Monday, 30 January 2012

The Longest Flight Home

Sometimes all you want is your own bed in your own house, especially towards the end of a hurried and stressful business trip. I certainly felt like that as I sat in a dull lounge at Los Angeles airport waiting for them to announce the flight back to London and home.

This trip had come fast after a previous one to Sao Paulo and it had not been long ago that I had been insane enough to fly from London to Australia for a day meeting then back. My body did not know where it was and my stomach didn’t know what it wanted. Certainly not the pretzels I was absently chewing, hastened downwards by a vicious Bloody Mary.

Never mind, I thought as the call finally came, the flight would be long and I would soon be getting the sleep I craved for. To my joy they upgraded both me and a conference colleague at the gate into First Class with its flat bed seats and comfy pyjamas. This is going to be just great I thought as I walked into the dimly lit soothing cabin. I was given a glass of champagne and led to my wide and welcoming armchair.

Now I never have trouble sleeping on aircraft, never. As soon as the plane took off and reached altitude I flattened my seat, collected a few stray pillows and dived under the duvet I had found in the overhead locker. My seat was cosily positioned, on its own, at the front of the plane.

Having announced to the nearest cabin crew that I did not want drinks, dinner or any other kind of service until breakfast I donned my eye shades,slid down the seat and fell into an immediate and beautiful dreamless sleep. What seemed like only a few seconds later a great big soft something crashed on top of me. I thought I was being suffocated by a giant marshmallow until I lifted my shades enough to see that the crew had dropped the rest of the duvets on top of me.

After receiving profuse apologies I drifted off once more and this lasted about ten minutes before I woke feeling a tentative hand pressing gently but persistently on my arm. I must have jerked upright suddenly because reeling back in front of me was a scared looking steward. He was talking but I heard nothing as the engines were roaring and I had taken out my hearing aids to sleep. Just a moment I grumbled as I groped around the seat in a semi stupor searching for them. They had disapeared.

Eventually my errant aids were retrieved by using to biros from where they had lost themselves in the mechanical interior of the seat and I put them on. “Yes” I said? “Tell me sir, will you be dining with us this evening” he asked with a beguiling innocent grin. “No I bloody will not” I grunted as I tried to wrestle back my duvet that had dispersed itself while I had searched for my aids.

I was getting even more tired and emotional but thankfully I managed to drift off again. Then the screeching started. Then it stopped. Then it started again. Was I dreaming? No, too loud for that. What the hell was it? I had forgotten to take my damn hearing aids back out and every time I rolled over the compression had made them screech. Only if you wear such aids do you know how unpleasant and wakeful that sound is.

Over the next hour or so I cat napped. I thought I had been clever getting seat 1A but the reverse was true. On this 747 seat 1A is right next to a big cupboard/hanging wardrobe and this one had a sticky door. Every time anyone wanted something from there they had to yank the door which made a sharp snapping sound. Then they would rummage around like noisy mice!

By this time I was past sleeping. Desperately tired yes, able to sleep? Definitely not. I tried everything. Lying this way, lying that way, on my back, the good old foetal position, but no luck. What really annoyed me was by this time everyone else had eaten their meals and gone to sleep. I was probably the only person awake and the crew had done their amazing disapearing act they always do on night flights.

There was the sound of snoring coming from all over the cabin, especially from the small frail old lady in the seat behind. I became fascinated by her as she had a great snoring action. She was as white as a corpse and her head was thrown back. Rather like the sound of a wave rushing into shore her mouth would open and then, when it could go no further the snore would come belowing out like a great breaker. The vibrations caused her false teeth to rattle around in her mouth. Fascinating stuff if you are that desperate!

How I envied them all. I was more exhausted than the lot of them combined but my brain refused point blank to shut down. In the end I gave up trying and decided to pick a boring old film from the I.F.E. system and see if that would help me sleep. It usually works at home, I thought to myself. I selected ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ as that seemed to describe the scene pretty well.

It did not work. I got into it instead. There I was, a grown man blubbing like a child as Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (I think) came together. I must have looked a sad sight as an air hostess, who appeared from nowhere, must have seen me and brought over a cup of tea and a box of Kleenex tissues. Not my biggest alpha male moment and not conducive to sleep either.

By this time the flight was half over and any sleep I had snatched was not the restful type. However all that changed when the guy I was at the conference with woke up to use the wash room. “Can’t sleep”? he asked as he stretched luxuriantly. “No” I grunted. “Try these tablets, they are great” he said passing me a blister pack of pills. “Take a couple if you think you need them” he suggested. Now I do not usually take any kind of pills but I swallowed two of them out of desperation. They were high dosage Temazepam.

I fell into an immediate and spectacularly deep sleep for a very long time. In fact it was longer than the flight. Nobody could wake me. The crew tried, even the captain had a go. The old lady poked me with her knitting needle and someone tried cold water but nothing would revive me. They needed to land the aircraft but they had to do something with me first. In the end they put my seat upright and let me hang in it, bent double by the seat belt.

I was still in my drugged sleep after the plane landed and everyone else had disembarked. Eventually they got enough life out of me to manhandled me off the plane I still had my airline pyjamas on as nobody was prepared to change me! They left me in a plastic seat by the jetty along with my clothes on a hanger where I slept another two hours. At least one other plane load of passengers disembarked at that gate and walked past I heard one say “he must be drunk, disgraceful”!

I finally struggled awake, grabbed my things and ran to a toilet still dressed in my grey 'sleep suit'. Somehow I got myself to my car where I slept for another hour until I was awake enough to drive home. I got home and went to bed.
And then? I couldn’t sleep!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Travelling with the Stars - Naomi Campbell

What with all the regular publicity about the lovely Naomi I thought I should award her an exclusive in my humble blog. Like they say in those wonderful cosmetic advertisement ‘She’s worth it’.

I have flown with Naomi three times and got hugged by her once. Not bad averages really, especially as she was in her pyjamas at the time. Let me explain.

The first two times I saw her were on Concorde (naturally). There I was sitting at the back of the cabin with one of the only two remaining empty seats next to me. The flight was clearly being delayed for someone and suddenly she was there. She glided through the door flowing along with tight pants and a sheer silk blouse that left zero to the imagination. You could have heard a pin drop as she sasheyed further towards me and I thought ‘oh my, she is going to sit next to me. At the very last moment she gave me what I then thought was a shy and coquettish smile and……walked straight past. Behind her was an enormous Texan with a gut like a zeppelin who levered himself into the seat next to me, smiling knowingly saying “I guess this ain’t your day son”.

I have to say though Ms Campbell was sensational in that she is one of not too many that looks far better live than she does on the cover of a glossy magazine. She also seemed to have a skill that turns tough international business travellers into fawning lap dogs. “Do let me get your bag off the carousel Ms Campbell”, Let me help you with that Ms Campbell” “Where are you staying in New York Ms. Campbell”. And that was only me. The other passengers were far worse! My last view of her on that occasion was seeing this vast luggage belt with all the male Concorde passengers plus Naomi jammed in one small area as they all vied to carry her Louis Vuitton overnight bag.

My last brush with Naomi was really weird. I was sitting in seat 1A on a flight to Sao Paulo and just before the doors closed I was asked if I would move back a seat to 2A. Reason given was they had a VIP boarding and she always insists on 1A so as not to be bothered by anyone. Being an amiable soul I agreed to move and on wafted the lovely Naomi once more and plonked herself in my ex seat. She then proceeded to talk simultaneously on two phones and a blackberry while we taxied to the runway. She was finally asked to stop by a rather wary air hostess as the engines revved for take-off.

Once in the air she was straight in the toilet and emerged about 20 minutes later dressed in a pair of those grey BA first class pyjamas and a face covered in cream. On any one else it would have appeared awful but on her she looked 1 million dollars. I guess that is why she is still one of the world’s top models. She would make a potato sack look classy.

She obviously planned to go straight to sleep and, as I had a flight load of work to do, I popped round to her side and asked if the light would bother her. She reacted as if I had poked her with a cattle prod by recoiling back, muttering something incoherent and looking the other way. Having faced that apparently hostile response I slunk back to my lonely seat and grappled out my PC and spent the next four hours preparing numerous emails about very little.
Suddenly something changed. I could see a dark grey shadow moving towards my small pool of light preceded by the smell of a heavenly and expensive perfume. It was Naomi. Next thing I had been grabbed and clutched to her bosom. Am I hallucinating I wondered? Should I have stopped at two brandies after dinner? But no, it really was Naomi Campbell suffocating me in a most original but not entirely unpleasant way. She finally released me and said huskily that I had been very nice to her earlier on and “thank you”. Wow I thought, maybe some sections of the media were wrong about her and she was a sweet thing really.

I drifted off to a perfumed sleep and woke on the final approach to Sao Paulo. What woke me were Naomi’s phones, all of them, and she was going ballistic at some poor soul on the other end of one of them. She was demanding to know where he was, who he was with and threatening to get the next plane home. This was before her flight in had even landed and none of the crew seemed inclined or brave enough to tell her to stop.

We got to the gate and set off for the baggage hall. By this time Naomi was screaming at people demanding her bags NOW so she could check in for the return flight. The fuss she created was so great that security was called and I beat a hasty retreat through customs.

The next morning I was having breakfast and listening to the news when her name came up again. The newsreader was saying how Naomi Campbell had collapsed apparently ill at Sao Paulo airport and was rushed to a Brazilian hospital to have an emergency cyst operation. So that is what it was all about I thought. Or was it? Life is never boring when flying with Naomi Campbell.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Low Cost Airlines - Honeymoon Over?

The other day I spoke to a friend who had always been a massive supporter of European low cost/no frills airlines. He looked pretty annoyed and moaned about the fact that many of the deals that used to be around no longer exist. He also could not understand why he now has to do a lot of the work for them such as online check-in etc yet pay for almost every extra you can think of. Why, he said should I do all the work yet more often than not have to pay an administration fee.

It seems to me that more people than just my friend are falling out of love with these airlines. One person put it quite emotionally by saying he felt ‘betrayed by these so called ‘people's champions’. Having been in the business for many years I was surprised that folk could believe that these airlines were working in anything else but self interest but I guess if one looks at some of their past marketing and newspaper publicity one might understand.

I have my own views on this sector of the market and, as he asked my opinion I gave it. This is what I said:

OK, this is how I think the low cost airline model works:
They start a route on the stack them high and sell them cheap basis. They cut their costs to the bone and undercut the prices of any competition from the big boys. This works for a year or two until they have got hold of as many passengers they can on that route. Then their problems start.

You see, like all business they need to generate increased year on year profits but where is that increase going to come from? After all, their costs have already been stripped to the basics. They struggle to increase passenger numbers because they have already cornered their share of the market. Also this share is being attacked by the major carriers who have adjusted their prices to compete on the same ‘net plus extras’ model.

So the only way to please their investors is to enter new markets (they are already established in the best ones) and get more money from existing passengers. How do you get more money from them? Well you check your stats, booking patterns, peak flights and increase fares on those services that are popular (good timings etc) up to the highest level they think they can get away with. Then they look elsewhere amongst ancillary costs such as credit card fees, airport service 'frills' and start charging for them. When the authorities catch up with those they feel unacceptable they move these charges to a grey area described as 'admin fees'. On top of this they try to sell their customers non airline services like car hire and hotels and then go to these suppliers and negotiate special commissions for giving them business.

So the issue is that they have to keep growing in order to keep their share price up. Great in the old days but hard now they are established. The only good thing about this is that, as a result prices are finally becoming much more transparent so you can choose what you are going to get i.e. you can pick poor timings on less popular routes and still pay a low fare. As mentioned earlier these companies sell through big time marketing campaigns which mean they will still offer the occasional mega headline grabbing deals here and there.
The thing to remember is these airlines work on the basis that they do not want you to pay less than the maximum you are prepared to spend and they are finding out what that sum is in all sorts of clever ways. One could argue they are more pirates than charities!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


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