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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Planes, trains and automobiles

OK, no trains involved, but trying to get my mum and brother home after Christmas was a right palaver!

Off we set about 11.30am to take them to Rennes airport for their flight to Southampton. No problems there, no traffic, we arrived in plenty of time as it's only about a 35-40 minute drive. The departure board said that the flight was on time and after check in we went into the cafe for a while until it was time for them to go through security to the departure lounge. During this time the board announced that there would be a 20 min delay to their flight but that's not unusual and wasn't any big deal.

We said our goodbyes and some sixth sense made us decide to wait and see the plane land, which was due to arrive at any time. We waited and waited and 20 minutes after it was supposed to land, up popped a sign saying the plane had been diverted! Well, there wasn't any fog or reason that we could see for that, so everyone (all the people waiting to meet people off the arriving flight) dashed off to the information desk to find out what was going on.

Apparently the plane had diverted to Nantes which is about two hours drive to the south, because Rennes was one firetruck short, making the airport Level 4 security instead of its usual Level 6, and it is up to the individual airlines and the pilots to decide if they want to land with lower security. Obviously FlyBe being British is big on 'Health and Safety', whereas Air France, the usual airline that uses this little provincial airport for internal flights, being French where 'Health and Safety' n'existe pas du tout, couldn't give a flying you know what.

So the passengers who were diverted to Nantes were being bussed back to Rennes; however for the passengers stuck flightless at Rennes.... it seemed nobody could decide what to do with them because first of all two coaches turned up and one would have expected that they would be bussed to Nantes to catch their plane, which obviously had to get back to Southampton airport and then on to other destinations. But no, obviously FlyBe could not disrupt their schedule waiting two hours for the passengers to arrive, so that flight was suddenly no longer an option, the coaches disappeared off empty, and an announcement was made that the flight would be delayed until.... 8.30pm that night. *Sigh*

Out came the passengers from the departure lounge including my mother and brother, who were rather surprised to see us still there (to be honest, if it had been just my brother, we wouldn't have been, we'd have been home by then - he knows that cos I told him, so if he reads this he won't be surprised!). Whilst the passengers were queuing up for their ticket for a complimentary meal (wippee-doo) my OH went to the desk to enquire if we could take passengers back home and found other people enquiring about the same. Yup thankfully that was OK, be back at 7pm they said and took our mobile phone number. Suitcases retrieved. Off we went back home where we arrived about 3pm ish and had some belated lunch!

According to the website the flight which was supposed to leave at 8.25pm was leaving at 8.40pm, but we set off again about 6.30pm just to be on the safe side as we'd been told to be back there at 7pm, only to find in the very quiet (apart from the FlyBe passengers) airport that there was another teeny delay, and the flight would now leave at 9.15pm! At this point it was only 7.15pm so we headed off to the cafe, only to find a man washing the floor and of course, it was closed. This being the evening after all, and the airport wouldn't normally have outgoing flights in the evening, only late flights incoming from other French cities.

We could see people in the upstairs restaurant so off we trot around the airport looking for a lift (for my mum), only to find ourselves at the wrong end of the building to get into the restaurant. Down the lift again, walk along to the other end of the building, find another lift and then we found the restaurant entrance. There were people inside but apparently, oh no, it was actually 'closed'; however you could get a meal if you were a FlyBe passenger and had the voucher for the free meal. Umm, actually we don't want a meal, just a drink (and somewhere comfy to sit for a while for goodness sake because your stupid airport only has hard metal seats downstairs - no I didn't say that but you know what I mean!) - much gallic shrugging and we were told to go and ask at info and get a ticket. Off we trot back downstairs (we did leave mum upstairs!) to the counter, only for the lady there to say 'but the restaurant is closed!'. Aaargh, no it's not, lady, we just need a couple of those tickets you were giving out earlier.... well she tried to get on the phone to the restaurant but they were not answering, so she said 'follow me' and off we trot back up to the restaurant where she and the man had a lengthy discussion in French that I couldn't follow - all the while we'd said we only wanted a drink/coffee/whatever, not the free meal.... eventually they decided yes OK, we could have a drink. 

Mum orders a whisky to calm her preflight nerves, oh but no, sorry we can't serve alcohol because of course we are officially closed.... eventually they agreed that we could all have a coffee (which came free, yes, even to us two who were not passengers!!! Wow!) - yup one of those tiny little three sips and it's gone cups of French coffee that you may as well not even bother ordering. This is one of those times when the English, comes from America thanks to Starbucks et al, bucket-of-coffee size could have come in handy. You just can't linger over a French cup of coffee.

After our 3 sip coffee we were all boiling hot even though we had seats with padded cushions so it was a bit of a toss up between comfort and heat, or hard seats but blessedly cooler, eventually deciding to go downstairs again and wait there. Mum and my brother decided that my OH and I should go home as we'd spent quite a few hours in the airport already, only to find that they couldn't go through to the departure lounge because security was actually closed - at least on the other side there is a vending machine selling canned drinks and chocolate whilst on the public side the most you could get by this time was tap water out of the toilet sinks.... not that I think they had any coins for the vending machines because they usually leave them behind with us! 

So once more we waited with them until security was opened then hooray all the passengers rushed at once, even though there was tons of time to spare and the plane that was being sent over especially for them probably hadn't even left England .....

We said our goodbyes again and home we headed. I heard from my brother by email this morning that the plane did actually arrive on time, they boarded early, they sat around until 9.20pm when there was an announcement that a passenger was missing and so all the baggage was being unloaded to check! They eventually left at 9.30pm and finally got home just before midnight UK time, which is 1am here!

In fact, my family were the lucky ones, because many people, including families with small children, had to spend all the afternoon and early evening in the discomfort of the airport. We never did hear more about the missing firetruck; we can only assume one was brought in from another airport somewhere, otherwise I guess the passengers would still be stranded, even though Air France was in and out.

And just because I don't like to post without a photo, here's a few pics of a little tinker that mum wanted to sneak back home with her.... and our €5 Xmas tree that came from La Foire Fouille with a couple of roots attached about six years ago, and is a scraggy looking thing that I forget to feed, but doesn't look too bad when it's decorated and with the lights on. In a dark corner. :-)

We had a great Christmas by the way and I don't think there were any arguments at all. Amazing!


  1. sacrée journée…ta mère devait être particulièrement fatiguée à son retour.
    Ton chat est mignon comme tout ! il a l'air tout heureux, tout épanoui !!!

  2. What a nightmare, glad they got home safely in the end.


  3. Thanks Philippa and Maryline. Thank goodness that is over and they got home in the end. I imagine mum is putting her feet up today!

    Hallie is cute but we've forgotten just how tiring having a kitten is... we were wondering whether all the kittens we've had in the past were quite so demanding, playful and exhausting, but decided maybe it is just us getting older noticing it more!

  4. Pauline from Exeter / La Roche Bernard31 December 2012 at 13:17:00 CET

    Enjoyed(!) your report because we were on the incoming flight from Southampton.We were concerned about the passengers picking up the flight from Rennes. The whole palava was UK health and safety lobby colliding with the Gallic shrug shoulders nonsense!!

    As we were making our descent to Rennes the pilot aborted the landing and told us they were a fire engine light at the airport and so he could not land.
    After circuling the airport for a while he announced we were being diverted to Nantes having discussed the problem with his control centre in Exeter! After we had landed and parked in the outer perimeter of Nantes airport we sat on the plane for approx 30 mins a bus took us to the terminal. We then had a 2 hour wait for our baggage!!!! We have a home in Brittany so speak good French and one steward appeared and told us to go out to the main concourse to get refreshments- we were concerned we would get back to baggage claim, but he announced he would let us back in !!!!! Would this happen in the UK? He also told us NO flights were landing at Rennes (which transpired to be a lie!!) and the baggage handlers were busy with the scheduled flights and we would have to wait. It took 2 hours to get our baggage and the plane was kept on the tarmac all this time before the baggage was unloaded - plenty of time for the outgoing passengers to join the plane.

    We were 4 hours late at Rennes Airport and did not receive ANY complementary refreshments whatsoever- so I would be grateful for small mercies!! We have complained to Flybe - and surprise, suprise have not heard back yet!

    1. Hi Pauline
      It's interesting to hear what happened at your end too! Bloody ridiculous really and fancy taking so long to unload your plane, though I do rather like the lax way they let you out to the main concourse from the baggage area. Sometimes I really don't understand the French. No health, safety or security yet to get a cup of coffee out of hours it's like dealing with their red tape all over again!

      Thanks for telling me all this and I hope you do hear back from FlyBe. Wishing you a great New Year's Eve :-)