The lady at the check in desk handed me my boarding pass. Despite the fact that I had checked in at the Koru Club counter and identified myself with my Koru Club card, there was no mention of my membership on the boarding pass and I was not in my preferred seating position.
"I prefer an aisle seat near the front," I said.
"There arent any," she snapped. She didnt even glance at the screen to check. She just naturally knew these things. She attached the flight tag to my case and pushed it towards the carousel.
"Dont forget my priority tag," I said mildly.
She sneered at me and, with bad grace, attached a priority tag.
I made my way to the Koru Lounge and presented my boarding pass.
"Oh dear," said the lady. "They havent put your details on the pass. Let me give you a new one."
"Thank you," I said.
"And they havent given you your preferred seat," she said as she checked my details against the boarding pass. "Would you like an aisle seat near the front? I can give you 4C."
"Yes please, that would be lovely."
She clattered keys. "Oops!" she said. "That ones just gone as we were talking. Ill give you 6C and block the middle seat so you wont have to sit next to anybody and you can stretch out a bit."
"Thank you." I felt bemused. Such friendliness. Such service. She must be a new recruit. Theyd soon knock that out of her.
"My pleasure, sir," she said. "Enjoy the lounge."
The doors swished open and I splashed across Alph the sacred river, and entered a stately pleasure dome where luxuries beyond the dreams of mortal men awaited me.
I sipped a glass of lemonade and nibbled a water biscuit. I checked my flight details on the monitor.
The flight was delayed.
I wasnt at all surprised that the flight was delayed. The only time Ive ever been on an Air New Zealand flight that wasnt delayed was one glorious day when all the ground staff were on strike and had been replaced by emergency management volunteers. It was amazing! The counter staff were friendly, cheerful and helpful. The plane took off to the second and landed right on schedule. My luggage, festooned with priority stickers, came out of the hold first, within seconds of my arrival at the baggage carousel. Normally the baggage handlers ignore the priority tags and my luggage comes out last. And often I have had to hang around the baggage area for almost as long as the flight itself took before any bags at all appeared. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the day the Air New Zealand ground staff went on strike. I would suggest to the Air New Zealand management that they encourage their staff to go on strike more often. The airline would run far more efficiently.
But today the staff were all working as normal, and my flight was delayed.
"Bing, bong! Air New Zealand regret to announce that flight 465 to Auckland will be delayed for at least thirty minutes."
Let me guess, I thought to myself. Its delayed because of the late arrival of an inbound flight. Thats the normal, vague excuse. That or the ubiquitous engineering concerns. The voice continued:
"This delay has been caused by the fact that flight 465 has no cabin crew, technical staff or pilot. They are all arriving on an inbound flight which itself is running late. We apologise for this delay."
Just as the microphone clicked off, I heard the beginning of a giggle. At least somebody at Air New Zealand still had a sense of humour. Must be a management volunteer. The ice-cold ab-humans who usually make the announcements would never do anything but sound smugly satisfied at the inconvenience caused by the delay.
I returned to my book. Eventually, thirty minutes late, as advertised, we began to board. The flight crew looked exhausted. Perhaps theyd had to hand crank the propellers on the incoming flight.
The plane soared into the air and levelled off at its cruising altitude. The crew prepared to serve coffee and tea and water. They bustled down the aisle with the trolley, handing out plastic mugs and small, sealed containers of water. As the lady reached my row, she dropped one of the water containers. It landed with a thump, split itself in two, and poured water all over my right foot. My sock absorbed the water gleefully. I wriggled my toes. They went squelch.
"Oh, Im so sorry," she said, embarrassed. We both mopped my sock with paper napkins. It made no discernible difference. She marched away with her trolley, determined to get as far away from me as possible.
I pushed my crew call button. Sirens screamed and red emergency beacons flared. The lady reappeared. "Yes?"
"You forgot to give me my plastic mug and small, sealed container of water." I said. She plonked them down in front of me and ran away again. I drank my water quickly in case it caused sudden, unexpected turbulence. Every so often I flexed my toes experimentally. They continued to go squelch. A man with a coffee pot filled my plastic cup with something that might have been coffee. I drank that as well.
We began our descent into Auckland. I could feel the pressure building up in my head and I held my nose and popped my ears to relieve it. A small baby began to scream with pain. We thumped on to the runway.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Auckland. For your comfort and safety please remain seated until the captain has switched off the fasten seatbelts sign."
We rolled slowly towards the gate. The plane came to a gentle stop, the engine noise dropped away. Bing, bong! The fasten seatbelts sign went off. There was the normal mad scramble to get bags down from the overhead lockers. We all stood in the narrow aisle, waiting for the door to open. Through the cabin window I could see the air bridge moving out towards the aeroplane. It stopped about six inches from the door, thought for a moment and then retreated. Then it tried again. And again. But no matter how hard it tried, it could not reach the plane door. It always stopped six inches away.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for the delay, but there seems to be a fault with the air bridge. Weve called engineering to come and take a look at it."
Several people sat down to wait. Through the cabin window, I could see men hitting the air bridge with hammers of gradually increasing size. It quivered under the onslaught, but remained stubbornly six inches away from the aeroplane. Eventually the men ran out of hammers and walked away scratching their heads.
"Sorry squire, cant find anything wrong. Looks perfectly normal to me. Perhaps you are doing something wrong?"
We waited a few more minutes and then the captain himself made an announcement.
"Im sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the engineers tell me that they cant do anything with the air bridge and so I shall have to move the plane six inches to the left. Can you all please sit down while I do this. You dont have to fasten your seat belts, but you must sit down."
We sat down, clutching our in flight baggage to our chests, eagerly anticipating our extra free ride. Slowly the plane reversed away from the air bridge.
"Left hand down a bit, co-pilot."
"Left hand down a bit it is sir."
Then we straightened up and edged our way in again.
"Anchors out, co-pilot. Handbrake on. Ignition off. Put the gear stick into neutral."
The air bridge gently kissed the side of the plane and the crew opened the door.
"Thank you ladies and gentlemen, you may now disembark. We hope you enjoyed your flight with us."
I squelched out of the plane. On the horizon, the setting sun was busy turning the clouds pink. The aeroplane, embarrassed at being driven by a pilot who landed six inches too far to the right, was blushing all the way down to its wheels and all the way out to the tips of its wings.
I squelched over to the baggage claim area. My case, complete with priority tag, was the very last one to appear on the carousel. It had been a completely normal flight.