After half of a fairly fitful night’s sleep the opening strains of The Band’s Cripple Creek burst from the alarm clock like a slate sliding down the roof. We are awake and ready to go on holiday. A few final items are packed, teeth brushed and we’re on the road, riding through the dark to West Yorkshire for a departure from Leeds Bradford International Airport to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
The “Security Theatre” at regional airports such as this is unlike those at major hubs. There are no radiation backscatter machines or stern looking men with submachine guns. Here it’s more like a “Security Music-hall”; an entertaining floorshow played out by kind, elderly gentlemen happy to joke around about charity shop donation as you load your hand-luggage, belt and shoes into a plastic tray to be x-rayed.
Airside at 8am is an odd sight. There are a choice of eateries, all busy with hungry travellers who started their holiday as soon as they left the house. By far the busiest is The Saltaire, a bar/restaurant simultaneously serving a gourmet cooked breakfast alongside a choice of beers, wines and spirits. I’m not really one to partake before lunch, but each to their own. We have to wait for a table. A woman, middle aged and travelling alone beckons us over.
“I’ll be gone in a minute”.
She picks up a pint of Pinot Grigio, decants it into a glass with ice and downs it in one. She repeats this until the pint glass is empty, only to pick up a second wine-filled pint glass and chug it without even the ice this time to ease the pain. She was wrong when she first spoke. It would seem she’d actually been gone for a while.
As we cram into a passenger bus and began chugging along the airfield to our battleship-grey Boeing 757-200 aeroplane I can’t help thinking that whilst doing an amazing job of democratising air travel, brands such as Jet2, RyanAir and EasyJet have stripped away the majority of the glamour from this pursuit. Not that I ever travelled in the ‘golden age’ but in my mind flying through the air at great speeds to sunnier climes is wonderful and scientifically magical. I’m brought back to earth with a bump (not literally, hopefully) when I realise that I’ve sat on more comfortable seats in bus stations. I suppose we get what we pay for. Mercifully the leg room isn’t too bad and there’s still a chance I might be able to stand up and walk away when we land in the Canary Islands.
The three of us have a bank of seats together, Miles on the window, me on the aisle and Nicki nestled between.
In the opposite bank are two women who I’m sure would rather be referred to as ‘girls’, clearly on holiday for a rare good time and who blatantly started their drinking in the airport an hour or so previously. An unfortunate man in his mid-twenties is annexed from his own family and takes the aisle seat next to them. As soon as the plane is in the air they order champagne. As that’s delivered they rope in the reluctant young man by requesting a glass for him. He had no choice, he would tell me later. As the bubbly is poured they order two G&T’s each to supplement. An hour into the flight and they’re falling about. The man, himself now doubling up on Gaymers cider and Jack and Cokes, is starting to regret his seating arrangement. The ‘girls’ are getting rowdy. Another half hour and it’s started taking a turn for the worse. A foam-filled travel pillow has been burst, showering the man (now visibly fed up) and one of them is making proper use of the sick bags.
Whilst the hapless young man is now the butt of the majority of his family’s jokes, his partner is taking a different view, blaming him for sitting there in the first place before threatening to smack his drinking buddies. It’s kicking off and eventually he sees sense and moves, forcing his younger brother to take his place. A member of the flight crew approaches and tells the girls, now not just drunk but gearing up for a fight with a pretty tough looking North-Eastern girl, to calm down and get some sleep or risk being forced to sit separately. They’ve already been told to stay behind after class to help the staff clear up the snowstorm of tiny foam balls shed across the plane by their exploding pillow. They look suitably chided but I have a feeling this wont be the end of it. Everyone’s praying: “Not in my hotel”.
“Any further drinks, snacks or beverages?” asks the attendant as she wheels the trolley down the aisle again, hoping to deprive travellers of any remaining Sterling after the almost ceaseless onslaught of ‘services’ that have been hawked since we took off. The girls aren’t getting any though. They try, but even these in-flight sales champions have to draw the line somewhere. A minor skirmish ensues but it blows over. You can’t beat flight crew. They’ve seen worse things than many of us can imagine.
As the pilot announces twenty minutes to landing, the next phase of drunkenness commences. Both girls all of a sudden come down with a sudden case of remorse. They bawl their eyes out and requested the attention of the cabin crew member (Mel) who’d taken the brunt of their behaviour so far, so that they can apologise. By the third time of being called, this time because girl #1 couldn’t stop girl #2 from crying, Mel is at the end of her tether. To her credit she doesn’t lose her temper but makes it clear she won’t be coming back to see them anymore, that she isn’t their mother and she can’t do anything to help with the crying. Remorse quickly turns back into aggression as the girls start on the young brother now sat next to them, mocking his accent and winding him up.
The seatbelt lights switch on and we begin our descent. The teenage target of their abuse is now forced to endure it until we reach the terminal building. He couldn’t. He waits until the moment the wheels hit the ground before unclipping his seatbelt and storming up the plane shouting obscenities. Cabin crew shout at him to take his seat and I have visions of the plane being boarded by armed Policia before we could alight. Thankfully he is talked off the ledge and retakes his perch before anti-terrorism protocol is invoked. He is the first off the plane when the time comes though, and I don’t blame him.
As we step out into the instantly recognisable heat of a Spanish airport, we put this entertaining journey behind us. I can’t avoid the thought that poor Mel and her crew of happy flight attendants will be look after a giddy, drunk, aggressive and emotional pair of too-old-to-be-called-girls girls on every flight they attend in their career. And for that, I take my hat off to them. For me it’s just two performances of holiday entertainment separated by a week in the sun. But I’m not the one who has to clean up the sick, the empty bottles and the snowstorm.