Taking a trip on Air Sardine
Preparations are under way for our vacation this year and I couldn't help but be reminded of Ray and my trip to Austria last year.
[quoteright]July's Sunday night crowd had already arrived at the San Francisco airport and the line for our charter flight seemed a mile long.
Going to Paris for a measly $511 round trip was worth it, or so it seemed. This bargain had been purchased in October; during the nine-month interval, we had been occasionally nervous about the coming flight. It was offered by a new French airline, Minerve, but in May it was changed to a Hawaiian Airlines flight. Hawaiian flying to Europe? Would they even stay awake?
As we waited, the terminal seemed rather warm and I noticed that the doors were open, but the line moved quickly and we were soon headed for the gate. The temperature rose as we worked our way to the interior of the terminal. We found a bar that the rest of the crowd had somehow missed, and we replaced our perspiration with wine.
The flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30PM so we strolled over to the gate at 9PM. I could have used a third shower by then; it must have been 90 degrees with no ventilation. We were lucky to find a seat and as 9:30 came and went, we continued to swelter as we sat there surrounded by the mass of humanity waiting to board the plane. Many of us were kidding ourselves by looking at the snow in the Air Alaska brochures. I wonder how much future business they got from our crowd. 10:30PM came and went. The heat was unbearable. 10:43, and suddenly everyone was moving toward the jetway. There had been no announcement and they rose as if by silent consent, creating a reverse domino effect.
We entered the plane and the first thing I noticed was a man of average size, crammed into the aisle seat, looking absolutely miserable. I had not noticed that it was a DC8 and I had instant sympathy for Ray's 6'2" body stuffed into that small space. I wondered if any of the men had been POWs; crouching in one of those little sweatboxes I've seen in the movies would have been perfect practice. Luck was with us, though and the empty seat next to us remained assigned. If we had thought the terminal was hot, the plane was worse by at least 20 degrees.
After adding in the Paris time difference, I deduced that the flight was twelve hours long. Obviously, we were going to refuel somewhere and that became the consuming curiosity for many of us. That curiosity was soon put on hold by the question of whether the plane would hold together long enough to get off the ground. The arm rest on the aisle was detached so that it moved like a swinging gate. Some of the lights wouldn't go off and the steward brought cardboard and masking tape to cover the light. At some time during the flight, one of the oxygen compartments fell open, making a few people even more tense. There were very few pillows and blankets, and the prospect of a twelve hour flight without them was depressing. We were fortunate to have a blanket to share, but no pillow. Even worse, we were two hours late and most of us were hungry. The plane was stocked with nothing but bits of pineapple on a stick and a few crackers, graciously offered by the polite crew. Logical for a Hawaiian flight — but at this point, the company's inexperience was extremely irksome. What do you mean, no coffee? No Kona?
My disposition improved noticeably when it was rumored that we would refuel in Gander, Newfoundland. Newfoundland! I never imagined any circumstances that would put me in Newfoundland. Could we deplane? Would I get to see any of this wonderland? No, they were afraid people would get separated from the group and not make the plane. That turned out to be the funniest one-liner of the trip. Food, here we come. I wondered how much transcontinental experience our Hawaiian pilot had. Newfoundland was a long way from Hawaii. I didn't want to realize that Europe was, of course, even further. The crew deserved our sympathy and anything else we could muster. To work under those dreadful conditions for thirteen hours and still smile at the end was incredible.
We approached Gander and all I could see were pine trees for miles, so thick it seemed that we could land on them. No people! It was beyond me who we were going to become separated from. A light drizzle was falling and the runway was slick, but it was one of the smoothest landings I've had. When the plane came to a stop, I could see a small crew assemble to do the refueling.
We deplaned after being admonished to be back in thirty minutes, and went into the terminal, a large structure dedicated by the Queen in 1954. A large mural depicting the life of the people covered one wall. A world map on the other wall helped put our location into perspective.
Nearly everyone went into the gift shop, which was large and well stocked. In spite of my liberated psyche screaming "chauvinist," it was interesting to watch the male manager watch the female cashier struggling valiantly to make the sales, convert the Canadian prices into U.S. dollars, wrap it all and still smile. She even answered all the questions people asked while he stood there with his arms folded. When there were only a half dozen people left in the store, out of the hundred-plus who came in, he opened the other cash register and magnanimously made the transactions. I went away happy with a precious mug and spoon for my collections. Some months later, I was dumbfounded when a guest pointed out that Newfoundland was misspelled Newfoudland.
We wandered aimlessly and then attempted to reboard the plane. A self-important official bustled out and admonished us for the try. He and he would inform us when it was time to reboard. We were herded up the stairs on one side of the building and along the hall where we were directed down the stairs on the other side. None of us figured out that exercise.
We flew on, somewhat comforted by dining on a thing they called "omelette." Finally we landed in Paris without incident. Our two weeks passed too quickly, as vacations are known to do, but that's another story.
Staffer MYRA JOHNSON is, among other things, a collector of spoons. This is not to say that you should hesitate to invite her to dinner. She collects the souvenir kind.
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