Friday, May 30, 2008

The friendly skies

It’s been a long time since air travel was fun. I admit I’m old enough to remember the long ago days when you dressed up to fly somewhere because it was an event. And the early days of frequent flyer programs, when free first class tickets were easy to get and still came with five course meals cooked to order. Ah, nostalgia.

Now all you're entitled to expect is that you will actually be transported from the place of departure to the place of arrival reasonably close to the scheduled time. And those expectations are not always met.

We didn’t enjoy being in Florence, too crowded, too touristy, too dirty, too hot, hot, hot. We were looking forward to our last full day in Paris when we got to the Florence airport, boarded the Air France flight (operated by City Jet, they were careful to note) and sat, sweating, for over an hour. A technical problem, the captain said, and apparently one connected with the cooling system by all the evidence. I began thinking of those people stuck on planes for days, no food, the toilets overflowing, because the airline didn’t want to cancel the flight.

The next announcement was that we were OK to go but had missed our takeoff window and had to wait for clearance from Milan. Milan! We were in Florence. Thirty minutes later we began to taxi. And stopped. The fix wasn’t working. Back to the tarmac parking space. Eventually buses arrived to take us back to the terminal where we waited several more hours to finally be told we weren’t going anywhere that day. Go to the desk and have your flight rescheduled and a hotel assigned. And try to find someone to tell you what’s going on. Every Air France employee has disappeared.

And so on. I finally had to pretend an illness to get someone to assign us a hotel within an hour. The entire adventure lasted six hours.

Stupidly I had let my cellphone time run down and was carefully rationing it, texting the people we were to meet that evening and making arrangements to pick up the luggage we had left in Paris. I suppose it could have been worse. Gil’s response to my text message canceling our dinner plans read: Does it make you feel any better to know the weather is lousy in Paris? It didn’t.

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