British Virgin

October 16, 2008 -

John Heald

Sometimes I am aware that here on my blog thingy, I always seem to find something wrong with everything. To find discord where there is harmony. To sprinkle a little bit of yak poo over your morning coffee and bagel.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find fault with something you love. And, strangely, one of the things I’ve loved most over the years is flying with British Airways. I love the way that when you’ve finished working a long contract onboard a Carnival ship sailing all over the world, you’re welcomed on board by a slightly feminine man in grey trousers and you think: “Aaaah. We haven’t even taken off but I’m home already.”

I love their scones and clotted cream. I love the way they have back-up planes for when your plane goes awry. And I love the calmness of their pilots, all of whom have hyphenated names and sound like they used to fly for the RAF and are up there on the flight deck wearing a brown leather bomber jacket. “Welcome on board, ladies and gentlemen Neville Barton-Smythe here on the flight deck . . . We are ready for take off so sit back and let’s bugger off home old bean.”

Oh, they’ve done their best over the years to shoo me away, ditching the elegant grey and blue livery in favor of the “We have to be multicultural and paint symbols from different countries on the tailfins” bollocks.

Even when I stopped flying quite so much and they demoted me from a card that entitled me to sit on the captain’s lap to a card that didn’t even get me into the economy class toilets, I still stayed loyal. And then they got rid of the one thing that as a boy meant as much to me as Marsha from the Brady Bunch…..the Queen Elizabeth 2 of the skies, the Concorde.

Did I blame them? No. I blamed the French. So when Heidi and I knew we would be leaving from Rome, I asked Sonia in the office in Miami to book us on British Airways.
However, as I sit here and being well aware that some of the more septic …… sorry …… skeptic bloggers may think that I am overstating or making stuff up just for the sake of something to write…….I promise and assure you on the love of our Thingy……..I am not.

So, we left the ship this morning and we did so quietly and without fuss. Last night, though, we attended a 30th birthday party for one of the beautiful dancers, Eleanor ……who by the way looks like she is 16, not 30 …..I never looked that young.

Anyway, during the hour we were there, I gave some Cuban cigars to the entertainment technician guys who did such a wonderful job and thanked them for their help. We said our quiet goodbye to entertainment staff Lauren, Owen, Adele, Kevin and Jaime and then slipped away. This morning Stephanie, our great friend and assistant CD, came to say goodbye and again…..very quietly we got in the car and were driven away.

It was as we left the pier that Heidi looked over her shoulder and obviously realizing that this would be her final goodbye to ever working on a Carnival ship…..she cried.

She has spent her last 11 years onboard. And from the great times of delivering a new ship and sailing into Amsterdam to the sad times of waking up in Belize and finding out her Papa had passed away……the memories will be everlasting.

And then we arrived at a place that has reduced grown men to tears………..Rome Airport ……. where signs are mere suggestions and where looking good is more important than looking after customers.

Why is it that at airline check-in desks at airports all over the world are organized in nice straight lines and managed by people who have customer relation skills? Yet, in Italy a straight line has more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel and the staff working behind the desks has the customer care skills of a rabid bat.

So there we stood in the zig-zagging line listening to the Italian passenger in front of us shout into his mobile phone……honestly, I don’t know where the person on the other end of the call was but whether she was in Rome or Romania, she could have heard him without the phone.

Then, eventually we got to the check in desk with our three suitcases. I know each case must not weigh over 20 kilos and the first one was 18……the second one 19 and the third…….23. As the 23 kilos came up on the little red digital display, the look on the check in girl’s face was unbelievable. She smiled as though she had just been told she had won a new Gucci bag filled with cash and her joy was obvious as she informed me that “youa area over and youa musta pay.” I explained that we were “seamen” and that our entire world was in those cases, but I might as well have said that I was Brad Pitt and wanted to join the mile high club with her and her sister……because she just shrugged her shoulders and pointed to the ticket desk.

Yep, I had to go the ticket desk where I was met by a man who had a face like someone had shoved a broom up his bottom and told him he had to go clean the runway. I paid the ridiculous amount of 80 euros…..for being three kilos over or one pair of my underwear …….and then had to go back to the rabid bat of a check in girl to get the boarding passes.

There was no “Enjoy your flight,” just an indifferent stare. And so, here we sit on the BA flight to London Gatwick and my love affair with BA, which was like The Queen and Prince Philip, is now more like Madonna and Guy Thingy.

Why…….well, we left on time but, as we were taxiing to the runway, the pilot came over the PA system to tell us that we were delayed for 35 minutes because of air traffic control backlog……..OK…… big deal except the pilot……on this British Airways flight was German…..yep……German.

Neville Barton – Smythe had been replaced by Hans Stoppen Von Floppen. Now, I love the Germans, but finding a German pilot on a British Airways flight is like finding the beautiful lady you met, romanced and are about to have rumpy pumpy with is, in fact, blessed with meat and two vegetables and you are in the middle of the Crying Game.

Then, about 30 minutes into the flight, the thingies in the grey flannel trousers minced over and told us that unfortunately they only had vegetarian sandwiches left for us poor buggers at the back of the plane — my scone and cream had been replaced by two slices of soggy brown bread with something resembling cheese slapped in between. Again, no apology, just “Do you want one or not?”

The other thing that has me mad is the drink I have on Heidi’s seat back tray. I can’t use my tray because the distance between me and it is bugger all and, should the plane break sharply, I would be half the man I used to be.

Anyway, back to the drink. It’s a Diet Coke, of course, but it seems to have been designed for someone who is five years old. It’s the smallest can I have ever seen and wouldn’t quench the thirst of a baby leech. I would ask for another one but the two boys seem to have buggered of and are probably talking about George Michael, Elton John or my mate Alan.

It seems, therefore, that British Airways has gone down hill quicker than a hamster on a skateboard. So, you know that Easy Jet is dreadful and now BA seems to have joined the club……..what airline, therefore, do I like?

Well, I did get to fly a few times with Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic…….British Airways enemy. I love Beard (Virgin) Airways but it didn’t start well there either as I was told to put on the “funky phones” so I could hear the safety demonstration, I seriously considered opening the door and jumping out. It’s an airline, for crying out loud, not Camp Carnival.

Still, offered to send a car to pick me up, which is something BA has never done. Of course, it wasn’t the limo in which Helen Mirren luxuriates in the television commercials; it was a sort of Volvo, in fact.

But even so, it took me to a check-in zone at Heathrow where, without even getting out of the car, my bag was checked in and my boarding card issued. That was impressive. And then I was escorted by a pretty girl, which is what airline employees should be like, to the Virgin lounge.

My God, it was like walking into the Design Museum. The whole place was dripping with the sort of style that means you can neither open nor close the lavatory doors, and the Diet Coke is served in big pint glasses with lots of ice. It was fabulous.

In the BA lounge you get a cup of coffee and a biscuit and you help yourself. Here, there was a restaurant, bar staff, a smoking area that wasn’t just a glass box like you get at a zoo, a hairdresser’s, several massage parlors, some steam rooms, and a businessman on a mobile phone in a Jacuzzi.

I was offered a scalp massage, which the girl said was like trying to ease the tension in a fridge door — this is because I’d been unable to get into the lavatory and was in agony — and then I rang the office to find out how much it was all costing. “Oh,” said Chris Prideaux, “it’s about the same as BA business.”

That’s weird. Normally two similarly priced products designed to do the same sort of thing are roughly the same. A Ford is much the same as a Toyota. Evian is pretty much the same as what comes out of your tap. But the gap between Virgin and BA is planetary. And we hadn’t even got on the plane yet.

Superficially, it was the same as BA. They even had a very happy man to welcome us on board, and scones, and seats that move around electrically. But on Virgin, you have a girl in stockings and a suspender belt to give you another massage, and there’s a bar. And I mean a proper bar, on which you can sit and talk with other passengers and pretend you are a movie producer.

What’s more, on BA you watch the films when they come on. On Virgin you are the master of your own destiny, and you can watch a movie when you want to.

So there we are. Finally I’ve found something wrong with British Airways. They’re not good enough. And on Monday we shall see what American Airlines is like. I have enough miles to upgrade to business class and I am looking forward to seeing if what Tony Soprano says on the TV commercials is true. I will let you know.

For now though the boy band singer in the grey flannel trousers has told us to turn off all electronic devices and, as I don’t want to be “bitch slapped,” I will comply.
I will write more when we get home from my lap top dancer computer.

Your Friends
John, Heidi and The Thingy.

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.