I have just returned from a week’s holiday in Side, Turkey. We had a great time and it is likely to be the source of several more blogs – I may even bore you with some holiday snaps. I love travelling… except the actual travelling that is.
Actually travelling anywhere is a complete pain. First you have to drive to the airport. From Gloucester the nearest airports are Bristol and Birmingham, but to get the dates we wanted we flew from East Midlands, which is about an hour and a half away. Whichever you choose, getting there means using the motorway, which is always a bit of a gamble.
Despite leaving more than enough time for the journey, we still only just made it on time. There were the inevitable road works every few yards, and when we did manage to find a bit of motorway where you could make progress it had more speed cameras on it than grains of sand on the beach I was hoping to one day get to. There was also a nasty moment on the M5 when a white van tried to force us into the central crash barrier: that gets the blood pumping I can tell you. Still, it could have been worse; the opposite carriageway of the M42 was completely closed by an accident: if that had been on our side we would probably still be sat in traffic now.
Getting home from the airport is worse. There are laws against driving with even small amounts of alcohol in your system, whilst using the phone and even eating, but driving after getting off an aeroplane, feeling cramped, irritable and sleep deprived, is apparently OK.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We eventually arrived at East Midland’s Airport and a very agreeable little airport it is. We were through check in and passport control with no trouble, but the worst part of the travelling experience is yet to come: the aeroplane.
We were travelling on a charter flight on an Airbus A320 with 180 seats: about twice as many as can be comfortably fitted within the available space. No-one can be comfortable on one of these flights, but if you are over about five foot eight they make veal crates seem positively spacious. I’m six foot two and simply can’t fit into the allotted space.
Even so, I still spare a thought for those even less fortunate than myself. I am no waif, but looking around the airport at my fellow travellers there are a fair few that make me look positively anorexic. If you have a girth so vast that small objects are being sucked into orbit around you I don’t see how you can possibly fit into the seats. If you are of an uncharitable disposition you may feel that this is their own fault for being fat, but what if you are unfortunate enough to be sat next to one of these behemoths? Your already limited space is surely going to be even more restricted as their ample body parts spill into your precious space.
After four hours or so we arrive at Antalya Airport, where my wife unfolds me like a deckchair and helps me to hobble down the steps of the plane on my now crippled legs. The airport provides ample queuing opportunities during which my extremities return to life and we can head out to enjoy our holiday. But wait: first the transfer. My wife carefully refolds me into the equally un-spacious coach seat for the final hour-long torment before we can finally relax and enjoy our holiday… about which, more in a later blog.
Fast forward seven days. Picture us relaxed, happy and tanned (well, a bit) but ready to head home. The whole process then begins again in reverse: first the tedious coach journey, on this occasion made even more tedious by a large northern family with an enthusiasm for their own voices which far outweighed their enthusiasm for their holiday, about which they whinged at length and volume for the enjoyment of their fellow travellers.
Next comes the airport queuing. We stand in a queue for about an hour going nowhere. Eventually a rumour begins to ripple back: there’s no plane. Preposterous I say, of course there’s a plane. After all, if there was no plane they would have known hours ago and wouldn’t have dragged us all the way here. Would they?
A look at the Thomas Cook rep isn’t reassuring. She is making frantic phone calls and having animated discussions with airport staff. Sure enough, there’s no plane. Apparently it suffered a technical fault and had to be diverted to Gatwick, where the poor devils on board were decanted to another plane and flown to an airport miles from their hotels somewhere on the other side of Turkey.
In the main my fellow passengers accepted the bad news with a kind of stoic resignation: shit happens, live with it. Bitching and moaning isn’t going to help. However, inevitably there were a few that went off the deep end shouting, whining and generally making impossible demands.
I overheard one of the reps comment that this was the tenth time in two years that she’d had this problem. Shocking, perhaps, but I guess that as long as we insist on cheap flights this is the price that we will pay due to inadequate down time for maintenance and increasingly aged aircraft.
So, more queuing as we were all decanted into buses to be shipped out to hotels for the night. Most of us were taken to a hotel in Antalya and were impressed to see it was four star: at least we’d get a bit of luxury. We joined a very long queue to check in as two guys behind the desk, who had presumably anticipated a quiet night doing the crossword, tried to book in more than a hundred unexpected guests.
We were then sent off to our rooms with instructions to be in breakfast for 0900 for an update. First we had to join yet another queue, this time for the lifts which had the capacity to hold nothing bigger than Kate Moss with a rucksack. Eventually, at 0330 we arrived at our room. Despite the four star hotel rating, the room was summed up most eloquently and accurately, in loud and angry tones, by one of our fellow guests the next morning as a ‘shit-hole’. It made the very basic three star room at our resort hotel look positively palatial. I should point out that this is a hotel that Thomas Cook don’t normally use, and even the reps looked shocked by the woeful standards.
So, bleary eyed we report as requested for an update at 0900, but the poor reps are still battling to get information and are as frustrated as we are. Eventually they tell us we will be picked up at 1800 for a 2100 flight. Okay, I think, make the most of it: let’s take a look at Antalya, so I drag a reluctant and almost comatose wife out for a wander with the promise of a kip by the pool after lunch.
We get back to the hotel for lunch at 1400 and have another update: now we are to be picked up at 1600 – there goes the kip by the pool. Then the time reverts back to 1800, but now it’s too late: we’re all packed again, so we just sit and wait. Sure enough, the buses arrive and we get to the airport.
We queue to check our bags again and then, at the allotted time, queue for our departure gate. As we get to the front of the queue we are turned away as the flight has been put back 30 minutes to 2130. Twenty minutes later we queue again (we’re getting good at it) and this time we’re through. Things are looking promising. Eventually we are on the plane and at 2230 we finally leave the ground, just over 20 hours behind schedule.
The whole episode seems to have been something of a shambles. If this happens as frequently as the rep suggests surely they should be more practiced at it by now! I should point out that I do not hold the reps at all responsible: they did their very best to look after us and, by and large, remained admirably helpful and cheery despite the flack and aggro. Someone behind the scenes, however, should be shot for not giving them the information they needed to do their job efficiently.
Nonetheless we are now on our way home and only one final moan from me. The flight was not full, but the row of three seats that my wife and I were on was. I was squeezed into the middle seat, but there looked like hope for more leg room: the wife of the chap sat next to me was on the other side of the aisle with three seats all to herself. Surely he would move over and join her, thus allowing us all just a little more breathing room.
But no, he decided instead to stay next to me so that she, all diminutive five foot two of her, could wrap herself in a fleece blanket and lay out luxuriously across all three seats. And then he went to sleep for the whole journey so I couldn’t even get out to stretch my legs.
If there is any justice, the next time they fly they will each be squeezed between a sumo wrestler and the all England pie eating champion, both of whom have BO, sleep soundly, snore like chainsaws and dribble!