Archive for the ‘flying’ Category

All’s well that ends well!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Dyspozytor returns to Poland on Boxing Day.

Readers that have been following BTWT for some time will know that Dyspozytor is not a good air traveller. He has a fundamental aversion to the whole business, believing firmly that if man had been meant to fly he would have evolved with wings. Over the Christmas period there’s also the worry that the aircrew may have had one too many the previous night and that their blood alcohol levels may not yet have descended to a safe level. Finally, he finds the check in and security procedures intrinsically stressful and requires a composure and philosophical attitude which is far removed from his own.


Tram tunnel under taxiway. Photo

( Click to see photo on airport-technology website.)

My blood pressure started reaching dangerously high levels on the M25. Why is it on the one day in the year when half of Britain is travelling in order to visit loved ones and having as many drinks as possible, achievement of the second objective is frustrated – or made illegal – by the closure of the country’s entire railway network?

As the traffic on the M25 slowed down several times to a crawl, I had visions of not getting to the check in desk in time and reliving my earlier embarrassment at Lodz Airport. Traffic speeded up after Watford, and the northbound M1 flowed reasonably freely. The M1 – Luton Airport spur is being widened to a dual carriageway and here we were slowed down again. There’s a spare tunnel under the taxiway which was intended to take a tramway (why not full size rail link?) from the airport terminal to Luton Airport Parkway Station, but with the Department for Transport’s penchant for road building this seems now to be likely to be used by the final section of the spur road.

Heightened security procedures at the airport have moved the drop off point some 100 yards away from the terminal building. At the same time, the airport’s Spanish operating company have introduced a charge for the baggage trolleys that removed so much of the struggle with heavy luggage. Curiously enough, chargeable trolleys have also been introduced at Stansted Airport.

My comfortable walking boots, bought in Krakow a couple of years ago, attracted the attention of a security operative who ordered that I take them off. The same boots attracted no attention whatsoever at Stansted a month earlier. The Stansted security staff did confiscate a small bottle of fizzy mineral water, but allowed me to take half a pound of sugar onto the plane. I conclude that airport security procedures are pure theatre and are nothing to do with preventing explosives being carried on board and everything to do with maintaining the state of post 9/11 and 7/7 national paranoia.

Once through security, I wanted an orange juice. £3-00 from the café, but only £1-50 from W.H. Smiths. The bookshop won. The drink was a life saver. Luton is one of these airports which expects its travellers to maintain a state of Olympic fitness. The number of the gate is shown at the last possible minute and sprinting to it can take 20 minutes.

Wizzair have an unfortunate habit of cancelling their flights and leaving their passengers stranded. On the other hand, their Airbus A320s are newer and have more comfortable seats than Ryanair’s older Boeing 737s. You make your choice and pay your money. This time, the Wizzair flight was without incident and the crew were Polish and friendly.

Passport control at Poznan Airport was brisk and efficient, although I fail to understand why, when all aeroplane stands near the terminal were vacant, our plane was stopped 20 yards from the terminal building, but 100 yards from the terminal’s airside entrance. Perhaps the airport authorities just wanted to show off their new buses?

In side the terminal building there were no bus ticket machines and all the new kiosks selling tickets were closed. I needn’t have worried, the bus driver accepted my 100 zl note with a smile and gave me change for my 4.80 zl fare. Driving on practically deserted roads, we reached Poznan station in 15 minutes.

I spied my train just across the tracks from the bus stop. With just 5 minutes to spare, I didn’t bother about buying a ticket or using the subway. I sprinted across the tracks and told the guard that I needed a ticket. He directed me to the head of the train. Armed with the change provided by the bus driver there was no problem in buying it on board the train. The kierownik (train manager) konduktorka (female train conductor) and I exchanged gossip about the latest developments on PKP. After behaviour that would have seen me fined and arrested in the UK, I was safely back in Poland.


Planes vs. trains

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The check in, the first hint of doubt

Do you enjoy flying? I find the whole business of flying between the UK and Poland incredibly wearying. Already at check in, a hint of existential doubt creeps in. Is my floppy bag containing all my belongings going to be passed as ‘hand luggage’? “Do you have any sharp objects in your hand luggage?” Gulp! Does my safety razor count? “Could anyone have packed anything in your luggage?” Well, I did leave my baggage unattended to go to the loo, and I’ve always had my suspicions about my flatmate since he admitted reading Postman Patel’s blog. Having survived check in, the next step is security control. I present my transparent bag containing my Sensodyne toothpaste. Are people who have neglected their teeth seen as a greater security risk? Off come my shoes, belt, jacket… “No, Sir it won’t be necessary for Sir to remove his trousers.” But there’s a metal rivet in my jeans, won’t it set off the alarm? At last, like the seasoned traveller that I am, I pass through without being challenged. I collect my mobile, wallet, dirty paper handkerchiefs from the plastic tray thoughtfully provided and march through to the “duty free”. Well, its duty free no longer, but the airport supposedly pays the tax. All the food here is incredibly expensive. It’s over an hour and a half to the departure of my flight. I buy a small bottle of water for £1-25. That’s 5 zloty! I get myself a book and sit down within eyeshot of a monitor. But I can’t relax. There are large signs informing me that all gates are at least 12 minutes walk away. If that’s 12 minutes for people who regularly jog, how much longer will it take for people who regularly blog? But before, I can enjoy my own joke an announcement comes over the tannoy. “Check in for flight 2269 to Barcelona is now closing!” So if anyone is still in the main departures hall, unless they are an Olympic runner, by the time they get to their gate it will be closed. Better proceed to my gate then. It is a long and surprisingly tiring walk. Have you noticed how most airport walkways smell of rats? This one is no exception.

It seems that 150 fellow travellers have also come to the conclusion that it’s safer to proceed to the gateway than to wait in the main departure hall to be called. I sit near an adjacent gate in an area which is reasonably empty. At least I am only 2 minutes away from my target rather than 15. I drink my water and contemplate going to the loo. What I really need for my flight is a bottle of beer on board the plane, but that’s apparently the favourite weapon of terrorists so, unless I invest 15 euro on the plane, I have to drink my beer now. I buy a bottle of beer for £3-00 and return to my calculations as to when would the be best time to go to the loo. My reverie is broken as a large lady complete with larger daughter and frail mother decides to sit at my table. Our departure time comes and goes, but nothing happens. I make regular little forays to my gate to check that the plane has not flown without me. But there’s no plane and no information. An hour passes, then another half an hour. At last there is an announcement. Passengers who have bought priority boarding and passengers with small children will board first. I’m happy to keep out of the scrum and be one of the last to board. I comment in Polish on the quality of the airline’s customer care to one of the passengers who has a similar boarding philosophy to my own. He answers in perfect Polish, but there is just a touch of accent. Within the next 5 minutes I inform him that he was born in England, brought up in Ealing Broadway, attended Polish school and was awarded a Polish passport because of his father’s military service during WW II. He is duly impressed and we are destined to chat away merrily during the flight.

The steward barks the safety announcement at the passengers. “You will all be quiet!” he orders. He clearly loathes everyone of us. Is he working for Ryanair or someone else? We wait on the tarmac for an inordinately long period of time. What is happening? Have they rerun the film of my hand luggage and found my safety razor? Are the engines being repaired? If anyone knows they’re not telling. At last the engines are revved and we taxi to the main runway. I remind myself that take-off and landing are the most dangerous parts of a flight. I say a silent prayer and agonizingly slowly the plane begins to lift off the ground. I immerse myself in my book, emerging occasionally to answer my companion’s questions.

The two hours pass quite quickly, the seat belt signs are turned on and the plane looses hight rapidly. The landscape become suburban then urban. We zip above the roofs of a block of flats and narrowly miss the chimney of a combined power station and district heating plant. The pilot has missed the airport! Is he going to crash the plane into the new shopping centre? The plane executes a sharp-banked jet-fighter turn. Are we going fast enough? Will we stall? We fly back towards Britain for 5 minutes, make a more leisurely turn, and this time manage to hit the runway. Another long walk, an unsmiling welcome from a lady at Polish border control and I’m back in Poland. I’m tired, dirty and stressed out. Why did I go by plane? Because it was only £20. Would I have gone by train if a ticket was available for the same price? You betcha!