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Every year a magazine called Executive Travel organizes a competition to find the Airline of the Year. Travellers from all over the world are invited to vote for the most efficient, the most punctual, the safest and the friendliest airline. The winner in 1985 was British Airways. The competition asked travellers what for them was most important from an airline, and the results were as follows:
The competition also invited travellers to tell their most horrific stories of the nightmare side to international travel. Replies included six hijacks, fifty-three cases of engine failure or trouble with the landing gear, eleven lightning strikes, twenty-three bomb scares, thirteen cases of food poisoning and two collisions with airport trucks.
Bad flying experiences begin on the ground, naturally. One American airline managed to double-book an entire 747, but this is nothing compared to what happened on an internal flight on a certain African airline. The flight had been overbooked three times. The local military sorted the problem out by insisting that all passengers with boarding cards should run round the plane twice, the fastest getting the seats. An overbooked flight that was going from Heathrow to America gave one traveller a bit of a shock. Dressed only in trousers, shirt and socks, he had been allowed by the stewardess to leave the aircraft to see if he could get a colleague aboard. He returned a few minutes later to find the 747 closed up and about to start moving — with his shoes, wallet, passport and luggage inside. Banging frantically on the door got him back inside. A similar event was seen by a businessman on a flight from Bangladesh. Passengers were waiting for take-off when there was sudden hysterical hammering on the door. At first the cabin crew paid no attention. The hammering continued. When the door was finally opened, the pilot got in.
One frequent flier lost a certain amount of confidence when the cabin staff asked him to sit in the lavatory during take-off, so that they could occupy the seats nearest the emergency exit. Another lost faith in the pilot's navigational skills when passengers were given lifeboat drill on a flight between London and Vanchester.
For nervous fliers, a journey to be avoided was one between Gatwick and Montpellier, where the in-flight entertainment consisted of watching pieces of the engine falling off. Another passenger was asked to hold the aircraft door closed at take-off and landing.
Baggage is a rich source of horror stories. There was the unlucky traveller who left Chicago in minus-23 weather. He was going to an important meeting in Dallas, where the temperature was 80-plus. Unfortunately his suitcase had gone to LA, where it spent the next two days. The customers he was trying to impress were more than a little surprised to see him going round in a thick suit, heavy overcoat and fur hat.
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