So there we were slouching down into Air France seats on the brand new A380, the swanky big double decker ones that can fit 500 people, getting excited to be finally on our way.
The speaker crackles into life, apparently we are experiencing technical difficulties and there will be a slight delay.
Nothing out of the norm there, and I’ve just discovered the fabulous list of films I can watch. I am happy and content.
An hour and a half later I am two thirds of the way through Trainwreck (ver ver funny), the pilot has come out to say he doesn’t know why we can’t take off it, it’s just his job to fly, but fortunately the people around us seem to be in a convivial mood and everyone is joking and laughing, or watching movies.
An hour after that, after we’ve all had a good laugh at the steward announcement informing us that we are delayed – no shit Sherlock – there is another announcement giving passengers the option to disembark, claim their luggage, and find another flight if they want…but if you take this option you’re definitively giving up your seat on this plane. My companions and I stare at each other in horror thinking of our mountain of luggage, and unanimously agree that we will do whatever it takes not to have to move our luggage anywhere until we land in Morocco.
Further announcements let us know that they are still awaiting word from Paris whether or not we can take off. The couple in front of us get chatty, spy where the cabin crew are storing the snack packs of biscuits and start handing them out. I continue to appreciate the brilliance of an Amy Schumacher and Bill Hader combo, and for the first time in my life find myself thinking that Bill Hader is rather attractive. Which goes to show that whole things about “just be yourself” is bullshit. Pretending to be someone else can make you way more desirable.
Four and a half hours after we are supposed to have taken off, everybody is ushered off the ‘plane into the boarding area where we wait for another hour until finally, they announce that the flight has been cancelled; that we are to go to the ticket desk to get new flights; and that we have to collect all our luggage from the baggage claim downstairs.
There is silence in the boarding area for a few seconds and then people start to cotton on to the idea that there are 500 of us who will be queuing at the ticket desk trying to get spare seats on flights.
Heads snap and eyes widen with the fearful alertness of meerkats. I look at the companion without the dodgy knees, the one who makes power walking look like a sedate stroll, the one with whom I have worked day in and day out for seven years and consequently share a psychic link, and mouth the word ‘Go’, and she’s off bowling down grannies, and toddlers and wandering minstrels: guitars, ukuleles; stuffed teddy bears and leather handbags shaped like bowling bags, reeling in her wake.
I quite like Air France. Their planes are comfortable and they don’t judge you for having wine with breakfast. However, the only adequate words to describe the handling of this flight cancellation – which had been on the cards for six and half hours – are ‘unmitigated cluster-fuck’. Nobody knew what was going on, passengers were being told that they were better off phoning the airline to book a new flight rather than talking to the people right there; the agents on the phone had no idea the flight had been cancelled and were not expecting 500 pissed off people to be calling them. Eventually we got told that there was another flight out that night with spare seats, leaving in an hour, but we were now too late to check in our luggage for that flight since Air France had left it so long to decide to cancel the flight.
We pondered what problem could have been so ambiguous as to not be able to make a decision on whether or not to cancel the flight for over six hours… turns out one of the ground staff reversed a truck with a ladder in it into the aircraft, and there was a hole in the wing.
A hole. In the wing.
Holes in wings have to be welded, and then pass inspections. This is a process which takes days, not hours.
Understandably, everyone was just a teensy weensy bit pissed off. At one point security were called to break up a fight.
We secured a flight with three changes for the following day, plus wheelchair assistance for our older companion who by this time is white as a sheet with pain. Get the name of the hotel that Air France tells us will be our restful home for the night, and go to collect our mountain of luggage. There I am lugging 50-70 pound suitcases off conveyor belts when I am approached by a member of the Air France team: “Does madam need assistance out to the hotel shuttle?”
“Oh sir, I would love that assistance but we can’t take the shuttle because we have too many bags.”
“Really? How many bags does madam have? The shuttles are quite roomy.”
“Madam has 12 suitcases, 4 of which are oversize, 3 further pieces of carry on, and 2 adult size companions.”
“Ohhhhh, yeah we heard about you guys.”
Yep.. I’ll bet you did.
Finally we make it to the hotel, to find another long line at check in. At which point my companions look at my face and suggest that I got to the bar and wait for them there, because here is another cluster-fuck: Air France has sent ALL the passengers to the same hotel where there were only 20 rooms available. There are hundreds of people in this line, it winds all over the ground floor of the hotel. After an hour to two hours of waiting the hotel declares that everybody needs to go to a different hotel, so my 70 year old travel buddy lays down the law, in the way that only a sweet old lady who has decided enough is enough can do, and magically room keys appear.
When I was boarding the first plane the following day it occurred to me that I had already been travelling for 30 hours and I had made it approximately 26 miles. I could have walked it quicker.
What was supposed to be a sixteen hour journey from start to finish, took 3 days, but eventually we made it to Morocco, after many flights, and changes and roughly two hours sleep. And it was in this state that we were detained at Casablanca airport, 10 feet from the doorway you walk through to the meet and greet area, and had all of the suitcases opened, the robots and computers unwrapped. Various officials were called over, questions were asked/mimed answers were given in stilted Franglais. Our faces ached from trying to keep stiff upper lips.
And then an angel appeared. One customs official who thought the robots were cool, and who was smiley, and who asked us where we from …and who turned out to be a huge LA Lakers fan.