I have lost track of the many, many miles I have clocked in the air and at various airports around the world. Some airports, Singapore Changi Airport for instance, are like five-star hotels, whilst others, small like Paros in Greece, are little more than large shed-like constructions that weary passengers have little desire to linger in. I could tell tales of airports and happenings in planes for a volume or two. Here's just one: the story of my recent trip from Heathrow to and amid America.
After a seven-hour fight to Philadelphia, over an hour at immigration, and an officer who growled at me What ya doing in the U.S.?, I finally arrived at the gate for my flight to Los Angeles. I thanked God for my star alliance membership that allowed me to pre-board the plane and to leave what seemed like a rugby scrum of people trying to sort out seating, so that families could sit across a row together, not at opposite ends of the aircraft.
I took my seat and hoped during the next five hours I might be able to purchase a chicken sandwich. Despite many varied items on the in-flight menu, all US Airways had to offer was Chips Ahoy! Mercifully, I had purchased a slice of apple cake at Heathrow. Long-haul flying can be so tiring, a nap seemed a good idea. But one must beware of sitting in the very back row of the airplane, right next to the galley. Before the plane taxied, one of the stewardesses began tell the other about her dogs and puppies. I did not catch the breed but they seemed large and so did the narrative still being told as the plane ascended, and she continued on about the nasty scab on her face—the result of one of these dogs, either being over affectionate or who knows what...for all I know their mothers’ meeting in the sky is still going on as I write.
Two weeks later I flew to the Tri-Cities via Charlotte. I have a great affection for Charlotte’s irport, and love to repose myself in one of the white rocking chairs that line the glass windows there. My ticket indicated a less than an hour wait between planes, but severe storms on the East Coast earlier that day would result in over an hour on the ground. I am well used to delays, but what took place at the gate could only happen in America.
A larger than life lady manned the US Airways desk, and was looking after two flights, mine to the Tri-Cities and another to Richmond Virginia, the latter much delayed. In a tone of voice reminiscent of a great Shakespearian tragic actress, she announced: “Passengers for Richmond, I feel for you, I really feel for you, I truly do. We are doing all we can to get you to your destination, you will be pleased to know your plane has arrived, but your pilot is en route from Cincinnati, and your crew is coming up from Orlando.”
Then without taking a breath this amazing woman turned to the Tri-Cities passengers, and with a smile on her face reported: “Tri-Cities passengers, your plane is here, some of the crew are in the airport, but your pilot is en route from Toronto—he should be here soon.” By now the Richmond passengers were looking extremely aggravated as they had been delayed for a couple of hours, and my fellow Tri-Cities passengers, myself included, were in fits of laughter. The whole episode seemed like a pantomime that could only take place in an American regional airport.
Nine days later, I flew from the Tri-Cities to Charlotte en route to Philadelphia and on to Heathrow. Again severe storms had disrupted flights and closed airports. Whilst waiting, I encountered passengers whose flights had been cancelled, and were now standby passengers, hoping desperately to get home to loved ones by night fall; I wished them all well.
On arrival at the gate, manned by three US Airways employees, we were told the fight would be slightly delayed, because the pilot was en route from somewhere in Canada, and his crew en route from another destination in the US. We are also told not to worry; why do US ground staff always say not to worry when they mean be worried? Finally the pilot and an older man with a moustache arrived, and then vanished presumably onto the plane, only to re-emerge a few moments later, walk away and purchase two packs of crisps. (I can only assume they disliked Chips Ahoy! or Pringles.
Later the co-pilot arrived and was duly announced, as he strode past carrying a pizza in a red box in one hand and his black case in the other. Passengers could now breathe a sigh of relief: we had a plane, two pilots, who had both flown in from different places in the US, and soon we would have the rest of the crew who also had flown from Toronto, Orlando, and Washington.
Never before has this traveller been so entertained whilst being delayed at various airports. Never at Heathrow would gate staff be so informal, or inform passengers they had feelings for them. Never at Changi would Singapore Airlines give would-be passengers detailed itineraries of where in-coming pilots and crew were...only, only, only in America.