The interesting events began at Auckland airport.
My evil looking wife…
Twice on our last overseas trip my wife got taken aside by officials at security and checked out. I remember because, on one occasion, as they led her away I went to follow her and was told quite gruffly that “It is just her - you wait over there! You cannot be with her.” Well this time as we came through security at Auckland once again she was taken aside and checked out. She looks like a terrorist? NOT! They assured her it was just a random check.
We went to the gate where we were to board for the Auckland to Shanghai leg of our journey. There we discovered a tourist group of, we assumed, Chinese folk, and most were wearing green jackets. We noticed that they had been doing lots of duty free shopping and had heaps of extra cabin baggage. They were a noisy lot and had white-jacketed minders running around negotiating with airline officials and explaining to them. Then came the announcement that Air New Zealand policy was only one item of cabin luggage of a certain size and weight. “If you have more than that you will have to take it to a counter and have it checked in to go into the hold.” There was much loud protesting and the white-jacketed people were rushing around pacifying people and giving assistance to sort out luggage. But it was noisy and some were defiant. Our flight would be held up until it was sorted out. Noise, gesticulation, stressed airline people, annoyed passengers and frantic white-jacketed minders all created chaos. Eventually two police officers arrived; they talked to a few of the more vociferous people and stood by the airline workers as they made announcements. A man we met, who said he was a frequent flyer to London, said, “I think I will just stand back, well out of the way, and watch this.” When they announced that “upper-class” passengers etc. could now board, many of this group rushed forward, in spite of the announcement being translated into Chinese. Airline people, minders and police stepped forward and had to convince them that boarding would happen in an orderly fashion. Eventually, with some still carrying heaps of extra cabin luggage, we all boarded the plane. As I went past an airline worker checking our tickets I said, “You have really earned your keep tonight!” He rolled his eyes and said, “For sure!” We took off considerably later than the appointed time.
My wife had no trouble sleeping. It was around mid night and they gave us a meal, after which she covered herself with a blanket and was sleeping soundly in no time. I could not. On both legs of our journey if I sat in the seat with my backside hard against the back of the seat, my knees were firmly against the seat in front. This was made worse when the seat in front was laid back for sleeping purposes. I had to splay my legs sideways and there was no comfortable legroom at all. The seats were too close together for a person my size. I am 6ft and solid, but certainly not the biggest person on the plane. I took time to check out other tall guys and they too looked horribly uncomfortable. The other annoying thing was that even though I made an effort to lean away from the isle, most times somebody walked past my shoulder was shunted. These discomforts are fine for a trip of a few hours, but for two twelve-hour stints they were hard to put up with. Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic, your seats are too close together for people like me, they discourage me from long distance flying. I guess at the most I managed only an hour of dozing in the thirty hours of journeying to London. Our flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh was on a plane that had ample legroom, and I was asleep before the safety announcements started.
At Pudong airport (Shanghai) a group of sporting students from Nottingham University got on the Virgin Atlantic plane and were seated in seats all around us. I expected loud annoying behaviour. There were moments when they were loud and a bit annoying but most of the time these young people were OK to travel with. I did notice some of the young women talking disparagingly about older passengers. (Heaven knows what they said about me – they did not like being seated intermingled with other passengers – they preferred to be in one big group. - I guess the feeling was probably mutual) An elderly Chinese couple came past and these girls were talking about how they were dressed and how they shuffled. I have often noticed that good looking fashionable women, most often younger ones, often find a need to put others down who do not have the same good fortune. As these young women spoke I thought about their comments, particularly about this elderly couple. My guess is that this couple had worked hard all their lives. They had been through challenging times in Chinese history. They probably had faithfully raised a family and now were caring grandparents. Their commitment, their wisdom and life experience would most probably far exceed that of these scatty women who saw fit to judge them on their appearance! Having said that, apart from girls and boys making fools of them selves trying to impress members of the other sex, this group were by and large quite reasonable to be among.
As you can imagine I was REALLY looking forward to arriving at Heathrow and end of this tiring journey. About half an hour before our ETA I had begun to tidy up our belongings and get ready for arrival when the captain made an announcement. There had been an “incident” at Heathrow which would delay our landing. Some planes were in a holding pattern, but our plane could not do that. We were to be diverted to Stansted Airport, refuelled and then fly back to Heathrow. They hoped they would be able to make a quick turn around, hopefully just an hour on the tarmac. We landed at Stansted and were kept on the plane while it refuelled. Then we were told we were waiting on instructions from Heathrow air traffic control and would soon be on our way again. We were instructed to return to our seats and buckle our seat belts. We waited awhile and the captain came on the speaker system saying that we would be able to leave Stansted in one hour 53 minutes! There was a great-unified gasp of annoyance from the up-till-now very patient passengers, then stunned silence. I don’t know what happened, but after a brief time the captain announced that “No – ignore that announcement, we can leave in a few minutes.” Long-story-short we soon took off and flew the half hour to Heathrow. There were a couple of delays in finding a place to park the plane, but we were eventually disembarked. But my wife and I were meant to be connecting with a plane going to Edinburgh. In spite of rushing through immigration, baggage pick up and changing terminals as fast as we could, we missed our connection and had to buy tickets for another flight to Edinburgh. We were so pleased to get there, meet our son and taxi to his house. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.