ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Travel05 Apr 2006

In which Ian and his Dad visits many airports.

The problem with living in the Maritimes is that in order to go anywhere good you have to do a lot of redundant flying. For example: the first leg of our trip to Greece was flying 90 minutes to Montreal, which is precisely the wrong direction.

In Montreal we ate a sandwiches prepared by a very unenthusiastic girl manning an airport food stall, and then hopped on another plane, this time heading east to London England, which of course means we flew right past Halifax again. This flight began on Sunday evening and ended the following morning. The “night” you experience during an eastward transatlantic flight is a very abbreviated night, since you’re headed towards the sun at 800 km/h. If you sleep, you don’t sleep for very long.

I don’t sleep on airplanes, as a general rule. I don’t sleep on anything that moves. Even as a baby I remained wide-awake on car rides. I suppose this makes me a good guy to drive with, since there’s nil chance of me nodding off doing 120 down the highway. I did sleep on a train once, for a couple hours.

My dad, the champion sleeper, didn’t get more than an hour or so either.

We spent the last 30 minutes in the air peering out the windows at all the other planes circling over London and wishing it wasn’t cloudy so we could actually see London.

On the ground we made our way to Heathrow terminal two, which is not a fun place to be for any length of time. It’s basically a shopping mall with narrow hallways and not nearly enough chairs. It’s loud and busy and crowded and generally unpleasant when you haven’t slept in day and just want a quiet corner to curl up in.

Dad bought a deck of cards with a big Canadian flag on them while we were in the Montreal airport. He fished it out and we discussed the merits of playing a game of cribbage. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a cribbage board, and thus would have had to keep track of our scores on paper (or in our heads) and neither of us felt particularly up to that. So, we amused ourselves by inventing a fairly bizarre-looking card game, making up the “rules” as we went along. We did this entirely for the benefit of the people around us, and a few of them were peering at us with “What’s that they’re playing then?” looks by the time I declared myself the winner on the grounds that after the last time we’d flipped the deck over I’d drawn the third jack. Or something.

It was not long after that I got my first hints about a certain entity known as “Olympic Airlines”.

The first thing you notice about Olympic Airlines is that your flight seems to have been delayed.

In Heathrow they don’t post the gate numbers for flights until about 45 minutes before they are scheduled to depart. Someone told us that this was for “security reasons” but I suspect laziness or general disorganization. Heathrow is a bit of a bizarre-o world all around: at one point we found a map that had a “You are here” arrow pointing into a bunch of blank space near the middle.

Anyhow, we were sitting around Terminal 2, continually having to move our feet out of the way of people rushing by, feeling stunned and over tired, and watching a screen listing flight information. Our Olympic flight to Athens was listed as delayed for 30 minutes. They didn’t actually get around to listing a gate number until maybe 10 minutes before the (revised) departure time. But that was okay, since the plane didn’t leave for another hour or two after that anyway.

It’s funny how airlines reflect the places they call home. The first leg of our journey had been on Air Canada. I’ve flown Air Canada many times before. Air Canada is responsible for all my implicit notions about what air travel is like. With Air Canada you expect certain things: efficient, uniform, bilingual cabin crew, sometimes cracking cynical jokes about how they are “smiling on the inside”. You expect a fancy safety video telling you how to fasten your seat-belt, and what to do if the cabin pressure suddenly drops. You expect in-flight magazines.

On Olympic, you get happy, bilingual (Greek and rapid-fire, heavily accented, nearly incomprehensible English. I’m sure they’d be completely understandable if they’d only slow down. The seem to regard making English announcements as a race to the finish) flight attendants. I quickly noticed that while all of the flight attendants were dressed as one would expect, they weren’t dressed alike. There wasn’t any sort of “uniform”. The plane we were on had no video screens or in-flight magazines or headphone jacks to listen to the usual pre-recorded onboard radio. The safety demonstration was done live by the flight attendants, who got to put on their life jackets twice: once in Greek and once in English.

After noticing these things I sort of zoned out and dozed (which is not to be confused with actual sleeping) while Dad chatted with the greek woman sitting next to him. She gave him hell for being Canadian and thus being from the same country as the barbaric seal hunt. He told her about depleted cod stocks and seal overpopulation. The both made fun of the English.

Since our flight had left so late, we were a bit concerned about getting to Athens in time to make our connecting flight to Crete (our final destination). About half an hour before Athens, the fight attendants came around and asked who had connecting flights (and to where). They told us that they would hold our next flight for us. They said we should skip passport control and just run like hell to our gate.

Fast forward 45 minutes. It’s about 7 pm local time. I’m standing in line at the transfer desk in the Athens airport. In front of me is an irate British woman, who has just thrown up her hands and loudly declared that “The joke of it is that this is the first time an Olympic domestic flight actually left on time!”

Yeah, we missed our plane. The people at the Olympic desk in the airport seemed quite puzzled that we thought the plane would be waiting for us. They told us we’d get on the 11 pm flight and gave us each a six euro voucher to buy some food.

We went through security and found our gate about one hour before our flight was supposed to board. We sat across from a few Greek Orthodox men who were continuously playing with their prayer beads: spinning them around and flipping them from hand to hand. Eventually the three of them got tired of standing against the wall and hopped over the rope blocking off an inactive screening station and sat on the desk. A security guard came along and chatted with them for a while and then continued on. Yeah, they’re quite laid back in the Athens airport.

The time our flight was scheduled to board came and went. There was no one at the desk in front of the gate.

The time our flight was scheduled to leave came and went. Still no Olympic employees in sight.

A few minutes later an Olympic supervisor type came along and announced that the flight was delayed one hour. He promptly left.

As we sat waiting, I amused myself by trying to figure out how many hours I’d been awake for. I came up with 28.

Periodically, the phone at the desk in front of the gate would ring. No one was there to answer it. After about half an hour of this one of the passengers got up, stomped over to the desk, picked up the phone, and started yelling into it in greek.

Things started to happen after that. Gate agents showed up and the “final boarding call” for our flight was announced over the PA. We passengers all piled through the “gate” (which is actually a doorway) and onto a bus. The bus took us out to our airplane, which was some kind of archaic looking contraption with propellors. We climbed up the stairs at the back of the plane and found our seats. The plane was noisy, small, and jammed with people. Fortunately the flight to Heraklion (capital city of Crete) takes less than an hour.

Once we arrived it was simply a matter of finding a cab and telling the driver the name of our Hotel. We didn’t have any baggage to pick up as Dad had instituted a “no checked bags” policy. Given the general lateness and laxness of Olympic, this was probably a wise move.

The cab whisked us through darkened narrow streets to the Lato Hotel. Shortly thereafter my head hit a pillow and I went to sleep, despite my father’s determined snoring.

I’ll tell you about waking up in Heraklion the next morning in the next installment.

4 Responses to “Exciting Travel Adventures, Part 1”

  1. 06 Apr 2006 at 12:07 am Gaelan

    nothing says fun like international travel. Did the Olympic flight allow smoking? When I flew Olympic they allowed smoking, albeit in a designated area. The flight attendant worked it into his safety demonstration and all. apparently if the plane crashes, one should extinguish his cigarette RIGHT fast. Good things to know

    Looks like a nice enough hotel

  2. 06 Apr 2006 at 1:42 pm Ian

    “Smoking is prohibited by law” they said.

    I think you’re generally not allowed to bring anything that would actually be capable of lighting a cigarette on an airplane these days. That and nail clippers.

  3. 08 Apr 2006 at 12:30 am Jamie

    One could suck on a fag on the airplane, wouldn’t need to smoke it.

  4. 28 Apr 2006 at 5:29 pm Stamatia

    “The first thing you notice about Olympic Airlines is that your flight seems to have been delayed.”

    That made me chuckle. But Olympic stewardesses that were in a good mood? Are you sure you weren’t hallucinating?

    Oh, I remember the plane to Crete…not much fun. At least you were in the new Athens airport, I had to go through the old Athens airport, complete with smoking Greeks and gypsies in the bathrooms…

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