Thankfully the bitterly cold pedestrian journey from the Hotel to the terminal building at Cork Airport last Tuesday morning was but a short one. Inside the building we passed uneventfully through to the aircraft in which we were to fly to London Gatwick. At Gatwick I enjoyed a reasonable lunch in Wetherspoon’s before saying adieu for the time being to Lisi and negotiating the labyrinthine Temple of Mammon which Gatwick Airport has become to find my 12.40 Easyjet flight to Kalamata.
There was a delay to board the plane which was then further delayed because it had missed its ‘slot’; we were advised that our new take-off ‘slot’ would be an hour henceforth. I had no sooner adjusted myself to this disappointing news than the captain was again speaking to his passengers; to tell us that the plane could go at once. As we taxied out towards the runway hailstones were coating the wing beside my window. Above the screaming of the jet engines I could clearly hear thunder and see lightning flashing against a blackening sky; a further announcement over the aircraft’s PA system advised yet a further delay to allow the storm to pass over. Twenty minutes or so later the aircraft was again trundling towards the runway. Within minutes we were airborne, climbing into clear blue sky, and leaving the dark storm clouds behind us. The roar of the engines eased a little and plane seemed to be climbing more gently, as it heeled a little to change direction I was able to look down on the irregular patchwork of sunlit fields below. Suddenly the aircraft momentarily shuddered as a deafening bang shot though it; the machine had suffered a lightning strike! The captain was quick to confirm this and to reassure his passengers that his aircraft appeared to be none the worse for its experience. He had been told however to wait while the boffins at the airline’s head-office analysed data being sent to them from the aircraft’s on-board computers. While we waited I enjoyed an aerial tour of Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the South Coast. Eventually news came that we would be going back to Gatwick where the plane could be further inspected. But to go back to Gatwick was not quite so simple; the aircraft had been refuelled at Gatwick and was now too heavy to land safely, only by burning-off several tons of fuel could the machine be made safe to land; this would take ‘about an hour’!
After landing smoothly the captain rather cheekily welcomed his passengers to Gatwick where the aircraft parked in a remote corner of the airfield to be crawled over by technicians and inspected by others high up on ‘Cherry-Picker’ platforms. Inside the aircraft the crew worked hard to ease passenger frustration by dispensing snacks and complimentary beverages. After another longish interval the plane was declared unfit to fly; another would be found and flown to Gatwick with a fresh crew.
The replacement aircraft took off from Gatwick.well into the evening. When when it landed at sometime after one o’clock local time, five hours or so late, the passengers gave the crew a spontaneous round of applause.
My journey home did not end at Kalamata Airport I had over an hour to drive until I would be able to put my head on a pillow. At the Airport it had been raining heavily; in places the road I had to drive was flooded and it was very dark but during the entire drive I hardly saw another vehicle and there was no further rainfall.
It had been an interesting day, an unusual experience which, by and large, I had very much enjoyed.