Passengers at Palma airport. | PILAR PELLICER


Every week Frank Leavers our man with the dirty Mac and half empty glass of inexpensive vino is looking at what lies just below the sophisticated gloss of island life. Come on folks; tell our Frank what’s really happening in Majorca.

“Will those passengers who are not Spanish citizens kindly come to the departure desk please.” As the woman at the departure gate finished that sentence I knew then, that we were in trouble. Well, that and the fact that there seemed to be about 500 passengers all swirling around with anxious looks on their faces at Terminal 5 Heathrow Airport. I have to say that this woman was admirable in every way; mostly because she was trying to handle a problem not of her making - but, the cold facts were that her airline had arbitrarily withdrawn a flight to Madrid later that morning and so two planeloads of passengers were trying to get onto one plane, or so it seemed. We had started the day at stupid-o’clock in the morning when a mind numbingly expensive taxi had taken us from Gloucestershire to Heathrow, but as I suspected things were to get much, much, worse - and what’s more, they did!

However back to the gate at Heathrow and the mad scramble for a seat on the plane! When it was my turn to grovel to the lady at the gate, I put on a posh accent and flourished my boarding pass at her which clearly maintained that I was to be sat at seat 23 C alongside a woman I know. I have to say that the woman gave a charming little laugh and pointed out, rather cruelly I thought, that everyone surging forward at the desk else had a similar piece of paper with a seat number on it - but, alas the plane was “slightly” overbooked - as in, approximately 70 people overbooked on the flight. Reader, you would have been proud of me - I didn’t burst into tears, nor did I swear - indeed, I took it like an English gentleman who had just been informed that some cad had shot his favourite spaniel and withdrew whilst apologising for the trouble I’d caused.
At some time after all Spanish citizens had got aboard the plane, there began what seemed like a sort of ‘Russian Roulette’ where the rest of us where pared down to those of us with children, those who were flying onto places like Chile via Madrid and those of us who were slowly rocking from side-to-side and weeping at the thought of 36 hours in an anonymous Heathrow hotel room, paid for by God knows who - to eventually fly back home, God knows when.

Eventually Julie and her friend, who had already endured a eye waveringly expensive train ride from Edinburgh and an uncomfortable night on Terminal 5 furniture managed to get aboard the flight, but not me it appeared. As I stood by the departure desk with another 50 souls pleading and waving bits of paper at the frazzled airline staff I had an out-of-body experience.

As the gate was closed and my stiff-upper-lip began to tremble, all of a sudden a very smart looking fellow in uniform approached the desk and muttered my name to all and sundry. “This way” he ordered curtly; as I stumbled after him down the walkway to the plane, I vaguely remember someone grabbing my hand-luggage and in an instant I was sitting down as the plane was taking off. What the……! As the plane made its way south I found Julie and ask her - what happened there then? I thought I was in for a long stay, at best - in a faceless airport hotel and at worst, sat upright in a plastic chair for a couple of days outside of a Heathrow branch of WH Smiths or Boots the Chemist. With this she tapped the side of her nose (don’t you just hate it when people do that?) and informed me that she had told the planes Head Steward that I was in fact a leading (nay famous!) travel journalist who wouldn’t be best pleased sat at Heathrow while his beloved flew home to Majorca where we are both resident - this was the only part of her story that was actually true.

In recalling this memorable flight, like many people I have forgotten how fraught air travel used to be ‘back in the day.’ Indeed, it took my elderly mother-in-law to remind me that she and her late husband would expect to pay several hundred pounds to fly to Majorca on holiday 30 years ago - and even then air travel was fraught with delays and disappointments. Indeed, perhaps we have seen the last of the 25 quid - cheap-as-chips flights that we have all become so used to booking. However, I mustn’t forget the denouement of my fascinating tale of travel torment.

When our Heathrow to Madrid flight arrived I stood for at least an hour at an almost deserted Madrid airport watching the luggage carousel go round-and-round without my hand luggage on it….indeed, why do we always think our lost bags are going to miraculously reappear after an hour? It seems that even world famous travel journalists can lose their luggage - or, was a pay-back plot? I guess I’ll never find out.

However, some good news! When we picked up the car from the park-and-drive people at Palma airport which was supposed to be for a weeks stay - it cost me over 200 euros to pick it up after nine weeks. Nevertheless, always grateful for small mercies the engine ‘fired’ first time - if it hadn’t, I would have been sorely tempted to top myself. Have a nice day!