Friday, 5 August 2011

Tequilas, Too Many Kilos and Two Killers

My last day in Tampico was mixed.

Got up early so I could cuddle my girlfriend one final time before I set off home. Her family had us sleep in separate rooms since I got to their place in December and while I respect their rules, I wasn’t going to stand on principle when it’s at least a month until I see her again.

We got up around 9 and she made me a dish pronounced Chilay Keelays, basically taco bits in scrambled egg and washed down with a couple of mugs of Tampico’s finest coffee. I spent the rest of the morning packing and trying not to dwell too much on the fact that I won’t see my beloved for another 28 days or more.

Got everything packed and ready. Girlf lent me her rucksack which is a big, fuck-off, 95 litre job with lots of dangly bits and snaggable straps. We stitched some new bits on to assist with the now defunct clasps that had fallen off some time ago.

Around 2pm I said goodbye to her folks and her mum drove us to the airport. I had my luggage searched by two po faced private security guys, one of which found the big tin of “Rottweilers’ Nightmare” pepper spray that I’d “hidden” in my toiletries bag, believing that on an x-ray it would look like just another bottle of shaving foam or Lynx. Course, I never figured on a physical search that made the menstrual cramp-faced woman with surgical gloves on look like a vet delivering a calf, as she stuck her hand up to the armpit and grummaged about in my back pack.

Went upstairs for a beer and were having a relaxing time up until the bill came and it was 10 pesos more than it should have been. Turns out they’d changed all the menus except ours with a 5 peso difference and the manageress reduced the bill to 85.50 as oppose to the 80 we should have paid, as a gesture. I could feel myself getting fucked off then and there. Had I been on my own I would have questioned it or even told them to fuck off but I didn’t want to upset my girl as we were about to say goodbye so I swallowed the desire to kick up a din and paid.

On the table next to our beers was a bottle of mineral water which my girl said they would charge us for, a trick of the cafes, even though we hadn’t asked for it. I took it as repayment for the extra money on the bill and made the mistake of telling my sweetheart just as I was about to kiss her goodbye. Cue tears and “you haven’t changed” and remonstrations about how she would now go back and pay for it as I had “shamed her” by stealing. I pointed out that whether or not the mistake on the menu was genuine or a scam, they should have given us the bill at the price listed and not “meet us halfway” as if the silly sods were doing us a favour. She was inconsolable though and kept lamenting my desire for revenge and that the poor café needed the money.

Ironically the security check wouldn’t let me take the bottle through anyway.

I got to Mexico City airport and made my way up to the departure lounge settling in with Paolo Coelho’s “The Winner Stands Alone” and expecting to be in London for a beer with a good mate by 2.30pm the next day.

Oh naïve trusting little thing.

About 40 minutes before the flight was due to take off a member of BA staff who looked about 15 made an announcement over a mic in Spanish only. It was 20 minutes later when a bi-lingual passenger sitting near to me said that the announcement was about the flight being cancelled due to mechanical failure.

Walking up to him he was surrounded by a veritable wasps’ nest of irate passengers-no-longer. He confirmed the mechanical problem and then added that BA were now going to try and find us alternative flights but added it “might not be tomorrow”. He initially remained calm despite a barrage of questions from majorly pissed off punters but when I looked at his badge to see it appeared his name was “TRAINEE”. On closer inspection there was another badge that said “Fabian” with a photo of the spotty twat looking even younger.

There was no one else helping him and while he remained polite he didn’t give any information beyond the fact that BA were going to rebook us and find us a hotel for the night. He repeatedly asked people to sit down and wait to be called up but when I asked how they were going to allocate who got called up first, he said “people on this side” pointing to the right hand rows of seats. As this appeared to be arbitrary and without any subjectivity, people who had overheard him started telling their friends and within about 2 minutes most people had started cramming into this area like sardines while one woman with two grumpy kids clinging to her jeans and a baby in a pushchair simply told him to fuck off when he told her to move away.

He became agitated when people kept asking him questions, despite the fact that he was NOT giving any information that was useful beyond repeating “we will rebook you a flight and get you a hotel”. I asked him why it was taking so long and he replied that there were only 2 computers so it was slow.

He then moved into dickhead territory by snapping at the people around him “if you don’t all sit down I won’t call you up next”.

Charming little turd.

He then got verbally aggressive with people and demanded that they sit down so that “those with special needs and people with children” could come through as a priority (something he hadn’t told us he was doing up to this point).

Methinks a slap or two might have been in order.

He made several microphone announcements and had to be asked on each occasion for a translation into English before he gave one.

It was 90 minutes after we had been told the flight was cancelled before anything constructive was done which was that boarding group 2 (including myself) would be taken downstairs to be rebooked at your check in desks and then shown to the hotel while group 1 remained upstairs.

I went to the BA check in desks and was offered two flights. One via Paris and one via Houston. I took the Houston flight as  it was scheduled to arrive in London slightly earlier and was at this point impressed by how helpful and polite the camp member of staff was (he even addressed me as “Mr Manley” before I showed any ID as he remembered me from a conversation upstairs half an hour before).

I went to the hotel and despite being annoyed and upset by what had happened I was pleased with the compensation offered and despite the 12 year old trainee’s twatty, ineffectual lack of experience and rudeness I thought this was now a problem that was over.

Got a twin room with huuuge double beds, a big fuck off shower and a safe for valuables in the wardrobe (which, despite being tired I had great fun playing with. Reminded me of that box in Saw 5 that Hoffman tricks Strahm into throwing him in). Had dinner with a Norwegian woman from the same cock up and went to bed feeling pissed off but optimistic.

This was dampened somewhat by the hotel breakfast. The restaurant manager showed me to the self service buffet and said “you are British Airways, you can have anything here or here” and pointed to a four sided counter area with a chef in the middle of it and a table on the side with doughnuts and bread.

I was just helping myself to some bacon and sausages when a waiter wandered up and went “British? That food is not free, you must pay for this. Only THIS food is free”.

Turns out that the manager had specifically meant the counter of the four-sided buffet he was actually pointing to (invocation of “exact wording”).

I pointed to a woman from the same bumped flight who was tucking into scrambled eggs and bacon and had specifically told me that her waiter had said she could take them. The four-eyed twat I was speaking to then said “she is going to pay for that” to which she looked up at him and shook her head.

I then dropped the plate on the counter and told him he was being fucking ridiculous and had a word with the manager, stating that while we appreciated the hospitality we were all tired and pissed off and being spoken to like that deserved a punch in the head. The bloke was embarrassed and apologised and said that the waiter’s “way of talking” was out of line.

I then went to Terminal 2 Mexico City airport via shuttle bus to catch the Houston flight where I met a vinegar faced female Contintental airlines employee on their check in desk who told me I did not have an Esta visa entitling me to enter the USA and my only option now was to go to the hotel over the road and use their Business suite (which I would have to pay for) and use the Internet to go online and apply for an Esta (which I again would have to pay for). When I told her that the flight had been booked the night before without any mention of this and that I had no idea that it was necessary she simply got cross and snapped “it’s your airline’s responsibility to tell you not ours”.

I asked her how I was meant to carry all my heavy shit over to the hotel and then back to terminal one and she just smirked at me. She then offered me the Esta website address which I snatched off her and she bellowed after me “THANK YOU SIR!” to which I replied “FUCK OFF YOU COW!!!”

I made my way to the hotel (carrying roughly 40 kilos of luggage on my back and in my hands) and after paying for the Internet service at the hotel they said all the PCs were busy. Luckily the bloke was nice and when I told him the situation he let me use his personal computer. Logging on to the Department of Homeland Security website it simply told me that I could not apply for an Esta on the same day of travel.

Second flight a no go.

I had to take a taxi back to terminal one and it took me over half an hour to find the information office as it is up a well hidden flight of stairs right next to the security check and easily missed. No one I spoke to to ask directions could speak English (and I still hadn’t learned to speak Spanish in the last 12 hours) and there was no one at the check-in desks.

I was by now physically done in, soaking in sweat and dirty. Mexico City airport has no luggage trolleys in the main concourse due to security issues so I had to carry everything by hand. An example of how much of an arse ache this is, is the large cluster of bruises on my right arm, solely from taking the 24 kilo back pack on and off repeatedly.

I informed the staff member there what had happened and he booked me on to a flight to London via Madrid with Iberia airlines which involved a 7 hour stopover. The Paris flight that had been available the night before was now sold out. I had no choice but to take this and asked the female staff member who was assisting me if I would receive any gesture of apology from BA when in Madrid to make a further 7 hours of waiting and inconvenience more bearable. She said she would telex BA in Madrid airport to tell them the situation and assured me twice that when I got to Madrid the staff there would provide me with refreshments and “stuff” to make my 7 hour stopover a pleasant experience.

I then had the two bottles of duty free tequila I had bought the night before, confiscated when going through security for a second time. Despite still being sealed with a plastic zip lock and in their duty free bag, the guard said I couldn’t take them through. I explained the situation (and pointed to the liquor store I’d bought them at, which was about 10 metres behind him) and he said he sympathised but I absolutely could not take the items through and had to either put them in hold luggage (impossible as flight was now boarding) or leave them. I kissed them goodbye which made the guard giggle and said “merry Christmas” as I handed them to him. He looked embarrassed and went “no, no! You no understand” as if I was implying that he would drink them. I reassured him I knew he was only doing his job and would undoubtedly flush them down the bog later, but cracking a joke was the only way to keep myself from going mad.

I bought two more bottles (from the same store, while watching the same security guard putting my previous purchases in a box to be thrown away) and was assured by both the sales clerk AND the Iberia hostess on the plane that it was ok to take them through to Madrid on a connecting flight to London. The hostess even said to me “if you need to leave the main area they will give you a sticker to put on the bottles so you can bring them back in”.

Lo and behold. When moving from passport control to the security check for my connecting flight in Area H in Madrid airport I was told “you can only take duty free from Europe” and the other two bottles were promptly confiscated as well.

I then asked where British Airways was only to be told that they don’t have offices in Madrid airport and the nearest thing was to try and find Iberia. I was directed to H24 and after spending 15 minutes finding the office it was shut. I came back and was redirected to another Iberia office in area K72. After speaking to the two sour faced women on the desk they checked their computers to find no mention of me and then spent half an hour making phone calls to get permission to issue me with a form for free refreshments. After more than 30 minutes, a lot of keyboard tapping and about 3 telephone calls they printed off and stamped a voucher that entitled me to….a cup of coffee and a doughnut.

One of the reasons I liked flying BA was the fact that you have entertainment at your fingertips. A TV screen embedded in the back of your front neighbour’s chair where you can watch new movies and even TV shows and the odd nature documentary.

The Iberia flight had a tiny TV shared by everyone else and only 3 movies. Thor (seen it), Lincoln Lawyer (what the fuck?) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (yeah, right!). The movies were also frequently interrupted by pilot announcements at a volume that made the ears bleed. A further unpleasantness was that all four crappers on my section of the plane from Mexico to Madrid had no running water in the sinks, meaning we had to make do with wiping our hands on the disposable moist towelets usually given away with dinner or walk around with germy fingers for the remainder of the flight.

I had also received a complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste from BA on my outgoing, direct, not-fucked-about-with flight to Mexico last December so had packed my toiletries in my hold luggage expecting this again. Iberia do not give this gratuity to passengers meaning I was unable to brush my teeth for about 36 hours. My gob felt like the inside of a septic tank.

I recovered from a slipped disc 3 years ago (which briefly had me using a wheelchair and took about a year to cure), so lugging nearly 40 kilos of bags around with me up and down a vast airport due to the incompetence and unprofessional conduct of these wankers is inexcusable. I also missed meeting two friends of mine in London due to arriving so late, one of which has now left the country after finishing her holiday and the other I had arranged to pick me up at Heathrow for both my original flight and the replacement. He was unable to do this for the 3rd flight meaning I again had to lug all my bags across London to take a train home.

Got to Heathrow and decided to bone up on accuracy for the children’s book I’m writing by seeing what Terminal 5 looks like on the inside (not as “glassy” as I’d described it) and having a chat with some armed response cops who feature heavily in chapter 2 during a stand off between magical goodies and baddies. Blokes were helpful if slightly amused by my questions “if a guy wearing a sword that was sheathed just turned and walked away from you when you were pointing guns at him you couldn’t shoot him right?” and promised to check out STAB PROOF SCARECROWS after I said “I’m not a fantasist, I really was a cop 3 years ago” as I stood there with 3 days of stubble, stinking with my long hair tied back with a bandana.

London was packed and I had to squeeze my way onto a train at Marylebone. A woman about 8 months pregnant got on and said in a subdued tone to 2 guys ahead of her “could you let me have that seat…oh forget it?”

Despite the fact that I was knackered I offered her mine and suggested that next time she might want to speak a bit louder and that TFL have introduced badges that say “Hi, I’m Pregnant” for women to wear to avoid the embarrassment of men mistakenly offering fat bitches their seat when they aren’t pregnant and have just been on the pies and beer too much.

Getting to Marylebone I had a train ticket pre-booked via the Internet with Chiltern Railways for £5 from London to Warwick. This was specifically for the 1.30pm train on 3rd August. Had I been on the 2nd flight that they’d had booked me on to I would still have made this train. As it was the train had long since departed by the time I arrived and I had to pay a further £32 for a single ticket home.

Got back at about 8pm and my spirits were lifted with a Skype chat with Michelle back in Tampico (who hadn’t slept for 2 days with worry) and a big fuck-off mug of Yorkshire tea from my mum.

Things are looking better.

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