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We found that we needed to clear our baggage through an X- ray machine before we were able to continue to check-in. Furthermore, the queue for the machine was one of those which formed faster than you could walk to the back of it. Eventually I caught up with the back of the queue, and waited there for about ten minutes before our stuff was cleared. All considered, this wasn't too bad.
It was then time to go to the check-in desk. Unfortunately, this wasn't even open yet. At 21:30, two and a half hours before the flight, the desk opened. We checked in, and were invited to the famous Thai lounge. We were all very tired, and looking forward to a comfortable lounge where we might relax. We were disappointed.
The Royal Orchid lounge is crowded, noisy, unevenly lit and has uncomfortable chairs, and is not really conducive for relaxation before a long flight. I left my wife there to rest while I took my son round the public and duty-free areas, so that she might get some sleep.
Less than ten minutes later, I had returned. The Thai people are very friendly, especially to children, but their custom is to show their friendship by pinching a child on the face. While he is awake and alert, this might conceivably be described as fun, but to a fractious child who is nearly asleep, it is not.
I was intrigued by a short altercation between members of the Thai staff and a passenger. As this was the Business Class lounge, and he was a First Class passenger, he was asked to leave. I could understand them pointing out courteously that there was a First Class lounge with better facilities and that he might consider moving to it when convenient, or bear it in mind for a future visit. No, that was not the way they chose to act. Although he had just spread out papers and was obviously about to start work, he had to move, lock, stock and barrel. Maybe Thai International are not too worried about repeat business from First Class passengers.
Eventually, our flight was ready for boarding, so we set off and climbed upstairs. We had never been upstairs on a 747 before, and so this would be a new and interesting experience. As it turned out, we were too tired to enjoy it, but a few pieces of manwatching proved entertaining. A regular on the route was talking with some friends. It seemed that as this was only a 747-300, we ran the risk of having to stop somewhere on the way to refuel if the headwind was too strong. I supposed that the place for the stop varied according to the strength of the wind and the load on the aeroplane. This flight didn't stop. We also overheard that although Thai International were not very good on this route, they were much better than the alternatives. Lastly, he told his friends that this flight is always late.
A more interesting policy was adopted by a passenger sitting next to me. He was also a regular on the route, and claimed to be a vegetarian. We suspect that he was as carnivorous as the rest of us, but had noticed that special dietary meals are served first. Certainly he had finished his meal before anyone else was even served with theirs. I might try it myself sometime, though a recent travel magazine tells of someone who did. It seems that the vegetarian meal was so bad on their outward journey that they cancelled the special request for the return leg. Not vegetarian any more, then? came the reply from the booking clerk.
The night went on, and dawn broke somewhere over the Commonwealth of Independent States. Time was when you couldn't take that route, and the country or countries as the case may be didn't have that name. The only people gravely disadvantaged by the thaw in the Cold War and the extended range of the Boeing 747-400 are those who work at Anchorage Airport. Eventually we came in to land. Yes, it was late, but only a few minutes.
As we were landing, we were told that the current temperature in London was zero degrees, quite a change from the thirty degrees which it been in Bangkok, or Port Vila for that matter.
We cleared customs and immigration quickly, and went to the SAS/British Midland desk in Terminal 3, hoping to check our baggage through to Birmingham. It was closed, so it looked as if a trolley journey was called for. Transferring between terminals at Heathrow is never much fun. This is even more so after a long flight, or with a large amount of luggage, or with a young child, or with a pregnant wife. All these were currently true, so finding that it was necessary to transfer without help wasn't too encouraging. Still, we did it in only a few minutes, even though the entrance to Terminal 1 was under repair, so we had to come in through the exit. The exit is thoughtfully designed to be downhill to make it easy for people leaving; this meant an uphill struggle for us.
On arrival, we found the British Midland desks and checked in for the flight. Some other passengers had heard that it was delayed: they were mistaken. We went to the domestic departures lounge, where I had intended to buy some drinks and snacks. The prices were unbelievable by any standards: the man in front of me, reeling from the shock of the price of the scone, asked if he could have some butter with it. Sorry, you have to buy butter separately. He ate his scone dry, and we shared one sandwich and one coke. I do not know how they are able to justify prices like that.
Soon we made our way to the small aircraft, and enjoyed coffee during the short flight to Birmingham. The flight arrived early, so we had to wait a few minutes for the person meeting us. You couldn't blame her for not expecting a flight to arrive early: after all, the same had happened right on the other side of the world.
Now, here we were, back home, in the land where we were born, on leave.