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Saturday, 23 February 2008

Good evening, Newark

I'm at Newark airport, which is my current favourite airport in the world, not counting Tokyo Narita which wins by default as it resides in my beloved Japan. Newark is good though, there are, even for an American airport, lots of shops. On top of the predictable newsagents, there are some great oddities - the Smithsonian museum shop, a couple of killer gadget shops, the "America" shop, which sells white house and FBI merchandise, and at which I bought a Barack Obama bumper sticker which felt somehow much more exciting than it probably was. Best of all, though, is the Maui Taco place. Five bucks gets you a frighteningly huge bean burrito and chips served by sassy, giggling and slightly scary New Jersey girls. There is no better way to wait for your connecting flight home.

I flew in from St.Thomas a couple of hours ago, have had my spectacular burrito, and now board the plane back to Gatwick, which is so much my home these days that I might as well rent out a shop unit and just move in. I take my seat on the plane, and become aware that the safety announcement is playing on the tannoy, but skipping and looping. Literally: "The oxygen mask will drop from the..oxygen mask will drop from the..oxygen mask will dr..oxygen mask will.." over and over. I think little of it, and arrange my water, magazines and playstation in the seat pocket in front of me with artfulness and precision, and I wait for take off.

Twenty minutes later and nothing has happened. Nothing, that is, except a man in blue overalls has boarded the plane and is talking to the cabin crew. Then an announcement tells us that there is an electrical fault and it will take around fifteen minutes to fix, during which time all the electrical systems will have to be disabled, so they won't be able to make any more announcements. An hour passes, during which the lights occasionally go out and come back on again, but nothing else works. The air in the plane becomes warm and stale. One becomes aware that much of it, to paraphrase an old Ardal O'Hanlan bit, has been in other peoples mouths, and some of it, in other peoples bottoms. It doesn't help that I'm seated between a single parent and his screaming young child and, honest to god, a teenage wannabe latino rap group who don't stop singing. I know the rap group sound like fun - and I do love me some rap, but trust me, they're about as pleasant to listen to as a group of college girls from the valley visiting a slaughterhouse while being told they're having their allowances cut. You know. Shrill.

Finally the power comes back on and the air starts to become breathable again. And another announcement. We're close to finding out what's wrong with the power, and will know in the next few minutes, we're told. The bad news is that either it's just a problem with the in flight entertainment system, in which case no movies today, or it's a big electrical problem, in which case no plane today. Another twenty minutes pass. The cabin crew give out free glasses of water. Seriously. For free. First class probably got lapdances.

Then a new voice makes an announcement. The captain. And this is what he says:

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is the Captain. We hope you enjoyed these fun-filled one and a half hours sitting here on the tarmac at beautiful Newark airport and that you appreciated the view we gave you of the working planes taking off and landing. The good news is that the problem with the electronic systems has been resolved, and although there will be no in-flight entertainment during your journey, we are now cleared for take-off. Because of the electronic issues, the safety video cannot be displayed, so as a special treat, you'll have the pleasure of watching our talented cabin crew perform the safety demo unplugged and acoustically.

Also, there is no food on this flight.

I'm joking.

We're aware that we're leaving Newark an hour and a half behind schedule, so we're going to try to make up the time for you by flying extra fast, in fact, I'm going to turn on both engines instead of the usual one. Thanks for flying with us."

That is one witty pilot.

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