At this time of year, nights are extending by about five minutes per day and the best way to diminish the depressing impact of darkening skies is to fly south.
Fortunately, November is the ideal time to postpone winter; with fares falling, you can find plenty of cheap deals to the Mediterranean. On Monday, I had the good fortune to fly to Malaga for some sunshine and tapas, travelling back on Tuesday afternoon.
The de facto capital of the Costa del Sol is ideal as a short-break destination. Accessing the city is easy, with frequent trains from the upgraded airport station into Malaga taking 10 minutes for €1.80. Once inside the old town where Picasso was born, there are plenty of good-value places to stay – as well as a blossoming range of bars and restaurants.
I paid £130 return with easyJet, from Gatwick to Malaga. Despite fog encroaching on daybreak at the Sussex airport on the way south, the Airbus arrived in Malaga a few minutes early.
Going north, easyJet performed even better. The flight was full but boarding was swift and efficient. The aircraft departed seven minutes early and was almost half-an-hour ahead of schedule touching down at Gatwick.
Then everything unravelled. Even though it was clear from the moment of take-off easyJet flight 8606 would be pleasingly early, no ground staff were waiting to offload passengers and bags.
The ground handler used by easyJet at Gatwick, DHL, later told me: “The incoming Malaga flight arrived 28 minutes early, meaning the preallocated arrival team was elsewhere, and no other team was available.
“They did proceed straight to the flight but had to collect steps from another stand as there were no prepositioned steps.”
After a few minutes at the stand, the captain announced: “The steps have just gone past my window so we should be ready to disembark in a couple of minutes.”
DHL is synonymous with delivery. Regrettably, the first go at delivering the steps to the front door of the aircraft failed. As did the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth attempts.
The unfortunate chap who was trying to guide the steps into position appeared to be on his first day in the job. Try as he could, he was unable to get the steps to line up with the door, while two colleagues stood around and watched.
Eventually the front door was opened 11 minutes after arrival – still a quarter-hour before the plane was due. But still no one was able to leave.
The reason: at the adjacent stand, Rossiya Airlines was preparing to depart for St Petersburg.
“Inbound and outbound passengers cannot mix on the Tarmac due to security and immigration restrictions,” an easyJet spokesperson told me. “As that flight was already boarding, that had to be completed before disembarkation could occur.”
I was mystified. The Russia-bound flight was boarding through an airbridge, while the passengers arriving on easyJet from Spain were going to emerge onto the apron, with no mingling potential that I could see.
The captain was on our side: “I’ll be writing my report and complaining to the authorities,” he said over the aircraft’s public-address system. “Sorry you’ve had to be sitting here.”
As a precaution against unauthorised mingling, buses were summoned. No one likes a coach transfer from a remote stand, and they are even less popular when the terminal building is but a few steps away.
Eventually the first bus left for the terminal shortly after the plane had been due to arrive. By then, all goodwill had evaporated.
Getting a plane from Malaga to Gatwick is a daily miracle of coordination, involving dozens of professionals, from gate staff to air-traffic controllers. But getting passengers off the Airbus at the other end should not be rocket science.
What should have been a welcome and positive bonus – an easy win for easyJet – turned into a frustrating muddle that reflected badly on airline, ground handlers and airport.
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