I’ve been back at home for a day now after my small, and relatively unexciting adventure to Prague. There’s still no food in my fridge and I’ve only just put my clothes in the washing machine but I thought it would be a good time to share some thoughts about my outbound journey. Priorities right?!
Of course, the first thing to do after booking a holiday was to check out how to get to the airport. I’m not one for paying extortionate fees to park my car for a few days and there’s a train service that runs from my town straight to London so that seemed to be the logical method of transport. Not knowing London too well, I also thought it wise to check up the fastest route from Kings Cross to Heathrow. This happened to involve the Tube to Paddington followed by the Heathrow Express. Can’t complain at a total time of around an hour and a half, so when the day to leave finally came I made my way to the train station, bought a £30 return ticket to Heathrow and set off on my travels.
Firstly, the train was late. I don’t fully understand why; by my calculations the train had stopped 8 minutes from my station and ended up being delayed by 20 minutes because of a level crossing problem “in the Peterborough area”. Now I would consider the Peterborough area to be somewhere around Peterborough, which is 25 minutes from my station. From these two facts I logically calculated that my train had stopped because of something going on behind it.
Despite the lateness, I managed to get to Paddington and hopped aboard the Heathrow Express. I was a bit confused by the general clientele on the train; well dressed folks with designer luggage and shopping bags from high end London stores. I seemed to stick out like a sore thumb in my grotty jeans, jacket and rucksack but I didn’t dwell on the matter too long. My confusion by the rich folk dwindled once the train had departed though. After handing my ticket to the conductor I was informed that it only included tube travel to Heathrow. I rapidly discovered that the Heathrow Express is a private rail service, not included as part of the Tube network. Shit. The resulting purchase of a more valid ticket set me back a further £25. At this point, my public transport costs had tripled the cost of my holiday.
So, 25 quid and 15 minutes later I alighted the train at Heathrow, rucksack and camera bag secured to my person and followed signs for Terminal 1. After a bit of looking around confused in attempt to find where I needed to check in I conceded my lack of location based knowledge and asked a nice, Heathrow emblazoned lady for assistance. She kindly informed me that flights to Prague departed from Terminal 3, not Terminal 1. Shit. Terminal 3 is only a 10 minute walk away from Terminal 1 and I made it without a hitch thanks to the guidance provided by a friendly gentleman member of staff who was headed in that direction.
Finally, I had arrived at Terminal 3 and quickly managed to locate the correct area for British Airways flight passengers to check in for their flights. This is when I discovered the cluster fuck of confusion that is Check-in. Not being an overly well-off chap, and one who is conservative with my money I usually fly with budget airlines such as EasyJet where Check-in is a straightforward affair (or at least has been for me in the past). The esteemed British Airways however, in an effort to make it easier for customers, provide 4 different methods of checking in for their flights. Four!
You can Check-in online before you leave and print your boarding card at home (I have no printer so that option’s out of the question), you can use a smartphone app to Check-in whilst on your journey to the airport, the app provides a scannable boarding card to your phone (my journey to the airport passes through plenty of low signal areas so I didn’t want to risk that option). At the airport you can use self service Check-in kiosks, ironically manned by helpful staff to guide you through the process (I’m aware of self service facilities at supermarkets, people’s unintelligence normally causes more hold up than a regular check out and sure enough, there was a queue for the self service Check-in desks, sod that). Finally, there’s the good old fashioned way of checking in, navigating through a maze of horizontal seat belts, spectacularly arranged to send you walking through the entire airport, only to leave you stranded at the wrong desk. Nonetheless, there was no queue and this was the only option I felt comfortable with so this was the way to proceed.
Do they make it easy though? Do they fuck!
All the little maze entrances were signposted with the type of customer that can use them; Silver card holders, Gold card holders, Club World Traveller, Club Euro Traveller and similarly confusing terms. EasyJet has one type of class; shit class. I’m used to that. When presented with a series of fancy, marketing department conjured titles to pick from on this British Airways flight, I had no idea (I still don’t), to me, there are two classes on fancy flights; first class and economy. Neither of these were signposted. So what does one do when posed with this kind of situation?
Pick a desk, aim for it, duck under every piece of maze-guiding seatbelt and plead ignorance:
“Am I in the right place to Check-in to this flight to Prague and if so, can I Check-in please?”
“No, wait a minute. The system’s got a block on this flight, it’s not open yet”
“Oh, should I come back in a few minutes?”
At this point, a flustered looking lady in full BA garb rushes around behind the desk, informing all other staff that every flight is in fact open, except one to Taiwan. I wasn’t headed to Taiwan so all seemed promising.
“Ok, I can check you in sir, did you pack your bag yourself? Has anyone asked you to pack anything on their behalf?”
Eventually, I’m checked in. I made my way through Airport Security without a hitch and arrived in the duty free area. Straight to the only electrical store, Dixons to play with cameras. I nearly dropped £1,400 on a Nikon D600 (seems like a lot, but that’s a reduction of £700) but resisted temptation, instead opting for 2 new 8Gb cards for my existing camera.
My next port of call was food, I found a suitable place and purchased a toasted sandwich in this remarkably wise paper bag.
After obeying The Paper Bag Of Wisdom by dutifully eating its contents I was able to go to my departure gate, board the plane, get comfortable and await take off. Which came without delay thankfully.
The flight itself was fairly normal as far as hurtling through the air in a winged metal tube, although I was slightly caught off guard when I was handed food. For me, food on a plane is a ridiculously expensive affair, the £2.50 for a pack of crisps kind of expensive, and it’s a choice, not mandatory, so when the handing of food was followed by the question “would you like something to drink sir?” I was dumb struck. Head spinning in a haze of worry that I’m going to be charged for this, and trying to figure out the best course of action I managed to blurt out “a cup of tea would be nice” (a true Englishman). Tea was provided, milk was provided, sugar was provided, and a really dinky little stirrer was provided. All with no mention of or request for payment, my wallet was safe, I had free food and a cup of tea. It wasn’t until the same offer was extended to my temporary flight neighbour that I discovered I could have made a much better choice than a simple cup of tea. Without hesitation, and in very rapid succession the chap ordered a bottle of wine, a can of Coke and a glass of sparkling water. I could have had alcohol. Dammit!
In this modern age of technological inventions, one of the things that confuses me is the point at which I am allowed to turn on my electronic devices on an aeroplane. I know when they must be off; when the engines are running on the ground, during take-off, approach, and landing. But at what point does ‘take-off’ end? Is it when the wheels are removed from the tarmac? When the seat belt sign is turned off? When the plane finally levels out? When God dammit? WHEN??
Normally for me, with my sheep like nature, it’s when I see someone else using an electronic device. After some furtive scanning of the aircraft, trying not to look too suspicious I spied someone using a laptop. Huzaar! I quickly turned on my Nexus 7, lovingly prepared to boot into flight safe mode and open up the Trip Advisor Prague City Guide to learn more about where I was headed.
I had already investigated the suggested method for reaching my hotel destination from the airport. A complicated series of bus and tram connections that I would rather avoid at around 9 o’clock in the evening and had opted for the much more convenient taxi option that is available at all airports the world over. About mid-flight, I had reached the Transport section of my Prague City Guide and read the following sentence:
“Prague’s taxis are legendary for their bad reputation; nowadays things are changing for the better as authorities are cracking on the system.”
The term “legendary” to me, invokes thoughts of Norse Gods, Minotaurs, Hercules and occasionally, some seemingly impossible feat casually achieved by a drunken friend in a pub, so if Prague taxis are “legendary for their bad reputation” to large online corporations then it was time for me to start worrying about my potential method of transport. I had a choice to make, risk something terrible happening at the mercy of a Czechoslovakian taxi driver before I even reached the hotel or risk ending up on the wrong side of the city due to my own stupidity and failure to navigate a simple metro system.
I’m far too proud for my own good sometimes, and hate looking stupid. So I went with the taxi option. Signs around the airport stating that fair prices were guaranteed from two taxi firms eased my worries a bit and when I left the airport I scouted a clean looking cab, labelled with one of the two names I had seen on the signs. I told the driver my destination and he kindly helped put my bags in the boot of his car before setting off on an unknown and potentially life threatening car ride to my hotel.
After gazing out of the window at the new sights that I may or may not be able to see ever again, wondering if I should have actually called my parents before leaving instead of sending a heartless but informative text message, the driver turned the car into a side street and slowed to a stop at the side of the road. My heart started racing, the street is large but quite empty and pretty dark. With the possibility of being ass-raped to death I paid the man 600 Koruna (£20) and peered out of the window. There was a hotel. Thank fuck, there was a hotel here.
It wasn’t my hotel though. I hastily made my way round to the boot of the car where the driver was already unloading my rucksack and tried to convey my confusion as to where we were. After a broken conversation I remembered that before leaving my house, I had scribbled down the hotel address. I dug out my note pad and showed the driver the street name, which he recognised as not where we were. The driver, who now knew where I was headed, loaded my rucksack back into the boot and gestured for me to get back in.
A short ride across the river later and I was outside The Red & Blue Design Hotel. Exactly where I expected and needed to be. The driver began to unload my rucksack for the second time and I gingerly asked if I owed him any extra money. He declined, insisting that the extra journey was his fault. The fear of being butchered by a crazed and psychopathic taxi driver diminished a bit, this guy seemed honest and helpful.
I checked in to the hotel with relative ease; considering the language barrier it was far easier than checking in to my flight earlier that day, and ascended the stairs to my fourth floor hotel room. A simple, but pleasant and well designed room with free tea and coffee, a nice bathroom and a television.
I had arrived at my destination.
TL;DR – Guy fucks up getting to airport a bit, flies to Prague, successfully gets to his hotel room without dying.