‘Is This the Right Aircraft to….?’



I have recently started work at a certain airport in southern England. It’s an eye opener as the characters of staff and passengers you have working or passing through.

Everyday is a fashion show with the clothes worn by passengers as they traipse down the gates for their flights to somewhere exotic or home, or business. Whatever it may be. Hen and stag do’s are the wackiest although there are a couple of lone travellers who would not look out of pace on a stag or hen do with what has been seen

I digress from what I was going to write about.

It seems to me, dress code apart, passengers its seems, lose their confidence and brains when they enter an airport.

As soon as they enter the terminal building, they are like jelly, putty or miserable and it has been known aggressive. My piece here will deal with a jelly like brain and lack of confidence. It is not intended in any way to be a piss taker, but some stories I will recite are very funny – ridiculous in fact but true. I hope this makes people think and ensure they arrive on time at their gate

A certain low-cost airline as do others at the airport in question, operate a WIWO policy – Walk in – Walk Out of the aircraft. The aim is to speed the disembarking and boarding of an aircraft when required – returning from a flight and going out on one namely!

When the passengers check in and make their way to the boarding gate, this is where the big problems show. Each flight has a limited time for passengers to board before actual push back of the aircraft. It is around 20 minutes before aircraft is pushed back that the gate closes, not allowing more passengers to board. With this passengers have an attitude.

GatesOh I have paid for my ticket so they won’t unload me!!’ – Oh really! Why should the airline hold up the hundred plus passengers who are already on board and who made it on time? Just because you have not bothered to make the gate on time or spent too long in Duty Free or even the bar! What a selfish attitude. Priorities go out the window for many passengers. Duty Free or my flight? Oh what a quandary!!

With the WIWO loading, there is cut off between front and back loading passengers. Generally it is around rows/seats 1-14 at the front and 15 onwards are to the rear. This of course can include going out side where the front loading passengers generally going through an enclosed jetty. Understandable reticence if the weather is not conducive for the passengers to not ‘own up’ to being in the rear half of the aircraft.

There is however an issue with basic numeracy, even A level maths students are prone to not knowing what numbers are after 15!! So when they are told – ‘Seats 15 and above at the back’, one is asked ‘does that include 22?’ etc? Errr yes, of course it does!!!

If it is outside, other questions come to the fore. The favourite seems to be ‘Which set of steps are for…Alicante?’ When viewing the aircraft from outside, there are 2 sets of steps on a remote stand but with a jetty stand there is one – at the back. The Jetty has steps coming from it so people seem to get confused. However the steps and jetty are attached to the same aircraft depending on the stands themselves. The aircraft is not like a train and so will not separate in half. The back will go to the same place as the front and at the same time.

Another question is, ‘Is this the plane to…Bodrum?’ A worthy question, but when you consider what the passenger has been through, Check-in, security, boarding gate, one would as with the previous issue think they should by now know they have come to the correct gate and aircraft. Admittedly a small number slip through.

The particular airline in question operates a policy of one piece of hand luggage per passenger, unless you have paid extra for  speedy boarding. This allows another piece of hand luggage and priority boarding, as long as you turn up early enough at the gate. The one piece of hand luggage is one bag (small wheelie or rucksack etc). Handbags etc are classed as another piece. Your boarding pass (certainly if printed out from the website) does state this but again passengers fail to read it. They are then shocked when asked to combine the hand luggage into one.

If the bags cannot be combined, they are put in the aircraft hold at a cost to the passenger. Ignorance is not an excuse. However, depending on the aircraft used, there is a limit on overhead locker space. This is worked out using the ICAO bag dimensions. Not all bags will match exactly so its on average. It would take too long to measure every bag on every flight. So on average an Airbus A319 allows 55 bags before more are sent to the hold. In an Airbus A320 its 65 before hold bags are taken. This is free to passengers. There is no charge.

Another thing passengers forget to consider is if they require assistance. This is invariably a wheelchair. They tend to forget this on their flight to airport. Wen you meet the aircraft, and the door opens, the cabin manager tells you where they have arrived from, how many passengers and ‘specials’ on board. There is a delay as those who have booked special assistance are off loaded. This can include a high loader that rises up to the opposite door. Especially if the passengers particular trouble walking and would not be able to walk up the jetty or down the stairs. Those who haven’t booked will tend to have to wait longer as the assistance is generally elsewhere as no one knew about the particular passenger in question.Some people seem to think they should be given priority even if no one is aware of them. This request can be sent on down the line from the outbound flight ops.

Have a good flight next time you go flying with an airline. Be on time to the gate and read the luggage requirements to minimise the delay of your flight. Book special assistance if required.

Out of Africa By Beechcraft KingAir

I have always had a fascination with flying and aviation since the ubiquitous term ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ was appropriate.

I joined the Air Training Corps (ATC) as I hated Cubs and a school friend introduced to the RAF cadets. I never looked back. Why should I There was:

  • Flying on weekends in DeHavillandCanada Chipmunks from RAF Abingdon or wherever annual camp was held (except if abroad).
  • Gliding in Slingsby Sedburghs and Kirby Cadets from the old airfield at Kenley.
  • Even a course to obtain your gliding wings – even if you did cheat in flying a motor glider – a Venture T2, maybe but you still experienced going solo.
  • Summer camps to RAF stations in UK and abroad
  • Shooting, camping and competitions against other squadrons, plus camaraderie amongst the cadets
  • There were also aircraft recognition competitions. I even won one at RAF Cranwell against 110 other cadets from around the country whilst on a Summer camp.              (I am not a plane spotter by any means- I know my aircraft but do not take down registration numbers)

 I never got to pass selection for RAF scholarship for a Private Pilot’s Licence due to my eyesight so I had to wait some time before I could achieve it myself. What an achievement! Now the desire to go flying at any opportunity providing money was available. Ok so I have expensive tastes.

 A few years after obtaining my PPL, I went to train for the US FAA Commercial Pilot’s Licence. I spent 18months in Texas and had a tremendous time. Alas the attacks on the World Trade Centre put paid to the relative ease of flying in the US, being a ‘foreigner’. Still I achieved it. That can’t be taken away from me.

 I had been working in flight operations near to Gatwick Airport, Sussex, southern England. An ideal job for me, short of actually flying the aircraft we were working with. We were responsible for flight planning, obtaining permits (over flight and landing) and arranging ground handling services as requested by the aircraft operator.

It was here that an unforgettable opportunity arose. A pilot for an aircraft we had arranged services for to South Africa, rang and asked if I’d like to ‘possibly’ fly back in the aircraft, depending on what the owner was doing. It would be OK if he went back on a commercial flight which was extremely likely.

I jumped at the chance, booked 10 days off from work and booked a return ticket on Virgin Atlantic Airlines to Johannesburg. I had never been to Africa before.


Day 1 (Saturday)

Landing in South Africa in August was actually not as cold as expected. It was mild, however the nights were cold. I had booked a bed and breakfast from the UK. On arrival at Johannesburg, I was greeted by a car, arranged by work’s agent in South Africa. A lovely surprise. More to were to come!

I was driven to my B&B by the chauffeured car, dropped off to sign in and unpack. I then phoned my contacts at  the agents we used in South Africa. Being a weekend there was no one in the office but one of them came over took me out to a nature reserve – Reitvlei.  Fascinating. The car was almost threatened by a rhino! There was in addition, ostriches, zebra, weaver birds, and antelope. Then back to my new friend’s hoses for a Braii. Very civilised. The next shock came in. They had arranged a hire car for me. I was driven back to Lanseria to pick up my hire car. Still in shock at this treatment.

White Rhino. A bit close

I drove back to the B&B, for dinner and to plan my next day’s activity.

Day 2 (Sunday)

This was down to me. I went to the Rhino & Lion reserve. This has the lions and rhinos, ostriches, oryx, crocodiles, white lion cubs. There were compounds for the lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas. A lovely view into the wildlife of Africa

Day 3

I was asked to help our agent, now friend at Pilansbeurg Aiport, where the aircraft we had arranged services for was landing. It was about a 2 hour journey. An early start too. But a pleasant surprise greeted us as we arrived, when had been booked on a game drive through a local reserve. It was absolutely fabulous. There were elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, and zebra, white and black rhinos, wildebeest, and zebra. What else could there be, waiting to shock me again? Well perhaps a night at the Cabanas Hotel! Oh yes – precisely what was arranged.

The area is famous as the location of Sun City, the gambling mecca in South Africa. Well the two of us visited it briefly after the game drive and before checking in to the hotel. The next day, work beckoned at Pilansberg Airport

Day 4

The private aircraft had just landed as we made our way through the terminal building. The passengers had turned up as well. We introduced ourselves to them and I helped load the luggage and that was it but it was interesting. Speaking to the pilot, I was to be at Johannesburg by 7am the next day. The owner was going back commercial has had been expected (and hoped!).

For the evening it was decided to go to Montecasino. A huge leisure complex in the decent suburb of Santon. The interior has lights that change depicting dawn, daylight, sunset and night. It has numerous restaurants and cinemas plus bowling and many other activities.

It had been a great but all to brief visit. Great to meet and make new friends from the agent and of course to meet the crew who were to fly me home the next day.

Day 5

An early start if I was t be at the airport by 7am. It would have made sense to depart from Lanseria Airport, where our agents are based and its the equivalent type of airfield to Farnborough and Biggin Hill. It was also just a 5 min drive from my B&B. Johannesburg was at least 1hour depending if I was to hit the rush hour.

I was feeling fine despite a lovely evening in Santon. Drink, food and good company. Not too late back because of the early start!

I drove to Johannesburg, dropped the car off and made my way to security. I was met by a friend from the agent who assisted with my path through the airport. Security looked perplexed due to lack of boarding card but flying back privately of course there is no requirement.

It was a blue and warming morning as I stepped on to the Private Aviation apron and reacquainted myself with the crew and of course the aircraft – a Beechcraft King Air 350. A more modern version of the ubiquitous twin turbo prop.

Once luggage was loaded, we said our goodbyes and then boarded ourselves and made ready for the flight ahead. For entertainment, each of the 8 seats had a DVD player and there was a good selection of DVDs.

Engines started, clearance obtained, we then started the taxied for the departure  runway. Weird sensation passing the big commercial airliners seating 100s of passengers and the aircraft I was on capable of seating 8!

On departure, we headed north east to cross the border with Mozambique and a land to refuel in Lilongwe, Malawi. I would have liked to see more of the countries we over flew of landed at, but time was not permitting that. The King Air has endurance of at least 6 hours but Africa does not have the amount of airports that had Jet Fuel that would be required. It worked out if each sector was around 4 hours, this would be sufficient.

There is no actual hot catering facility on the King Air. There is a hot water boiler and draws to store bottled drinks and other food stuffs. Other draws abound in the cabin, between the seats. So coffee and tea is available anytime. We had to buy lunch at Lilongwe. Chicken and chips was bought and devoured.

On departure we headed for Kenya. Enroute we passed to the west of the tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. Located in Tanzania, to the south of Kenya it appears to stand out on its own. A popular mountain for charity fund raisers to climb – taking over 5 days to reach the summit.

The main airport, in Kenya’s capital, Jomo Kenyatta is a huge expansive international airport. I therefore obtained permission to fly into Nairobi Wilson. A much smaller airport than Jomo, but in the image of Biggin Hill. More for general aviation. It did not have instrument facilities. One of the many companies set up around the perimeter was our agent in Kenya. They were a handling agent and they also looked after the flying Doctor Services.

At worked we did work for them and so had a good contacts and so I decided to have the aircraft handled by our agents at Wilson. Again a good opportunity to meet people I had been speaking to.

On arrival, the King Air had to follow a 4 seat single engine Cessna C172 in the circuit. It was fun although in some respects bizarre.

For the night I was taken to the house of one of the guys I had become friends with over the years we had worked together, albeit at a distance. The pilot and co-pilot were taken to a local decent hotel.

The house my friends lived in had a gardener who doubled as a security guard. That was strange but as with South Africa; you heard various stories about the crime rates being very high. My friends, once I was unpacked and refreshed from the 8 hours flying, drove me to a lovely restaurant.

It had an element of colonialism but was fabulous. The atmosphere was great, people friendly and the food marvellous. I met a couple of guys who ran their own Safari Company. Oh how I’d love to do some bush flying out here!

Mount Kilimanjaro

Day 6

Another early start to the day but it was a warm dry start. The aircraft was being prepared by the crew and I just had to load my luggage on board and say my goodbyes. We all said goodbye to the fabulous hospitality we had experienced.

Departing north, we headed over the next tallest peak in Africa, Mount Kenya. In some ways it looks familiar to Kilimanjaro but is somewhat shorter.

The DVDs I watched include a box set of the great British comedy Fawlty Towers and Rock School with Jack Black, which I couldn’t warm to. But it passed the time. I also acted as ‘flight attendant’ to the crew passing fruit and coffee etc to them.

The King Air, like other small corporate aircraft does not have a flushing lavatory. Instead its more of an ‘emergency use’ only type. A glorified camping porta loo in essence! The other thing about the King Air is the head room – or lack of it! I am nearly 6 feet tall and I had to bend nearly 1 foot in order to move up the cabin or visit the loo. Otherwise I sidled up the cabin on my knees. For men – there is a ‘pee tube’ that goes straight out of the aircraft. Warning – there is a strong suction force on the tube!

Our tech stop on this sector was Khartoum capital of the vast country called Sudan. It sat astride the River Nile with fertile irrigated land on either side.

The airport is just a sandy expanse of land with a long runway and a few buildings. It had a plane spotter’s dream of aircraft variety dotted around the apron.

The co-pilot was a lovely blonde lady so it was going to be interesting as to the reaction of this mainly Muslim country to this English rose! The formalities done, no problems with the men of the airport, but they were intrigued to say the least.

Photos were not permitted apparently here. I thought it was only American registered aircraft and companies!

We departed and continued north, the Sahara spreading out below only broken by the great River Nile in its North – South routing.

We now headed to Egypt and the ancient city of Luxor for our next overnight stop. We landed at this seemingly empty airport. Only one other aircraft was visible on the apron. We were met by our agents who saw us whisked through customs and out to our hotel. It was the Movenpick- Crocodile Island. What a setting – on the banks of the River Nile.

Luxor is a fascinating city. If only I had more time to look around.

Mount Kenya and Rift valley

Day 7

Well I got my wish , albeit a small part of it – a very early trip to the Valley of the Kings. I basically had my own tour guide for the time I was there. Most interesting.

Now back to the hotel and pack for the next sector. Again on arrival at the airport, we were ushered through customs. Must be associated with flight crew more often!!

We departed ad headed for the Greek Islands. En route, the captain asked permission to circle the Pyramids and Giza. We were above them at 27000. Permission granted and what a photo opportunity!

Next stop the Island of Thira and the town of Santorini. A volcanic island in the Aegean spattered with white walled houses. It has donkeys to go up and down the mountainside to and from the beach and marina but there was also a fairly new cable car in operation. The donkey operators were not happy!MovenPick hotel – on the Nile

Valley of The Kings

Nile sunset

Overhead teh Pyramids – off the wing tip

Day 8

We had 2 nights on this island before the home stretch

Day 9

Down the airport. E loaded up again and got strapped in. A German A320 arrived and parked in front of us. The only other private aircraft was a Bombardier Challenger 604 which seemed to have been there for a few days at least. Santorini airport is a joint military base as well so pictures are not encouraged. I had stupidly left my camera on the aircraft so no pictures of the island were taken by me until we were in the plane.

We then stopped in Bologna in Italy. Having left Greece in sun, Italy had showers. On being refuelled we left and headed home to the UK. As we crossed Alps into France, the rain became heavier. We landed in Blackbushe, Surrey in pouring rain. No taxis around but I rang a friend who kindly picked me up. It was a weekend after all.

A fabulous experience. Ok no actual flying to be logged but there is in some ways more then just the flying. everything assosciated with it. The handlers, flight plans and teh countries concerned. I can’t thank those who assisted enough to show how it all comes together. Flight plans, handling, fuel, hotels etc

Thank you to all concerned to make this an experience to remember for a very long time

Leaving Santorini 

Santorini airport terminal


My transport – Beechcraft King Air 350