Alitalia’s flight Athens-Rome is supposed to take off at 7am as a red dawn floods the arid Greek landscape. It doesn’t. When the engines kick into life, the stench of aircraft fuel instantly fills the cabin but the odour is gone within a minute. Unlike the plane. Like most passengers, I’ve been up since 4am. I’m in no mood for delays, but delay is what I get.
After a while the pilot says: “Thisisyourcaptainspeakingwelcomeaboardflightblahblahwhichis… um, delayed.” Give the man a medal. Over the next two hours not much happens. No food or drinks are offered, and I discover Alitalia’s toilets smell worse than aircraft fuel. Cabin crew finally take names of passengers who have connecting flights, to book us on later ones.
Shortly after 9am the plane lumbers down the runway and heaves into the sky for the hour-long hop. I’m in a mild state of panic. I’ve now missed my 10am connecting flight Rome-Nice which means I might also miss my Nice-Dubai flight on Emirates at 4pm. As soon as we land at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport I run to the Alitalia counter manned by only one person, to find out I’ve been booked on the next available Rome-Nice flight at 5pm. WTF?
I explain my flight to Dubai leaves from Nice an hour earlier. Counter person shrugs and says Alitalia’s responsibility is to get me to Nice. That’s it. Getting a meal voucher from Alitalia is like pulling wisdom teeth. So the irate Zurich lawyer at the counter with me starts quoting international airline law and after a long pause, vouchers are handed over. When I ask about a refund, counter person takes another long pause to print out a one-page complaint form which he slides across the desk with another shrug. Meanwhile, my suitcase is somewhere in transit land. I’m officially in Alitalia flight hell.
I hot-foot it to the Emirates counter, dripping in full meltdown panic, and ask if there’s a Rome-Dubai flight which will get me there in time for the plane to Sydney. There is, but I’ll have to pay the fare difference and airport taxes. I slam those on the credit card with a gulp and blink back tears. It’s now 11am, I’ve had nothing to eat or drink and am starting to feel fuzzy around the edges. I ask hopefully if it’s a decent seat, after being told the flight is full. The Emirates lady looks at me and says: “I’ll make sure you get a good seat.”
I thank her, grab my new ticket, run to the lost luggage counter, where it takes almost two gut-wrenching hours to retrieve my bag. At one stage I step outside briefly to take a deep breath and start counting cigarette butts carpeting the pavement.
Finally, it plops onto the conveyer belt. Never been so glad to see a suitcase. I want to hug it. Sweating and dehydrated, I trudge to the Emirates check-in where hundreds of economy passengers are lined up. I’m past waiting, so I jump the queue and hand over my travel documents.
Then I hear those magic three words every cattle class passenger longs for: “You’ve been upgraded”.
Suddenly I’m in flight heaven. Thank you again, nice Emirates lady. I want to hug you too.