7 summits by Microlight

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2-1

News release: 10 Dec 2005, The flight from hell


 

 

 
The best deal I could get when I booked the flight to Buenos Aires a few weeks ago was via Toronto. I was advised in departures by a professional 'saturation' diver on his way home to Torono that Air Canada is colloquially known as Canflot on account of their attitude to their customers.

It's a long flight; things suddenly didn't look too good.

Actually their crews were fine, and they didn't play the trick of forgetting to switch the seatbelts sign off so they wouldn't be hassled by pesky passengers as happened once on an Atlantic flight I made with Northwest Airlines. But the management.... First of all we sat on the deck in the aeroplane at Heathrow for ages 'because of 'air traffic problems'. It was a bit foggy so this might have been believable if a few extras passengers hadn't got on after an hour or so. Could have these been connecting from another flight which had been equally delayed because of fog somewhere in Europe? I never discovered the truth but it looked like a bit of a cheap trick to blame it on the Brits.

An hour and a half late we were off; eight hours later, with numb knees we were in Toronto, a foot of snow on the ground, minus two. Why are Airbus seats so uncomfortable? Perhaps I just don't fit the European norm.

Toronto Pearson has a massive new terminal building, not that we could park next to it though, we had to go somewhere else and take a 15 minute bus ride. Worse though, they seem to have forgotten to install any facilities for passengers transferring to further international flights. I'd had some sort of warning about this from the girl at the check-in desk at Heathrow - "Things are a bit confused in Torono at the moment, I was there last week, make sure you know what's happening to your bags."

I did as I was told. At every stage, immigration, then at the Canflot desk in the the baggage hall, then at the customs, I showed them my bag tickets and said I was connecting with their flight to Buenos Aires - my bags ARE being handled automatically aren't they? Yes, No problem they each said.

Finally I found myself in Canada, at the Canflot desk. Quite what happens to people in this situation who need visas to enter Canada I can't imagine. Where are your bags? they said. I explained the reasons why I thought they had them, but no, I was mistaken. They even rang the guy at the desk in the baggage hall who had said 'no problem' not 15 minutes before, and he denied it! Hum ho, they said, problem, - difficult to go backwards through customs.

Time was ticking by, what with the delay in London and everything I was resigned to missing my connecting flight and spending 24 hours in the snow. There's a big tower you can go up in Toronto isn't there? That might be interesting. On the Atlantic flight they had showed an advert for the Drake Hotel which makes a specialty out of 'spur of the moment' performance art; people cutting themselves out of large paper bags, that sort of thing. That might be interesting too.

After a while though it became apparent a surprising number of other people were in the same predicament as me so Canflot were forced into doing something about it. There was one particularly excited man who kept jumping from foot to foot repeating to anyone who would listen "my flight's leaving in 20 minutes". Despite what it said (wrong) on my London-issued boarding pass I still had an hour or so, so things weren't quite so desperate. My hand baggage couldn't of course go back into the baggage hall so I had to leave it, lap-top and all, in the lost baggage place but because it wasn't lost he couldn't give me a receipt or anything. Time was too short to argue so I decided to risk it and we were led in groups of no more than two through a side-door, filled out a form which was stamped by a bored looking bureaucrat and then through a sort of security air-lock back into the baggage hall. My bag was there all right, but what about my tubes? I had three five-foot lengths of old bent one inch microlight tube for use as camera mounts which I'd forgotten to pack in the crates last week. Eventually my escort found them in the 'outsize luggage' place. Then we had to do the most extraordinary manoeuvre through customs.

What are those? the Customs man said, pointing at my tubes. Once he'd looked down them all he accepted my explanation and then we went through a door, round a corner, and for some unfathomable reason through customs again (they were getting used to me by this third time) and then back into Canada. Right outside the door was a conveyor belt which then took my bag and tubes back into customs for dispatch (I hoped) to my departing flight.

It was a relief to find the lost baggage man still had my hand luggage but I then had to go through all the rigmarole of getting out of Canada again, metal detectors and all the rest of it. I can't recommend boots with steel toecaps in these situations, they make you take them off these days, and then you get an electric shock retrieving them from the metal conveyor from the static generated by the cheap nylon carpet against my Tesco value socks.

Our next aircraft may have been a slightly aging Boeing 767, but I can tell you American seats, whilst still being uncomfortable, they win hands down against Airbus' efforts.

Ten hours later we landed at Arturo Merino Benitez airport in Santiago, Chile. Superb views of Aconcagua just before we landed. As this was supposed to be just a short stop you'd have thought we could have stayed on the plane, but no, all off again.

I can confirm that Santiago airport does at least have a system for transferring passengers so we didn't have to repeat the complete Torono thing again, my boots did have to go through the x-ray machine but it didn't give me an electric shock this time, they've got better quality carpets in Chile.

We flew south from Santiago down Chile for what seemed like miles before we turned left over the Andes. Looking at the forecasts, this is Jetstream territory so I suppose he wanted to be at full height before turning over the mountains. Chile is incredibly narrow so you could see the Pacific from one side of the aeroplane and the Andes from the other. The Andes are surprisingly narrow here too, maybe only 60 miles across, but with plenty of show and ice and forbiddingly barren, as is the first bit of the Pampas in Argentina. Gradually it becomes greener and turns into more intensively farmed land laid out in a fairly rigorous grid of fields a bit like the prairie in the states. It looks as flat too, they're combining at the moment.

So finally, nearly 24 hours since leaving home, here I am in Buenos Aires. The customs man was as fascinated by my three old bent tubes as they had been in Torono. Even though they X-rayed everything, Customs men obviously think differently to other humans as I'm sure they could have found much more fascinating things from amongst all the little bits and pieces and last-minute spares at the bottom of my bag like the special electric visor demisters from Neltec for Angelo's torpedo windscreen, the spare hang-point from P&M or the three 12 volt jelly batteries which all arrived just before I left, but that was too obvious and they didn't ask to look.

A man with a FIAT sign was waiting for me outside to take me to my hotel. It seems they'll be giving us no less than five new cars and two new vans which seems a bit excessive for what is a relatively modest expedition, it's practically one car each, but they know best.

I'm not looking forward to the return flight, but that's a few weeks off. Our problem now is that apparently my microlight and all our other stuff is still in Frankfurt....

The FIAT group
 
 
Outdoor sport professionals choose Ferrino to help them meet fresh challenges
 
 
ICARO 2000 Hang Gliding World Champion
 
 
ALPHA emergency parachute
 
 
P&M AVIATION; UK dealer for Warp Drive Propellors
 
 
PARAMINA; Suppliers of Oxygen equipment to the expedition
 
 
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
 
 
P&M AVIATION manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
 
 
Neltec flexible heaters to keep Angelo's nosecone clear
 
 
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
 
 
P&M AVIATION manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
 
 
BAILEY AVIATION manufacturers of Paramotors and automotive sport acessories
 
 
Survival Equipment Services Ltd, Suppliers of ELT to the expedition.
 
 
O-ZEE flight suits.  Suppliers of Bar-mitts to the expedition.
 
 
AV8 Systems video gear
 
 
FLYCOM Intercom and Radio equipment
 
 
Gerbings heated clothing
 
 
Alitalia
 
 
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Page last reviewed
11 Dec 2005
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