security. Our passenger somehow walked past Flight Connections, made his way through Immigration and Customs and is now standing at the railway station still clutching his TRANSIT card. No way am I delaying this flight any more for him. James is instructed to reroute him onto flyBE and we close the doors. A quick transit stop in Dusseldorf and I'm finally back in Africa almost 2 weeks after I left on what was supposed to be an overnight trip.

EGKK 052300Z 0600/0706 10005KT 2000 -SN BKN010 TEMPO 0600/0621 0400 +SN BKN001

The New Year has sadly not brought new weather with it. Tuesday afternoon finds another nasty TAF come across the wires. It's a Dusseldorf night, so I probably should have predicted this. I check the system and see that Dave and Achilles are rostered to operate tonight. Deja vu all over again. I swing by the airport on my way home to have a chat with Dave. He isn't particularly worried yet since Dusseldorf weather is ok, but we agree to talk in the morning depending on what the 5am forecast looks like for Gatwick.

My alarm goes off at 5am and I'm just sitting down at the kitchen table when my phone rings at 502am. It is Kate at Operations calling with the news that Gatwick has shut for snow clearance. The NOTAM gives 0900z as the earliest possible opening. Using standard discretion, the crew will be legal until 1110z (and an extra hour for unforeseen circumstances once they are underway). We relay the news to Dave as soon as he is on the deck at 0553z. CFMU have accepted our flight plan for Gatwick but with a 0946z take off slot. That will give us about 25 minutes slack. Dave isn't very happy but it is the best option available. The passengers settle down for their almost 4 hour wait while the crew conduct the breakfast service. I make a post on Facebook.

"I'm having a day that so far rates approximately negative 3 on a scale of 1 to 10..."

A minute later I get a response from Mike who is the captain for the outbound flight from Gatwick later this morning.

"Does that mean I have the day off?"

I reply.

"No, it just means you're probably gonna starting your duty in a bus rather than a plane!"

How prophetic.

0707z. New NOTAM issued by Gatwick. It will be closed now till at least 1000z. Our 0946z slot disappears from the system a few minutes later. We call Dave again. Our contingency plans in the event of a Gatwick closure are to operate into Stansted and bus the passengers over. Kate files the flightplan and CFMU kicks back a 0835z departure slot. Dave breaks the news to the passengers. The reaction is mixed. They are getting out of Dusseldorf an hour earlier but they are facing a long ride around the M25 after that. I work the phones and set up the Stansted services with Servisair. 0755z. Mark has relieved Kate on the day shift. We make a final call to Dave before he pushes back to deice. He's in a mood for jokes. "I'll call you guys from Bournemouth" are his final words. I laugh. They push back at 0800z and are airborne at 0835z. ETA 0926z into Stansted.

Deicing in Dusseldorf. Pic. courtesy one of the crew

Luc lives near Stansted so he's been drafted to go out and meet the arrival. He calls me at 0915z.

"Bad news mate, they're closing Stansted."
"What? How long for?"
"No word mate, its bucketing down snow right now so it might be a bit."

I call Mark. Dave is still on London Approach frequency and he doesn't have the news from Stansted Tower yet. We start looking at options. Luton might be the best one but they are not accepting diversions without prior authorisation. Mark puts me on speakerphone and tries calling but the lines are busy. Then I hear Dave's voice crackling over the HF. He's just called a missed approach and going back into a holding pattern. Mark checks endurance with him. He has enough fuel to hold until 1115z give or take, so we have some time to play with.

Stansted has a NOTAM out now. Airport will be closed till at least 1100z. That takes them off the table. Gatwick is still out of commission. The south coast airports are also out. We've got about 20 minutes to figure out if we can get into Luton, otherwise we will need to send them up to Manchester. The lines are still busy. I call a friend who knows someone at Aviance Luton. He gives me a mobile number to try. It works! The news is grim. Luton is swamped but they will take our inbound arrival. We will need to ferry the aircraft out though as they do not have spare capacity to work a live departure. We have a deal! Hurry though, the weather is closing in on them too and he doesn't know how long they will stay open. No problem, Dave's just a few minutes away.

I relay the news to Mark. He's immediately on the horn to Dave. For the first time, I sense a bit of stress in Dave's voice. He's been on duty for almost 12 hours now in very trying conditions and I don't envy him. Still, he's doing his job and we need to do ours. I give Mark the contact at Luton to confirm the handling while I start chasing the other services. First call to UK Immigration. Their sleepy little Luton outpost is about to get hit by a bunch of seriously pissed off Africans. The buses that Luc had at Stansted won't be able to make it to Luton for another 2 hours at least, so I call James and ask him to start working on other options. We also need to get Mike's crew up to Luton somehow to get the aircraft out of there. Oh, and while we're at it, we need to cancel this morning's departure from Gatwick too. Can you also start looking for hotel rooms for the passengers please?

Mark calls. New NOTAM is out. Luton will be closing at 1030z for snow clearance. It's 1015z and Dave is somewhere over North London making his way from Essex to Bedfordshire. We are praying he makes it in time. The clock ticks excruciatingly slowly towards the half hour. Finally at 1027z my phone rings. It's Achilles.

"Hi. Dave's taxiing right now but he said to call and tell you we're on the ground. Also, do you know the handling agent 'cos the tower needs to know where to park us?"

Details are relayed. We are the last aircraft to land at Luton before the closure. The airport is quite the mess and it takes almost 30 minutes before passengers are finally off the aircraft. We have no staff at Luton and poor Aviance has only a skeleton staff to spare. Achilles and a couple of the girls go into the terminal to assist passengers. Meanwhile James has arranged some buses. He coordinates with Achilles and the first bus is on the way at 1138z with passengers and bags. Some passengers are refusing to board the bus until they get refreshment vouchers and compensation. We have absolutely no way of sorting that out at Luton. Achilles tries to explain this but they do not want to hear about it. He finally gives them £50 out of his own pocket and the second bus is also underway 15 minutes later. James will meet their arrival at Gatwick with meal vouchers. He printed enough for the entire outbound flight but only about 30 passengers showed up so we have plenty to spare.

Mike and his crew are en route, slowly inching their way around the M25 in a minibus. It takes them the better part of 3 hours but they finally get to Luton just around 2pm. The crews swap places and start prepping for the flight back. Luton has been opening and closing sporadically through the day so I am chewing my nails that we can get out ok. The problem we have is that the deicing holdover is less than 20 minutes under current conditions, so they have to wait until we have a specific takeoff slot before starting the process. The crew need to be airborne by 1710z before discretion starts kicking in. I decide that if we can't go by 1800z, we'll nightstop the crew and ferry first thing in the morning. I managed to snag enough rooms at the Ibis Luton on a 6pm cancellation deadline just in case.

The afternoon ticks by excrutiatingly slowly. Ops is monitoring the situation and sending out updates, but I'm finding it hard to concentrate on anything else in the interim. Mike is facebooking from his laptop so I get my updates directly from him anyway. Meanwhile, the CEO has summoned the operations team for a meeting to review this morning's diversion and cancellation. She is not amused by the mess. The buck stops with me as the person in charge of day-of-operations service delivery. We have a nasty few days of forecast ahead. I sign out the cash float again. I need to be on the ground in London while this stuff is going on.

At 1715z, Mike sends me a message that they are beginning to deice. They finally push and are airborne at 1734z. Flight time of just under 7 hours so we can probably escape with just a couple hours of delay on tonight's northbound. I cancel the rooms at the Ibis Luton and breathe a sigh of relief for the first time all day. Maybe I can grab a quick nap before the flight up?

Mark calls during my drive home. He's not having a fun day in Ops either poor lad. He's just seen a NOTAM about a fuel tank cleaning exercise due to begin tonight from 0030z to 0530z. This could be an issue. I'm not particularly worried though. I call our account manager at the fuel company to request an extension of deadline. His secretary tells me that he is still on Christmas leave. Uh oh. The replacement is a guy I've never dealt with before. I explain that we will need to fuel just a few minutes past the published cut-off time. He gives me bureaucratic excuses why this will not be possible. Oh dear. OH DEAR. OH &%*$!

I talk it over with our station manager. He thinks that as long as we commence fuelling before the deadline, they won't cut us off in mid stream. The fuel company confirms this to be the case. To be on the safe side, this means we have to be on the ground by 0020z in order for Mike to be on stand and hooked up by 0030z. Right now his ETA is 0028z. I call Mark back. He needs to raise Mike on HF and tell him to floor it. We need to make up 8 minutes during the flight.

I'm back at the airport just before midnight. Tower confirms that Mike is due on the deck at 0021z, so we might escape on that front. Our crew for tonight are led by Don, an imperturbable old Scotsman who began his career flying the Vickers Vanguard for BEA. The morning forecast for Gatwick is rubbish but Don isn't worried. He's seen it all in his 30,000 flying hours. The same headwinds that are holding up Mike on the way down will give us a nice push on the way up. We should have plenty of holding fuel available should the need present itself.

Mike touches down at 0021z and is on stand 4 minutes later. As it was a ferry, there are no passengers or bags to worry about so we are hooked up and pumping fuel by 0028z. Another deadline met by the skin of our teeth. However, Don notices that we have a thin sheet of ice on the wings. He calls me over and asks if we have deicing trucks available on the field. I laugh at the thought. It is 30C at midnight and the lowest recorded temperature in the history of the airport was 17C. Not really much demand for deicing services here. So how the heck did the ice get here?

Don explains. The fuel had been pumped into the tanks in -20C conditions and then allowed to sit for 5 hours while awaiting deicing at Luton. The fuel is largely contained in the wing tanks and stayed well below 0C at altitude. Mike made a steep descent to get onto the ground quickly to beat the deadline so there wasn't much time for it to warm up during the descent. Now on the ground the humidity is at 100% and condensation is forming on the wings. Due to the very low temperature of the wing surfaces, some of this condensation is freezing and thats where the icing comes from.

So what do we do now? Easy peasy. Just pump the cold fuel to the center tanks and let the warmer fuel being currently loaded go into the wing tanks. That will warm up the wing surfaces and melt the ice. And if that doesn't work, we'll just call the fire trucks to have them spray plain water on it. Simple physics, but a good example of the value of Don's experience. We're finally airborne at 0150z and I finally get a chance to catch up on my sleep. With the strong tailwinds, we should be on the ground just around 745am. I leave strict instructions not to wake me up unless we're about to crash. The girls fuss around and tuck me in for the night. Honestly, I sleep better on the aircraft than I do at home!

I stir as a ray of sunlight crosses my face. It's 815am. My mind doesn't process that for a few seconds but suddenly it strikes me. What the hell happened? We should have been on the ground 30 minutes ago. The seatbelt sign isn't even on but we appear to be flying a racetrack hold. P sees I'm awake and brings me my morning coffee made just the way I like it. That girl knows me too well. She advises that Don wants to have a word with me in the galley.

"Sleeping Beauty is awake now eh?"
"Mornin' Don! What's going on?"
"Aye laddie, got us a decision tae make. Gatwick is open but ATC are sayin' we cannae park kiz there's no stands available. Too many aircraft stranded overnight. Dae ya wanna go in anyway or dae ye wanna divert? We got fuel tae hold for another oor if we want..."
"You're the skipper Don, it's your call in the end."
"Laddie, if ya leave it tae me we're goin' tae Embra right noo so I dinnae have tae catch Easyjet home this afternoon!"
"Touche. Well, from a commercial perspective if you can get us into Gatwick safely that is always the top priority. I'll get us parking somehow."
"Aye, I thought ye'd say that. Righty ho, let the lassies here make me a nice cuppa and then we'll go land this machine."

Half an hour later, we touch down. Gatwick is eerily quiet. There are no surface movements other than us. The snow is everywhere. We shuffle off the runway and hold on Juliet short of the 170s. I'm on the phone negotiating with Apron. They are not being helpful. British Airways and Easyjet have cancelled their entire morning programs today so thats a lot of empty parking spaces lost to those airframes. The only departure on the board for the next hour is a Monarch 320 ferrying out and that stand doesn't have enough clearance for a 757. Emirates has a 777 stuck at North Terminal since last night which plans to go shortly afterwards, but that's the wrong terminal and there's a Delta 767 on approach now who is slated to go into that space.



I call Servisair. They aren't very pleased with Apron's intransigence either. They do have a possible option though. Stand 180 is not occupied but they have not been able to clear the stand of residual snow this morning. It is truly at the forgotten corner of the airport, just over 2 kms away from South Terminal overlooking the access road that leads to the Virgin Atlantic maintenance base. We can get the aircraft onto stand and the passengers off, but may have some delays offloading baggage and getting other services done. I'm fine with this as we don't have a departure till 11pm tonight. Don agrees its the best bet. Apron concedes the stand to us. It takes the Servisair dispatcher 20 minutes to drive out to set the guidance system and brush the snow off the stairs, but we're finally parked just before 930am. Another hour and we're unloaded. Welcome to London Gatwick.

On the long bus ride to the terminal, I get a call. Its Geoff from Iceland Express. He's got his inbound flight from Keflavik diverting to Luton due to the lack of available stands at Gatwick. Could I help him out with some contact numbers there? No problem. I owe Geoff bigtime for all his help at Christmas anyway. I offer to assist rounding up his passengers while he sets up the buses for them to Luton. He's grateful. I spend the next couple hours paging passengers, escorting them back through immigration, collecting their luggage and pointing them to the buses. Ironically, one of the passengers turns out to be someone I knew casually at school 15 years ago! Small world. Geoff is on his way around noon and I retire to the Hilton for a quick nap.

I wake up at 4pm and check the Gatwick departures board on my laptop. The weather isn't particularly severe but there are still dozens of cancellations. I talk to Servisair. Evidently the problem is that Gatwick is completely out of deicing fluid. They are able to service aircraft that can turnaround without deicing but no departures for any flights that must deice. Oh no. Another crisis.

I call James and brief him. We have to set a decision point to cancel so as to avoid bringing yesterday's folks out of the hotel only to cancel on them again. We pick 1830z as the deadline. That gives us just over 2 hours to find a solution. I work the phones like a maniac. I finally manage to reach someone who offers a glimmer of hope. Gatwick Airport has a "strategic reserve" of deicing fluid that requires the authorisation of the GAL Head of Airside Operations to tap into. I talk to Servisair again and get the guy's number. He has already left the office but his secretary forwards me to his mobile. I state my case. We're the only longhaul departure from Gatwick tonight. The new owners have made it a stated priority to attract new longhaul services. How can they maintain that position unless they are willing to help out longhaul operators in time of need. He listens to my pitch. He must make a few calls once he gets home but will call me back within the hour. The hour passes and no response. It strikes me that he probably doesn't have my number since the call was forwarded to him. Damn. I call Servisair again. They were just about to call me. GAL has approved my request for the fluid and asked them to pass along the news to me. Gentlemen, we have dodged another bullet.

We are the only flight in South Terminal tonight that is not cancelled, so Servisair are able to provide us with as many checkin desks as we want. With the addition of yesterday's passengers from the cancelled flight, we are actually slightly oversold so every last hand on deck is useful. We finally close with only 4 seats to spare. As the passengers head to the departure gate, James and I drive out to the aircraft to check how things are progressing. Loading is slow but steady. The only challenge is probably going to be the long drive out to the aircraft. The ramp car gets stuck in the snow as we try to head back to the terminal. After a bunch of pushing and shoving in vain, we finally decide to get some pots of hot water from the aircraft and use that to melt the snow around the wheels.

We've finally got everyone loaded up. Martin is our captain tonight and he makes a welcome aboard speech that explains why we are the only aircraft leaving Gatwick tonight and the number of strings that had to be pulled all day long to achieve this. He singles me out for praise and I get a muffled round of applause from the passengers. That's a first, even for me! We close up on time, spend a few minutes deicing and are airborne with an ETA 10 minutes early back into Africa. Now that is what I call a good day's work.

A full day in the office on Friday and I'm back to London on Friday night's flight. They have had a delivery of deicing fluid during the day so our Saturday morning turnaround goes smoothly enough. Back in Africa later in the day, I review the weather for the Dusseldorf rotation tonight. The forecast is not good (it's Dusseldorf night, why am I not surprised). The airport has been closed most of the day on Saturday but is open now. There is some precipitation forecast for the morning but nothing likely to shut down the airport again. The bigger issue is going to for passengers with connecting flights whose outbound legs are cancelled. We have a group of ten connecting to Lufthansa's Newark flight onward to Pittsburgh and another smaller group heading to Atlanta with Delta. The rest are mainly regional connections on Air Berlin. Nothing that can't be rebooked if things go sour.

Martin welcomes everyone aboard and advises them of the nasty weather at destination. A minute later, Karen comes looking for me advising that an irate passenger is demanding to see a manager. Would I be willing to deal with her? Umm.. sure.

The passenger is very upset.

"Hello ma'am, how can I help you?"
"Didn't you hear what the pilot said?
"Yes I did ma'am. He said that the flight would be 6 hours 18 minutes and gave the weather forecast for Dusseldorf."
"He said it would be snowing!!!"
"Yes that's the weather forecast unfortunately."
"Well, that is unacceptable. What are you going to do about it?"
"Sorry?"
"I didn't fly an African airline to get stuck in the snow. If I wanted it to snow I would have flown Lufthansa."
"Uh, I think it's snowing in Dusseldorf for Lufthansa as well."
"No, I flew Lufthansa in June and it was not snowing in Dusseldorf."
"That's because it was June, not because it was Lufthansa."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"No ma'am, but I really don't know what I can do to help."
"Your airline is useless, I'll never fly with you again."

Ah well. Another satisfied customer.

Nasty weather in Dusseldorf, even for an African airline

Dusseldorf weather is utterly horrendous the next morning. We make it in without too much hassle but it takes over an hour to complete the offload and refuel due to the poor conditions. Another 45 minutes to deice which means we're almost 2 hours late into Gatwick. Despite that, we have a brilliant turnaround and get out a few minutes ahead of schedule. Dusseldorf is slushy in the afternoon but our pit stop goes without incident and we're back in Africa by 830pm. After spending the last 4 nights on planes, I'm craving my bed.

The aftermath - slush


The reprieve is short-lived. Wednesday is another nasty weather day in the UK and Gatwick is closed most of the day. Contingency planning has become the rule rather than the exception lately. Pat and Ivan are flying us up tonight, and coincidentally are scheduled to fly us back down on Thursday night as well. Pat jokes that with the short minimum rest period, it might be easier for him to divert to Stansted and have his wife pick him up there rather than drive home from Gatwick. Not funny.

We have an interesting passenger at check-in. A local lady who has never left the country before but holds an Icelandic residence permit. She evidently had an internet relationship with an Icelandic man who flew down and married her last year. Now she is ready to make the big move. She plans to connect from our flight to Iceland Express on separate tickets. Ordinarily this would require having to go through immigration, claim her baggage, go back to check-in, etc... but when we try to explain this to her she seems quite confused by the directions - understandable for a first time traveler. I call Geoff and he agrees to accept the transfer tags as an exception. He'll even try to have a Servisair girl meet our arrival with her onward boarding pass. She's tagged up to Keflavik and sent on her way. Good deed done for the day.

We make it in to Gatwick without much hassle the next morning. How anti-climatic. I'm having breakfast at the Hilton when I get a call from Geoff. Looks like our transfer passenger missed the Servisair girl with the sign while disembarking. Ugh. She'll probably show up at Flight Connections then. An hour later there is still no sign of her at Flight Connections. Geoff has to pull her baggage off and the flight leaves without her. Around lunchtime, Geoff gets a call from his counterparts up in Kef. The husband has been hanging around arrivals and trying to track her down. He relays the story. We're beginning to get a bit worried. Gatwick isn't that large an airport and there's only a limited number of places she could have disappeared to. Then James calls. Immigration has just faxed a mugshot of an "undocumented passenger" suspected to have arrived on our flight. My heart sinks. Alas, it is true. Although immigration cannot confirm or deny for privacy reasons, it appears that our girl has destroyed her passport and claimed asylum in the UK. The whole Icelandic marriage thing was a con to simply get her a ticket to London. There is at least one broken heart in Reykjavik tonight and a handful of very disappointed airline staff in Gatwick. No good deed goes unpunished.

An uneventful return to Africa finds me spending the rest of the week on the ground. After flying over 30000 miles and 6 redeyes in the last 8 days, this is much welcomed. The respite does not last long though as it is soon time to head back to India to sort out my pending medical issues. I've decided to burn some miles for Lufthansa Business Class to get there and then return on Emirates in Economy.

Flying on Lufthansa reminds me just how unpleasant the airport experience in Africa can be for a passenger, even in a premium cabin. The line at security is horrendously long and there is no priority lane. I spend almost 90 minutes waiting to be screened. On the bright side though, the aircraft is already boarding by the time I get to the gate. The flight is absolutely packed in Economy but only 3 of us in the rear Business Class cabin of the Airbus 330. Service is pretty quick as a result. A quick dinner and I'm in dreamland before the hour is out. I wake up only 30 minutes out of Frankfurt but the lovely crew are happy to deliver me a Continental breakfast tray as I freshen up.

Frankfurt is quite the zoological experience in the early mornings but I navigate my way to the relatively new Lufthansa Arrivals Lounge. A shower and breakfast later, I feel almost human. Back airside, the Senator lounge is far less civilised. The Boeing 747 to Mumbai is pretty full and there are a bunch of folks upgraded at the gate. Fortunately, the middle seat next to me remains empty. The flight is routine. Lunch, movie, nap, supper, land.

I spend the week in India getting myself prodded, poked, cut open and stitched back up by a variety of medical and dental practitioners. Finally, its time to head back to Africa. The early morning Emirates flight is an hour late as usual, but thankfully the onward connection is also delayed so I don't have to run and aggravate my steadily recovering knee. I'm back in the office on Tuesday afternoon with a new issue on the horizon.

Last edited by B747-437B; Jun 5, 13 at 2:41 am
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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:20 pm
  #6  
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Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Exile
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Part 5 : Togo and Algeria

We have a fuel shortage brewing. There was a fire at the refinery that supplies our local airport and there have been no Jet A-1 deliveries for some days as a result. All airlines are being rationed to 50% uplift (that's fine for us as we usually tanker 50% of our needs from Europe anyway) but there is a warning that if new deliveries don't arrive by Wednesday afternoon, we will need to make arrangements elsewhere. Our primary option is just down the road in Lome, Togo.

Togo or not Togo, that was the question for most of the day on Wednesday. At 1800z, a new NOTAM comes out advising that the tanks have officially run dry and there is no uplift available till further notice. A few conference calls with our fuel providers and we are set up for a splash-and-dash in Lome. I sign the cash float out yet again. Looks like my hectic January is still going strong. I text Neil and Andy, our pilots tonight, with the info and head home to pick up my overnight bag.

The hop over to Lome takes barely 20 minutes and we're on the ground at Gnassingbe Eyadema International Airport slightly before midnight. TOTAL is waiting for us with a fuel truck and I leave them in the able care of Andy while I head off to the control tower to file our flight plans. There is an unwritten protocol when you operate out of any airport in West Africa. You must take small "gifts" for the guys in the tower. Not that bad things will happen if you don't, but they sure as hell won't help you more than they have to! Today, I have brought cans of Coke and packets of plantain chips from the aircraft. The entire nightshift seems to be hanging around an ancient TV set watching a dubbed Kung-Fu movie, so the snacks are much appreciated. I painstakingly complete the ICAO Flight Plan form (everything is already filed by computer but they still insist on this piece of paper filled out in duplicate with carbon paper). After this, its the ritual of payment of landing and handling fees. US Dollar cash please. Ugh. Extortion to put it mildly. I return to the aircraft $8000 poorer muttering all sorts of unprintable things under my breath. We're all fuelled up and ready to go as soon as I'm on board. A quick dinner and I sleep all the way to London.

Parked at Gnassingbe Eyadema Airport in Lome, Togo

Another redeye back on Thursday night finds me working late on Friday evening in the hope of a quiet weekend for a change. There are lots of invoices that have been pending during my week away and its past 9pm by the time I'm finally done for the week. I decide to swing by the airport on the way home just to see how things are going. I run into the outbound pilots there and we chat for a while. Jamie is the captain, having just switched back to the 757 fleet after spending the last few years flying 737s in Iceland. He's paired with Geoff, another veteran captain. We go through the NOTAMs but really nothing of consequence today. We have fuel and the weather at destination is good. Maybe the demons have been exorcised?

The purser today is Sarah and she invites me to sit in on the cabin crew pre-flight. I like to do this from time to time just to keep up with galley gossip. We're a small airline and I'm good friends with most of our crew. There are lots of hugs and inquiries about my knee. As they start with the briefing, Sarah asks me to pick a safety topic for the review. Off the top of my head, I choose NITS Briefings. For those unfamiliar with NITS, it is the acronym for "Nature, Intent, Time, Specials" - the key elements of the communication framework in the event of an emergency. We go in a circle asking and answering questions on the subject and everyone is on top of the material by the time it does the full round. I walk with them to the aircraft and then take their leave. Home before midnight and a nice quiet weekend ahead.

At 358am, my phone rings. It is Jarek at Operations. I hear the scratchy sounds of HF in the background. Jarek's voice is worried. He speaks slowly and deliberately.

"101 has called. They have a hydraulics issue. The signal was very unclear. He is trying to make Ghardaia."

This is the proverbial 4am phonecall that every airline manager dreads. In the next split second I understood the origin of the phrase "sends a chill up your spine". I have a million questions but I know we don't have the answers yet.

"Mayday?", I ask, trying to judge the seriousness of the situation.

"Negative. Pan."

His voice trails off into the unspoken "for now". The HF crackles again in the background. The numbers FOUR and TWO are distinct through the static. Jarek relays.

"ETA Oh Four Four Two Zulu".

I sit in the darkness of my bedroom with my head in my hands. I have never felt so helpless in my life. There are 133 people's lives at stake here. Every instinct tells me that I need to do something but there is nothing I can do now other than pray that Jamie and Geoff can pull off something that they have trained for years to do. My mind wanders to the rest of the crew. I can picture them bustling around preparing the cabin. Sarah will be delivering the NITS briefing. My God, I hope I didn't jinx them by bringing that up tonight. ENOUGH. FOCUS. They have their jobs to do and I have to do mine. I pull on a T-shirt and stumble to the desk where my laptop awaits.

The middle of nowhere.

First step is to pull up the database and see where exactly Ghardaia is and what they might find there. It's not promising. If you take a dart and threw it into the middle of the Sahara, chances are you will wind up pretty close to Ghardaia. Scheduled flights are virtually non-existent and they all go to Algiers anyway. Handling is Air Algerie, fuel is NAFTAL, Jet A-1 is available. Runway is 10000 feet so they will have plenty of room to play with. Thank God for small mercies. Hotel rooms are scarce, definitely not enough for the 133 passengers. Rescue flight will need to be a priority. Information control is the next step. I call the CEO. She answers groggily and I give her a quick situation brief. She will brief managers and media on a need-to-know basis until more information is available.

As a small airline, we don't have the luxury of spare aircraft sitting around for eventualities like this. Our wonderful aircraft lessors though offer us access to a pool of backup aircraft that we can call upon on extremely short notice in case things go pear shaped. I wake up our account manager and he gives me a green light to requisition anything we need. I scan the fleet list and find a dormant 737 in Italy and a 757 in Bournemouth that meet our needs. The 737 will ferry to Algeria to pick up the passengers and the 757 will ferry to Gatwick to operate the return segment to minimise disruption.

I call Jarek again. He's been busy. Nothing works better than purposeful activity to take your mind off the fact that a dozen of your friends and over a hundred of your customers are five miles up in a metal tube leaking hydraulic fluid onto the Sahara desert. He's got poor Daryl from Engineering out of bed as well and on standby to troubleshoot once we're on the ground. Now it's a waiting game. No news is good news until ETA. I email Jarek a possible recovery schedule to start working on crewing and permits. Tick tock tick tock. The minutes drag by excrutiatingly slowly.

At 0448z Jarek calls back. He keeps it brief. "Down safe." Thank God for that. I relay the news to the CEO. Just as I'm hanging up there, I see Jamie's number pop up on caller waiting. He sounds very much in command of the situation.

"Great job Jamie. I knew you'd pull it off!"
"Thanks. Any plans for the passengers yet?"
"We've got Juliet (Ed Note : "Juliet" is the last letter of the replacement 737's registration) coming out of Bergamo in a few hours to pick you guys up, but we need to get them into a terminal or something in the meanwhile."
"There really isn't much here. I can see maybe two buildings and a control tower, but thats about it for miles around. Tower says we need to wait a while until they can get people in to open things up. Another couple hours till daylight at least."
"How's the aircraft holding up?"
"She'll be fine so long as we just sit here. We've been running off center hydraulic system (Ed Note : The 757 has three hydraulic systems so there is redundancy built in to safely operate even with multiple failures), but its all shut down now. Still on the runway but APU power only. No other traffic scheduled for the rest of the day it seems!"
"Any pax issues?"
"None yet, but give it time!"
"How are the girls taking it?"
"Shaken but solid. Sarah wants to have a word if you don't mind?"

He passes the phone to Sarah. I can sense the relief in her voice.

"I don't know whether to love you or hate you for bringing up NITS tonight!!!"
"Haha. Call it an unlucky coincidence that worked out well. How are you guys doing?"
"We're hanging in there. You know how it goes."
"How are the passengers?"
"One guy is going ballistic and getting aggressive. I've got Francis dealing with him. A few others are a bit shaken. Gloria is handling them. The rest are just glad to be down safe."
"Good enough. How are we doing with catering? We may not be able to get anything on the ground for a while."
"Nearly everyone ate dinner. Only a handful of trays unused. Breakfast service is still waiting. Bars are fine but a little low on Diet Coke. (Ed Note : Sarah and I are both Diet Coke addicts and have an inside joke about our worst fear being an imagined shortage on a long flight!)."
"Ok, take all the alcohol and seal it in a single cart. I don't know what kind of regulations they have about alcohol down there but lets not take the chance of offending local sensibilities. Co-ordinate with Jamie as to when they are going to be able to put you in the terminal. Try to do the breakfast service about an hour before that and take all remaining drinks into the terminal with you. Assume that nothing will be available."
"Gotcha. Don't worry about us, we'll manage."
"It's my job to worry! Stay safe and I'll see you guys later."

I call Luc and give him the news about the diversion. He's already on the M25 en route to Gatwick. He's going to have to handle the families of the passengers as well as coordinate the replacement aircraft for the outbound flight. I have no pity for him. I've got quite enough on my own plate.

Back to Jarek now to see how the recovery plans are going. The news is mixed. He's got a crew lined up now to ferry the replacement 757 out of Bournemouth and the regular scheduled crew will operate it down from Gatwick. Daryl is already busy ordering parts but the problem is how to get everything into Ghardaia. The best bet seems to be to try and do a flag stop on today's scheduled service to drop off engineers, tools, parts and a new crew - but he's not sure they will be ready in time. They could however stage out of Dusseldorf tomorrow, provided we can keep the replacement aircraft through the weekend. The Algerian permits for the rescue flight may be an issue. They are notoriously slow to respond on weekends (Ed Note : Weekend in Algeria is Friday-Saturday). Well, lets file them ASAP and get the ball rolling. Oh, and good job with everything Jarek.

I work the phones as the sun rises. Fuel, slots, handling, catering, etc... all have to be set up for the relief flights. Jamie is texting me regular updates from Algeria. They are off the aircraft around 730am once the guy with the keys to the terminal arrives. The media has the story now and the poor CEO is getting swamped with requests for comment. Slow news day evidently. The 757 from Bournemouth makes it to Gatwick safely. This aircraft is in an all-Economy config so Luc has to sort out a few involuntary downgrades. The passengers are very understanding (they receive a refund of the J->Y fare difference as well as a free upgrade valid on their next flight) and one even comments that he was pleasantly surprised to be flying on time after hearing about the inbound diversion.

The 737 is still being held up from launching from Bergamo as the Algerian permits have not yet come through. That is frustrating as I hoped to have the passengers in London by lunchtime, but now it seems we'll be lucky to get them out of Ghardaia by then. I call Jamie to see how they are holding up. Everyone seems to be ok except for one passenger. This is the same guy that Sarah had mentioned earlier. He's being highly uncooperative and has upset the Algerian gendarmes as well with his attitude. I tell Jamie that he should exercise captain's authority and have them shoot the guy. "Don't tempt me", is the only half-joking answer.

Its almost departure time from Gatwick, but Daryl still hasn't got his hands on all the parts he might need for the repairs. We decide to move to Plan B and run tomorrow's Dusseldorf flight with a Ghardaia pitstop instead. Kate has relieved Jarek on the day shift and she starts working on those logistics. She puts in the request for the Algerian permits for tomorrow and immediately receives a reply covering both that and today's pending request. Our permits have been approved BUT they want US Dollar or Euro cash payment for landing and overflights in Ghardaia. No credit cards or billing accepted. I call Jamie and ask how much he has with him. Alas, 56 pounds and change will not be enough.

I phone the CEO again and she authorises use of the emergency reserve funds. I meet one of the finance managers at the office and sign for $40,000 from the safe. I'm going to fly up to London tonight and continue via Dusseldorf through to Ghardaia with the engineers in the morning. Meanwhile, Jamie advises that the passengers are getting hungry. The airport cafeteria is a tiny hole in the wall with enough supplies to feed barely twenty people. The cafe owner is willing to try and scrounge something together, but he warns that it may not be too fancy being a weekend morning. Well, beggars can't be choosers - especially since he is willing to spend out of his own pocket for the food on what is essentially just Jamie's word and accept payment tomorrow. Turns out that the best he could do was a crate of oranges and 28 loaves of French bread but every little bit is appreciated. The girls scrounge through the used trays from the dinner service and rescue the leftover sealed packets of cheese. There is plenty of fresh coffee though, which is much appreciated by most of the passengers.

This is what $40000 looks like

Juliet arrives in Ghardaia and they load her up for Gatwick. With the passengers and crew from the 757, its a very full load. The Algerians do a superb job with the loading and manage to squeeze over 220 bags into the hold. She's finally airborne and I heave a sigh of relief. Then James calls me. Special Branch have been in touch to confirm that a particular passenger is on the aircraft. They want to meet the arrival and pick him up on an outstanding warrant for child abduction. They are waiting on the jetway. He tries to make a run for it when he spots them but there is nowhere to escape. Turns out this is the same guy who has been causing trouble in Ghardaia. As they are putting on the cuffs, he burst into tears. He confesses that he's swallowed two condoms full of cocaine and is worried sick that they might rupture. Bloody hell. No wonder he was so antsy all day!!!

The flight up to Dusseldorf and London that night is relatively uneventful. With no Business Class seats on this aircraft, I stretch out across a row and sleep most of the way. During the Dusseldorf transit, I speak to Jarek (on nightshift again) who informs me that everything is set for the Ghardaia stop later in the day and that Jamie has left the Cafeteria invoices for me at Ops! I ride the crew bus to the Ops office (taking a minute to stop and declare the cash I am carrying to Customs of course!) where I run into the relief crew who will also be riding with us to ferry the aircraft back to the UK.

Our lessor's pilot ranks include a gentleman who just happens to juggle two jobs to earn his living. In addition to his day job as a 757 line captain and ground school instructor, he is the lead singer and frontman for a rather well known heavy metal band that he personally flies around the world in a customised 757 when on tour. He is also an an author of fiction, movie producer, TV/radio presenter and international standard competitive fencer. Today though, he is just "Captain Paul" (he uses his real name rather than his stage name when he is flying) and he will be deadheading with us to Ghardaia to bring the aircraft back.

Jarek has proactively de-rostered Sarah and the crew from having to work today's flight back to Africa, so we have borrowed a UK based cabin crew from our lessors as well. They are headed up by Donna who I've worked with many times before. The other girls are all making their first trip to Africa and are quite excited. The captain is Nick, a former RAF test pilot who has written a book on jungle survival and has the quirky habit of carrying a homemade fruitcake on every flight. We also have a pair of characters named Stew and Spud who comprise the engineering AOG team. It will not be a boring flight today for sure.

Back at the aircraft, I run into Sarah and the girls deadheading home. They are still physically and emotionally drained. It's a big group hug with a few tears of relief from them and many words of praise and gratitude from me for a job well done. Daryl gives me the manifest for the half ton of spares he is sending down to Ghardaia. Given enough time, Stew and Spud can probably build a whole new plane out of that! As we push back en route to Dusseldorf, Donna comes to me in a minor panic. Thanks to the 11 deadheads and the expected load out of Dusseldorf, we are short by ten meals. I kick myself mentally. I should have foreseen this. Ok, leave it with me.

Daniel meets the arrival in Dusseldorf and I quickly confirm the final checked-in load with him. Yep, still a problem. Ok, time to think outside the box. I head down to arrivals where a very surprised Bundespolizei officer is reading his newspaper at a closed immigration desk.

"Hallo, wie gehts?"
"Hi, I need to go through to the landside."
"Why you wish to enter Germany? No crew layover usually for you."
"I need to go to McDonalds for a few minutes."
"You wish to enter Germany to visit McDonalds for a few minutes?"
"Yes, I'm leaving as soon as I've got the food."

Much muttering under his breath about crazy airline people, but he opens the gates and waves me into the country. Wilkommen in Deutschland.

Thankfully there is no line at McDonalds. I order a dozen Big Macs, a dozen McChickens, a dozen fries and two hundred chicken nuggets.

"Please wait, I call my supervisor."
"Is there a problem?"
"My English not so good. I misunderstand you say want twelve Big Mac, twelve McChiken, twelve French Fry and two hundred nugget."
"Ja, zwei hunderd nugget. Das ist Mahlzeit fur die komplette Crew"
"Oh! Bitte schoen."

I head back upstairs to the crew security checkpoint, now carrying a huge box containing 89 Euros worth of arterial obstructions. The box goes through the X-Ray machine but something draws the attention of the guy at the screen. It is pulled aside.

"Was ist das?"
"Just food for the crew."
"There is liquid on the scanner. What liquid is there?"
"No liquids. Just burgers, fries and nuggets."
"Ah, McNuggets. You will have some Sweet and Sour Sauce with that yes? No problem, enjoy!"

We're airborne ahead of schedule with some nice tail winds pushing us to Ghardaia. The deadheads have staked out some empty rows at the back and we pass out the McDonalds discreetly there. I head to the galley to get a Diet Coke and overhear two young passengers arguing as they wait for the lavs. One is wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt.

"I'm telling you its him!"
"What have you been smoking?"
"I think I can recognise my favourite singer!"
"You're crazy. What the heck would he be doing here?"
"I don't know but I'm sure its him!"

I interrupt.

"Sorry, I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. It actually IS him. Go say hello, he doesn't bite."

The look of absolute joy and gratitude on the lad's face was almost scary.

A couple hours later we're on approach into Ghardaia. Nick tries to inject some humour into his pre-arrival announcement by telling us that it's snowing, but nobody laughs. This is one of those places that pretty much everyone on the aircraft will never visit again in their lives, so noses are pressed up against windows to get a look at what the middle of the Sahara desert looks like. It lives up to its stereotype. There is lots of sand. And thats about it. No, seriously. Jamie's description yesterday was right. There is only sand and a couple of buildings visible as we taxi to the ramp. I spot our aircraft parked near the tower in the distance. Two 757s on the ground at the same time here must be a new record.







They are expecting us. Gendarmes and Customs are waiting on the top step when Donna opens the door.

"Bonjour. Salaam aleikum. Welcome to the humble town of Ghardaia."

Oh dear. This looks like one of those times where protocol demands an appropriate response. I rack my brains and try to be creative.

"Waleikum salaam. We are honoured to visit your town where you have extended such wonderful hospitality to our brothers and sisters yesterday."

SCORE! The beaming smile on the face of the Customs inspector gets everything off on a good note. They still want those of us who are disembarking to fill out landing cards, but it is made clear to the minions that we are honored guests that are not to be messed with.

The handlers roll up with a modern-looking belt loader marked for Air Algerie. Stew, Spud and myself scramble around in the hold to ensure we are offloading all the correct containers. Customs opens up a few boxes half heartedly and then wave us along. We have some leftover McDonalds which Donna offers to the young conscripts guarding the aircraft. Their eyes light up even at the sight of a soggy bag from the Golden Arches. One man's leftovers is another man's feast I guess.

A man with a big moustache arrives with a bigger pile of invoices. That's my cue. We head off to the control tower where his office is located. The only other building is the passenger terminal, which looks surprisingly swanky from the outside. I have brought a few gifts with me to help smooth things along. Jamie had told me that he is a huge Premier League football fan, so I have brought him a selection of the British newspapers' Sunday sports sections. He is almost in tears as he excitedly clutches the Sunday Times! He has painstakingly consolidated and handwritten all the receipts for landing, handling, overflight, catering and everything else in anticipation of our arrival so all that remains to be done is to work out the exchange rate and count the cash. It still takes almost half an hour. I finally leave the tower with a half inch stack of receipts for almost $24000. Expensive weekend.


Stew and Spud are already working on the aircraft while the pilots are poking around inside. I have one more visit to make though. Although his invoice has been paid at the tower, I want to meet the Cafeteria owner and thank him for his hospitality in person. The Cafeteria is landside however and there is no immigration officer on duty. No worries. One of the young gendarmes, recently satiated by a soggy Big Mac, opens a side gate and leads me right onto the street outside. Welcome to Algeria I guess! We walk back into the terminal where the Cafeteria manager is sipping coffee with a friend. I introduce myself and hand over a Business Class amenity kit as a thank you gift. He is touched and shakes my hand vigourously.


Back on the ramp, the 757 that brought us in an hour ago is just finishing up refuelling. "Paul" suggests that I head home on that instead of waiting around and flying to London later, only to have to double back the next day. My job here appears to be done, so I'm agreeable if he's cool with it. He promises to text me updates. I climb the stairs where Donna is waiting to close the door behind me. As I settle back into my seat, I see our Algerian friends waving. A minute later we are airborne, climbing steadily into the spectacular Saharan twilight. New days and new challenges await...

Last edited by B747-437B; May 20, 13 at 10:12 am
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Old Aug 15, 10, 8:26 pm
  #7  
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Part 6 : Epilogue

I started writing this report in early January, before many of the events recounted here even took place. Over the weeks and months that followed, chronicling the experiences of "The Month Hell (and Europe) Froze Over" helped keep me sane and put things into perspective.

In April, a volcano named Eyjafjallajökull single-handedly caused more trouble in a week than every incident narrated in this report put together. After 5 years doing this job virtually nonstop, I had reached my limit. I'm barely on the wrong side of 30, but my work life was physically affecting my health. Leave aside injured knees and broken teeth, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I turned in my notice at the end of April and took on a purely advisory role. The following month, my former employers succumbed to the wrath of Eyjafjallajökull and suspended operations. I planned a vacation. As of today, I haven't set foot in an airport for almost 2 months. I'm happier than I've been in years. I'm advising a couple of planned start-up airlines in West Africa. One day, if they get off the ground, I might take on a similar role there.

If the reader could take only one thing away from this report, I would like it to be the reminder that airline employees are human beings too. I've been privileged to work with some superb people. This piece is dedicated to them.

Thanks for reading. May your travels be safe and comfortable.

Last edited by B747-437B; Aug 16, 10 at 6:01 am
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Old Aug 15, 10, 9:15 pm
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
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Fantastic trip report as usual! Looking forward to the conclusion
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Old Aug 15, 10, 9:59 pm
  #9  
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Riveting. Absolutely riveting.

A few comments...

1) You eat too much McD's
2) You deal with too many rude people
3) You lead a very busy and interesting life
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Old Aug 16, 10, 12:17 am
  #10  
 
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Just loved every moment of it, especially that story about the Queen of some tin pot African country demanding an upgrade.

I read somewhere that the airline you worked for is no more? Sorry to hear that - are you working elsewhere?
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Old Aug 16, 10, 12:33 am
  #11  
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What can I say? Just an absolutely incredible read.

I stayed up way past my bedtime because I couldn't stop reading it.

Absolutely an outstanding job (both with your work AND with your trip report).
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Old Aug 16, 10, 12:43 am
  #12  
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OT, but I just popped back in to say I really love Ghana International's livery. I think they've done a fantastic job with it.
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Old Aug 16, 10, 12:54 am
  #13  
 
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Broken teeth, 757's in the middle of nowhere and Iron Maiden...this is up there with Seat 2A in terms of riveting-ness, TEH best read I've had in a while
How does Bruce sing for Iron Maiden AND keep up with his ratings? I have enough trouble keeping my IFR and type ratings valid....

Last edited by bakedpatato; Aug 16, 10 at 1:00 am
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Old Aug 16, 10, 1:24 am
  #14  
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Great report B747-437B
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Old Aug 16, 10, 1:50 am
  #15  
 
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thank for TR! Very entertaining..
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