13 April 2014

The following is a post I began writing on 13 April 2014 to recount my dramatic journey to London earlier this year. Although I’m only publishing it now, it seems fit to keep the original entry date – as a keepsake, if you will. Here goes:

Good morning London,

What a journey this has been.

First, a location update: I am now waiting to pass immigration at Heathrow. So technically I’m not yet in London. The queue is the longest I’ve ever seen, and it feels like I’ve been walking round and round this snake forever.

Which, of course, is an overstatement. Though it is long. To give you an idea, it’s so long that after 5 lives of candy crush I still have so much left to go I decided to write this blog post.

One observation: they removed the ‘mobile phone prohibited’ signs in the immigration waiting area. I guess it got to the point where the costs of flagrant disrespect for the rule outweighed the benefits of… What was the benefit of banning mobile phone usage in immigration in the first place? I never quite figured that out. Anyone care to venture a guess? An informed guess?

To be fair to the UK border police, they’re doing a magnificent job of keeping the queue moving. This is a far cry from the severely understaffed border control of a few years back, where three manned booths equalled a really, really long wait.

Though actually, as circumstances would have it, I’m not too keen on passing immigration too quickly this time around.

Why, you ask? It’s a long story.

Then again, I have plenty of time on my hands… so let’s have it:

As usual, my carrier of choice to fly me to London was Emirates. It’s a flight with a stopover in Dubai, which suits me just fine – time to stretch my legs, primly sit at Paul’s in the Dubai airport, and pretend to read (while actually playing candy crush) for an hour.

Also, I love the Airbus A380 that routinely flies the Bangkok-Dubai route. It’s so luxurious… the starry ceiling, the majestic staircase leading up to the upper-class bar decked with neat rows of liquor and shining glassware. Not that I’ve ever set foot on the staircase or tasted the perks of upper deck travel (land of the first- and business-class people). But a girl can dream. In short, I guess I always choose to fly the A380 because it’s so aesthetically pleasing, something I’m sure you’d also appreciate when strapped to a seat for six hours.

And funnily enough, it was none other than the A380 that landed me in my present predicament.

More specifically, its fuels system.

My EK flight (EK for Emirates) was scheduled to depart from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 9.20pm. As usual, I have a few hours’ stopover in Dubai – I always choose my flights so that I have at least 2 hours to make my connection – to switch from the A380 to the Boeing 777-300ER that will deposit me in London at 6.45am the morning after.

Essentially an overnight flight, thanks to the 7-hour time difference. Don’t we love flying back in time?

As always, I had picked a seat in the front row of the A380. The very first row in the plane. So that (1) I can gaze up the staircase and pretend I’m not in economy, and (2) I am among the first to get off the plane at Dubai. Twice now, I have been the first transit passenger to go through security at Dubai. It’s a little challenge I set myself every time I make this by-now-routine flight.

One I feel ridiculously proud of for achieving.

*awkwardly clears throat*

Wow. I just looked up from my phone (yes I’m still in the queue) and there’s even more people now.

Let’s get back to the story.

There I was, all buckled up in my seat, as yet blissfully unaware of the events about to unfold. Unbeknownst to me, my front-row seat was about to acquire a whole other meaning.

I may be over-generalising from my limited experience, but the many times I’ve flown with Emirates, I’ve found them to be quick and efficient with boarding. Especially on the A380 with its multiple entrances.

So I was surprised when, after half an hour, the door was still open and the gangway firmly in place. They are waiting for late passengers, I told myself.

And I would have believed it too, if not for the amount of ground staff and technicians continually streaming in and out of the plane, and occasionally into the cockpit. The secretive whispering among the crew, more and more of whom were congregating on the staircase leading up to the bar, also kind of gave it away.

Then came the first announcement from the captain: the plane is refusing to pass some final technical check, so they’re running the check again. But not to worry – this will only take 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes later, the activity continued abuzz. Serious-looking technicians and ground staff continued to sneak in and out of the cockpit. At one point, the captain himself came out to talk to the crew on the staircase. I did my best to eavesdrop, but I just wasn’t close enough.

More time passed like this, with cryptic captain announcements at 15-30 minute intervals. We were served the first refreshments (a drink and crackers), then a second (only drinks).

Oh, did I mention that there was also a fault in the AC? As we were informed by an earlier announcement, the main system wasn’t working, so we were on some back-up option that meant the cabin wasn’t very cold. It felt like sitting in a room where someone had just turned off the air conditioning, which after an hour was just not very comfortable.

By this time, I was starting to fear for my connection. If things continued at this rate, I was going to miss it. So I started mentally preparing myself for the scenario where I had to catch another flight to London. No big deal, just some hassle. I made a mental note to text my flatmate to let her know I would be delayed, so she doesn’t worry when I don’t show up at the flat the next morning.

Another captain announcement: regretfully, yet another check was not passed. Due to conditions on the plane (namely the faulty AC), they would be obliged to disembark all passengers if the fault isn’t resolved within the next 30 minutes.

Now this was getting interesting. In all my years of flying, I’d never had to disembark from a plane. New experience! Having resigned myself to the near certainty that I’d miss my connecting flight, I sat back and let myself be washed under the positive rush of entering the unknown.

And sure enough, thirty minutes later, another announcement informed the by-now universally restive passengers that they would shortly be disembarked. The captain profusely apologised for the inconvenience this may have caused. No more specific information was given as to what was preventing the plane from taking off.

Luckily, I was in the front seat. So I was easily within eavesdropping distance when one of the upper-deck passengers who, of course, were the first to disembark casually asked one of the flight attendants what the issue was.

Fuels system. It was the fuels system.

Damn you A380 fuels system.

So it was that two hours after boarding the plane, I was back in the gate along with a planeload of frustrated passengers, entirely uninformed as to what would happen next.

I found a spot next to the toilets, inflated my travel neck support (I refuse to call it a pillow), and settled in. A quick call and some texts later, I had informed all concerning parties of my delayed flight to London and assured a worrying dad that all was fine. Many of the passengers asked to leave the gate area to smoke. Some left to have dinner. All the on-board crew had also been disembarked and were quick to congregate in a corner, presumably as far away from the inquiring passengers as possible.

More time passed. More passengers left. No more news was given regarding the status of the immobile A380. My stomach started to rumble – of all the days, my flight had to be delayed the one time I decided not to eat before.

I was on the verge of leaving to get some food when the ground staff called for passengers bound for London. I rushed to the counter along with a dozen others, and was informed that we were to be transferred to a direct Thai Airways flight scheduled to depart in half an hour. Our passports and boarding passes were swiftly collected and checked. And soon we were racing across the airport, led by a tired-looking yet efficient and amiable ground staff.

I had never been more thankful for my indecision. If I’d been quicker to leave for food, I would surely have missed the call, and the Thai Airways flight. Irrefutable proof that there’s a time and place for everything. Even indecision. Ha!

And thanks to the ground staff’s efficiency (she was amazing. I wish I remembered her name…), we were successfully put on the TG (for Thai Airways) flight. As it was a direct flight, we would arrive in London in the morning, only an hour after Emirates’ scheduled arrival time. Needless to say, the dozen of us were extremely pleased. I didn’t even mind the disapproving glares from the TG passengers who undoubtedly thought we were irresponsible late arrivers as we made our way through the boarded plane to our freshly-assigned seats.

Let me tell you, I had never been more relieved to hear the “cabin crew, arm doors and cross-check” announcement. Everything was finally going to plan. Dinner would soon be served (I was starving by then). And I’d be in London in the morning.

With one catch: our checked bags were still on the faulty A380. No one could say on what flight the bags would travel, but they certainly weren’t on our TG.

And that’s why I wasn’t too eager to pass immigration too quickly. One part of me was naively hoping that I’d be able to wait at Heathrow for my big suitcase to arrive. And if I had to wait, I might as well spend some time waiting on the other side.

End of story!

I did say it was a long story.

Thanks for staying with me.



p.s. in case you’re wondering, I filed a report for ‘lost’ luggage at Heathrow, and my suitcase was delivered to my flat the next day.

p.p.s. and yes, I’m still flying Emirates. My love affair with the A380 isn’t over. Not just yet.





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