Saturday, October 17, 2009

Salford, a plane door that wouldn’t close, and a Chinese restaurant with a long memory

Last week was frantic. On top of a busy week in work, I was over in Salford on Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday. This district of Manchester is part way through a massive regeneration.

Out of the derelict Manchester Docks in the shadow of Old Trafford football ground has emerged Salford Quays. The hotel room overlooked the waterways, modern high rise apartments, The Lowry centre and MediaCityUK.

Night time view over Salford Quays

From the top of The Lowry, the MediaCityUK complex can clearly be seen which will include the BBC buildings that will house five major BBC departments (Sport, 5 Live, Children's programmes, Learning, Future Media & Technology) moving north from London by 2011.

MediaCityUK emerges at Salford Quays in Manchester - October 2009

A far cry from the time when it looked like a continuation of the Coronation Street set, and no doubt a considerable distance from redeveloping a thriving local community spirit.

With the alarm clock ringing at 04:15, Thursday morning was meant to involve catching the 06:30 flight from Belfast International to Gatwick, a train journey into Blackfriars, and the start of a two day workshop.

All went well until the hinge broke when a member of the cabin crew who had perhaps breakfasted on spinach closed the front left door. With no spare hinges in stock in Belfast, the solution looked like a short delay while the door was sealed and then everyone piling down to the back of the plane to sit in-between the working over wing and rear emergency exits.

But this fine plan was overruled by the weight distribution graph that predicted that the aircraft’s tail might hit the runway as we took off. So the pilot came out of the cockpit and delivered the bad news from the cabin, explaining all that had gone wrong and the consequences. It was a master-class in how to deliver bad news.

Flight departure screen showing cancelled flight

The flight was cancelled, and everyone was ushered back to security to make their way back to a check-in desk to rebook onto later flights. That’s the point that it really all went wrong. Security wouldn’t let us out. Menzies ground staff were scolded for even suggesting we walk back through the security area. Eventually security found a key for a door and escorted us all out to the public concourse.

With half an hour’s notice it all seemed a bit of a shock for the staff when 95 of us arrived at check-in desk 15. Some went home, many of us booked onto the 10:15 to Stansted, and others onto the afternoon flight to Gatwick. While the “happy path” process for boarding a plane seems well understood, the ground crew seemed a lot less sure about the “unhappy path” process to follow when things went wrong.

An hour later, while I sat scoffing the tea and a muffin that a £3 airline food voucher can buy, the tannoy announced a two and a half hour delay to the 10:15 Stansted flight. The plane I’d originally boarded was meant to fly Belfast -> Gatwick -> Belfast -> Stansted. With non plane arriving in Gatwick, there was an inevitable delay moving the “spare” plane down from another airport, which delayed the Gatwick -> Belfast arrival, and consequently delayed my replacement flight to Stansted.

cabin crew closing the door on an easyJet flight

Another voucher, a plane with a standby crew and a front door with a working hinge (pictured), I arrived in central London some six hours after I intended to. The last two hours of the first day’s workshop turned out to be very worthwhile – even though I was exhausted.

BT Tower viewed from St Giles hotel in central London

The pinnacle of the day was wandering across to Yung’s in Chinatown. They still recognised me and still remembered by usual order. Not bad after a nine month absence.

And back to a grim hotel with a familiar view.


ScatterCode said...

OH! My friend Sean was on that flight too. Just so you know.

Unknown said...

Sounds like quite the adventure! I've never had the 'joy' of having to go back through the terminal - only very long delays on occasion - how does the re-booking process work? Do they charge extra for a change of destination?

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

No charge. Check in desk moved us onto whatever next flight made most sense. Some waited for the next Gatwick flight, others of us chose the next Stansted to get into London faster. No charge. Just had to hand over old boarding card and show id.