Over two hours after our scheduled departure time, we were still sitting in the old, crapped-out Airbus 310, on the ground, as there was a problem with the right engine that the ground crew was working on, and should have completed “in about twenty minutes”, according to the first captain’s announcement an hour and a half previously.
The random “pinging” that followed (you know, the kind that usually indicates some sort of subsequent announcement or lighting change, but that in this case was simply, well, a random and frequently recurring “ping”) made an only slightly more annoying impression than the burnt out ashtray in the armrest of the seat next to me – no, seriously, folks, it was completely melted away, burned crispy around the edges by a smoking flyer from days gone by, when it was still legal to stink up the cabin with cigarette fumes!
Since we had several hours to wait on the ground, trapped in our winged prison, several passengers – including myself – elected to visit the lavatory. Inside the tiny cubicle, we were greeted with a paper dispenser that had come unhinged, and which had to be held up by the arm of the peeing passenger whilst sitting on the toilet. I shudder to think of the unsanitary conditions in this worse-than-outhouse-like structure!
After my visit to the loo, I sent my girlfriend in search of something to eat. The effects of the skinny slivers of leftover pizza and three carrot sticks I had wolfed down with my kids and their dad back at home several hours before embarking on this adventure had long worn off, and – in addition to getting rather tired and cranky – hunger pains were beginning to gnaw at my innards, contributing to my growing irritation with this cheapo airline.
She came back, humbly, with an apple.
I couldn’t believe they had grounded us for 3 hours, and one had to go begging for apples – surely to goodness these people had a bag of peanuts or pretzels to offer??!!
We finally got off the ground after 11 p.m., and I began to harbour hopes of a half-decent airline meal in the not-too-distant future. Alas, dinner was not to be had until much, MUCH later, due to “turbulence” that forced us all to fasten our seatbelts and remain seated for the first hour or so off the ground. (I use the term “turbulence” loosely here; having flown a Cessna 150 for the past three years, I have felt more unrest during a flight lesson on the average, placidly windy day than the few mild bumps we were experiencing while my tummy screamed, “FOOD! NOW!”)
Eventually, “dinner” (an assortment of small portions of salad-like assemblage, a substance that loosely resembled pasta and some sort of chocolate slop) was served, but not without another hiccup: My seat tray would not unfold, and I had to request assistance from a flight attendant to help me pry it out of my armrest, where it seemed determined to stay tucked away for the duration of the flight. Eventually we managed to eject the tray table from its lodging, and some “food” soon on it, the latter of which I quickly devoured.
I decided to forgo the after-dinner tea in order to gain some shut eye – by now it was well after midnight, and anyone who knows me will not be surprised when I say I was TIRED!
I had come prepared for sleeping on aircraft: I pulled out my headphones, put my black-out eye patch over my eyes, plugged myself into Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and tried in vain to get comfortable in the too-small seat. Eventually, I drifted off.
Alas, a gentleman the next aisle over insisted on yelling at his relatives nearby about a variety of topics, from which number to press on the airplane radio to get Portuguese programming, to whether or not to drink brandy after dinner. Even my special earbuds could not block out this irritating and increasingly loud noise any longer, and combined with the “snoring airplane” (old aircraft just make that special sort of rumble as they are flying, which can be felt throughout one’s entire body), it was all just too much for me. I sat up grumpily in my chair and sulked for a bit.
After a while, the flight attendants turned out the cabin lights, and the yelling guy seemed to calm down and rest a bit himself.
With the noisy yeller soon sleeping peacefully, I managed to acclimatise to the snoring plane, and snoozed a bit more…
I’d like to say I got a few good hours of sleep before our arrival in Lisbon, however the truth is that within 20 minutes, the random “pinging” had returned, and whereas at first I was able to more or less tune it out, it was suddenly accompanied by bright lights in the cabin, and an announcement calling for a doctor or a nurse on board. Apparently someone was in need of medical attention. I looked at the flight progress map overhead, and noted that we were pretty much smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic at this point, not near any plausible diversion aerodrome. The yeller, meanwhile, had woken up, and like a parrot whose night cover-sheet is removed from its birdcage, he immediately began another loud and animated conversation, first with his wife beside him, and then with the relatives across the aisle.
Between the yelling parrot guy, the randomly pinging noises the aircraft was making, and the now several crying infants on board, I realised that I was unlikely to get much more sleep in the next 2 hours before our planned descent in Lisbon, so I decided to write this blog post instead.
I hope the reader had a more peaceful night than I did!