A Flight To Forget



Andy Towle composit image

Some years ago when I was living in Los Angeles a friend in Vancouver, Canada suggested I join him for a trip to Madrid, Spain. The trip was to occur just two weeks before Christmas. I was doing a lot of travel at the time, but thought why not. I had never been to Spain and it sounded like a good idea.

So, with suitcase in hand, I checked into the Canadian Pacific Airlines ticket counter at LAX for my flight to Vancouver. All went well for this leg of travel and I arrived just three hours before the flight from Vancouver to Madrid was to depart. I called my friend and he said he was on his way to the airport.

I checked the departure board for Canadian Pacific Airlines and there was a note at the side of the flight information that stated, “Flight delayed, check with the counter.” Messages of this type are never good. And, this was not!

At the counter I was told that the incoming flight’s equipment had technical difficulties and it was running seven hours late. Soon, my friend arrived and I informed him of the problem. The airline decided to put all waiting passengers up at an airport hotel until the flight was ready for boarding. (They hardly do this today, do they?) So, off we went to the hotel to try and get a couple hours sleep in our respective rooms. The airline had our room numbers, so they could contact us if needed.

About six hours after checking in, I received a call from the airline stating the flight would be an additional three hours late. So, it would now be 10 hours late! At that point I should have picked up my bag and flown back to Los Angeles. However, I thought this delay would be over in a few hours and we would be on our way to Madrid.

Off we went to the airport for our much-delayed flight. The aircraft was parked at the gate and looked all right to me (as if I could tell). We boarded and discovered we were the only two passengers in first class, which seemed fine. We could spread out for the rather long flight. The plane was pushed away from the gate, the DC-8 engines were turned on and we taxied for takeoff. We began the takeoff run, but before liftoff the engines were cut and we slowed to a stop at the end of the runway.

The captain came on the intercom and told us that probably everything was all right, but lights on the flight deck indicated there was a fire in one of the engines. We taxied back to the terminal and waited for more information. Next, we were told that a team of mechanics would be looking at the instruments and the engine in question and that they were sorry, but we should be patient.

A flight attendant broke out champagne and my friend and I sipped away. About 30 minutes later, the doors were closed and we once again pulled away from the gate and taxied to the take off point. The engines were pushed to 100 percent power and we rolled down the runway.

Again, just as before, the engines were cut and we braked to a stop at the end of the runway. The plane taxied back to the gate and more technical people boarded while two were inspecting the troubled engine from the ground. My friend and I wondered if we should continue this farce or ask to be let off. About the time we were going to make our request, the doors were closed and we taxied for takeoff. The engines were again pushed to the limit and, believe it or not, we became airborne.

Our flight was scheduled to land in Toronto, then Montreal and then cross the Atlantic to Portugal and end in Madrid. It was standard operating procedure in Toronto. We were able to walk about the terminal a bit before re-boarding the aircraft. After all passengers were boarded, the doors were closed and we taxied to the end of the runway. As expected, the engines were given full power and we began our run down the runway.

Yes, it happened again, the engines were cut and we turned around and taxied back to the gate. As before, we were told that engine fire warning lights had come on and that technical people would soon board and repair the problem. My friend and I looked at each other and said almost at the same time. Should we get off? I said, “Let’s see what they say here in Toronto.”

A half-hour later the doors were closed and we taxied for takeoff. We achieved lift and were headed for Montreal. At Montreal a lot of Portuguese and Spanish people boarded so they could be with their families during the Christmas holidays. The back of the plane was full and my friend and I remained the only passengers in first class. Just before the doors of the plane were closed, an announcement was made by our captain that so much time had elapsed since the flight began in Vancouver regulations were forcing a change in the crew. The regulations stipulated that flight crews were only able to fly so many hours before they were required to rest. We were told that a new crew was on their way to the airport and we should wait a few minutes for them to arrive and take their places on the flight deck. This took another 30 minutes or so. I don’t know how many hours had elapsed since we should have left Vancouver, but many.

With the new faces up front the doors were closed and we taxied for takeoff. The engines were given full power, and guess what, they were cut and we ended up at the end of the runway. More taxiing back to the terminal and more mechanics boarded to try and fix the engine fire warning lights on the one troubled engine. After about another half-hour, the doors were closed and another takeoff try. Again, it was aborted and the plane returned to the gate.

At this point, Canadian Pacific Airlines should have disembarked the passengers and told us they would substitute another aircraft for the continuation of the flight. I was told they did not have extra aircraft available, so they would do their best to repair the plane for its transatlantic flight.

Another hour on the ground followed by another takeoff try which resulted in taking to the air and we were off for the Atlantic crossing to Portugal. I think we were all a little uneasy crossing the ocean in this possibly crippled aircraft. After some sleep and a good meal, we landed in Portugal. It was daylight and beautiful. Soon, the doors closed again and we resumed our rather short flight to Madrid.

When we arrived at our hotel, the sun was fading, so we checked in, received the keys to our rooms and said goodnight. We were so tired we didn’t even want dinner.

The next day we walked around the bustling city and tried some good restaurants, but we were sagging from jet lag. Before the day ended we booked a tour the next day to Toledo.

Early the next morning we departed for our tour. This took a full day and I was still tired. I told my friend that frankly, I was just not up to this trip and wanted to return home for the holidays. He said he felt the same way, so when we arrived back at our hotel we called Canadian Pacific Airlines and were able to change our flights back to Vancouver departing late the next morning.

Still tired, we checked out of our Madrid hotel and took a taxi to the airport. I traveled with a small briefcase with my passport and tickets. We left the taxi and arrived at the Canadian Pacific Airlines check in counter where they asked for my ticket and passport.

Oh God! — I had left the briefcase in the taxi! I told my friend to wait at the counter and then ran to the entrance of the terminal. Just as I arrived at the front door, I saw the taxi driver pulling up, he stepped out of the cab and handed me my briefcase. What a relief! He said that as he was driving away after letting us off, he noticed the briefcase in the back seat and did a U-turn and came back. I reached in my pocket and gave him all the Spanish money I had and shook his hand. Wow! What a guy! He could have sold my passport on the black market for big bucks!

After checking in for our return flight we proceeded to the gate and I looked at the aircraft and saw that it was not the same plane we had flown to Spain in. It was much newer and it performed well on the return to Vancouver. I connected there for the flight to Los Angeles and enjoyed Christmas with the family.

I have flown many hundreds of thousands of miles since, but this one takes the cake!


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