Sunday, February 05, 2012

Leaving on a jet plane ... eventually

It was too good to be true; we got to Heathrow unbelievably quickly, the roads through London clear, perhaps because everyone else was staying inside. A few flakes fell on us as we went through Wandsworth, but the weather wasn't too bad.

We checked in, dropping off the world's biggest bag full of paperback books, strolled through security, and then somehow I managed to smuggle my wife into the Cathay Pacific lounge for free. It's not as nice as the lounge at Hong Kong (few things are) but it was nicer than being crammed into the departure area with what felt like the rest of London. I stuffed myself full of biscuits and when there was only an hour to go before take-off, we trundled down to the gate.

It looked unusually packed. This didn't seem like such a good sign. Outside, the snow was falling more heavily now.

A quick flash of the frequent flyer card and we passed by the huddled masses, then boarded the plane. One thing that I'll miss in the future is not being able to get on the plane before everyone else, and then cram all our possessions in the overhead lockers. Some cheery travellers that followed us seemed to be bringing their every worldly possession back as hand luggage; we watched one chap chastise another for being selfish and having such a big bag it blocked the locker. Part of me thinks that the airline should be doing a better job of stopping people bringing bags that are clearly outside the size limit into the cabin; but then part of me likes being able to bring a bag that's clearly outside the size limit into the cabin. I just kept my head down and kept quiet.

Everyone boarded. We sat and waited.

The pilot announced that there would be a delay because of the snow. Only one runway was operational, and we were the 35th plane in the queue to depart. It was going to take some time.

Still, if we were out by midnight, that would only mean a two hour delay.

So we sat there, and waited, and around midnight they served us our dinner on the plane, and announced that it would be arond 90 minutes before we took off.

About two hours after that, it was announced that it would be about 90 minutes before we took off.

This was beginning to get repetitive. Apparently, Heathrow has a paucity of de-icing equipment, and it would take half an hour to de-ice a plane, so with a queue of 35 planes waiting to take off, and a runway 'contaminated' with snow, it felt like we were in for a long night.

I began to get worried at this point. Given that the crew could only be on the plane for a certain number of hours, if the delay got much longer, they'd have to get off and wait for a replacement, and if we sat there waiting for a replacement, we'd be on the plane until tomorrow. I like London, and I like snow, but I really wanted to be back in Hong Kong so I could get on my plane to Tokyo. Hanging around for a day in Heathrow in a economically ugly hotel wasn't really what I wanted to do.

But, because you can't run the air conditioning on a plane while de-icing it, the plane began to get unseasonably warm, what with all those bodies crammed in there, thumbing through the duty free catalogue or farting. I ate some peanuts. I don't eat peanuts at ground level, only at altitudes above 10,000 feet. I must have been getting confused.

At some point, I fell asleep, only to wake a couple of hours later, bent out of shape, dehydrated, hot, and still on a very stationary aircraft. The pilot's 90 minute announcements, every 90 minutes, continued. The likelihood of an extra day in London was lurching ever closer, and then, at last, at 4:30, half an hour before everyone in the crew was going to have to disembark, we got clearance, and the plane wobbled its way out to the runway, where again, it sat for an interminable time, the engines revving up and down, before we finally got up into the air.

Seven hours late.

It turns out that an airline pilot can put his foot down if he wants to. We're only going to be about five and a half hours late, although I expect that will still leave us rather discombobulated when we do get home to our flat in Hong Kong. And then we'll probably discover that our lift is knackered again. Oh joy.


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