This is your captain speaking

Posted August 30, 2018

This is your captain speaking

We were flying Ryanair from Stansted Airport. 


We were boarded, belted, ready for take off. Our flight to Belfast was bang on schedule. Then the pilot made an announcement. Well, more of an apology actually, which is never a good sign. There would be a slight delay. We (he made it sound like a cosy, collective, we’re all in this together) were waiting for ground staff to arrive and load the luggage. I looked out the window. Sure enough: there it was, piled high on the tarmac. 

“It could take up to an hour ...” he explained. 

There was a collective groan from the passengers which almost drowned out his killer addition.

  “... or two.”

 Click. Message over.

“Did he just say two hours?” exclaimed the woman beside me.


An hour and a half passed slowly. Still no sign of the luggage handlers. The cabin crew had no idea when they’d appear, if at all. Staff shortages and strike action were the most common excuses bandied about. Ridiculous. The airport must have known about this before we boarded our flight. I checked my twitter feed to see if other passengers were experiencing similar problems. There were horror stories of planes held on the runway for up to five hours. 

“Right, that’s it,” I fumed. “There’s no way I’m sitting here for five hours.”

My husband looked up from the book he was reading. He shrugged with annoyingly Zen-like acceptance.

“What can you do?" 

I knew exactly what to do as I barged my way to the front of the plane. I told the cabin crew that I’d give it another fifteen minutes. If things weren’t sorted by then, I was getting off the plane along with anyone else who wanted to follow me. I returned to my seat feeling better for having taken positive action.

“I won’t be getting off,” said my husband.

“What?”

“I’ve got a hire car waiting in Belfast.”

He gave me that ‘you need to chill out’ look then went back to reading his book. Traitor.


I was so busy counting down the minutes on my watch I didn’t immediately spot the two men in high vis vests standing at the front of the plane. They were conferring with the cabin crew and looking my way. I gulped. Maybe I had taken things too far. I nudged my husband.

“Do they look like security to you?"  

I was sure I was about to be arrested. I needn’t have worried. It turns out that they were the only two Ryanair engineers on duty (more staff shortages) and were being flown to Belfast to fix a wheel. I hope they weren’t in a hurry.


My ten minute ultimatum had almost expired when there was a joyous cry from one of the cabin crew.  A long-lost and lone luggage handler had finally appeared. The air hostess sprinted down the aisle and threw her arms around him. Thank you, thank you, thank you, she said. Things were looking up, at least for the ground staff guy. 


There followed a buoyant message from her confirming that we would soon be cleared for takeoff. Oh, and if any passengers still wanted to disembark, could they please make their way to the front of the plane. She was goading me. I ignored her victory smile, swallowed my pride and stayed put. There followed another tedious delay as we waited for air traffic control clearance and eventually took to the skies three hours late.  


When we reached Belfast the plane showed no signs of landing. Instead it began a series of bumpy circles of the airport. What now, I wondered. The pilot delivered the next in his long line of apologies. A thunderstorm at Belfast was causing landings to back up (we later learnt that it was the worst storm to hit Belfast in years with a month’s worth of rain falling in two hours). We should expect some turbulence. Click. End of message.


Many aerial circuits later I felt another apology coming on. I was right. Click. We (again, that collective we) had only ten minutes of reserve fuel left. We might have to divert to Dublin. Dublin? Surely it would take more than ten minutes to get there. As I began counting down the minutes on my watch the plane proceeded to dip and shudder. I elbowed my husband.

“Is this turbulence or are we running out of fuel?” 

He set his book aside. 

“We’ll only run out of fuel if we divert to Dublin and hit a storm there too.”

 He actually thought that would help reduce my swelling panic. Idiot. 


Click. A further update from the pilot. The plane in front of us had aborted its landing (again, way too much information!) but he was going to give it a go. Give it a go? Ah, Jesus. Could this flight get any worse? We landed, I’ll give him that, although it was raining so heavily that he could have lowered three surf boards instead of wheels and still made it. 


There was one last apology to come. The wind in Belfast was so strong that it was too dangerous to open the door of the plane. We’d have to remain on board for now. And so we sat … and sat. The plane rocked as each gust punched it side on; horizontal sheets of rain sliced the runway. When the storm didn’t ease they turfed us off anyway. 


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