Thursday, 8 April 2010

Flying North

It was still dark when I got up this morning. This is quite a rare thing in my life nowadays but we had a bus to catch at 9.00 from Vigo bus station so an early start was called for. Pretty soon the sky was turning clear blue and the day obviously promised to be a good one. Why is it that the weather starts to pick up just as you decide to go away? It must be a variant of Sod’s Law.

The bus ride from Vigo to Oporto is not bad. It’s fairly cheap (€10) and reasonably fast although it is disconcerting to look at the timetable and see that it says:

Estación de autobuses Vigo 9.00

Valença 8.30

It’s strange to arrive at a place before you’ve set off. You almost expect to meet yourself coming back. All this because the Portuguese keep to the same time system as the UK: most

Today we had a passport check at Valença, something which has only happened to me once before. This time I had my passport and my NIE with me. The last time it happened th
e only ID I had was my Vigo library card. I was not unduly worried but my daughter who was with me at the time was mortified. Only SHE could have a mother who did things like that!

As we arrived at the
airport with plenty of time to spare (the later bus from Vigo would arrive 30 minutes after our plane was due to depart) we had a second and rather more leisurely breakfast while we waited in Oporto’s rather modernistically elegant airport.

Budget travel seems inevita
bly to be made up of starts and stops. You wait around for ages and then suddenly discover that you have to join a long queue to go through an unexpected passport control which I am sure is part of the cost cutting exercises that budget airlines do. As Ryanair now only does online check-in, they don’t check your passport at all. So arranging for there to be a passport control before you get to the Ryanair departure gate ensures that someone else does that check for them. I don’t know about other airports but this seems to be the case at Oporto where two gates appear to make up a special little Ryanair enclave. Cunning!

Then, of course, there is a hold-up on the plane itself. Everyone, well, almost everyone, opts for hand-luggage-only travel which is fine except that no-one ever seems to check that the so-called hand luggage is in fact of the required dimensions. You see some very large and bulky “hand luggage” going in board! Consequently there is a mêlée on the plane itself as passengers try in vain to stuff these bags into the overhead lockers.

the cabin staff have to tell the last few passengers to board that they must remove from their bags their passports and anything they will need for the journey. Their “hand luggage” will be stowed in the hold after all. Presumably they don’t have to pay the extra fee for this but they will lose the speedy get-away on arrival at their destination, forced to wait for the carousel to bring their bags around. Thank heavens for our regulation-size IKEA cases, tailor made for budget travel and small enough to go under the seat in front if absolutely necessary.

Still, it’s a lovely day to travel and we get a beautiful view of the Portuguese coast, the Miño, the Islas Cíes and, oh yes, look, there’s our block of flats! And the fine weather keeps us company all the way, even giving us a nice view of bits of Wales as we get close to Liverpool.

As I sit on the plane doing my Sudoku and making notes on this and that, I wonder if conscientious cabin crew might confiscate my pencil as a potential weapon but they have obviously decided that since it got though security it must be OK. I did have to take my boots off at security … and my bracelet … and my watch. I offered them my belt but they must have felt that enough was enough.

Mind you, it’s better than some of the US airports where in some places, according to a report I saw on Spanish TV recently, they have an alternative to the expensive new whole body scanners. Passengers are sprayed with a chemical which reacts in some way to explosives and so reveals possible terrorists. I watched footage of passengers being subjected to this test and decided that I would be seriously disgruntled if that happened to me. Nothing nicer than starting your holiday with your hair blown all over the place and splattered with undoubtedly odd smelling stuff! No, sirreee, not for me!

In some ways the DIY element of budget air travel is mildly amusing but also exasperating. On-line check-in is not a problem; the queues at the check-in desks were always a pain anyway. However, announcements about the short turn-around time the plane has when it reaches its destination can be a little trying as passengers are asked to do cleaning up jobs like checking on the floor around their seats for possible rubbish. This is another bit of corner-cutting on the part of the airlines. Mind you, I suppose they also cut corners by underpaying the cabin crew so we should be sympathetic and help them out.

The passengers, at any rate an awful lot of Spanish and Portuguese ones, get their own back by ignoring requests to stay seated until the fasten-seat-belt signs are switched off. Barely have the wheels touched down that a good number of people are on their feet, opening the overhead lockers, dropping bags on other passengers’ heads (no, that didn’t actually happen; put it down to blogger’s exaggeration) and switching on their mobile phones in order to be able to say, “I’m here. We’ve just landed. I’m on the plane. I’ll see you in a couple of minutes.”
Now, there’s an exaggeration, if ever there was one.

You can spend 15 to 20 minutes getting to friends and family anxiously waiting to greet you. You get off the plane and, despite having had your passport scrutinised at Oporto airport, you are not getting onto UK territory without standing in yet another queue to have it checked once again!

Still, the sun is shining in Liverpool and even in Saddleworth, Oldham when we finally get there. 14° is not bad for April in the Northwest of England. Not quite the 19° we had in Vigo at midday yesterday but, hey, you can’t have everything. Mustn’t grumble!

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