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Sep 20

Darwin Flights

My trip to Amsterdam ended up a little more eventful than expected. As mentioned in my last post I’d been told I was the only passenger, and all was looking good – I boarded the aircraft on schedule, doors were closed, I heard the APU start up and then the switchover to it from ground power, but then as I was waiting to see the engines start up, the plane was shut down (the APU was stopped causing all the lights to go out etc).

This was clearly not normal – the flight attendant went up to the cockpit and had a brief discussion, and then came back and explained they were having some sort of technical issue. As I was sitting at the front, I then got to hear the discussion between the pilots and their maintenance team via mobile phone – apparently when they’d switched from ground power to the APU they had a whole host of warnings come up regarding autopilot systems failures. After a couple of attempts at restarting the whole aircraft (a solution seemingly inspired by ‘The IT Crowd’) didn’t solve the problem, I was sent back in to the lounge while they continued to investigate. From what I heard it sounded like a relay that was supposed to switch over some systems was perhaps having some issues relating to the humidity (there was some mist about that morning).

A little while later I was then told they had cancelled the flight, and I had a few options as to what to do:

  1. Transfer to the evening flight (heading home to wait there in the meantime)
  2. Change to a flight by another operator from either Luton or Stansted
  3. Get the next flight from Cambridge to Paris, and connect through there to Amsterdam (involving a fairly long wait at Paris unfortunately)

Option 2 turned out to be a non starter, as by the time I’d got to either location, it wouldn’t have got me there any earlier than 1 or 3. I decided on option 3, as it would get me there that little bit earlier, such that I wouldn’t have to wait ages for a train to the hotel etc.

The flight out to Paris had some other people on it (I estimate around 15), and departed and arrived on schedule. I didn’t need to retrieve my checked bag in Paris as it had been marked through, but I did have to change terminals and then check in for the next flight. Having done that, I assumed that beyond security there would be a restaurant, and so went through thinking I’d get some lunch – unfortunately I discovered as it was a terminal for departures to the Schengen zone, there wasn’t much beyond security, only a few sandwich shops, so that had to suffice.

Fortunately there was WiFi, so while waiting for the flight I got out my laptop and dealt with a few e-mails etc, and even got a little bit of my work backlog out the way. Eventually my (Air France) flight started boarding, and it was then off to Amsterdam. Upon arrival, it was simply a case of reclaiming my luggage, and then getting the train to the hotel and checking in.

The hotel was nice, and the holiday proved relaxing (I spent quite a lot of it asleep, which was no bad thing as I appeared to have built up quite a sleep deficit). On the last day (the Monday), although I’d already checked out, I came back to the hotel for dinner, as I’d left my bag there during the day and so needed to pick it up anyway. I decided to aim to be at the airport around 2 hours before the flight left, despite only really needing to be there 1 – this came in very handy due to what happened next…

I got to the station near the hotel, and found a ticket machine in order to buy a ticket to the airport. After selecting what I wanted, I realised the option to pay by a credit card was disabled – ‘No Problem’ I thought, I’ll just use my debit card. Unfortunately, it rejected my UK debit card, it presumably would only accept a Dutch one.

After checking the other machines at the station and finding the same problem, I did a quick Google search and discovered that for some braindead reason, the Dutch train company decided to make it so only the ticket machines at Schiphol airport, and the central station would accept credit cards (charging €0.50 commission), despite the fact that this is presumably a revenue stream for them as I doubt it costs them €0.50 with their processor. Card was my only option as having assumed the machine at the station would be the same as the one at the airport and hence not a problem, I’d used up the last of my euros as a tip back at the hotel restaurant!

My first thought was to take the tram (which I still had a pass for) to the central station, and get a train from there – unfortunately it appeared the trams were a bit messed up, as there was a large crowd of people on the platform and no sign of any trams coming. I decided therefore to go and find a cashpoint, which I eventually managed, and then a shop where I could buy something cheap to get change (the machines didn’t take notes). This accomplished, I got back to the station (in the process somehow breaking the handle on my bag, resulting in difficulty manoeuvring it for the rest of the evening), bought a ticket, and fortunately a train appeared a few minutes later. All this meant I eventually arrived at the airport around 50 minutes before the flight was meant to leave, which was fortunately fine.

The flight back was then slightly delayed – all looked OK at first as we (6 of us this time) were put onto a bus at around the boarding time mentioned on my boarding pass, and headed out to the aircraft. Unfortunately however, it turned out that our crew weren’t actually there, and the one that was on board was the previous crew who were going off duty – our crew were coming in on another Darwin flight that was running late (it was supposed to leave for its destination at the same time as ours). We therefore were left sitting on the bus, until eventually we saw another Darwin aircraft taxy in and park up two stands over. Shortly afterwards we were let onto the plane, about 10-15 minutes after the scheduled departure time.

We then had a further ~20 minute delay as the ground handling team (who are supposed to deal with disconnecting the ground power unit and moving the cones which are put in front of the engines etc) had vanished (presumably as we’d missed our departure slot). In the end the captain got fed up and (presumably after getting permission from ATC) just went out and started to do it himself, at which point someone did actually turn up and sorted it. We then started up, taxyed out and departed. Landing in Cambridge was uneventful, and it was nice and quick getting through immigration. A local executive car firm has set up a desk in the terminal to provide taxis, and as I could pay by a card (I didn’t quite have enough cash on me), and the fare was roughly what I expected the normal taxi firm I use would charge, I went for it, so had a nice comfortable ride home.

I’m undecided as to whether I’d use Darwin again – the technical issue on the way out is one of those things, apparently it was the first issue they’d had since the flights have started, and they were very helpful in sorting it out, even if the options were quite limited. On the way back it wasn’t a massive delay overall, it was just a bit frustrating as we spent most of it sitting on a bus on the tarmac. I think if I do need to go anywhere they’re flying to, I’ll carefully check the record of their departure / arrival times to see how its going before deciding…

 

With regards my own flying, I’ve now got my skills test booked – weather permitting it will be on the 26th September (next Thursday). I had a short lesson today just to refresh things (as I hadn’t flown for 2 weeks), during which I took the opportunity to practise the areas I know are my weaker ones – it all went pretty well, the only point that came out in the debrief is I need to anticipate the roll out more on a steep turn, as I consistently ended up slightly beyond my target heading (though still within test standards) – I noticed this happen every time, but seemingly failed to do anything about it the next time!