It's a pleasure to be able to post on here, i've followed here for many years but have not had the experience to reply to posts, or simply not had anything worthy enough of me starting a topic for. But now, ladies and gents, Im losing my A.Net virginity writing about our nightmarish trip back from Portugal a few days ago.
You may have seen in the news about Monarch's horrific breakdown at Birmingham, delaying flights, cancelling flights and having aircraft/crews/pax nightstop in random places because of crews running out of hours, all simply due to a check-in computer failure.
Thankfully for me, I was on holiday in Faro, Portugal with my family when it happened, and we hoped the knock-on effects wouldn't hit us.
How wrong was I.
Anyway, having checked in online 24 hours before, myself and my family found ourselves in row 20 ABCDEF, and 21 ABCD, yes, big family I know
You might say that's why we are flying the luxurious airline that is Monarch, and not TAP or BA Club (Just kidding, I was actually a big fan of Monarch, being Vantage Club Gold).
We arrived at Faro airport 4pm, in plenty of time for our 5:35pm departure.
I was unaware that the Monarch meltdown was strictly for Birmingham, and I saw on the board departures to Manchester departing early and London Gatwick departing right on time. As I scrolled my eyes across the board, my heart sunk as I saw:
ZB 407 - 17:35 - Birmingham - Next Information 19:35.
I proceeded to the check-in desk with my family, to drop our luggage off, where a LOOOONG queue snaked around the brightly coloured Purple "Monarch" barriers. For nearly 40 minutes, we watched 2 desperate Portugese Swissport workers try and check-in a bunch of angry Brummies.
Soon it was our turn, and I handed over our boarding passes and passports. "No boarding passes, just passports please" she said. "Online check-in is no longer valid, airport check in only".
Ah okay, so the £15 each we paid to pre-book seats for the convenience of online check-in was well and truly wasted. Hey-ho, could be worse.
After tapping away on her Windows 98 computer for a good 10 minutes, she checked our bags through to BHX, and handed us boarding passes for row 3ABC, 4EF, 16ABC and 23AB. Not together, maybe a blessing in disguise as you might say, I love my family loads, but they're an annoying bunch at the best of times.
As we left the desk, I quickly asked, how come the aircraft is delayed? "Because of the system failure in Birmingham".
Should have guessed really shouldn't I, I was hoping for something a little more exciting like a broken toilet or a busted ash tray which nobody can use nor see.
Anyway, a little annoyed but not particularly bothered, we proceeded to the departure lounge. Ourselves and the rest of the 193 passengers travelling home this evening waited patiently, most enjoying a few final beers before heading back to work in rainy England.
19:35 rolled around pretty quickly, and 193 rather merry Monarch passengers waded over to the specified gate where the Swissport staff agreed to update us. At 20:15, a lone swissport agent rocked up, and announced that flight is departing at 22:00. Then, single handedly, this poor woman handed out €6 food vouchers to each and every passenger. A €6 voucher in an airport where the cheapest sandwich I saw was about €8. The process took a while but it was done eventually.
99% of the passengers headed to the nearest alcohol outlet, and tested the €6 voucher in exchange for a pint. Being English, none of them read the small print, and in exchange for their €6 voucher they received a €5 pint, then proceeded to argue with the un-interested waitress where their one euro change was, or in one case, 5 euros change, I don't think he was in a state to spell his own name let alone work out 6 minus 5.
22:00 rolled around painfully slowly, but eventually, at just after 10pm, "G-ZBAM" a very shiny, very yellow, and quite good looking A321-200S came bounding down the runway, and pulled up to a remote stand just next to the terminal.
The worn out looking pax disembarked onto buses, and shortly after, boarding was called. We boarded onto buses, and we driven swiftly to the rear steps of this Airbus.
We parted ways, and I boarded via the rear stairs, and sat with my youngest son in row 23.
We were greeted onboard by a young girl who looked like she was about to collapse, that bad that not only myself but other passengers infront and behind me asked "Are you feeling okay?" "Are you alright?" etc etc.
All the passengers were very aware this incident is nothing to do with the crew onboard, and i'm glad that it seemed nobody took any anger out on them whatsoever, they've had a lot longer day than we had.
But then, the second drama of the day unfolded. Just as boarding finished and the young girl at the back slammed the rear door shut, among the darkness of the airport, and the light in the cabin came a tired, and fed-up voice over the PA. "Ladies and Gentlemen from the flight deck this is the First Officer speaking, I hate to add insult to injury, but it appears there is a problem with a light over the emergency exit at doors 3, those of you sat nearby may be able to see it (I Could, it was just flickering on/off). As this is would be a safety issue in the unlikely event of an emergency, we will need to get this looked at, please accept my most sincere apologies for this, we want to get away as much as you do".
And with a sarcastic cheer from a group of lads in the middle of the aircraft, that was that. We waited patiently for an engineer to arrive.
The cabin crew distributed cups of water to everybody, and tried their best to keep calm among the cabin.
Soon enough, an engineer bearing a TAP Air Portugal high vis jacket boarded, and walked down the cabin while holding up his trousers. He grunted at the crew, and them proceeded to try and "fix" the light.
It was like watching something out of Only Fools and Horses (A hilarious UK TV Show for our international friends
) watching this bloke try and fix a light with what was evidently not the correct tools.
All this time I might add, the passengers who were sat at the emergency exit, we told to "move" by the engineer, so were stood at the bottom of the stairs to the front of the aircraft, on the tarmac.
After nearly an hour and a half, he shook his head to the Cabin Manager, who seemed puzzled that he couldn't do it, and waddled back to the front and off the aircraft.
It was here when things started to turn against the crew, who in fairness had done their best.
Faro airport was about to close, and the crew would not be able to wait for another engineer to come a fix the light as they were about to go out of hours.
The call was made, with much hostility, for us to disembark the aircraft and back onto buses.
At 11:47pm on the dot, the young girl at the back struggled to open the back door, and soon enough 193 even angrier passengers walked down onto buses. I noticed one strange thing here, those of you who are familiar with Monarch will know the female crew wear those little Blue/Pink/Yellow scarves around their neck, I now noticed the all-female crew had removed these scarves. Is this because they were expecting trouble? A safety issue for them perhaps??
Anyway, we were soon bussed into the arrivals hall, where we collected our bags, and were briefed by the few Swissport staff that were around, along with 2 uniformed Monarch staff.
All of us would be put into hotels for the night.
Honestly, I felt so bad for these 2 monarch girls as they had such a hard time trying to sort it out, and it wasn't helped by the drunken antics of many passengers shouting at them, pushing them, and some of them playing around in the arrivals hall with baggage trolleys and on the belts (Which in all honesty, was funny at the time).
I was given a printed sheet for myself and my family, and we were put onto "Bus 2". We didn't know where we were going, how long it would take or anything really, all we were told is that we would be given an updated departure time in the morning, and we would be provided with meals and drinks at the hotel.
Knowing they needed what I believed is 12 hours rest, many passengers saw the chance at a few extra hours in Portugal at the airlines expense as a good thing. After driving what seemed forever, we arrived at our hotel at just after 3am. The hotel itself was actually OK, i've read online people crying to the news outlets that Monarch had us all in mouldy, horrible rooms with rats, but infact it was quite the opposite and I believe these people may be after a bit of attention, however like I say, I cannot speak for the other 2 hotels.
The hotel was OK, the rooms were 2 people to each room, we were given 1 litre bottles of water each before we settled in for the night.
I was woken at 6am by a text saying our new scheduled departure time was 1600, and transport would pick us up at 1300.
I got my head back down until 8am, and I headed down to breakfast, to see an deserted dining hall.
No other passengers had woken up in time it seems.
Most of the morning was spent calling work explaining the drama for some, others catching up on sleep, and the rest catching on the last of the sun by the pool.
At 1300 on the dot, our coach departed for the airport. As we approached the airport we could see the golden tail of "BAM" glowing the sunlight, aswell as "BAE" which had arrived from Manchester, parked next to it. We arrived at Faro airport just short of an hour later, we were the last of the 3 coaches to arrive.
ZB 407 - Birmingham - 1600 - Go to desks 35-39.
Brilliant, we would be heading home once and for all. The atmosphere in the check in area was alot more friendly, everybody seeming to calm overnight with the situation.
We checked in our bags, received the same boarding passes as yesterday and headed through to the departure lounge. Boarding was to commence at 1520.
At 1500, all passengers from ZB407 were told to go to the information desk.
The crew, being driven from their hotel to Faro airport, had been involved in a car accident, therefore, there was no crew to operate our flight, and were hereby delayed once again.
I'm very glad to say, that nobody really said anything, we understood the situation, we didn't know to what extent they had been injured, or for all we knew they might have been killed, so everybody simply hoped they were okay and waited patiently for more information, as they were nothing but fantastic to us the night before. We were then handed a €10 food voucher, and found somewhere to eat/drink.
At 1800, we were once again called to the information desk, 193 again, rather merry passengers huddled around the desk, and we were told another aircraft is being flown from the UK, and departure is now at 2200, 100%, no more delays, no more dramas.
Alas, at 21:15, boarding was called, and we boarded onto buses once again. Confused, as there were no Monarch aircraft in sight, we drove towards a Thomas Cook A321 (G-TCDV), and we boarded onto this.
We were welcomed onboard by a Thomas Cook crew, and took our seats.
All announcements were "On behalf of Monarch" or "Operated by Thomas Cook on Behalf of Monarch". So it was obviously chartered by Monarch, who had no spare aircraft in their already stretched fleet of Airbus'.
From here, there were no more delays and no more dramas to report.
At 22:05, we blasted into the dark Portugese sky, and made a right turn heading North.
Like most passengers, I fell asleep at this point.
I'm told, there was a normal TCX Buy-on-board service offered to all pax.
After just short of 2.5 hours of flight time, we arrived into Birmingham just past 23:30.
We were welcomed back to Birmingham, where it was absolutely howling it down with rain.
Our bags arrived, and we made our way home, nearly 30 hours later than we should have been.
I have no grudges against Monarch for this, I am still a loyal ZB customer, I think they dealt with this situation well where they could, in the form of the 2 girls at Faro, and the crew onboard, then to chartering a TCX aircraft instead of making us wait. Of course, there are possibly better ways they could have handled the situation, but, what can we do about that eh?
Thanks for reading, all comments welcome!