It’s fine, I’ll go straight from work…
Flying from Luton. Never done that before. Flying with an unknown (or at least, unheard of) airline. Haven’t done that before either. Heading straight from work (where I’m notorious for saying “I really need to be away on time tonight…” and rarely achieving it) to catch a flight. Now that has to be asking for trouble, right? Especially given my recent tendency for Anneka Rice-style dashes across London.
So tonight, I’m flying to Budapest, with Wizz Air, at 8.30pm, from Luton after a day in the office on the other side of London. This has trouble written all over it.
Having declined team drinks after work, I decide that, for once, maybe I should take a leisurely trip across town? I check Google to find the quickest route from the Wharf to Luton Airport, and am advised to change at London Bridge, picking up the Thameslink to Luton Parkway, and then taking the shuttle to the airport. Seems logical.
Unfortunately, Google hasn’t experienced London Bridge station at the moment: refurbishment + school children / tourists + rush hour = mayhem. But I have a deal with myself that I always walk up the escalators at Waterloo and London Bridge (in a lame attempt to redeem any lack of gym attendance). So despite my case being heavy, I carry it and walk up to the main concourse, only to find that the 17:36 doesn’t seem to exist? And the next train to Luton is apparently 18:10? Back to the Jubilee line and my sense of calm is starting to go! Having lost 20 minutes, I check my phone to see what time the Thameslink leaves West Hampstead… No signal. Bugger. Well I’m sure they’re pretty frequent, so I’ll head up there anyway.
I get to West Hampstead, leave the underground station and walk over to the overground station. I buy my ticket but the boards show no trains to Luton? Apparently, I’m at the wrong station… there’s another one? How big is West Hampstead?! Next street on the left and I finally find platform 2, and have 3 minutes to find calm before the 18:18 arrives. I eventually make Luton at 19:10, plenty of time before my 20:30 flight departs, so I check in, head through security, locate the nearest bar and cop a squat with a G&T.
Luton airport – about as much character as Kidderminster
At this point, I want to find something funny to write about Luton. But I can’t. There’s no abuse being hurled from a Yorkshire wheelchair, it’s not silly o’clock in the morning, so I can’t laugh at those ‘starting early’ and everyone just seems quite normal. In fact, this is the problem with Luton airport, there’s nothing about it. It’s just lots of people waiting to board their flights. They don’t seem over-excited, they aren’t drinking too much and they’re not overly ignorant or uncouth. It’s not until I’m at the boarding gate that I realise why.
I’m flying with Wizz Air, an airline I’ve never heard of before this trip and one who I’ve never seen advertise in the UK. This is because Wizz Air is a foreign airline. Eastern European in fact, although in my admittedly uneducated manner, I’ve no idea whereabouts in Europe. Most of my fellow travelers are Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, Lithuanian, and from various other European destinations.
Now I’m not sure whether Luton Airport has done this intentionally to cause entertainment to their otherwise relatively bored staff. Or perhaps it’s just because many of their flights are operated by Wizz Air. Either way, the entertainment at the boarding gate is pretty funny.
We are queuing at gate 22, on one side of a narrow corridor, and just meters away from gate 21 across the way. In fact, the only separation is from the retractable fabric barrier under which numerous small people are running wild.
Our flight departs to Budapest at 20:30. Across the way, the 20:25 departure to Bucharest is also gathering a queue. You know what’s coming! As the Bucharest flight starts to board, the attendants at the front of the queue are periodically referring passengers to our queue. At this point, realising that some of them have been in the wrong queue, some of our passengers awaiting the Budapest flight from gate 22 suddenly start to wonder if they’re actually in the right queue? Unfortunately, because this is Luton, there are no departure boards down this corridor, so they can’t see anywhere to check. And the delightful Doris, who periodically tries to explain the proceedings over the tanoy in her local dialect, only adds to the poor Europeans’ confusion. Basically, I reckon if you’re hoping to get to Bucharest you’re in trouble; by the time our flight to Budapest boards, if a passenger discovers that they were in the wrong queue it’s too late. Whereas, if you’re in the Bucharest queue but wanting to come to Budapest, at least you have half a chance of still crossing over the corridor and catching the slightly later flight. Of course, this could in fact be Luton trying to be clever, thinking that by boarding both flights in such close proximity, they have the chance to swap passengers if needs be. Ah the joys of flight security and efficiency… hats off to Wizz Air!
Bilingual demonstrations – brilliant!
Safely on board the right flight and in my seat (I hope), my attention switches to the cabin crew. I’ve often wondered why every airline always seems to converse in English. I’ve flown with airlines from other countries before, but they’ve always spoken and provided on-board information in English. I appreciate that the first global language (or that which is most widely spoken) is English. But what happens if most of your passengers are of another nationality? What happens then? Well now I know.
None of our flight crew are English. And I appear to be in the minority back here in the cabin too. Being a European airline, I’m wondering how this will work. The captain indeed welcomes us in English, but then proceeds to provide the very same speech in Hungarian. I am, of course, making a couple of assumptions here: one is that he’s speaking Hungarian – I wouldn’t have a clue; and the other is that it’s the same speech – he could be saying “thank god we’re leaving this dreary place, sorry for any confusion in the boarding queue, this was just to give those Lutonians something to do, anyway, feel free to ignore any English passengers, they haven’t a clue what I’m saying to you right now, so give them a wink and let’s get them wondering…”
AN: worth noting that I didn’t get any winks, and had I done, I’d never have known why anyway!
We then move on to the safety demonstration. Now this is good. The voiceover repeats things a step at a time, in both languages. “Your life jacket is located under your seat. Place the life jacket over your head, tie around your waste and fasten in a bow at the side.” *Cabin attendant demonstrates the act / joy / relief of finding a life jacket beneath the seat, then places it over their head (life jacket, not seat) and demonstrates fastening of bow* The voiceover then repeats these statements in Hungarian… *Cabin attendant unties and removes life jacket replaces beneath seat, then repeats demonstration of finding life jacket beneath seat, places it back over their head, reties bow etc* — god help them if they got the bow in a knot on the English demonstration; the poor Hungarians wouldn’t have a clue what to do in the event of landing on water…
A-ha, the drinks trolley. Lovely. Time for my second (third?) Gin & Tonic (the in-flight drink of choice for so many). What? They’ve no gin? No tonic? Ah yes, it’s a European airline isn’t it? So they serve three or four different varieties of whiskey, vodka or schnapps, but no gin. They do offer wine though, so I opt for red. And it’s actually pretty good – a nice little French number which is perfectly drinkable. So I sit back and enjoy the sip and quickly nod off.
When I wake, we’re starting out descent into Budapest (relief – it’s not Bucharest) and as usual, my excitement levels lift – it’s an F1 weekend, it’s hot (even at midnight) and I’m a smiling Boxy…