I took this trip to get to Brno to visit my mum has been in hospital there since the 11th of January.
21st February 2003
Departure Airport: GZM
Arrival Airport: MLA
Flight Number: R5 905, 11:30am
Aircraft: Mil Mi-8P, LZ-CAX
I arrived at Xewkija Heliport around an hour and fifteen minutes before scheduled departure time because in order to have my luggage checked through to Vienna directly, I had to check in at least an hour before the flight. The heliport was deserted in terms of passengers but it did look overstaffed and employees of various types were all having a loud conversation in the waiting area.
I made my way to the check-in desk where I was immediately seen to and the whole check in process was very fast and efficient. My suitcase got a tag which read 'to VIE
, via MLA
' and I was issued with two printed boarding passes. Both had the Malta Aircharter logo on them and one said 'Gozo to Malta' and was intended for the helicopter flight and the other was for my onward flight to Vienna, however it was clearly marked Gozo Heliport. I asked the check-in agent whether I could board first in order to take a picture of the chopper and he told me that strictly speaking photography is forbidden but I need not worry, I would have ample time to take my photo while boarding.
I sat down and took out my Airliner World magazine and started reading. The check-in agent walked past several times looking at my magazine and then he came over and asked me whether I'm an aircraft enthusiast, to which I answered yes, and he gave me two rather recent airline magazines. I was really surprised at this (in a positive way) and thanked him warmly, and he said that should I need anything else I shouldn't hesitate and talk to him.
At around 11.05am one of the staff gestured to me to come over to the gate and pass through security. Actually, this involved placing my backpack and jacket on a table and him just taking a quick peek inside without really searching because there's no x-ray machine at Xewkija. Then I walked through the metal detector and set it off. To my amazement, the screener produced a hand-held metal detector from a cabinet and gave me a very quick scan after which I sat down at the gate while he walked off to do some other flight-related stuff.
Yet another example of friendliness from Xewkija Heliport staff was to follow: I was offered a Polo by a member of the Armed Forces who was at the gate. The helicopter landed shortly and the two arriving passengers disembarked. A few minutes afterwards, when their luggage was returned to them, I was allowed to board. While doing so, I took the picture of the chopper.
A friendly and rather pretty flight attendant welcomed me on board and advised me that the left side is better to sit on for viewing. I found myself a good seat and she shut the door, because as it turned out, I was the only passenger on the flight! She made a safety briefing and sat down in the front row, and the helicopter went rocking wildly as the pilots started the engines. We took off on the spot at 11.25am, five minutes ahead of schedule.
Now I must say that I had not been on the helicopter for about seven years and quite forgot what Malta from the air looks like - it's absolutely beautiful! We flew above the Gozo Channel and I could see the ferries shuttling between Malta and Gozo, then our flight proceeded above the south coast of Malta, first over Gnejna Bay, then Ghajn Tuffieha and finally over Dingli Cliffs. Eventually, Malta International Airport appeared in sight and we landed at 11.40am and taxied to the apron near the old disused terminal, where sister ship LZ
-CAR was parked up along with Air Malta 320s 9H
-ADY - there's not so many flights at this time of the year.
I asked the flight attendant whether I could take a cabin shot and was allowed to do so, and since the bus which was supposed to take me to the new terminal had not arrived yet, I stayed chatting with her for a few minutes. She turned out to be Bulgarian and had formerly flown for Balkan and JAT, and her contract with R5
was due to expire on 10th March. However, she brought up a good point in saying that for a female, a job as a flight attendant is merely temporary because at some point in life she will get married and have children and will no longer have the time. The bus arrived, I wished her all the best for the future (which she reciprocated since I'm a sixth form student and will be sitting important exams in less than two months) and was driven to Malta International Airport's main terminal building.
21st February 2003
Departure Airport: MLA
Arrival Airport: VIE
Flight Number: KM 512, 3.45pm
Aircraft: Boeing 737-382, 9H-ADM
Contrary to my expectations, I was dropped off airside at Arrivals. I entered the terminal and saw incoming passengers queuing for passport control, which was obviously not relevant to me because my flight had been domestic. So I found the closest person who was sitting near Transit and told him that I had arrived from Gozo. He asked me for my passport and boarding card and went to one of the passport control desks, had my passport and boarding card stamped for me and sent me through transit.
A sole security screener awoke from his slumber in a chair and sat behind the x-ray machine's monitors at the transit checkpoint. I placed all my belongings on the conveyor and walked through the metal detector. I set it off and he told me to wait for a while, and when he was finished with my bags, he came over to scan me with the hand-held. That was over in a few seconds and I entered the gate area, angry for having almost four hours to spend somewhere where there's hardly anything to do. My first stop was the snack bar where I ate an overpriced cheese sandwich, and then I went over to the newsagent, which I certainly don't regret doing.
I asked the girl behind the counter who was nibbling some crisps whether she has any books because I was desperate to fill up my time. I picked one and went to pay, and I got into a chat with the girl... she was absolutely beautiful and one of those naturally flirtatious types with whom I could hold a conversation all day without getting bored of it, and we started talking about Gozo (she turned out to have many relatives here) and what we do in our lives. I left her to her work and sat down reading my book, but in an hour or so, I had an overwhelming desire to eat something sweet, and, I admit, to see the girl once again. So I went back to the newsagent shop and picked two Mars bars and some candies, which shocked the girl who couldn't believe that I'd eat them all at once, and we had a chat about dieting and weight control, smoking and finally acne. My jaw dropped when she told me that she's 31, I thought she was definitely not older than 25. I made a quick mental calculation and decided that my own age times two minus one year is not a good equation for the age of a girlfriend, so I banished the thought of exchanging phone numbers. She wished me 'buon viaggio' with a lovely twinkle in her eye and boarding started quite soon. (As an aside note, I was quite surprised to see her selling razor blades and a lighter to some passengers while I was talking to her, because the former is common sense and the latter is explicitly stated as 'not allowed' in hand luggage on the posters they have at check-in and security.)
I could not help it, but the two gate agents who arrived reminded me of horses. Nevertheless, they were very polite and efficient, despite the fact that the boarding card scanner got jammed two or three times. We were bussed to our aircraft and I found my seat (7F). Sadly the overhead bins were full, so I had to stow my things in row 5, to the annoyance of the passengers sitting there. My seat was next to an Austrian gentleman, who, seeing my passport, welcomed me with 'Ah, ein Malteser!'. I must complain though, the leg room was not adequate and I experienced sidewall hugging. Furthermore, my safety card was missing and the air vents were not on so the plane became unbearably hot.
Safety briefing was played in Maltese and German, and hats down to Air Malta because the Maltese briefing is absolutely devoid of the anglicisms which we unfortunately encounter every day in Malta. We took off some fifteen minutes behind schedule.
The food service was extremely boring. Everything was cold, and the main dish consisted of some mixed vegetables, some salmon, two slices of something which looked like turkey ham (but I can't be sure), and alongside there was a bun, cheese, butter and an appalingly dry and tasteless cake. When drinks were handed out I asked for Diet Coke, but I could only get regular Pepsi. On a more positive note, the coffee was very good by Air Malta standards.
The Austrian passengers who made up the majority of the plane were being very unruly and blocking the aisle for cabin crew and trolleys. I managed to squeeze through to the lavatory which was clean and well maintained, although there was just one small bar of soap. The duty free sales took place a few minutes later, and seeing that everyone was ordering extra drinks, I asked for a glass of water which was handed to me by the only female flight attendant.
We landed in Vienna some two minutes ahead of schedule and a loud roar of clapping followed. Our aircraft taxied to the gate and all passengers disembarked, I got off last and took a cabin picture as I had arranged to do with the cabin crew beforehand. I then proceeded through passport control (got no stamp), picked up my luggage which arrived almost immediately and was met by my dad and one of his friends and we all drove to Brno, Czech Republic, the final destination for the day.
5th March 2003
Departure Airport: VIE
Arrival Airport: MLA
Flight Number: KM 513, 10:30am
Aircraft: Boeing 737-2Y5 Advanced, 9H-ABF
I woke up at around 4am and got on a bus to Vienna airport which left Brno at 6am. We got there at 8am and I found my check-in desk which said 'Opens at 8.30am', so I sat down and ate something because I was starving.
A check-in agent arrived five minutes before the opening time and I proceeded to stand in the short queue which had formed. Eventually I got my turn and the agent found that I had a connecting flight to Gozo later in the afternoon so she asked whether she could check me through and I said that I hoped that everything would be okay. My luggage got tagged 'to GZM
, via MLA
' and I got my boarding card. The check-in agent told me that this was the first time in her life she had seen a Maltese passport and I told her that there has to be a first time for everything.
I went into the gates area and decided I would not be buying anything in the retail area, so I passed through passport control (again, no stamp) to the A gates. When I found out that there's nowhere I can sit down, I deeply regretted it because I was forced to stand for the next hour!
Now Vienna adopts an unconventional layout, arriving and departing passengers mix together and the only place to which only departing passengers have access is the gate, a tiny area with a few seats. Rather than a large security checkpoint, each gate has its own x-ray machine and metal detector which open some thirty minutes before the flight. I can't help it but this makes it seem that security is an afterthought rather than a priority at Vienna airport.
As soon as it opened, I made my way through security, and because a screener instructed me to take off my watch, I did not set off the metal detector this time! I sat down and chatted with an Australian-Maltese who was on his way to see his dad who had had a heart attack. My pulse rate went up to around 200 when I saw that the plane taxiing in had pencil-like engines. Could it be my beloved 9H
? It turned out to be 9H
-ABF, but it was a 732 all the same.
We boarded and this time my window seat was comfortable, and besides, there was noone in the two seats next to me, so I had adequate space. Leg room was very good. Safety instructions were played and we pushed back and taxied to the runway. We took off behind two Fokker 70s, some twenty minutes behind schedule.
The meal was a disappointment yet again. There was exactly the same salmon as on my outbound flight and some salad made from an unidentifiable vegetable, some cheese, a bun, butter, galletti and some chocolate cake which was the only thing which tasted good. My request for a diet drink was fulfilled this time as I got Diet Pepsi, and coffee was once again quite good and what's more - it was served twice!
When our trays were cleared up, I went to the aft lavatory which seemed much less clean and more worn than the rest of the cabin, and there was no soap at all to wash my hands with. I returned to my seat and spent the rest of the flight in a trance state which is what I get when I'm very tired but there's too much noise around me to fall asleep.
We landed exactly on time, full flaps and thrust reversers deployed, and braking was extremely fast and forceful. This produced a roar of clapping even louder than my outbound flight, despite there being much less passengers. We parked and got airstairs almost immediately, were bussed to the terminal and I cleared passport control very quickly.
As I entered the baggage reclaim area, I went to talk to the girl at the Baggage Services girl and asked her whether my suitcase would really be checked through to Gozo. She told me that unfortunately because there's no customs facility at GZM
, I'd still have to pick it up at MLA
and check it in again. So I waited for it to arrive and went out into the arrivals lounge through the 'nothing to declare' area of customs.
5th March 2003
Departure Airport: MLA
Arrival Airport: GZM
Flight Number: R5 906, 2.30pm
Aircraft: Mil Mi-8P, LZ-CAX
I went to the Air Malta sales office in the departures lounge and told the sales representative that I had booked a helicopter ticket to Gozo and came to pick it up. She printed me the ticket (which was pre-printed as Air Malta Charter Ticket) and told me that check-in would be at desk number 25, opening at 2pm. Seeing that I had over an hour to go, I went up to the viewing gallery, though there was nothing to view except for the plane I had arrived on and a Lufthansa A321 - incidentally this was the first time I actually saw an A321 in real life. I had a coffee with milk there and sat for around fifteen minutes. Then I went back down to the departures lounge and waited for the check-in desk to open.
An Air Malta agent with curly hair checked me and the other passengers in (there were eight of us in all) and told us to wait for her at the side of the lounge. Five minutes before the scheduled departure time she told us that our flight would be delayed slightly because the helicopter had not yet returned from its sightseeing flight. Eventually she came back and she led us through passport control and the main security checkpoint. Once again I set off the metal detector but since this was a domestic flight I received minimal secondary screening. I was told to wait at gate 5 while the others cleared security.
While I was standing there and waiting, I noticed a familiar looking female, something like 5'7" in height, bronze hair, tanned skin, wearing a uniform... for the second time that day my pulse rate went up to 200 because I realized that this was the newsagent girl. I had an urge to do something, approach her, talk to her or whatever, but she ran out through security, disappeared in the distance and returned with a paper in her hand, going back to the newsagent shop and removing the 'back in five minutes' sign she had put up. I felt utterly helpless for not being able to talk to her because I realized the Air Malta agent would certainly not like it if I were to leave the gate. Indeed, before I could do anything, she waved us all into the bus which was waiting outside the gate and we drove towards the old apron where LZ
-CAX and sister ship LZ
-CAR were standing.
As I boarded the helicopter, I noticed that the same flight attendant from my outbound flight was present and she greeted me with 'You're back already?', recognizing me. I found a seat at the very back of the chopper, next to the emergency exit - a good choice, because it does not have the ghastly ventilation vents like the other windows.
We took off at 2.45pm and the flight was uneventful. However, I realized what the smell inside the helicopter reminded me of: the preserved Avia Av-14 at Uherske Hradiste airport museum which is a regular site of pilgrimage for me every year. It didn't make me feel a lot better though...
We made a smooth landing at GZM
fifteen minutes later and my mum's friend Josette, who is a travel agent, was waiting for me. While we were waiting for our things, she chatted with some of my fellow passengers because it turned out that she had issued their flight tickets. I was really happy when I got home and was able to take a nap because I desperately needed it after such a long day of travelling.