Not long ago I spent some time in Bavaria with my brother. Leaving Eichstatt some way ahead of schedule, we turned south on the A9 and set a course for Munich. I called British Airways to ask if we could get on an earlier flight to London. The German agent who took my call spoke English well enough to toy with the more complex British inflections, like sarcasm. “Standt-by?” he said, “standt-by is only affailable to British Air-vays employees”. Having swiftly irritated me he went on to tell me that my Brother’s ticket was a cheepie and therefore, being hardly worth the paper it was written on, was only changeable for a fee equal to or greater than the defense budget of a small African country. “Thank you” I said, hoping that he would learn something new about the use of sarcasm. “So what you are telling me is: even if you had a half-empty plane leaving at 6, you would still make us wait until 9?” “Zat is correct” he said. “Well that is exactly why I try and avoid flying on your infernal airline unless the only option is to walk there” I said bitterly and promptly hung up on him. The wires of the hop fields were still bare, flashing past us left and right, but I imagined them in a few months time, laden with the furry buds of Bavarias’ finest. Determined not to miss his siesta, Dom had been dozing next to me and was startled awake by John Cleese saying loudly from the GPS “In eight hundred yards, bear right, beaver left”.
At Munich airport, Dom and I approached the check in desk wearing the sort of smiles we thought would be guaranteed to brighten the day of even the most jaded airline employee. We explained our predicament and she said that we would need to speak to the supervisor, pointing at the desk across the hall behind us. Our faces dropped. There sat what looked to us like Jubba the Hutt, only with flaming red hair and wearing a BA uniform. I sent Dom over first, to soften her up. By the time I got there, she was still scowling at the screen. Dom turned and made a “it’ll be a cold day in hell … “ sort of face at me. I launched into a pathetic explanation about how, if we didn’t get the earlier flight, I wouldn’t be able to see my Niece for the next seven years. More furious tapping and scowling. She would have to check with the duty manager. Much to our surprise, she returned momentarily to say that it was fine, we could go at 6. “Marvelous! Thank you!” we chirped. “Don’t thank me” she said, as if to imply that had she had any say in the matter we wouldn’t have been going anywhere until at least tomorrow, “Thank him”. She pointed at a man walking across the check-in hall. “ THANK YOU!” Dom and I both shouted very loudly at his retreating back. He waved, without turning around, in a rare display of human emotion that is almost certainly frowned on by BA management.
By comparison to my flight out here, the return was a breeze. I was sitting next to a big man who was a military contractor in Iraq, returning to the US for his 90 days R & R. Clearly he had been on a strict diet of Pizza and Big Mac’s as he overflowed gently onto the kebab-skewer that passes for an armrest on a 777. He worked in Fighter and Predator-drone support or something and talked a lot about Hell-fire missiles and IED’s. As we sat at the gate, a lady behind me of Eastern European decent, asked for a glass of milk and complained she felt ill. The flight attendant questioned her about her symptoms (far more information than I needed to hear) and informed her that as it was a very long flight she might want to consider getting off now. Oh bugger I thought. Please, please get off now, I have no desire to land in Baffin Bay or Newfoundland, be surrounded by armed special forces and then quarantined in an old POW camp for two weeks while they worked out which particular stain of Ebola she had perished from. Needless to say we were number three for take-off when Mrs. Dubrovnik, with impeccable timing, suddenly leapt up and announced loudly that she was going to be sick. As she was standing virtually above me, there was absolutely no doubt where it would all land if she did - to coin an Australian phrase - start “blowing chunks”. Chaos immediately ensued. Captain Hell-Fire, myself and a Prada-ified lady sitting next to Mrs. Dubrovnik all vaulted into the aisle as the jump-seated flight attendant opposite us went into “I may look perfectly sweet but if you don’t do EXACTLY as I say you’re gonna be in serious shit” mode, barking “Sit down ... RIGHT NOW, we are on an active taxi-way and are about to take-off”. Before I could think of a suitably pithy response Ms. Prada said “what do you mean SIT DOWN? This woman is about to THROW UP on me!” Captain Hell-Fire and I both nodded to signify our complete agreement and he added “affirmative!”, presumably for emphasis. Faced with mutiny, Miss Sweetness-and-Light picked up her phone and called for back-up and within seconds there were cabin-crew everywhere, brandishing sick bags, duct-tape, wire-ties, a Tazer and a first aid kit. One gave Mrs. Dubrovnik enough barf-bags to ensure coverage of every orifice and then some, while the other frog-marched Ms. Prada off to a vacant seat nearby. “You” said Miss S & L to Captain Hellfire and I .... “SIT”! Then they all vanished just as fast as they had appeared. Wow, I thought, they must drill them for this at least once a month. So, crisis averted, Tasers safely back in their holsters and with seconds to spare, we hurtled down the runway. Captain Hellfire, in an attempt to distract me from the sounds of repeated barfing behind us, launched into a particularly graphic description of how to use a Predator Drone to "surgically remove" some "hostiles" from a IPD (infiltrated something or other).
Ms. Sweetness and Light hit the nail on the head: It was going to be a long flight.