How To Start A New Route In 45 Days 
(And Other Tales From The Airline World)

When management decided in October that the airline would launch flights to Germany on November 29th, the author's plans for a quiet build up to Christmas went out the window. 

By Sean Mendis

When the management team decided in our collective wisdom back in October that our airline would launch flights to Dusseldorf starting on November 29, I suspected that my plans for a quiet build up to Christmas were not going to come to much. Little did I realise just how hectic those few weeks were going to be....

Still, I had managed to make it through to mid-November with only two trips to Europe in the previous month. As I prepared for my semi-annual pilgrimage to the IATA Schedules Conference - this year being hosted in Athens, Greece - I was somewhat optimistic of a smooth opening.

An overnight flight into Gatwick and a quick shower at the YOTEL left me standing in front of the Olympic checkin desks at South Terminal waiting for a Swissport agent to show up and open checkin. They eventually did and I made my way to the boarding gate well ahead of time. I need not have rushed as the inbound flight was running about 30 minutes behind schedule. Still, they made up some time on the turnaround and I was pleasantly surprised to find rather generous legroom on board this old 737-400 for the 3.5 hour ride down to Athens.

I keep referring to Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens as the "new" airport, but its actually been around for the better part of a decade now. As Greek airports go, this one is actually reasonably efficient, if not particularly aesthetically pleasing. Most importantly though, it has a very convenient Metro link into town. Two changes and an hour later, I am walking through the doors of the Intercontinental Athaeneum where our conference is being hosted. Despite the fact that it is almost 5pm, my room is still not ready, but I use the opportunity to grab my registration kit, schmooze a bit and return to the lobby. The reception staff have delivered me a very nice suite in the interim, which more than makes up for the minor delay.

After dropping my bags off and checking emails, I head back into town to grab a quick dinner. There is something about the gyros in Greece that simply cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Absolutely delicious. On a balmy November evening, a light breeze blows as I sit by the one of the many ruins and savour the food, looking up at the beautiful lights of the Acropolis towering proudly above the historical city. I count my lucky stars to not only have the opportunity to experience this moment, but more importantly, to truly appreciate its timelessness.

The next day is a whirlwind of meetings and slot swaps but I get all my schedules finalised and head back to the airport for my flight to Heathrow. Being a Friday night, I am not really looking forward to the presumably packed 737, a feeling of apprehension that is reinforced when the on-line checkin system tells me that I need to check-in at the airport instead. There are seperate counters for the London flight and despite the seemingly lengthy queues, things seem to be moving pretty quickly. I find myself at a checkin desk no more than 10 minutes later. To my delight, it appears that the aircraft has been swapped to an Airbus 340 due to the significant oversale. Even more delightfully, a few minutes of flirting with the checkin girl has worked its magic and I find myself with a Business Class seat and an invitation to the Aristotle Onassis lounge. Always good to see that I haven't lost my old charm.

The Onassis lounge is somewhat spartan for refreshments and decor, but I am especially fascinated by a wonderful collection of photographs featuring Aristotle and Jackie O back in their heyday. I kill an hour or so in the lounge and then wander down to the gate where the poor agents appear to have been mobbed by a few hundred passengers all trying to push their way onto the aircraft at the same time. Once aboard, I find myself in a comfortable older generation longhaul seat that is perfectly adequate for the 3.5 hour flight up to London. Dinner is served shortly after takeoff and I pick the salmon option. Then an hour of naptime before we are on approach to Heathrow.

Terminal 2 immigration has a horrendously long line tonight and the icing on the cake is that IRIS is broken, so I must deal with a human being. That is like, so 20th century. This human seems to be highly confused about the very immigration rules she is meant to be enforcing. Dialogue is something straight out of Monty Python.

"What is the purpose of your visit?" 

"I have a flight to Amsterdam at 630am" 

"So you are in transit?"

 "Yes, you could say that" 

"You do not have a transit visa" 

"I know, I have a work permit"

"Yes, I can see that. But you need a transit vis

"Excuse me

"A work permit allows you to live and work here but doesn't permit you to transit" 


"Next time please ensure you have the correct visa"

"Um ok"

I'm quite befuddled by the entire thing but its been a long day so I don't argue. I pick up my bag and take the Heathrow Connect over to Terminal 4 where the YOTEL awaits.

The YOTEL, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is a stylishly post-modern capsule hotel located in the bowels of major international airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Schiphol to date). The capsule itself consists of a bunked bed (alternate cabins have either upper or lower bunks to save on space), a flat screen TV, a shower, a toilet, wifi and umm... well, that's all. Spartan yet delightfully chic, and perfect for a short overnight stop when you don't want to deal with hotel staff. Indeed, thanks to the automated checkin kiosk, I never interacted with a single YOTEL employee my entire stay.

Among my other roles at our airline, I chair the committee in charge of Inflight Product development. Catering falls under our purview and with our London catering contract up for tender, our two finalists are due to make their final presentations to us on consecutive weeks. With the Christmas break approaching, we need to squeeze these into our schedule around the Dusseldorf launch. Contrary to popular perception of an all-you-can-eat-buffet kinda atmosphere, airline catering presentations are actually quite intense and detail oriented. The most likely phrase to be heard is something like "How about we drop the cherry tomato and use only a half-olive but up the lettuce by 5 grams". Still, as presentations go, this one was actually quite enjoyable. We spend almost 6 hours picking at various foods and leave the unit at the end of the day with the outlines of next year's menu rotations in place.