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Disclaimer : The below narrative is based upon a true story but names have been changed, abbreviated or withheld for various reasons. Some details may have been withheld or modified to protect the privacy of individuals and organisations. Any resemblance to actual events or organisations should neither be assumed nor is implied.

Part 1 : Mid-December
Part 2 : Cologne
Part 3 : Christmas
Part 4 : New Year
Part 5 : Togo and Algeria

PART 3 : Christmas

I am due to make my annual pilgrimage back to India for Christmas but my luggage is still sitting unpacked at my apartment in Africa. Being the last minute planner that I am, by the time I finally made my booking the only seats I could find to fit my schedule were on British Airways in Club World from London to Hyderabad, connecting to Jet Airways to Mumbai. I can make it to India without the luggage but I do need to acquire the Christmas turkey and other items on mom's shopping list if I don't want to be disowned. I nip down to Horley (where there is a Waitrose conveniently located just across from the station to minimise the walking) and stock up as needed. My flight is at 1pm from Heathrow tomorrow so I can work the late departure tonight with James before catching the National Express bus.

Evening arrives and the aircraft lands safely in Africa. The team there works feverishly and pulls off a 60 minute turn. Strong headwinds however means that the aircraft won't be back with us till after 130am. At best, that is going to mean a 230am departure. This is also eating into Lothar's already slim Dusseldorf buffer for tomorrow night. I head out to the airport at 8pm to relieve Luc who has spent the whole day being abused by the delayed passengers. The poor lad feels like absolutely crap and I feel sorry for him. I ask if there are any passengers we need to keep a particular eye out for and he bursts into laughter. This must be good!

We have a lady on the flight who claims to be the queen of some tribe in Africa. In her day job however, she is a social worker from East Croydon. She has been a handful from the moment she pitched up at checkin identifying herself as royalty and demanding both an upgrade and a waiver of her excess baggage charges. When this went nowhere, she decided to play the race card. "If I was the Queen of England you would upgrade me! But because I am a black Queen you are treating me like this!" Well honey, if Queen Elizabeth pitched up at Zone E with a minicab driver lugging her cheap soft-side floral luggage that still displays its "ON SALE" tags from ASDA, she'd probably be treated the same way.

The evening drags on. The weather is getting better so I am optimistic we can catch up some time on the turnaround. The passengers are understandably getting very restless but there's really nothing we can do except wait. Finally around 145am, Servisair calls to advise they are on finals. I limp my way down to the gate very slowly accompanied by James and Moses. The aircraft touches down at 157am and we call the passengers to the boarding gate in the hope of being able to push a quick turn. The outbound crew show up a few minutes later. Where is the aircraft though? Nothing seems to be moving.

I call Servisair. The news is not good. We have sheet ice on the ramp and there is a groundstop in place while the taxiways are salted down. It is 230am by the time the aircraft finally pulls onto stand. The movement restriction also means that our service providers are handicapped in their ability to get out to the aircraft. Catering shows up just before 3am but we are still waiting on a fuel truck. Cleaners have only a skeleton staff on hand but the two sets of crew get their back into it and start grooming the cabin themselves.

Meanwhile "The Queen" has decided to become a populist. She is standing on a bench in the gate area and preaching to the rather sleepy masses huddled around her that they must fight for their rights and demand compensation. Her subjects are largely ignoring her. We call for pre-boarding. "The Queen" lines up with the Business Class passengers. Moses checks her documents and advises her that she needs to board only when her row number is called. She explodes. "How dare you! How dare you speak to me like that? I am a Queen! I am Royalty!". Moses keeps a straight face but James and myself struggle to keep our giggles under control.

Loading is proceeding slowly due to the icy conditions. I'm beginning to worry about tonight's flight and the already slim margin we have in Dusseldorf. Still, the focus needs to be on the present challenge. Passengers are trickling their way on board. I limp my way down the jetway and hear raised voices in the Business Class cabin. This can't be good.

"The Queen" has boarded and pushed her way past the crew at the door to turn left into the Business Class cabin. The cabin is however full and the last row houses a British family with 2 young children probably around 8-10 years old. "The Queen" is furious. She screams at Becky, the Purser for tonight who is serving preflight drinks.


Becky looks a bit confused.

"Can I help you ma'am?"
"Um, yes."

The child's father across the aisle is beginning to get a bit upset now. "The Queen" is almost about to explode.

"GET UP! GET UP!" she screams at the child. He looks very scared.

The father is now on his feet.

"Who the hell do you think you are to speak to my son like that?"

This has gone too far. I decide to intervene. I ask "The Queen" to please step aside to have a quiet word. She will have nothing of it.


By now the other passengers have had enough of her nonsense. They just want to get on their way. One of them shouts back at her.

"Hey lady, he doesn't respect you because you're a crazy .....!"

The ice is broken and everyone laughs except "The Queen" herself. She does however consent to step onto the jetway to have a quiet word. I give her a firm but polite warning.

"You have two choices. Either you go sit down in seat 14B without one single word to anybody or else you are not going anywhere today. I can also tell you that there are no seats available until December 28th, so if you don't fly today you won't be spending Christmas where you planned to either. The choice is yours."

The message sinks in. She isn't pleased but she nods. For good measure, I decide to gate check her hand baggage as well. If looks could kill, I'd have dropped dead on the spot but she doesn't say a word. Becky silently mouths "thank you" at me from the door.

We're finally ready to go. It is almost 5am by the time we close the doors and send her on her way. We decide to swing by McDonald's for a bit of breakfast as we plot today's operations. Luc will be back to open check-in in a couple hours but there's no way our planned schedule is going to work because of the Dusseldorf night curfew. We appear to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

We nibble on our McMuffins and ponder the options. We can go via Cologne (which "never closes", remember?), but after Monday's drama I really don't want to risk that again. Moses comes up with an idea out of left field. Why don't we reverse the flight and go via Dusseldorf first? I sketch a schedule again on the back of a napkin. The aircraft will be arriving into Africa at around 1130am. If we can get out of there by 1pm and go straight into Dusseldorf, we'll have more-or-less the same 45 minute slot we originally wanted to run except we'll be coming from Africa and going to Gatwick rather than the other way around. We will be oversold by a handful of passengers due to the combined loads, but this is probably the best option we have. I call Ops. They think it can work. I call Lothar in Dusseldorf. He thinks it can work. Ok, lets do it then.

I take my leave from the guys and wish them the best for tonight. I hate to abandon them and head home for Christmas but in my hobbled state I'm probably more of a hindrance than a help anyway. A quick nap and shower later, I'm on the National Express to Heathrow armed with my still frozen turkey carefully packed in layers of insulation. As the bus trundles around the M25, I call Dave who will be bringing the aircraft back this afternoon. He's seen the change in program on his online roster already so all I have to do is explain the intricacies of the Dusseldorf curfew regulations. Basically, an aircraft has to be off blocks by 2050z and airborne by 2100z. Dave is unruffled as always. He tells me to leave it to him and enjoy my Christmas.

It is a miserable day at Heathrow. The 90 minutes on the bus has not done any favours to my gammy knee and it hurts like a mofo when I step out at Terminal 5. I stumble my way upstairs to the departures level and retrieve my boarding pass from the kiosk. Then to the bag drop line which is totally empty. I ask the BA dragon guarding the barriers if it would be ok for me to simply cut under the barriers as I have a leg injury. I get a very cold stare in return.

"There is a queue system sir."
"But there's nobody in the queue!"
"The queue is still there sir."

So off I go limping my way up and down the snaking tensabarriers under the stern gaze of the matron. What pisses me off even more is that while I'm doing this, a lady arrives with a baby in a stroller and is immediately ushered under the barriers and to the front of the line ahead of me. I confront the matron.

"Sir, the lady has a child."
"So? I have an injured knee!"
"I'm sorry sir, but you should have requested mobility assistance in that case."
"Well, can I request mobility assistance then please?"
"I'm sorry sir, but you need to do that at least 36 hours in advance."
"But I wasn't injured 36 hours ago!!!"
"I'm sorry sir, the next counter is open for you now please."
"Hang on, I'm not finished."
"Sir, I suggest you get a move on as security for your flight will be closing shortly."

She's right. The dreaded "compliance" deadline is looming and much as I would have loved to stand and argue the intricacies of EU regulation 1107/2006, I have a flight to catch.

To my chagrin, we are departing today from one of the B gates which are a solid 15 minute hike on a good day. I decide to skip a lounge visit and head straight there under the circumstances. A wise move as it takes me the better part of 40 minutes to limp my way there. This whole gimp thing is getting annoying. Thankfully the lovely BA lady at the gate is more sympathetic of her colleague at checkin. She fusses about and gets me somewhere to sit while boarding commences and then allows me to use the lift with the wheelchair passengers rather than take the stairs like everyone else. Yes, this also means that we're going to be bussing out to a remote stand. Ugh.

Finally, we arrive at our ride to India. G-YMMS is one of British Airways' newest 777s and she is shining and spotless in the wintery noon. I limp my way aboard at the tail end of the process and the friendly crew show me to my seat. I'm quite surprised that there are only 2 other passengers in the entire Club World cabin today, no doubt a function of the BA strike threats, but still surprising considering how hard it was to find a Business Class seat on any airline into India this week.

I'll concede a point about BA Club World. I may spend my working life trying to convince people to fly with my employer instead, but when it comes to a reliable premium product for my personal travel, it is hard to top Club World. The most recent seat upgrade (sorry that I can't refer to it as NCGDWTHGK or whatever other confusing abbreviation has been assigned by the Frequent Flyer community this week) is just another feather in its cap. It doesn't provide chauffeur service or inflight showers or stand-up bars or drop dead gorgeous models or cordon bleu cooking by celebrity chefs, but it just relaxes you in that faux-posh way that only the Brits can pull off with aplomb. Tally-ho and all that old chap.

The crew today are wonderful people. Not just wonderful crew, but wonderful people. The lady serving my cabin has seen me limping and comes around to enquire about my injury and if she can do anything to help. I thank her for her concern but tell her it will be just fine with some heat packs and plenty of alcoholic beverages. She winks in perfect understanding. I never had to ask for a top-up during the entire flight. Attagirl.

Lunch is served. The starter is a prawn and mango salsa salad which I devour hungrily. Main course is a lobster based seafood medley of some sort. Finally cheese and port, with a coffee to finish. Nothing overly fancy but it hits the spot nicely. Then its time to press a few buttons and conjure up my flat bed. My last conscious thought as I drift into dreamland is to wonder how things are going in Dusseldorf. I wonder if they zzzzzzzzz.......

After the longest and most restful sleep I've had in a week, I wake up nearly 6 hours later. A mug of steaming coffee prepared exactly the way I like it (someone was paying attention during the lunch service!) arrives a minute later without having to ask. I limp around to get the circulation back in my legs and then its time for breakfast. I'm ravenous once again, so while I'm surprised to find that its a full hot breakfast service rather than the usual apology of a Continental Breakfast I am definitely not complaining. I start off with Muesli and Yogurt with a Danish and progress to a nice greasy fryup. All this accompanied by a strawberry smoothie. Soon it's time to land and we touch down at the new Hyderabad Airport just a few minutes after 5am local time.

Rajiv Gandhi International airport in Hyderabad is one of the two new "greenfield" airports in India that have opened up since 2008, the other being in Bangalore. The terminal is a very impressive glass and steel structure with all the amenities one expects from an international airport. Immigration is swift and efficient and I hobble my way down the escalator to baggage claim. From the moment I stepped off the aircraft however, my mind has been wondering how things went in Dusseldorf and whether the gamble paid off but I've refrained from calling. As I stand and watch the empty conveyor circulate in anticipation of a 777 worth of baggage, I can't take the suspense anymore.

I call James. His voice sounds quite solemn. My heart sinks.

"How did it go?"
"Umm... have you spoken to Lothar yet?"
"No, how did it go?"
"Well, perhaps you should talk to him first."
"I'm afraid we have a bit of a problem..."

My mind fills with a million thoughts at once, none of them good. I soften my tone.

"Tell me what happened."
"Well, the aircraft isn't here."

Oh no. That's the worst possible outcome. She's stuck overnight in Dusseldorf with 160 passengers. I curse.

"Oh $%?$. What happened?"

Suddenly James bursts into laughter. I've been had!

"You .......! You m%$?$*%"?ing .......! I'll get you for this!"
"Hahahahah! Nice and smooth like a knife through butter. Well, at this end at least. She's just pushing back right now. Lothar had a bit of fun in Dusseldorf though!"

It's too late to call Lothar so I have to rely on James for the details. The problem was such a basic one that I would kick myself for overlooking it if my leg were not already injured. When we rerouted the flight to run via Dusseldorf, we removed the advance seat assignments in the reservations system but didn't transmit an ADL to Codeco in Dusseldorf to clear them at a local level in the DCS (which we needed to do as the flight was already under airport control). As a result, Dusseldorf originating passengers were being assigned the same seats that were already assigned into London since the computer thought that the flight would be stopping in London first.

As any airline passenger knows, the easiest way to kick off World War III is to arrange for multiple seat duplications while boarding. For good measure, ensure that these split a few families up and for best results do this with families that speak minimal English. Now do all this during a 45 minute transit stop with a night curfew looming and only two days to Christmas and Lothar was probably glad he took his blood pressure medication that morning. Still, it all ends happily with Dave demanding the door be shut with passengers still arguing with each other so he could receive his takeoff clearance before the deadline hits. The Germans are only too happy to oblige. An hour later, they're in London and the seat dupe issue solves itself. James really did have it easy in comparison.

My bag emerges onto the belt and I head through Customs and upstairs to departures. It's barely 6am and my connecting flight isn't for another 4 hours. I try to buy a walkup ticket on either the Kingfisher or Indigo flights leaving imminently but they are both sold out. Kingfisher does have availability on their 930am flight but if I'm waiting that long I might as well just fly on the Business Class ticket I already have for Jet Airways at 10am.

The Jet Airways counters are opening up as they have an earlier Delhi departure. I ask them nicely if they wouldn't mind checking me in for the Mumbai flight so I can go through security and rest my leg in the Lounge. A supervisor is called and she okays me to receive a boarding pass but declines to provide a lounge invitation until the Mumbai flight officially opens for checkin in about 30 minutes. No big deal. I go through security and head to the lounge anyway. Jet Airways uses the Plaza Premium Lounge in Hyderabad, which also provides public access for a rather reasonable price (Rs.650 I believe it was, which comes out to around ?10). The lounge is nothing special but was ideal to relax in for a few hours. It was a bit disappointing though that Jet Airways were being so rigid with their rules for a Business Class passenger.

The flight down to Mumbai takes just under an hour and is quite uneventful. Service is a snack tray in Business Class which I skip in favour of a nap. A remote stand means a bit of struggle down the stairs but I'm soon in the terminal collecting the rapidly thawing turkey at baggage claim. On the drive home, James calls. He's back at Gatwick again the poor lad. Today's flight, the last before Christmas, will be running just under 4 hours late so we are not mandated to hand out refreshment vouchers under EU regulation 261/2004. I authorise him to go ahead and do so anyway. It's Christmas after all. It all goes well and I am proud to say that every single one of our passengers (including me!) made it to their planned destination in time for Christmas. For that reason alone, the last week of hell has been worthwhile.

My few days at home in India pass far too quickly (and painfully). My leg is not improving and my damaged teeth are obviously not growing back, so I head off to visit my local medical professionals. The news is not good. I will need surgery and two root canals. We set some dates in January for me to return and I stock up on prescription antibiotics and painkillers in the interim. And then its time to head back to work. No peace for the wicked.

I've decided to fly Emirates back to the UK. I had some miles due to expire and figured I could use them to upgrade an el-cheapo fare before the Skywards changes took effect at the end of the year. Unfortunately, the only route with upgrade availability on my preferred date was to Glasgow rather than London. No worries. I made plans to meet up with some friends there for an afternoon of drinking and booked a British Airways one-way down to Gatwick for later in the evening.

My Emirates flight departing Mumbai is oversold (as usual) this morning, but my offer to bump and reroute directly into Gatwick is politely turned down as I'm in Business Class and I guess they don't want to "inconvenience" me. If only they knew. To make matters worse my late booking means that only awful middle seats are available on the first leg. Still, I can deal with it for the short sector to Dubai. We are about 60 minutes late pushing back (sadly, also as usual) reducing my transfer time in Dubai to less than 30 minutes. I'd usually start getting a bit worried by now, but I've become quite numb to travel catastrophes after the last week. Breakfast is served as we wing our way across the Arabian Sea to Dubai. This is the hardest meal to cater on a plane because there are only a finite number of things you can realistically offer as a Western option. Eggs, pancakes or....? I pick the eggs and they are typically insipid. A short nap later, I am disembarking into the Dubai terminal with only 20 minutes till the scheduled departure of my connection.

I'm fortunate enough to be near the front of the aircraft, so despite my limp I am one of the first folks through transfer security. The departures screen is already showing GATE CLOSED for my flight but I decide to take my chances. The agent at the gate initially apologises that the flight is closed but when he sees "BUSINESS" on my boarding pass his demeanour changes. He radios down to the Despatcher that a late runner is en route and I'm hustling my way down the jetway seconds later. I step on board and the doors close behind me before I even get to my seat, the last empty spot in Business Class. Unfortunately, this is one of Emirates' two-class Boeing 777-300ERs. They feature the horrible old seats in Business Class that really aren't up to scratch with some of their other brilliant product offerings.

Pet peeve. Virtually everyone on these morning Emirates flights to Europe is connecting from somewhere. We've all had breakfast already on our inbound flights, so another full breakfast immediately on departure is a complete waste (unless you're a greedy fat ....... like myself). More so because the second meal service is then simply a "light snack" (they take the "light" part of it seriously) consisting of a choice of tiny finger sandwiches and pastries. I'd much rather see a continental breakfast service with a full lunch instead like they do on the similarly timed flights to Africa.

On arrival in Glasgow, I'm not surprised to find that my luggage has taken up the offer of a free Dubai stopover. I request that it be please routed directly to Gatwick rather than detouring via Scotland and that I will pick it up there tomorrow morning. Worldtracer is updated accordingly. Then I'm off to my waiting complimentary chauffeur drive and an afternoon in town with friends.

In Gatwick the next morning I check WorldTracer to find that contrary to instructions, the bag is now on board today's Emirates flight to Glasgow. I call bmi (who are the handling agents for Emirates there) and arrange for them to re-retag it and rush down to Gatwick. In the meanwhile, I have my own flight to deal with tonight. It's New Years Eve and we have an 1110pm departure. James and I have plans to catch up with the crew at the Hilton Crew Lounge after we see the aircraft off. It is a surprisingly busy load tonight with over 100 passengers choosing to spend their New Year in the air. Among them is a TV personality who graciously agrees to host a "countdown to midnight" on the PA system. We've ordered a few extra bottles of champagne as well. Everyone wants to get this flight out early. It pushes 15 minutes ahead of schedule and we're back in the crew lounge with time for a last few drinks of the old year before a new one is upon us.


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