24th March 2003
Departure Airport: GZM
Arrival Airport: MLA
Flight Number: R5 907, 3:30pm
Aircraft: Mil Mi-8P, LZ-CAX
I arrived at Xewkija Heliport some forty five minutes ahead of departure, strictly speaking not enough time if I wanted to check through to my final destination here. But, a big disappointment awaited me at the check-in desk as I presented my tickets. 'Not an Air Malta flight?', the agent asked me. I replied that no, my onward flight isn't KM
. 'So you have to check-in again in Malta.', he responded. While I wasn't happy, I thought it would be tolerable. How wrong I was! I didn't know what would come.
I sat around while the three other passengers on the flight arrived and some twenty minutes before departure we were called in to security. The screener opened my full backpack and seemed content with the shirt I had folded at its top, so he closed it again. I set off the metal detector and was about to take off my heavy stainless steel watch and walk through again but when the screener saw me do this, he stopped me with a loud 'Oh, don't bother!'. The other passengers received much the same scrutiny (please note my sarcasm) and we sat at the gate.
As we boarded the chopper, I noticed that the flight attendant was different than my last two flights. She had a very funny hairstyle, and I had the impression that she would have been more adapted to a circus than an aircraft anyway. She welcomed us with her Bulgarian accent and shut the doors. Shortly afterwards, there was the well-known vacuum cleaner noise as the chopper started its engines and we took off in no time.
The flight was rather jerky since a grigal
wind was blowing, but this did not seem to interrupt the flight attendant's busy changing of the headrest covers of the vacant seats. We landed on time, surprisingly at the end of runway 14, which is not the usual landing place of the chopper. As we boarded the bus, I was given back my suitcase and told to leave the bus at its 'second stop', i.e. at the departures lounge of Malta International Airport.
24th March 2003
Departure Airport: MLA
Arrival Airport: PRG
Flight Number: 8F 2202, 5:20pm
Aircraft: Boeing 737-33A, OK-FUN
I entered the check-in area hoping to find a short queue since this was some two hours before the flight. I was wrong. I was the last person to stand in an extremely long check-in queue (only two counters were open), and it took me a good half hour to get my turn. Imagine my delight.
I offered both my passports to the check-in agent (who was, for once, the sort of person you want to meet at airports - friendly and polite) but she picked my Czech saying that it's 'better', and in a way she made sense because Maltese citizens are not allowed to fly on charters other than Air Malta. I went a bit red though because I don't take much pride in being a Czech citizen and try to avoid using my Czech passport where possible. I got a window seat, 4A, and went up the stairs to passport control and security.
The former was problem-free. My Czech passport bears an 'exempt person' stamp which means that I do not have to leave Malta within three months of arriving (I know it's absurd if you consider that I'm a Maltese citizen), so I was not checked in detail. Now I feel I need to dedicate quite a lot of this report to security. In my past two reports, I had written how much better M.I.A.'s security department is now than it used to be before. Sadly, I have to withdraw this judgement. The checkpoint was an utter chaos.
I waited in line for some fifteen minutes before even getting my turn. And mind you, the line could have been a lot shorter. While two x-ray machines were in operation, only one of the two metal detectors was being used. Now that, in such a heavy traffic situation, is what I call sheer incompetence. Worse still, the screeners were all extremely rude. As I reached the x-ray machine, the bald gentleman sitting next to it snarled 'Jacket' at me through his teeth, which was supposed to be a request for me to pass my jacket through the machine. I left my watch on, on purpose, because I was determined to give these arrogant people a hard time. The metal detector gave me its inevitable beep as I walked through, and I approached the nearest wand-equipped screener, who ignored me. 'Over here, sir!', yelled another screener at me from some five feet away. He proceeded to give me a very thorough wanding and pat down. With not even a 'thank you', I was allowed to pick up my belongings from the conveyor. To make my already big anger even greater, I found that the basket I had emptied my pockets into had turned upside down and my mobile phone, wallet and chewing gum were rolling loosely down the roller table. Well, let me make this short. I have just one thing to say to the people who were working this security shift: messkom tisthu
(you should be ashamed of yourself)!
Overcome by memories of my previous flight, my first stop was the newsagent shop and my heart jumped when I saw that sitting at the cash point was my... erm... acquaintance... Dianne. I picked up a magazine which mum asked me to bring for her and went to pay. I was absolutely delighted when Dianne recognized me (and even remembered that my name is Michael) and asked me how I was. I summed up my overall depression and the anger of that afternoon in a few words and Dianne gave me some much needed soothing words and encouragement as well as several of her lovely smiles. As we chatted, I mentioned having to get mum something for her birthday, and I asked her to suggest something - not much one can get someone who's being treated in an ITU long-term. She suggested an eau de toilette and I went to choose one at the duty free shop. I settled on Flower by Kenzo and went back to chat with Dianne. As I said in my last report, she's one of those people I could talk to all the time. We did have a slight clash of opinions on the EU, however - I tend to be in favour while she is one of the people who definitely oppose it. She turned out to be Maltese-Australian, and as a last resort, she always has the option to move back to the country where she was born and spent the first fifteen years of her life.
As I was about to leave, I gathered up my courage and asked to take a picture with her. Her first reaction was utter disbelief - u ejja!
(c'mon!), but I told her that I want a few people to be jealous of me and she told me to wait while she put on some lipstick biex jghiru iktar
(to make them even more jealous). When I got my photo (available on request), we gave each other a caw caw
and I went to my gate.
Boarding started shortly, and we had to walk to the plane - obviously Mr Fischer was cost-cutting and the Lm60 charge per bus ride from terminal to plane stand seemed excessive. I was expecting to hear Celine Dion as boarding music, which is what I remembered on Fischer Air two years back, but instead, Abba's 'Fernando' was what I heard. As we sat down, we were offered welcome drinks by cabin crew - either juice or champagne. And since this was offered to just the first few rows, I started to wonder whether or not I was sitting in Business.
The safety announcement, spoken (not recorded), was rather eloquent in Czech and incomprehensible in English. Fischer's cabin crews usually don't possess a very good knowledge of English, and to hide it, they speak very fast. I fought back a tumult of emotions understandable only to myself and almost burst into tears (depression is not a nice thing) as the plane's engines roared and we took off, ahead of schedule, and I saw the land I call home disappear slowly.
Our main course was Chicken a la Pheasant with rice, vegetable salad, choice of cheeses and an apple pie. Finally, I got a hot meal on one of my flights, and the food was very good with the exception of the dry pie. The dishes were rather worn and not nice, too. There were two coffee services, and the lavatory which I visited was clean and well-equipped. I asked the purser whether I could leave the plane last and take cabin shots and he was extremely polite and said that most certainly yes.
Shortly before landing, we were offered some mineral water and I chatted to the gentleman next to me who had been on holiday in Malta - it's always interesting to hear the opinions people have of my country. We landed exactly on time and taxied to Pier B, where I waited for the plane to empty itself and took my pictures with the full co-operation of the purser. I then proceeded through a rather speedy passport control and picked up my baggage, and was met by my cousin in the arrivals hall.
12th April 2003
Departure Airport: PRG
Arrival Airport: MXP
Flight Number: OK 718, 7:35am
Aircraft: Boeing 737-55S, OK-XGE
Prague airport was shrouded in a very thick fog this morning, and no wonder, the check-in desks opened very late. The smile-less agent made me brood yet again on why so many airline jobs go to people who visibly don't give a f*ck about them. Passport control was very slow - of course, these days there's the excuse of the war. But in any case, many more desks could have been opened.
I was surprised that the security checkpoint was using one of the old single-zone Metorex metal detectors and not the shiny new multi-zone example which was standing a few feet away. Oh well, not my business after all. I made an attempt to remove all metal objects on me but I set off the detector anyway, and it didn't really make a difference either: a rather pretty and well-dressed but surly young lady (how naive of me to expect smiles in the Czech Republic) was wanding everyone without distinction, waving her wand aggressively but not reacting to the alarms. Weird.
A few minutes before our scheduled flight time, we were told that the flight was delayed and further information would be given at 8am. But instead, they let us sit and wait till 9am when we were allowed to board. A predominantly female cabin crew (just one male) handed out some water and juice, and we were finally allowed to take off at 9:45am.
Shortly, we got our 'light breakfast': two slices of ham, one of cheese, some bread rolls, butter, jam and fruit salad. Well, nothing special, but not so bad after all. I was happy to see that the drink I got was a normal size can, and not the hamster-sized can Air Malta gives out. Then we got a rather tasty coffee. Cabin crew cleared up wearing gloves - the first airline I've seen that does this, and in my opinion it is a very subtle hint that CSA is disgusted with its passengers.
We landed at Malpensa at 11.55am, and went through the transit checkpoint, where the lady behind the x-ray machine's monitors seemed to be asleep and her wand-equipped colleague had to wake her up with a loud 'Monica!!!'. Surprise... I set off the detector. But I was allowed to go off after a very quick wanding. Dad and I sat around in one of the lounges, which had adequate seating space, until the gate for our next flight appeared on the monitors.
12th April 2003
Departure Airport: MXP
Arrival Airport: MLA
Flight Number: AZ 884, 3pm
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas MD-82, I-DAVM
We boarded through one of the non-jetway gates and were bussed to our plane, one of Alitalia's many 'Super 80's. But I cannot complain. Our seats were in the extended business class cabin, four abreast, so we had very generous seating space. Overall, I have to give Alitalia a very high rating. The plane was clean, the in-flight magazine is amazingly thick and rich in content, flight attendants are very professional and well groomed.
We took off on time and our meal was handed out shortly. This consisted of, yet again, cheese, ham (not pork though), a cheese sandwich, water, juice and butter. The most interesting part was probably the surprisingly large and delicious slice of lemon cake. Coffee was a bit too strong for my tastes.
For the rest of the flight, I just relaxed in my very wide seat and thought about why the Maltese passengers on the flight are so loud and unruly. Oh well...
We landed on time, and since this pencil is equipped with in-built stairways, we did not have to wait for stairways to arrive. I was intentionally among the last to disembark, and asked one of the flight attendants whether I could take a photo of the cabin. The lady I asked seemed very surprised and asked why, and on my mention of the word internet she went to the captain. She came back with a negative answer. Well, I thanked her anyway but this was the first time in my life I was refused permission to shoot a cabin picture.
The 'Maltese Passports' desk was, as usual, quick, and I was through in no time and had to wait for dad as he was sandwiched in the non-Maltese queue between some British tourists. Our bags arrived reasonably quickly, and we went to pick up our helicopter tickets from the Air Malta sales office.
12th March 2003
Departure Airport: MLA
Arrival Airport: GZM
Flight Number: R5 907, 3:30pm
Aircraft: Mil Mi-8P, LZ-CAX
I don't have much to say about this flight except for the fact that, surprisingly, the helicopter was full! We were checked in and guided through security, which was a bit better this time. I set off the metal detector and, seeing that I spoke Maltese to her, the lady with the wand was very polite and let me off quickly.
We took off ten minutes behind schedule and the tourists who were flying with us were delighted at the panorama the helicopter flight offers - and indeed, Malta from the air is spectacular. They were all busily filming it with their cameras and taking pictures. We landed at Xewkija Heliport, got our bags back and now... here I am, home again!