I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Don't hemisphere the reaper

Admit it, that's a cracking title.

So I was in Orly ouest and actually kinda sorta hoping my flights were going to get messed up, as it seemed they might. And what happens? Suddenly, it's on time again. The 9-going-on-16 minute delay has evaporated and it's now almost 7pm, I'm just starting a new (admittedly 250ml, fun size) beer and in a lounge in the wrong hall. Necked it, abruptly ended my conversation with Ian and fucked off to hall 3.

Hall 3 seems to actually only have a departures area leading to one gate number, my 31. But, of course, split A-D. Pretty much the second I am through security, priority boarding is announced and roughly half a plane full of people queue up. It's not hard for that to be legit. I join in, it moves verrrry slowly and after a while they decide to split it between business class, and priority due to shiny card but seated in economy. I shift to the latter and it moves even slower than before, so I just give up and go to the loo.

By the time I return, the four or five people directly in front of me when I bailed still hadn't reached the front, but the business class queue was empty and general boarding was announced. I strolled up to business and said "I can get on here with my sapphire card right?" and was indeed right. Queue successfully jumped.

The plane is absolutely heaving full. Despite being on time we leave late after some boarding hassles, and the taxi is short but slow. I dick around with hyperlapse before we are airborne and a sub-CityJet service commences. Maybe that's unfair: I did get beer. But the food was a single shortbread that paled against the chocolate.
We make good time but there are evil chemtrails everywhere, plus we're rewarded by having to circle over Biggin Hill for a bit. We eventually touch down at about 2000.  My next flight supposedly closes its doors at 2100 and this is perilously close to being an inadvisably - maybe even impossibly - short connection.

It was a long walk to flight connections. I made good time and was waved straight through. Up the escalators and I'm in a very short security queue, which goes static for 5 minutes because apparently Metal Mickey is ahead of us and anyway one of the scanner scanners wants to go on a break. Through, I consult the board and see I'm departing from a B gate, in the satellite. I'm not sure I can get worthwhile lounge time in T5 main so head to the transit monorail thing, surrounded by about 4 other passengers and 80-odd flight and cabin crew.

I reach the B satellite and find gate 35 to be immediately next door to the lounge. It's about 2035. Fuck it, I'm staving and want to change my shirt - so in I go, with a nod and a wink from the lass on the desk as I waved my Cathay card at her. Collecting miles on one card while using another for privileges like lounge access and boarding always takes a bit of "I know I'm allowed this, y'know..." sweet talking.

In, changed, found a space to sit, got a beer and a bowl full of quiche and chilli and beans and just loads of stuff at once. It was lovely and sorely needed, as was the water, but before I'd finished any of them boarding was open. Lounge time: 8 minutes? Long enough for a trip to the Vatican I reckon.

I could see my bird from my seat, a once glorious queen of the skies now showing its age inside and out. Not that I was inside yet. The exact same scenario as at Orly played out - joined fast track, it was slow, went to the loo, came back and waltzed on. This time, general boarding was announced for the rearmost rows in economy the second I walked through, which gave me a useful head start. I properly bombed it down the back toward the carefully chosen seat for maximum goodness on this flight, 51B.

51B is one of the window seats without a seat A next to it, as the fuselage narrows at the very back. Instead there is extra storage and sideways legroom. Expert Flyer had told me the flight was busy but no one had picked the seat next to me, so I strode triumphantly down the aisle and found...someone in 51C. A very old woman who had been escorted on first and couldn't really even get up to let me in. I nipped round via row 52.

So now I'm thinking, I hope I don't need the loo at all. I ask the nearby cabin attendant if we are busy tonight and he says we are full. So it proves - we depart late after another load of boarding issues, and lukewarm arguments about hand baggage placement. I bask in my space and then get angry when I discover I've lost a bud off my headphones.

BA's old economy cabins really are pretty dire compared to a lot of places, let alone a lot of what I've experienced this year, but hey, as I always tell those who ask me: one of the best ways to earn a lot of miles redeemable for fancy business and first class is to actually fly. This here Iberian mistake is a prime way to earn a raft of miles down the back, aka a "mileage run" which we Englanders are short of compared to them across the pond.
This is not a large screen. Also my fingernails are grim.

That said, I'm pleasantly surprised by the legroom - better than I remember from the unblogged Dallas to Heathrow trip last May - and the entertainment system seems to be gate-to-gate so before we take off, I start watching the movie Frank.

After we take off, I start Frank again, because I am forced to. For whatever reason, the creepily voiced safety video (I swear they've had it redone with someone more disconcerting than the last lass) causes everything to start again. I try and find my spot about 20 minutes in, and after another 90 seconds the whole system goes away again. It says I'm allowed to listen to broadcast stuff, but that also seems to be a lie.

Drinks! Beer, please. Food! Chicken or veg? I take the chicken, a bland thing in a plastic dish topped by scalding hot tin foil. There's also a bread roll and some kind of dessert mousse. Aware of my probable inability to visit the loo for the next 10 hours I don't overdo liquids.

Frank is pretty good. Not remotely what I expected. The size of the TV was very very small, and what's more my viewing angle was slightly skewiff because my companion needed the whole armrest. I hum a reworded version of Wonk Unit's "Elbows" to myself.

I'm not being mean about her. Fair play to her for travelling. She didn't have the strength to open her plastic quarter bottle of wine and so asked me to do it, and couldn't lift her aisle armrest without help. Very old, very frail, yet still gallivanting and on the sauce. Briefly I think a "you slily bastard" thought in my dad's direction as I wish he'd done the fucking same.

As far as I could tell from a brief visual survey, the first person to recline their seat was the person in 50B, directly in front of me. All flight the row kept reclining, straightening, reclining, straightening. The old girl next to me several times had the tray table dug shoved unceremoniously into her midriff as she leant forward to try and eat with some elegance. They were the height of inconsideration IMO. The window guy opened his shade and brought dazzling sunshine onto about 9 people 2 hours before the whole cabin was awake too. Sigh.

I thought, fuck it, let's see how sleep works here. And y'know what? It works pretty well. I was using my own headphones, which cancel noise much better than the flimsy leaky crap supplied by BA. I put on a playlist of "all the instrumental 'well being' stuff" and had around 4 hours of honestly not terrible quality sleep. There were a lot of interruptions, and a flat bed it most assuredly was not, but it was fine. I often get by with just 4 hours at home too.
Dinner is served

Watched a couple of Familiar Guy episodes, slept a bit more, then caught 3 episodes of a Rhys Darby vehicle called Short Poppies. Curbed my enthusiasm, and ate breakfast - an omelette and, bravely, a cup of tea. No disaster this time. Started on Happy Valley which I liked a lot.

And then, we were at Johannesburg. Landed at 0901 and 51C said she was hanging around but would try and let me out - I assured I her I was in no hurry.

Thing is, I was in a bit of a hurry. Dear lord was I ever busting. After walking through a 747 that now resembled a war zone I stumbled through the unfamiliar surroundings of JNB, failing to spot a loo until right at Immigraton. Upon my emergence, the queue for non-locals was massive; I got on wifi, as there's no data roaming or even outbound SMS support in siffrica, and found Chris online on Facebook messenger. I got him to tell me the exchange rate and otherwise gave him a load of spoilers for this before my half hour allowance ran out just as I reached the front of the queue.

They ask you to take your glasses off even before you approach the desk. Huh. And I was asked what the purpose of my visit was. Um, purpose...? "In transit until tonight" was a satisfactory answer and, hello, country 49!

There were a lot of bureaux de change by baggage reclaim, and no ATMs. I had hoped I could get away without withdrawing any cash but I was very desperate for diet caffeine so really wanted some. I didn't see any landside in the terminal either, anywhere between where I came out and the Gautrain station. By now I was understandably as bit worried, in case of Hong Kong style machines which don't accept cards. As it happens, there are 6 card accepting machines at the station and only one person using any, but a queu about 8 strong at the counter. I figure it can't be so hard to use the machine that all these people had to queue up and... I'm right. The machine is easy. I am cashless but in possession of a shiny new gold card, and only 28 minutes until my train into Central Johannesburg. It's 1001, so 9 hours until my flight. What to do?

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