Osama bin Laden and the Paris Hilton

We’re on holiday. We just spent five days in Paris.

Guess when we were supposed to be flying to London?

When we left the hotel at 11am, the receptionist checked the web and said there was a problem at Heathrow, but it looked like London Luton wasn’t affected. So we took a taxi to the airport and checked in, they said we’d have a two hour delay because somebody had tried to get a bomb onto a plane at Heathrow. We sighed and shrugged our shoulders. Two hours isn’t fun, but hey, we’d been through worse. We went through security (which was normal at the time) and I passed some of the wait on a seriously expensive Internet connection and caught the breaking news from London Heathrow, which was pretty vague at the time. In due course we got onto the plane three hours after the official time and waited. The crew apologised for the delay, saying that things were pretty bad in London airports. It’s the first time I’ve seen cabin crew look frazzled. And we waited. And waited.

I was really glad that Julio had his Game Boy.

Then the pilot announced that he was very sorry, but we appeared to have one suitcase too many, and he was annoyed because they’d had an extra three hours to sort out our luggage. However, there was no way we could fly until they’d cleared this up.

So we waited some more. And waited. And got chatting to the mother and daughter behind us. Julio made friends with the girl, who was a little older than him and called Louise.

And then the pilot announced that he was really, really sorry, but he was now out of hours and it was illegal for the crew to fly. We’d be provided with a hotel, dinner and breakfast, and we could either fly in the morning or claim a refund. Please to go back, claim our suitcases, and someone would come with information.

So we went thought passport control into baggage reclaim, and one suitcase sat on the carousel going round and round and round. That was almost certainly the one that caused the hold up. Julio got really friendly with Louise.

Eventually somebody appeared and began talking to 120 scattered people at normal conversational volume. It wasn’t until I yelled “INFORMATION!” that people gathered around.

We were booked into the Hilton! Dinner would be at 8pm, and we had to be back in the airport for 6am.

The promised shuttle buses never appeared, so we had to walk with luggage for about 1/4 mile and queued and queued for reception. When we finally got to the room we attacked the mini bar and spent 18.50 Euros in about 20 minutes. But then we found out that the normal price for the room was 748 Euros per night.

Kim and Loise were in the next room, and the kids spent most of the time before dinner under Julio’s bed, giggling. If they’d been just a little bit older, I’d have been very worried. As it was, I went to soak in the bath. Carlos had a shower (there was a separate shower).

Dinner was a set menu, but very good. Especially when you consider that they produced dinner for 120 people at one hour’s notice. And we all went to bed soon after, having had a tiring day.

We got up at 5:15 and went down to reception. Our departure time had been moved back. Breakfast would be served from 8-9, please to be in the airport terminal by 11. Obviously we went back to bed.

Just before breakfast, we spent some time surfing news channels, and they all said there would be no hand luggage in or out of London. We repacked.

We got to the airport well before 11, and found the information desk to ask for details about check in and hand luggage. Nope, no hand luggage except passports, medicines, and tampons without a box. The check in didn’t open until 11am, (for a 1pm flight when there’s a security red-alert. Hello???) and the queue was extremely slow. So I went down to the front in search of extra luggage tags, seeing as our repacked “hand” luggage was now going in the hold.

The people at the front of the queue were repacking their stuff, because they’d only just found out about the new security regulations. The people behind them were doing the same, but as far as I could see, nobody else was. No wonder the queue was moving as fast as a glacier. So I grabbed a handful of luggage tags and handed them out, explaining as I went. Most people believed me. After that the queue went a bit faster. God knows why nobody from the airline thought to do that. Everybody would have believed it coming from someone in uniform.

We finally checked in at 1:30. Even though we weren’t the last by a long way, we were told we had to hurry through security. The queue was gigantic, and even though our flight was no delayed by 24 hours and supposed to have special security, we didn’t have a special queue. I did get frisked, but nobody checked the hand luggage. We got to the gate at about 2:20, and were told in no uncertain terms that we didn’t have time to go to the snack machine even though we hadn’t eaten for six hours.

Once on the plane we waited and waited for the remaining passengers. And waited. And waited. And waited. The crew – the original crew stranded since the day before – handed out water and apologies, including the flight crew. Since they only had the original food from London, they were going to have to ration it, and couldn’t do that until they had everybody. And we waited. And waited. Since Julio and Louise had been parted from their Game Boys, they were seriously bored. I taught them “You’ll never get to heaven” with a new verse.

Oh you’ll never get to heaven
By EasyJet
Cause this darn plane
Won’t take off yet.

Then we sang “The quartermaster’s stores” with:

There were delays, delays,
For days and days and days
In the stores, in the stores…

The guy in front of us started phoning on his mobile.

Mobile? As in potential detonation device?

The captain appeared and politely confiscated it until we got to Luton, leaving us wondering open-mouthed about the competence of security that took twice as long as usual, and still let something like that on the plane. To be fair to the passenger concerned, he didn’t speak much English and probably didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to take it on board.

The final passengers appeared at 3:25. We took off to rousing cheers at 3:35. The cabin crew dashed round with FREE snacks and drinks, and we got to Luton at 3:15 to more cheers. (No, that’s not a typo. London is 1 hour ahead of Paris.) We collected the hire car just 28 hours late. And the rest of the journey to my brother’s was uneventful.

So I finally got to stay in the Paris Hilton, courtesy of Osama bin Laden.

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

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