International business travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

April 17, 2012

So the French client wants me to come over and give them a day’s training. Bien! I can work it so I can see a mate from wayback who actually lives really close to Gare du Nord so Eurostar here I come. Non! They ‘ave already booked a flight and cannot change it. Pas de probleme – I will cab it from Charles de Gaulle to her place. The flight over is fairly uneventful (given later experience), but there is repeated turbulence throughout. I am not a happy flier at the best of times, but the warning prior to take off actually lessened my heart gripping fear as we bounced around a bit. I dogged back  the mini bottle of wine on the 45 minute flight. Arrived CDG to huge taxi queue so schlepped to RER over the other side of the airport to find that there were no trains in to Paris as there was a fire. Hot footed it upstairs to another cab rank that was blissfully empty. Then things really started looking up. The weather was crisp and clear, the cab a Merc and the driver to die for. Absolutely gorgeous; suited and booted, shades, French stubble oozing testosterone and charm. A macho cross of Thierry Henri and Brad Pitt.  He chatted to me all the way in – me struggling to stay afloat whilst retrieving long lost French, but determined to keep my end up. As it were.  Then a wonderful evening at my friend’s house – how easy it is to pick up where one left off when friendship is deep and comfortable.

The cab to the hotel was not as stimulating, but perfectly polite and got me there. I was locked out of the large anonymous building and the grumpy boy-man receptionist took his time letting me in. The room was soulless, the floor dirty, the sleep interrupted continuously by banging doors. Breakfast would be a welcome oasis. Wrong. Coach trips of pensioners from Blackpool were in, saving seats with pastel-shaded anoraks and calling across to each other in urgent tones – “Elsie , over here. Elsie!”. Their plates were piled high with croissants and toast. The women talked non-stop across tables to each other, desperately trying to include their reluctant men in their conversations about what they did at New Year, or how the refurbishment of the supermarket was working out. Somewhere underneath that I could hear the gritted teeth of a husband at the end of his tether. His wife’s words were indecipherable, but his rang out in venom. “Just drop it Pauline. Just give it a bloody rest”

I ran my training session and headed home. Queue at check in and security enormous unless you were flying business or first. I regretted allowing the client to organise my travel as I would never go budget bunny. But hey, the flight is less than an hour. It can’t be that bad.

The flight was packed to the rafters. Nowhere for my hand luggage to go anywhere near me, every seat taken. My seat was window and 2 young boys aged about 9  were excitedly waiting for me to arrive. They very politely asked if they could sit in my seat and were effusive in their thanks when I agreed. I couldn’t find the french to tell them I hate flying so was glad to change, but no matter. We were all happy. The stewardess came and talked to the boys and checked their typically French documentation; triplicate and handwritten. Then she turned to me. “You are English non?” I didn’t quibble the technicalities and nodded. “You will look after these boys. It is important that if the oxygen masks come down you put your own on first and then the boys.” “Yes” I said as my compliance override kicked in. She gave me a personal demonstration. Then instructed me about emergency evacuation. Although we looked nearer to the wing doors, I was to ensure the boys made it to the back of the plane, in front of me so I could see they were safe. I was to save them rather than myself was the clear message. Although somewhat surprised their safety was apparently delegated to a mere unknown passenger rather than a trained flight attendant, I was confident in my abilities to perform as required. I like to think I would have tried to put them first even without being told. Anyone would wouldn’t they? Apparently not.

We took off and 10 minutes in the turbulence started. One of my boys then wanted to go to the loo, but I had to explain he couldn’t whilst the seat belt sign was on.  The light went off and I allowed him to get up and go. As he was returning, and I was standing up waiting for him, the turbulence restarted with gusto. The refreshment trolley went flying in to a seat and tippled water over the occupant as the stewardess tried to catch it. The announcement came requiring everyone to sit down and belt up.  Suddenly a Japanese guy burst out of the toilet and RAN full pelt down the gangway to his seat, knocking one of my wee boys flying in the process without a backward glance. A minute later the steward appeared with a small Japanese girl who he had obviously simply abandoned in the toilet. So much for looking after children.

We sat down and I concentrated on not being terrified and gradually the turbulence passed. We were now about 15 minutes out of Heathrow but the crew were determined to give us our drinks so the business class trolley was summoned to help. The curtains parted and the trolley appeared, pushed by the classic surly supercilious cow. She made a point of removing the champagne bottle from view and started taking orders reluctantly. She dismissed a small crying child with ‘We ‘ave no milk, we ‘ave water”. Her face never cracked a millimetre. I asked for dry white wine  “Vater?” she queried. I repeated my order. She looked like she smelt shit somewhere. Eventually I asked in French and got my bottle thrust at me. I gulped it down just in time for landing. The boys and I had survived.


8 Responses to “International business travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”

  1. Hannah Forster Says:

    Sarah – I love it!! So glad you’re doing it. Definitely an alternative career. Off to read more right now!

  2. Janet Says:

    Great stuff, Sarah!
    Was it Vicky you stayed with?

  3. Jenny Peachey Says:

    Brilliant! Loved it! Miles better than marking 90 books, which I can avoid no longer. Can’t wait to read your others x

  4. Angela Walker Says:

    J K Rowling eat your heart out. At least you can write and make me laugh. A new career path maybe? Can’t wait for the next chapter. Bien?

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