Bloody Awful

April 2001

Having been invited to Holland to give a lecture at a very generous university where two of my students are now studying for their doctorates, I was excited: up at five in the morning, bags packed and ready to go. Check in was at seven thirty so all was well – in fact, all manner of things were well. Too well as it turned out. About thirty kilometres from Kampala the radio latched onto a signal and I caught the tail-end of an announcement, something along the lines of:
“Bloody Awful regrets …”.
“What do they mean?” I said aloud. “Bloody Awful regrets what?
Ten minutes later the smug announcer was back telling all Bloody Awful passengers to phone blah, blah, blah. But since I was out of a network area I couldn’t phone anywhere. Twenty kilometres down the road and at last I had network. Bloody Awful Communication Centre Person was polite but all my impassioned bargaining for an Entebbe-Nairobi-Amsterdam flight fell on deaf ears. I pleaded, I coaxed, I bullied, I put on my best telephone voice (the one that scares the dog), but no deal.
“What’s the problem”, I asked rather icily.
“The late arrival of the inbound aircraft, madam”, Polite Communications Centre Person replies.
“Can’t they get another one?”
“It’s not quite that simple madam”.
“But I have to be in Amsterdam this evening”.
“Yes madam, but the outgoing flight to London will only leave tonight at 23.40″.
“23.40? That’s twenty-to-twelve! But it can’t. I have to be …”
“Yes madam, I know, madam. It can’t be helped, madam”.
Yes, it bloody well can, madam thought. They could call up another plane and get us to London as paid for. How is madam going to give a lecture and start talks about talks just off the red eye to London?

Holland was sympathetic and I actually got a fair bit of work done in the office before venturing out again to try for Entebbe at 7.00pm, sorry 19.00 hours. Crisp new envelopes with the Bloody Awful logo were distributed along the check-in line because the Airport Duty Manager had to eat humble pie. “I regret”, he wrote, “that we let you down on this occasion, but I very much hope that we soon have the chance to restore your confidence in our service”. Harrump!

My spirits lifted a little when I read: If you have onward travel, please visit the Flight Connection Desk on arrival at London Heathrow, where one of our team will be able to assist you. Great, I thought, at least the Heathrow-Schiphol flight will be ok. Flight Connection Desk person at Heathrow assured me that all was in order and sent me on my way to another Connection Desk Person about three miles away. Flight Connection Desk Person there blithely told me that there was no early flight to Schiphol. I knew he had to be wrong and started to check all the gates in the vicinity until I found mine with about 10 minutes to spare before the flight left. Whew, at least I’ll get in with a few hours to freshen up and re-read my lecture notes before lunch with the nice university people.

Ha! Ha, ha, ha! Murphy and the gods were having fun today and they weren’t finished with me yet because my luggage hadn’t made it onto the Schiphol flight at Heathrow. Spent an hour filling in the forms and trying to describe my bag to the Lost Luggage Girl who, to give her her due, didn’t seem to mind that I was getting upset in English rather than in Dutch. Friends were waving wildly through a huge plate glass window and I was tempted to tell Bloody Awful that they could keep my clothes, that they weren’t up to much anyway and weren’t worth waiting for. But I didn’t because after all, they were all I had. But I should have told them to sod off because they couldn’t deliver my lost bag until the next day so ended up agreeing to collect it on departure from Schiphol.

I won’t tell you how I felt giving a lecture and having talks about talks in the same suit I travelled in. I couldn’t. It was too horrible. Luckily I have always followed my mothers advice to carry a spare pair of knickers and a toothbrush in my hand luggage. But I must be a real wimp because I ended up thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t put my lecture notes in my suitcase!

At this point in my story I would like to say something along the lines of “and it all got better and better from that time on”. But I can’t because it didn’t. The next morning I asked at check in for a seat near the exit because I had to get to terminal 1 from terminal 4 in a short space of time for my connecting flight to Belfast. “Of course, madam. No problem, madam.” I thanked the girl profusely, bestowed my most gracious smile upon her, and made my weary way to the gate where I sat down to check through my ticket, passport, money, boarding card – you know the way you do. Waaaaah! I said “near the exit”, not “rear exit”: she had given me 34D! I won’t be able to tell you what I thought at that moment because such language is unbecoming for a lady. I wished I could un-bestow my most gracious smile from her. I did make it off the flight when it landed although the little old lady in the seat in front of me nearly made it a lot further than the front exit, if you get my drift.

In Belfast International (ah, home, sweet home) the luggage made it but the car hire company guy didn’t! I’ve already explained that Africa teaches you patience but it doesn’t teach that much. I cried at that point but I did finally make it back to Donegal that very day, and after a pint of the Blackness, all manner of things were very much well again.

Since I was a lot more savvy about travelling with Bloody Awful, I decided to re-confirm my flights back to Uganda at their Belfast office. A young girl with a squeaky voice told me that Bloody Awful didn’t have a policy of re-confirming flights but I could book my seat from Heathrow to Entebbe if I wanted. I wanted and got 21A. I also asked about the extra luggage: the shoes collected for the kids in the local orphanage and she ticked that into the computer too: “such a good cause, mrs”, said Squeaky, “no problem, mrs”. Gracious smile was once again bestowed. Mrs should have been just a little bit suspicious that it was all that easy but she wasn’t. More fool her because Murphy and his mates had just awakened to the fact that Dee was en route again: “hey lads, want a bit more fun?”

At the Flight Connections Centre in Terminal 1, I paused to check again, paranoid maybe but best to make sure, you know, after all that had happened on the way out. I announced to Smiling FCC Lady that I had seat 21A. She checked out my ticket, checked out my face, checked the information on her computer, wiped the smile from her own face, and promptly checked in with her boss to confide that strange woman from Belfast flight claims to have seat 21A on Entebbe flight when, in fact, flight has been over-booked and strange woman is actually on standby. What should she do? All this was reported in muted tones, some of it in code, but I can lip read and I can decipher code along with the best of them, although Dan Brown’s guy would beat me hands down any day.

Tight-lipped FCC Lady was then subjected to a potted summary of my Bloody Awful travels to date and with pursed lips politely asked me to have a seat while she sorted things out. She did more than sort things out: she gave me a Business Class seat (Yippee! I went in my head) for which she also got bestowed with my MG, although not too effusive, smile. Unfortunately, I fell asleep twenty minutes into Harry Potter but that seat was just too good to waste watching a video on.

The end of this story just couldn’t be good. While the flight arrived on time and my luggage was one of the first onto the snazzy new conveyer belt in a newly-restored, brightly-lit Entebbe arrivals hall, the extra luggage with the orphans’ shoes didn’t make it from London. And while I was struggling through the crowd to get to my bag, the light nearly left my eyes as a huge doggie started jumping over my cases sniffing wildly. Yikes! There goes my smoked salmon and my lovely fresh Ardennes pate. But apparently sniffer doggies are not interested in expensive smuggled foodstuffs – they are looking for much harder stuff, and thankfully my addictions don’t go that far. My loot was safe – a bit squashed, but safe nonetheless. The end of this particular journey came three days later when the shoes came in and had to be duly signed for and collected (a two-hundred km round trip). Result: Bloody Awful Airways has never been given the chance to restore my confidence in their service. Maybe I’ll have to use them again someday but by that time I hope I’ll have saved up enough money to get a black market passport under an assumed name after all the abuse I gave them.

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