Flight Turbulence  what is cheap is sometimes expensive

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What follows will most certainly test the boundaries of incredulity. Indeed, during the episode I am about to recount, there were times when I myself could scarcely believe what was taking place in front of my eyes. I have embellished nothing; the facts speak for themselves.
by SIMON APFEL | Sep 14, 2017

The year was 2015. Having spent a couple of weeks at yeshiva in Israel, I decided to head off to London to spend the High Holidays with my mother.

There had been whispers going around the British contingent at yeshiva concerning a mysterious website offering filthy cheap airline tickets from Tel Aviv to London, with one insufferable person claiming he’d paid just 10 quid for a return fare. Without thinking twice, I went online and booked my flight on a new budget airline, called “Budget Airline”. The 10 pounds opening special was over but the ticket was still incredibly cheap.

I arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport filled with a spirit of adventure - or at least as much adventurous spirit as one can muster en route to a land of grey skies to spend Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur with one’s mother.

Slowly, however, that spirit ebbed away while I waited and waited and waited to board the plane. Some kind of problem with the system. The queue of people that had formed at the boarding gate gradually returned to their chairs. As the wait continued, some went shopping at duty free. Towards the second hour of waiting, a few even popped back home to check whether they’d left the stove on.

Eventually it was discovered that the problem wasn’t the computer at all, but rather the employee - in his late 70s and dressed, quite inexplicably, in dungarees - trying to operate it. One of the passengers was recruited to operate the system and we were on our way.

I boarded the plane, and felt calm as I looked out at the runway from my cozy little window seat, legs tucked up underneath me. That feeling turned to alarm as a morose, mustachioed, liquored-up Russian with red eyes and seven chins took up the seat next to me. Next to him a foul-smelling person from Mea Shearim with dreadlocks hanging from his ears, alien-like features, binoculars for spectacles, and whole colonies of insects living in his sideburns. This is what I had to get past just to make it to the bathroom.

As the engines began to warm up, a troop of animals stormed the aircraft - a football team from Haifa. These guys must have been about 17 years old, all with greasy, peroxided hair. Raucous and randy, they stamped their way up the aisle - one throwing obscene gestures and comments at every female in sight and then turning to his cackling cronies, another had dried shawarma meat all over his face, a third spitting great globules of mucous all over the place as if it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

They were all chattering like chimps and they were all passing wind furiously, and I moaned in despair when they took up their seats almost directly behind me. Their farts combined with the stale cabin air, the petrol coming through the vodka-saturated Russian's nostril hairs and the rich smell of the chossid’s underarms, to envelop me in a thick blanket of fumes that sent my head spinning.

The time came for the safety procedure presentation. It was then that I noticed the most interesting-looking airhostess. She had short fat arms, thighs like tanks, bum-cheeks that had to contract and be clutched in whenever she wrangled her way down the aisle.

Her granite-like features and her lack of a neck made her look like a rugby loose forward. In fact, if she wore a scrumcap it would have been impossible to distinguish her from former All Black 8th man, Josh Kronfeld. It was this unfortunate soul that was tasked with doing the safety presentation for our section of the plane.

The wolf-whistles and snide comments from the football team started immediately and soon reached a pitch that even a Kronfeld in his prime would have been unable to withstand. With a ferocious scowl, she stopped in the middle of her presentation, her arms froze in mid-air for a second, and then she just sat down.

Earlier on when I boarded the plane, I was immediately struck by a wave of heat and stuffiness. Everybody now sat there, waiting impatiently for take-off so that the air-conditioners could come into effect. Everybody that is, except the Russian, who by this time had passed out with his head on my shoulder, dribble spilling out of his half-open mouth, vodka fumes from his nostrils, and his farts making him a kind of ambassador for the general smell of the plane.

Take-off finally came, but to everyone’s dismay, the air-conditioners remained off. Arms began to pop up all over the place, fingers fumbling in futility to coax the air from the nozzles.

It seemed that if this carried on any longer, the perspiration from the 300-plus passengers would start collecting in pools and form raging torrents of sweat down the aisles. But then something crazy happened: the air-conditioning vents whirred to life… and started blowing out hot air!

Once again arms started popping up all over the place in a fumbling frenzy, only this time they were trying to shut off the airflow; but again, these endeavours were in vain. Things were about to reach breaking point, when the air-conditioning was eventually sorted out to a chorus of relief.

Relief quickly turned to surprise, surprise to shock as (no - I had to be imagining this) the entire cabin crew suddenly descended upon us armed with cans of Axe deodorant - spraying them at our armpits, our clothes, our faces. And the crew just kept on coming.

It seemed like airhostesses I never even knew existed were coming out of the woodwork, and at one stage somebody who looked like the pilot, grabbed a can and joined in on the action.

And while the passengers choked and sputtered - too incensed to even say anything - the absurdity of the whole situation dawned on me, and I began to laugh very, very hard as I thought: “This will make a great story.”

I think I’ve painted a fairly complete picture of the three-ringed circus that mistakenly called itself an airline. It was almost as if Basil Fawlty himself had ventured into the aviation industry, such was the complete incompetence on show. The truth is though, that there were many more instances that highlighted the wondrous ineptitude of Budget Airlines.

Firstly, the command “Kindly make sure all seats are restored to their upright position during take-off and landing”, was utterly superfluous. The button to tilt the seat back didn’t work. On any of the seats. Throughout the flight, people writhed and squirmed in their chairs like octopuses on heat.

Secondly, when we finally got going after a 90-minute delay, the aircraft circled and then re-circled the runway dozens of times. And just when the engines began to warm up, they would die down again, and the plane would continue circling the runway. This continued for over an hour.

Thirdly, after the air-conditioner debacle, Kronfeld came around with some much-needed refreshment. I couldn’t care less that it was tap water. But what I did care about was that after I’d drained my first cup, she refused my request for a refill, and with saliva spewing forth, she grunted: “Only one water per person!”

In a similar vein, when I asked one of the male stewards whether I could borrow his pen, he said, simply, “no”.

By the time we landed, nerves jangling amidst the terrifying touch-down of a four-hour flight that had taken nearly seven, the thought dawned on me that the person who paid ten pounds for his ticket had just about got value for money.

I arrived at my mother’s place in London, head throbbing from lack of sleep, and changed my return ticket to El-Al.

The enormous price difference was not a factor.


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