Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Big Fun in the Air

Israelis don't listen. When the crew on the plane makes an announcement, no one stops talking. Messages that are repeated clearly in English and then in Hebrew are for other people, not them. My flight back home yesterday was everything a flight to Israel can be, crowded, annoying, mind-numbingly long which all serves to make the relief of arriving home sweeter.

The cultural worm-hole that connects mainland Israel to any gate that has a flight leaving for Israel was very visible at Newark last night. The fact that they repeated about 100 times that everyone needs to have their passports and boarding passes stamped at the counter before boarding the plane did nothing to deter at least half the passengers from holding up the line and looking blankly when told to go get their passes stamped. The flight was full, overbooked in fact. They offered $600 with a night in a hotel and 3 meal passes to anyone prepared to relinquish their place. No one took them up on their offer. It would be like taking points off the board.

I was sitting one row behind the bulkhead seats. The plane filled up with Israelis, all of whom had to argue with the gate agent, while claiming that their second huge carry-on was really just a computer case. The overhead bins we full before I boarded, but I managed to squeeze my little backpack into the corner of a bin. There was shouting and complaining about the lack of bin space as we all got settled. The bulkhead row was empty and just as it seemed the doors would close and we could make disguised moves to claim these gems, a religious family boarded. Our whole section's worse nightmare - A young mother, and rabbi'ish looking father claimed the row, along with their 5 screaming children, the oldest of whom was 4.5 (this is no exaggeration).

So there were 3 seats for 7 of them. The crew looked at them quizzically, OK, so each of you have one of the little ones on your lap, that means 5 seats - but there are only 3 seats in this row. After 10 minutes of furious discussion (they actually spoke English), eventually it turns out that they came late (from New York, not on a connection, so there is no one to blame) and their other two seats were spread out all over the plane. Now you understand the logistics of this all. They need at least these 3 seats together along with another 2 seats together. So they start bargaining. The plane had by now pulled back from the gate and started taxiing towards the runway. The family all this time is standing in the aisles, kids kicking and screaming (in Yiddish), looking around helplessly. Eventually the "Cabin Service Director" makes an announcement. If we can't get these people seated, we have to delay takeoff. Of course, no one on the plane even hears the message because Israelis don't listen to announcements. Eventually we seat the oldest girl next to us as the nice Chinese/American tourist in our row volunteers his aisle seat for a middle, and the father goes off carrying one of the screamers with him.

For the full 11.5 hours of the flight we had at least one of the children crying, often two or three screeching at the same time. It was to be seen to be believed. At the start of the flight it was announced that due to new Israeli regulations, everyone needs to be seated 40 minutes before landing at Ben Gurion. This was repeated numerous times in English and Hebrew during the flight. Of course, no one listened. 1.5 hours before landing they made the announcement once again urging everyone to use the bathroom NOW, because 40 minute before landing everyone needs to be seated. Of course, no one paid the least bit of attention and as the seat belt sign came on 40 mins before landing, there was a huge rush for the bathroom. The air crew threatened in Hebrew and English that they would have to circle outside Israeli airspace unless people sat down. No one budged. In fact more people got up to stand in the aisles. The religious family in front decided this was the time to swap seats, Oh, and one of their kids seemed to have disappeared. Needless to say, the plane landed on time and only required three warnings that people can only get up once the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign and we are parked at the gate.

The kids in front of us screamed the whole way down of course. The "Service Director" had come around from time to time and smiling had told all us in earshot of the screams, "don't worry there's only 10/8/6/4 hours left". Once we had landed, he came by and said, "Just think, I have to do this flight every Tuesday". Not for all the tea in china - not me.

1 comment:

oliviao said...

Arnie and I once met a flight attendant at a lovely B&B in Wales and she told us that the flight to Israel is the one that everyone tries to avoid..surprise, surprise! Lovely being with you, miss you already!