The Volcanic Ash Saga

sa·ga

saga pronunciation (sä’gə)
n.

    1. A prose narrative usually written in Iceland between 1120 and 1400, dealing with the families that first settled Iceland and their descendants, with the histories of the kings of Norway, and with the myths and legends of early Germanic gods and heroes.
    2. A modern prose narrative that resembles a saga.
  1. A long detailed report: recounted the saga of their family problems.

I really could write a long detailed report about the delays caused by the volcanic ash cloud but I will spare you the pain.  I’m sure you’ve heard plenty already from the countless news reports.  We (the rest of my family and I) arrived at the check-in desk in SLC to be told that our connecting flight and the one after it had been cancelled.  We didn’t think too much of it, there are all sorts of things that can cancel a flight: aircraft problems, crew scheduling or bad weather.  We were told we could sort things out when we got to Paris so we boarded the flight non the wiser.

The flight was long, but not quite as long as on the way.  It was supposed to be nine hours and when nine hours had passed the pilot made an announcement: “For those of you who have been monitoring our progress, you will know that we should have landed by now according to our original ETA”.  He then told us that we were re-routed mid-flight because of a volcanic ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland.  Instead of flying Canada-Greenland-Iceland we went a lot further south and came in over the English Channel (do the french call it the French channel?).  This added a little over an hour to the flight.  We then landed in Paris to find total chaos.

There were people everywhere – it’s not unusual to find a lot of people in an airport but they were all over the place, hundreds of them.  Safe to say, more than normal.  We went to the luggage carousel where the airline said our luggage would be.  We waited, and waited, and waited some more.  It turns out that the airline sent us to the carousel where our luggage would be had our luggage been checked all the way through to Manchester.  In SLC they said they couldn’t check it all the way because of the cancellation.  We went to the carousel where all the luggage went for those not connecting in Paris aka final destination.  We saw the lovely sign: ‘Delivery Completed’ but that was all.  Just a shiny carousel with a severe lack of luggage.

We recovered the luggage from a nearby office and then spent the next six hours getting a hotel since we’d established that we certainly weren’t getting out of Paris the same day.  In fact, the next three nights were spent in three different hotels with the one at Disney Land being the best by far.  When we got out of the third hotel we went back to the airport with things still in a mess.  We were told by the airline we were flying with that we were now on our own even though we had a re-scheduled flight for Thursday.

I kind of understand why they had to, you can’t pull money out of nowhere.  Realising that we would spend a fortune on food and hotels until Thursday we thought it would be better spent in getting home.  We made our own arrangements and made it home long before Thursday.  I spent 42 minutes (£4.20) on the phone to ‘the airline’ to get the unused tickets refunded.  All is well and a story had been made to tell for years to come.

Across the Atlantic – Part 2

So, the flight.  It was huge!  Totalling eleven hours it was the longest flight I’ve ever been on.  Like I said in my previous post it would have been great to have had breakfast in Paris but time wouldn’t allow so we had to wait until lunch was served on the flight.  I have to say, the food was excellent, the best I’ve ever had in-flight (no it wasn’t my first in-flight meal).

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The meal was most welcome.  I’m not sure what the green stuff was but it was tasty and the piece of chicken was top notch.  I was also surprised to see that the butter was from Ireland.  Once I had demolished the meal and had my tray taken I started a letter to a good friend – another first; I’ve never written a letter while in flight before.  It was so good at passing the time, I usually think for ages about what I want to say.  The in-flight movies sounded so lame that I didn’t attempt to watch a single one.  I spent the rest of the flight bouncing between trying to sleep, listening to music and reading.  I find it almost impossible to sleep on a plane.  Maybe that’s a good thing bearing in mind that I’ll be in the front seat in the not too distant future.

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It was a relatively smooth flight, only a few patches of turbulence.  The weather wasn’t amazing, we were above cloud for the majority of the flight.  When you could see though, the scenery was brilliant.  Snow-capped mountains and sweeping glaciers could be seen for miles.  It looked fantastic from our nice warm viewpoint in the sky.  I wasn’t in a hurry to get down there.

The decent and approach into SLC seemed to take forever – mainly because we couldn’t see anything.  We were only about 1000 feet above the ground before we could see it – how do I know that you ask?  I’m either just really good at estimating altitude or I spoke to the pilots afterwards.  You’re right, I spoke to the pilots.  Being unable to visit the flight deck during the flight I stopped by on my way off the plane.  The pilots were very friendly and I was grateful they gave me a bit of their time.  They must have been pretty tired by this point.  While I was in the flight deck the ground power hookup fell out and all sorts of stuff started clicking.  A ground engineer came up to look at a few things and all was well because the APU was still running.  I made a quick exit after that, even though they said I was fine to take a look I could tell they wanted to finish work and get home – good on them.

Across the Atlantic – Part 1

I recently crossed the Atlantic to head over to Utah to catch up with some friends and attend a church conference before I crack on with flight school.  It has been three years since I was last over and it could be a lot longer before I’m back – saying that though, if I can pop up sometime during foundation flight training while I’m in Arizona that would be a real treat.

We took a route most of us had never done before – Manchester-Paris-Salt Lake City.  My sister had done it before and the rest of us were none the wiser.  The mammoth journey started not long after I woke up at 02:30, only two hours after I went to sleep.  It reminds me of the time I went to Ireland a few hours after a Muse concert.  The drive to Manchester was fine, nothing to report there.  We checked in at about 4:45.  After spending probably thirty minutes in the line we got to the desk and were told that we had to use the electronic check-in at the back of the line.  Fortunately they said we could skip back down the line to the desk.  I would have been ever so slightly irritated had it been otherwise.

The electronic check-in machine didn’t work because we were connecting in Paris to the USA so back to the desk we went.  All sorted.  Time was short, we went straight through security, walked to the gate, sat there for ten minutes and then boarded.  The flight to Paris was fine, very quick with not much to look at.  The fun started when we arrived in Paris.  We had a couple of hours before boarding our next flight and so were looking forward to a bit of breakfast.  Thanks to the French security we had to pass through we had to say goodbye to breakfast.  They were so slow it was untrue.  No-one was in a hurry.  There were as many people going through as there were in Manchester only much much slower.  I wonder how many people the caused to miss flights.  And how many breakfasts they caused to be skipped.

A few hours into the Atlantic crossing lunch was served.

Across the Irish Sea

I’m back in Ireland again!  This time I made the journey on a water craft rather than an aircraft.  Why?  It was cheaper to drive and get the ferry rather than fly and rent.  It went surprisingly well considering I’ve never been responsible for catching a ferry before.  Instead of cruising at an altitude of 24,000 feet and 400 mph we were cruising at an altitude of 0 feet and about 40 mph.

I enjoyed the crossing, I wish I had taken something to read but I still managed to pass the time by eating, talking to the Welsh couple at my table and contemplating while admiring the view.  Even though the view was almost entirely grey there was a simple beauty to it.  Occasionally you’d go past a patch where the cloud was thinner than the rest and the sun would highlight the silvery grey water.

The poor light conditions and the dirty window managed to combine to make this a poor quality image.  It doesn’t do the view justice, believe me.  Upon arrival in Dublin I made my way straight to Galway and managed to go through three, no four, different toll booths.  One to go through the port tunnell (which I didn’t want to do but once I’d taken one wrong turn I was committed), one to go down the M50 and two on the M6.  Grumble.  When I finally made it to Galway, all tolled-out, I wasted no time in getting down to Salthill to watch the sun set across Galway bay.  The show was stunning, I hope I never get bored of sunsets.

At first I thought the black and white one was pointless since the best part of a sunset is the colour but I really like the effect.  I’d like to see how it comes out in print.

Sir, do you know how to operate an emergency exit?

On Wednesday I blasted off runway 14 at EGNM headed for EIDW (Dublin International).  I was heading to Ireland just for the day with my sister.  We couldn’t pass the opportunity by at £16 return.  I was able to meet up with some good friends and visit one of my favourite restaurants.  As you can see the weather was overcast in Leeds, it was the same in Dublin.  It took the Ryanair 737-800 about twenty minutes to get on top of all the cloud and haze – we reached 24000ft and about 400mph, stayed there for a few minutes and then started the decent.  The flight is barely forty minutes.  When we did finally get to those clear skies, it was fantastic.  Not far above us there was a magnificent layer of cirrus clouds, it looked wafer thin from where we were.

I could really get used to seeing views like this on a daily basis.  Even though I had flown in December I’d forgotten just how thrilling takeoff was.  We lined up on the runway and moments later you could hear the engines spool up, stabilize, and then roar into takeoff thrust.  The acceleration was phenomenal, seconds later the ground was getting further and further away.  I enjoyed pointing out all the places I could recognise from the air and made the most of it as we would be arriving back in the hours of darkness.

My favourite place to eat in Dublin is Eddie Rocket’s – an American style diner.  There are a few in Dublin, Galway and Cork and even a couple in the UK.  I had the ‘cheese please’ burger with a chocolate malt and it was well worth the wait, the quality was fabulous.  I could have really done with a nap afterwards but there are few places to sleep at the Dundrum Shopping Centre.

While we waited for a friend to get out of work we just browsed the shops.  I found a stunning new tie in M&S – it’s most colourful.  It was getting colder by the minute on the outside so we were staying put.  My good friend finally got out of work and we went up to the tram station to meet her.  If you know much about court reporting you’ll know how much she has on her plate.  I was grateful she took the time out to visit with us.  Being absolutely frozen and having a liking for fine hot chocolate, we went to Butlers Chocolate Cafe for the best hot chocolate money can buy.  I love it when they serve it at drinking temperature, it’s too good to wait for it to cool down if it’s not.  It was so good to chat and catch up about the events of the past nine months.  As it usually does after a reunion with a friend or family member, the time in between seemed to disappear and it feels like you were never apart.

All good (and bad) things come to an end.  In what seemed like a few minutes (it was over an hour) we were back on the tram heading to O’Connell street to pick up the 747 express to the airport.  The journey back was as swift as ever – sailed through security without delay, a quick look at the shops and a short wait at the gate.

When we boarded we were fortunate enough to get an emergency exit seat over the right wing.  The leg room was excellent.  I forgot that you can’t put your hand luggage under the seat in front of you at emergency exits and the flight attendant promptly reminded me of this.  She then went round each of the eight or so passengers at the emergency exits and specifically asked them if they would be willing to assist in the event of an emergency – a legal requirement.

She asked a man in front if he knew how to operate an emergency exit and he told her that he did.  She wasn’t convinced and said: “Are you sure you know how to operate the exit?”  He was a little annoyed at this and informed her that he was a frequent flyer and that he was sure he could manage the emergency exit.  I was quickly trying to think of what to say incase she asked me if I was sure if I knew how to operate the exit.  The only thing I could think of was a little cheeky – ‘I know how to read and follow instructions.’  She does have somewhat of a point though, you could read all the instructions and look at all the diagrams you want and still have no experience of opening aircraft emergency exits.  I’m sure no-one wants experience in this regard.

The flight home was very much the same as the one out, only darker.  I love it when they turn off the cabin lights, the view is so much better.  I’d have them out the whole flight if I could.  Even though it was dark, on approach to runway 14 we flew down the gorgeous Wharfe Valley we could pick out landmarks such as the Cow & Calf and the park in Menston village.  All in all it was a fantastic trip.  Number one highlight being catching up with my friends accompanied by my sister, number two being the flying – then the food etc…