On Monday last I concluded a fantastic weekend at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival of contemporary performing arts with a day driving around Somerset, a visit to the Roman spa town of Bath, and a showing of Bridesmaids in a Bristol Cinema. The reason that we had so much time to kill between leaving the site and our flight is that on 2 previous occasions we had booked flights too early: at 2pm and 5pm and thanks to inclement weather we had been unable to get off site in time and had missed both flights. The first time this happened we were forced to hire a car, and drive the 5 ½ hours to Holyhead in order to get home. The second time Aer Arran charged us €840 for two last minute one way tickets from Cardiff to Dublin. I was adamant that this wasn’t happening again and so this time we decided to have a lazy day in Somerset and booked the last flight out of Bristol, the 8:30 Aer Lingus Regional to Dublin.
This gave us plenty of time to relax after the festivities of the weekend and still arrive in plenty of time to get our flight.
I have always considered myself an efficient and accommodating flyer. I almost never have carry-on luggage, and if I do it is always below the permitted weight and dimensions. I am always ready with everything out of my pockets at the security check so as to speed up the process for me and for the people standing behind me. I always arrive at the gate in plenty of time, to ensure that I do not hold up the flight, and inconvenience other passengers or the flight crew, and this flight was no exception. Mark, my travelling partner and I arrived in Bristol Airport in plenty of time to return our hire car, check in, travel through security and get to the boarding gate. We were both looking forward to a hot shower and our own bed after a weekend of mud, tents and basic washing facilities. We had walked a good twenty miles over the last couple of days in sucking mud and we were tired. This was the last leg of our journey and we were both relieved to be nearly home.
The flight was operated by Aer Lingus Regional in an ATR 72, a small regional turboprop aircraft and I was very happy to learn that we were seated at the very front of the aircraft which meant that there was no seat in front of me that could be reclined. At 6’7”, I barely fit into standard seats when they are upright, never mind when they are reclined.
We boarded the aircraft, made our way to our seats and sat down, looking forward to the short hop across the Irish Sea. It became immediately apparent however that the cabin attendant was not in the most accommodating mood. As I sat down I took my phone out of my pocket and switched it off for take-off, just as the cabin attendant passed our seats. She leant over and barked in my ear
“I hope that phone is off”
I smiled, nodded my assent and picked up the magazine that I was reading.
A few moments later as the cabin attendant was finishing the safety briefing she once again leant over to me and in a stern tone said:
“You had better have turned off that phone” “If you haven’t the captain will know and he will be able to tell me”
She gave me a fixed stare.
Once again I smiled a little less certainly and certainly less warmly and told her:
The cabin attendant then pulled out the jump seat that directly faces the seat that I was in: 2C and sat down for take-off.
After take-off both cabin attendants moved to the rear of the cabin to get the bar trolley and Mark and I decided that after our day of travel and tourism that we would have a drink. As I had been driving all day we had been unable to have one, and now, with only the flight and a taxi ride ahead of us, we felt a drink was in order.
When the cabin crew pushed the cart to the front of the cabin to begin bar service, the attendant skipped our row and started at the row behind. I looked up and caught her eye, and when she was done serving the row behind I (as pleasantly as I could) asked whether we could get a gin and tonic (for Mark), a double whiskey (for me) and a chicken sandwich. This request was met with a withering look from the attendant, but eventually the drinks were forthcoming. Mark and I counted up all the sterling change that we had, and realised that it would not cover the £19 (€21.10) that the bill came to and so I fished around in my wallet for the euros that I had kept to pay for the taxi ride home. As I proffered the €50 note, the cabin attendant gave me a look as though I was handing her a newly minted turd and barked:
“Have you not got anything smaller?”
To which I replied:
“I’m sorry I don’t”
She then said:
“I can see coins in your hand there, what are they?”
“Yeah, sorry those are sterling coins and I don’t have enough to pay the bill in sterling, I will have to pay in euros”
She then snapped the €50 out of my hand so hard that I literally jumped and barked:
“Right, well you will have to wait until I have change at the end.”
When she had moved on, Mark leant over to me and whispered:
“I can’t believe how rude she is being… I hope that she doesn’t give you back a handful of coins to get back at you”
Bar service continued. Mark and I sipped our drinks and quietly talked about our weekend; the bands we had seen, the people that we had met and how much we were both looking forward to a shower.
Almost at the end of the flight, the other cabin attendant came back to the front of the cabin with my change. As Mark had predicted the attendant offered me my change which came to €28.90 thus:
1 – €20 note and wrapped up in it:
1 – €2 coin
6 – 50 cent coins
15 – 20 cent coins
8 – 10 cent coins
2 – 5 cent coins
As the attendant offered me the change I looked at him incredulously.
“I’m sorry, but can’t you make any better change than that?”
“We can’t, this is all we have.”
Again I looked at him, not touching the change.
“Sorry, but you mean to tell me that you have been all the way through the plane and served all these people, and not one of them has paid with a €5 note? Almost everything on your menu is €5”
“No, please take your change sir, I have things to do”
Realising there was little to be gained by arguing further, I held up my hand and he poured the change into it. Some of the 10 cent coins tumbled onto the floor. I looked up at the cabin attendant again and he gave me a smirk and walked off.
Tired, dirty, 5 minutes from landing, I realised that I just wanted to get home and so forced the handful of change into my pocket as well I could and sat back waiting for yet another perfect Aer Lingus experience to be over.
Whilst I had been looking out of the window at the approach to Dublin, I had stretched my leg out along the side of the bulkhead in front of me and it was now inadvertently lying across the slot where the jump seat folded into when not in use. When the captain gave the order for the cabin crew to take their seats the cabin attendant returned to her jump seat directly opposite me and barked at me once more:
“Move your foot!”
I quickly withdrew my leg and she pulled out her seat and sat down.
When I turned away from looking out the window to look at her, I saw that she was looking at me smirking. She looked away immediately and I stared. I couldn’t believe that she was so openly laughing at how she had got one over on a customer. I looked down at her name badge resolving to make a complaint and when I looked back up at her face she was looking at me again. I gave her what could be best described as a look which clearly displayed my displeasure and was just about to look away again when her dulcet tones pierced the silence again:
“Stop staring at me or I will report you!”
I looked up at her quizzically.
“I am not staring at you, I was noting your name from your name badge so that I can register a complaint about your rudeness and brusque manner, also as you are seated directly opposite me, there is really nowhere else to look than in your direction.”
“Oh, you want my name do you? I’ll write it down for you if you want.”
I looked at her.
“That’s fine thank you, I can remember it”
And then once again:
“Stop staring at me!”
I looked over at Mark. He was looking at her incredulously. I looked back at the attendant, smiled dismissively and then looked back down at the magazine I had on my lap.
Immediately after landing the attendant jumped up from her seat and immediately went into the flight deck. She returned shortly after with a smile on her face and walked back to the back of the cabin. A short announcement followed.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Dublin Airport, there will be a short delay as we wait on another bus to take you to the terminal.”
It was with astonishiment that Mark and I, and all the other passengers on the plane looked out the window 5 minutes later to see the plane surrounded by 5 police cars including 2 canine units with lights flashing and sirens wailing. The call came over the tannoy,
“Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen, you may now disembark.”
Being at the front of the plane, and the exit being at the back, Mark and I were the last people from the plane to disembark. Everyone else had climbed onto the waiting bus and was pressed up against the window looking to see who or what the Airport Police were waiting for. I made my way down the plane, past the smiling attendants and as I stepped out onto the steps the attendant pointed at me and shouted across to the waiting Airport Police officers:
Two officers approached me and said:
“We are here to take you to the local Gardaí station. A complaint has been made against you that you were making threatening gestures and language against a member of staff and that she was in fear of her life and the safety of the plane”
I told them that that wasn’t true and was frankly ridiculous but that I had no problem accompanying them to clear up the matter.
At that point the passenger bus pulled away and after a short time on the apron I was bundled into a vehicle and taken the short distance to the Garda station in the Airport. During the short trip the officer in the passenger seat chatted away, asking where I was coming back from. I chatted back, describing our weekend.
When we arrived at the station, I was handed over to a Garda who asked the first officer what nationality I was.
He then asked me to follow him into an interview room where he asked me to sit. After asking for some ID, he then asked me to explain what was had happened.
I retold the events as outlined above and told the officer that I really didn’t understand why I was here. I had made a complaint about the change that I had received but that was it. I had never raised my voice, I certainly had never made any threatening gestures and in my opinion this was just a case of someone who had had a bad day, over-reacting.
The officer asked had I ever been in trouble with the Gardaí for anything like this before, I replied that I hadn’t.
The officer asked whether I had been drinking that night. I replied that I had been driving all day and the first drink that I had drunk was on the flight, and that I had drunk two whiskeys.
We then chatted for a while about why I had been in Bristol, about Glastonbury and about U2′s performance and after a couple of minutes the Guard then thanked me, asked me to sit for a while and left the room.
When he returned a few minutes later he sat down opposite me and said:
“Right, well it’s late and no doubt after the weekend and your couple of drinks you are tired, the complainant has just phoned to say that she is tired and very upset and distraught by the whole incident and will not be making a statement tonight, so as I have your contact details, we are going to let you go and I will call you sometime in the next couple of weeks to make a statement. Is that alright with you?”
At a loss for words, I nodded. The Garda showed me out of the interview room and into the reception where Mark was sitting waiting for me.
On the way home I got angrier and angrier. This was an example of an Aer Lingus employee who had given rude and bad service to a customer who had done nothing to cause her hassle other than have no smaller banknote than a €50 note, yet the employee had used her unique position to leverage all of the security apparatus in place in the Airport to embarrass me in front of the entire plane, including as Mark told me later, a colleague of his from work who had been sitting 4 rows back. She had called out 5 vehicles, 10 officers and a couple of canine units, at the States cost to take someone who hadn’t done as much as raise his voice off a plane that had already landed.
I have no idea why this woman took such an immediate dislike to me. I have no idea what perceived slight she had detected or I had exhibited, but it was apparent to anyone who bothered to notice that she was not well pleased with my presence on the plane. Even Mark commented at the beginning of the flight that her tone when instructing me to turn off my phone was unpleasant at best. I had tried to be as pleasant as I could the whole way through the flight right up to the point where she was obviously flashing me a triumphant smirk and even then all I did was announce my intent to file a complaint.
The more I think about this incident the angrier I become. All I wanted to do was get home and instead there is now a plane load of people who think that I am a terrorist or a drug smuggler or worse. I have become “known to Gardai” and probably now appear on some Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport blacklist, and all due to the unqualified statement that a member of cabin crew made against me. I was given no opportunity to give my statement.
I understand that these sorts of reports need to be taken very seriously. In today’s world trouble on an aircraft is a major problem, but I absolutely deny there was any trouble and further that I made any threatening gesture toward the cabin crew or the plane. No other passenger was aware of any trouble, there had been no shouting, no drunken brawl, just a complaint about change and the aircraft had landed and come to a complete halt before Ms ****** ***** got on the radio and made her report to the Airport security services.
There must be some accountability on behalf of the staff member who calls the security that it is a valid call out and not someone settling an score by incurring significant expense for the state and its taxpayers.
I am at a loss at where to go from here. Any comments appreciated.
All I know is that there are 40 or 50 people out there who when they see me next will have a little bell go off in their memories saying:
“Isn’t that the guy who was carted off the plane from Glastonbury by Gardaí”
*It has been pointed out to me since I posted this, that the services of Aer Lingus Regional are in fact provided by the airline Aer Arann.
For an update to what happened after I posted this, please click here.