It’s happened to all of us. You arrive at the airport, say goodbye to the transfer taxi driver, go through terminal entry security screening and then realise, for no specific reason, that all is not well. Flying midweek out of Dalaman Airport on the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey at the end of April is about as far from peak flying time as you can get. So, of course, it is quiet. One check-in desk is dealing with the tail-end of a queue for a flight to Moscow and in the distance there are two relatively orderly (must be Brits) queues waiting at an unmanned pair of desks. Just to be helpful, all the flight indicator boards and check in gate signs are displaying a message about “invalid IP address”.
We make the assumption that the faraway static queues are likely to be for our Thomas Cook flight to Gatwick, so trek down the hall to join them. The two queues are relatively short, about 20 people in each. We pick one at random. There is already an air of foreboding.
Two smartly dressed, young, smiley airline staff appear and we now know something is wrong. They start to work the queues. The gist of their message when they reach us is that the outbound flight has been delayed and we’re now scheduled to leave at 18.15 – 2 hours and 5 minutes late – there has been a change of aircraft type so pre-booked seating may not be to expectation and, finally, we can’t be checked in yet because they’re waiting for “the computer” to be updated.
Around this time the airport flight indicator screen burst into life and we get visual confirmation that we are waiting at the correct desks. After about 15 minutes, it is indicated that another check in desk is opening and we are lucky to get near to the front. Of course, the check in process has not actually started. Another ten minutes passed and then a buzz started behind the desks. Could it be that something was about to happen? It was.
When we got to the front of the queue there was the usual mild panic about the weight of our cases. As advancing years take their grip, cases start to feel very much heavier than they used to. We hadn’t been able to weigh them in advance so were in the lap of the airline weighing machine gods. Panic over. The two cases weighed in at 37kg, 3kg below our limit. Our boarding cards were printed and it was time to head for the next security check. Well almost. We had pre-booked at a small premium seats 2A and 2B, nice and near the front. The boarding cards said 2A and 2C, who was going to sit in 2B? Given our luck it would be the most weight-challenged passenger on the flight.
The smiley lady of the airline staff was close by so I expressed my concern. She looked a bit confused but said she would find out. She came back saying not to worry and all would be clear once we got on board. A mystery, hopefully with a happy outcome.
The security check was straightforward except that during the long wait in the queue I had received a phone call and, in error, put my phone in my trouser pocket. The staff were most unconcerned and didn’t try to make me feel stupid as can so often happen in such circumstances.
The space between the security screening desk and passport control would have been fine under normal circumstances but today there was only one Border Policeman (BP) in evidence so the queue soon out grew the space available. Another BP arrived and then spent what felt like an age logging on to his system. When he was checking my passport he asked me how long I had been in Turkey. A strange question given that his screen should be showing that information. A quick bit of mental arithmetic and I was able to reply. This seemed to satisfy him as he then put the official exit stamp on the passport. For a brief moment I wondered if the visa rules had changed yet again. We were clear of all the formalities.
Dalaman is not renowned for its provision of seating and, most certainly, not for the comfort of the seating. We decided just to go to the gate and take potluck. It worked, we got two seats (on a wooden bench) very close to the boarding gate and with a view out over the airport. Things were imperceptibly improving. We settled down to read and nibble a few snacks for an indeterminate period of time.
A bit of light entertainment, at least for the many grandparents in the lounge, was provided when four small children gathered close by. Kids in the under-five age group seem to have magnetic attractions built in. The focus of their attention was a pink, plastic-beaded necklace which seemed to belong to the very youngest. They devised a simple game where they took turns to put the necklace on each other. They were all extremely gentle and the played for 15 minutes or so very happily. Then the inevitable happened, the thread snapped. Plastic beads rolled everywhere. This could have led to tears, but no, they started to crawl about the floor looking for the errant beads. This treasurer hunt came to a natural end in a few minutes. An audible sigh of relief could be heard as the in-coming plane landed and taxied to the gate.
Maybe we would get home tonight. Boarding started with a few wheelchair passengers and, without any guidance from the gate staff, everyone held back to allow families with young children and pushchairs to get to the front. Then, by a lucky quirk, one of the boarding staff opened a channel to the plane just beside us and we were off down the air-bridge.
As we boarded it was instantly clear that instead of the expected two rows of three seats with a central aisle, there were two aisles on this plane. And, seats 2A and 2C were a window/aisle pair. There was no seat numbered 2B. Great. Even better we found that we were in a “Premium Economy” section which meant that legroom was not an issue and the seats were wider. We were in luck, things were looking up.
And so it continued. The cabin crew were excellent and helpful, drinks were served quickly – especially in row 2 close to the main galley – the meal was a tasty chicken curry and a second order of drinks made using the call button was delivered with a smile. Just one small quibble, the cabin furniture was definitely very tired and in need of a serious refresh. But, all in all, a happy experience.
The final part of our journey home to Richmond in South West London went smoothly. A short wait at Gatwick railway station and we were on a two stop train to Clapham Junction. To cross over to the Richmond platform with cases means using the lifts. They were working and, as luck would have it, we stepped out from the lift as a fast train pulled into the station. Ten minutes later and we were in a taxi for the short, uphill journey to our flat. More or less 12 hours door to door. Not too bad and even better when we discovered our friendly neighbours had put on the central heating.