Red Sea liveaboards are great. Dive, eat, sleep, repeat. Luvverly. Except for the package flight either end of the week. Oh well, needs must – MIKE WARD is flying tonight…
I’ll take a train to the airport, I decide. Use public transport to save the planet and avoid the stress of driving, plus, bonus, now I’m an old gimmer with a Senior Railcard, it will cost me less. Win, win, win. What’s not to like?
And yes, I know nobody jumping on an aeroplane is doing anything to save the planet, so that was just conscience-salving hypocrisy. Deal with it. I just hope there isn't a strike on the day. And I hope it’s on time. What if it’s late? Am I sure I booked an early enough train? Oh, well, it either won’t be, it will be, and it is, or not. Clear?
First though, online check-in. Here we are, do I want a seat? That’ll be six quid extra. Unless I want a seat with some leg-room, which is eighteen quid, or twenty-five for legroom and priority boarding.
Oh, and I can take a weeny cabin bag for free but it’ll cost me more to take a bag big enough to carry anything useful. And can they sell me an on-board catering voucher? No?
Well, before you go, are you sure we can’t tempt you to a more expensive seat? Or a larger cabin bag? And have we mentioned the catering voucher? We accept all major credit cards, after all. Or you could sell us a kidney. No? Just the cheapskate boarding pass, then. Click here to print.
And now you can go through all that again for the return flight. By the way, did you know we do catering vouchers? And might you have grown while you were away and need more leg-room? No? How about a bigger cabin bag, then? No?
OK, just another cheapskate boarding pass then, but we’ll remind you about the catering vouchers again, just in case.
Travel day, and woohoo, there isn’t a rail strike! And the train’s on time! Blimey! Well, I say “on time”, but I reckon arriving at the airport three minutes late is near enough, especially after spending two hours in the company of people whose near future held only the prospect of a day at work, whereas I was going to the Red Sea to go diving.
OK then, off the train, bag on shoulder and follow the signs to Terminal One. Just a five-minute walk, it says, and I pack light. Two of everything I need, nowt I don’t. Of course, that means no wheels on the bag so I have to carry it, but my bag is a kilo empty, not four or five, and I’m quite a spry older fellow.
Soon be there.
Very soon now.
I must be a slow walker, it’s the only sensible explanation.
I can’t be walking to Hurghada. Can I?
Finally, there it is, bag drop, where I need to scan the boarding pass printed at home, weigh the bag (16.7kg, yes!) and print a label to attach to it. And now I have to take the bag to one of those old-fashioned desks with a human being sat at it who checks that I’ve done everything properly so far, makes a last-minute attempt to flog me a catering voucher and then tells me I have to take my bag to another baggage check because it’s a soft bag.
The young woman behind the desk did not look happy in her work and I said nothing, but I didn’t buy a catering voucher. That’ll teach them.
And call me grumpy if you like, lots of people have, but standing in three queues personned by umpteen different airline personnel and overall taking roughly three time as long as just turning up at a check-in desk with bag and ticket doesn’t seem like progress.
Seventh circle of security
Oh well, just security now. Why are we going down so many stairs? Just how far underground is this place? And it’s getting warmer. Darker, too.
And there are so many people jammed and crammed and jostling for position down here, with very few of them wearing anything like enough deodorant. It’s really an outer circle of Hell, innit? If the staff have horns and a tail I’m out of here, toot sweet.
Nope, no horns, maybe they need halos instead. The Geneva Convention would surely class an eight- or ten-hour shift in that gloomy, echoing bedlam as a cruel and unusual punishment.
The 15 minutes it takes me to queue, get the laptop out of my bag and put it in a tray, stand in a scanner in a pose based on the chalk outlines from a detective show, then collect my belongings and move on feels like an eternity.
If any of the actively recruiting religious groups want to make converts they could do worse than put people just after airport security, offering eternal salvation and catering vouchers for the journey.
Instead we get duty free, a wearying and seemingly endless trudge past displays of chocolate, cuddly toys, booze, jewellery, designer sunglasses and much, much more stuff I don’t want. And the perfume-tester people with their aimless mists of the latest whiffs might be better stationed pre-security – see deodorant issue mentioned above.
In fact, all that baggage drop and security malarky leaves only just enough time for a restorative tea and the purchase of a sandwich, snack and drink meal deal for the flight before the gate number pops up on the board.
This is marvellous but seems a bit odd, because it's early enough to give the aircraft a decent chance of leaving on time, which is clearly the stuff of fantasy and just doesn’t happen.
I mean, a delay of just one hour is practically early, but here we go, pushing back on time. OK, we then have to wait for a take-off slot and end up half an hour late, but in airline terms that’s so early it’s as if we set off yesterday.
Which is when I look around and see my fellow-travellers, flying on the big bird in the sky to realise their holiday dream.
Back in the day, flights like these were packed with scuba divers. It was a miracle the aircraft ever got off the ground with the amount of dive-gear on board. Now they’re the preserve of holiday-makers headed for an all-inclusive hotel on the Red Sea Riviera for a week or two of blazing sunshine, cheap booze and life-changing diarrhoea.
Mostly they’re families, with mum and dad accompanied by a variable number of more or less feral offspring, but this is good. I can sit there and relax in my thinly padded and narrow seat in the cheapskate section with no catering voucher, safe and smug in the certain knowledge that these people will not be on my liveaboard.
And hallelujah!, the seats don’t recline, so I’m not going to spend the entire flight pinned in my chair by someone looking up my nose.
This is the point at which the two ladies in front of me get started early on the superhighway to Hangover Central, knocking back airline prosecco like it’s fizzy pop, and within minutes it’s less a flight and more an airborne party.
Especially when the bloke from up front, the tall one with the tattoos and the swagger, thinks he might have pulled before we even get to Egypt, much to the annoyance of his female partner.
It’s all much better than any in-flight movie I’ve ever seen, though the stewarding crew don’t seem amused as they pick their way around the conga line now touring the forward and after toilets via the entire central aisle.
All in all, it seems like only minutes before we’re landing in Hurghada, the doors open and the heat and smell roll in.
We’re even docked at an air bridge, so there’s no need for the bus-ride to the terminal, jammed together for the last time on our outward journey and able to keep our feet only because we’re shoved in so tightly together that even the usual racing driver wannabe can’t do too much damage.
Immigration involves a long queue, moving slowly, but by the time I’m in the baggage hall my bag is already sailing around the belt in stately fashion.
Before long I’m aboard my boat for the week, the deck moving gently beneath my feet, the breeze riffling what’s left on my hair and dinner shortly to be served.
Sleep, dive, eat, repeat. Bliss.
MIKE WARD has been diving for almost 40 years and writing about his experiences for most of that time. He dives regularly at home and works with Scuba Travel to escort specialist wreck-diving safaris overseas.