Planespotting: Air China goes Irvine Welsh

It’s not often you get to walk into an airport and know from the outset that what’s about to unravel over the next 24-hours is going to be the worst airline experience of your life.

Mark Eggleton

It’s not often you get to walk into an airport and know from the outset that what’s about to unravel over the next 24-hours is going to be the worst airline experience of your life.

It began so innocuously - a visit to the gentlemen’s room inside Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci airport. An officious phalanx of cleaners waved me away as they were in the process of doing their job. Being a patient chap, I waited for them to finish before skipping with joy into what I assumed would be a pristine ablution facility.

Unfortunately, the cleaners may have “cleaned” the toilets by standing in the centre of the room and spinning in a synchronised swimming formation while urinating and yelling in perfect Italian “I’m a man sprinkler”. The newly cleaned toilets seemed to have been smeared with a generous film of urine, faeces and human sweat.

It was a tough decision but I decided to continue with my lifelong habit of using the porcelain amenities inside the toilet to deposit my excess baggage and continued relatively unperturbed to the check-in counter where Air China’s not-so-attentive Alitalia proxies decided checking-in passengers was a luxury they could ill afford. I cheerfully stood at the front of the line for 90 minutes while Alitalia’s disinterested staff blinked blank-faced at their computers and chatted among themselves. The IT system was down although no-one bothered to explain or suggest an alternative. Elsewhere, other airlines checked-in passengers and lines generally flowed smoothly.

Things could only improve and amazingly, after the issues on the ground, our Air China flight left on time and everything seemed right with the world again.

I had noticed during boarding despite the boasts of the fine people at Air China (who suggest they run one of the youngest fleets in the sky) that the Airbus A330 was not so youthful. It was the sort of rickety old plane you’d expect an arms dealer to use. What’s more the toilets were Trainspotting bad. They were cracked and full of filth. It would seem the human sprinklers in Rome had spent some time onboard. One of my fellow passengers had decided the sink sat at a more natural level for a toilet (maybe he/she played basketball) but then again it was early in the flight so it may have been from a previous trip. In another toilet I found a couple of chunks of half digested pineapple lying in the sink.

After suggesting to a rather surly flight attendant that her duties extended to keeping the toilets clean onboard she indicated the only way they would be cleaned was if I wanted to use my toothbrush and a used napkin from my meal.

Trainspotting... when art imitates life?

Speaking of which, the meals onboard were an interesting study in the culinary arts. Imagine an airline that hadn’t actually ordered the inflight meals. Twenty minutes before take-off a group of harried flight attendants burst into the airline catering kitchens and rummage through the offcuts and leftovers from every other meal prepared that day. What it translated to on the tray was a cross between prison food and something conjured up in a Dickensian orphanage.

Unfortunately things got worse. We arrived in Beijing and we were lucky enough to go through Chinese customs twice as we transferred to a domestic Shanghai flight even though we were international transfer passengers who'd had no opportunity to grab some contraband in the sky. Maybe even the Chinese authorities thought we’d come in on a smuggler flight.

Moreover, we boarded an even older plane. I missed our gun-running A330 immediately as we climbed aboard the aircraft equivalent of a dirty standby taxi. The toilets had the Italian cleaners touch and the food was slightly worse than the fare conjured up in Rome airport’s industrial kitchens. The service was a wee step beyond non-existent as we winged our way gently to Shanghai.

On arrival, with a fixed thousand yard stare I wandered through Shanghai's near empty terminal to the transfer gate and the same dirty old taxi. Outside on the tarmac an old Qantas Boeing 747 glistened like new and I pined to be on it.

In a hallucinatory moment I could see Qantas CEO Alan Joyce beckoning me onboard to be served by Qantas’s unhappy ageing staff but I was happy. I could see food, clean toilets, a semblance of service and entertainment choices beyond the Politburo approved oeuvre of Victor Mature. I smiled and fell to my knees and cried … “All is forgiven Qantas, I love Jetstar and whatever your strategy is Mr Joyce … I’m with you.”

Sadly, I was still a long way from home.

Social Share

Related Posts

Sketches from Luzern

Sketches from Luzern

Mark Eggleton The piano recital had just passed the 90-minute mark and I’d run out of things to do. More pertinently, I was wrestling with my internal monologue. I screamed out an obscenity yet no one seemed to notice – I was safe for a few more seconds. From my seat, I’d counted the audience …

Sketches from Luzern Read More »

Binge-drinking artists debunk Chinese script

Binge-drinking artists debunk Chinese script

Matt Shepherd Sitting in the low-ceilinged loft of a smoky bar in Yangjiang - China’s answer to Sheffield - Zheng Guogu has just learned the English for ‘piss artist’ and likes it so much he says it three times over. With the kind of arresting rawness that you only get when foreigners or very young children swear, Zheng …

Binge-drinking artists debunk Chinese script Read More »

Hotel art for art's sake

Hotel art for art's sake

Hotel art is so often synonymous with mass-produced prints, thoughtlessly arranged in carbon-copied rooms. But there a few emerging boutique properties that are celebrating artistic expression and embracing local and international artists. Ranging from the seriously impressive collections of big name artists such as Andy Warhol and Antony Gormley in THE THIEF hotel in Oslo, …

Hotel art for art’s sake Read More »

After Afghanistan, when the war begins

After Afghanistan, when the war begins

Lauren Arena When I meet Ben Quilty he looks and smells exactly as I imagined. He’s dressed in a flannelette shirt, jeans and sneakers, with scruffy hair and a beard that's fiercely thick. He smells of oil paint and I can see it still jammed under his fingernails. Sitting in a leafy courtyard at the …

After Afghanistan, when the war begins Read More »

Dad's army of the sea to tackle piracy

Dad's army of the sea to tackle piracy

Lauren Arena With piracy costing the global economy upwards of $10 billion a year it might be time to consider engaging and killing pirates on sight according to a world leading defence analyst. Executive Director at the Australian Defence Association, Neil James says piracy was only crushed in the 19th century because pirates were killed …

Dad’s army of the sea to tackle piracy Read More »

Not just art for art's sake

Not just art for art's sake

Amy Hughes There’s a new, or perhaps old, kid in town and it’s pulling both the punters and the posh crowd to Philadelphia. The Barnes Foundation is probably THE most talked about opening in the art world these days. Its list of holdings alone is staggering: 181 Renoirs (the largest single group of the artist’s …

Not just art for art’s sake Read More »