Cuban organisation at its worst
20.03.2014 - 21.03.2014 29 °C
Our coach journey back to Havana airport was a little over 2 and a half hours and we arrived approximately 3 hours before we were due to fly. Unfortunately this meant we were about 30 people from the end of the queue of the 458 passengers checking in for this Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 flight from Havana to London Gatwick. What chance of seats together? Suddenly a couple more virgin check-in desks opened but these were for bag drop customers only. It was taking an age to check in this queue of people. A young couple a few places in front of us noticed the bag drop queue was only a few people and was moving swiftly and they dared to do what the rest of us were contemplating but were afraid to do. They left the big queue and joined the smaller bag drop queue at the risk of being turned away at the bag drop desk and have to rejoin the big queue right at the back. Whispers spread along the big queue of onlooking passengers. Would the gamble pay off? Should we risk it as well? Nobody else did but all eyes were on the young, adventurous, daring couple. They were next in line to check in. Hundreds of eyes were willing them to fail and be sent to the very back of the queue. They approached the check in clerk, they put their cases on the scales, they handed over their passports and were then sent............... through to security. They had done it, they had dared where others hadn't and leapfrogged at least a hundred check in places. Well done you two. We finally reached our desk and tentatively asked if it was possible for us to sit together for this eight hour flight. The check in lady did that sharp intake of breath thing. Jo did that I'd be ever so grateful thing. She leaned across and checked something with a colleague. She sticky labelled our cases and they were gone. She printed our boarding cards and said, "I'm really sorry, it's a very busy flight and nearly all the seats are allocated and the only thing we have left are the extra leg room seats near the exit so I've got you two together. The next queue, after over an hour in that one, was to pay the Cuban exit tax of 25 Pesos each, so we joined that queue for another half hour. Next up was the queue to go through security. Usual thing, several single file queues that when you get to the front there is a choice of two customs officers to check your passport, exit visa and again take your photo. We joined the queue leading to kiosks 7 & 8. It was the slowest moving queue ever. Our departure time was getting closer and closer. One of the customs officers disappeared, that meant we were now queing even more slowly for just one kiosk, number 7. We were approximately 3 or 4 from the front of our queue when the customs officer in kiosk 7 also disappeared leaving us queuing for two empty kiosks. Panic spread through the whole of our line of passengers who were becoming increasingly impatient. There were some huge Gallic shrugs from the Air France passengers behind us accompanied by one or two 'sacre bleus' - do they really say that? We all contemplated switching queues but that would mean starting again at the back and how long would that take? Protestations were made to a 'child' customs officer (perhaps that's me getting old but she really seemed very young) who was standing close by. Eventually she went to look for and successfully retrieved the recently departed customs officer from kiosk 7. There was an audible sigh of relief that was short lived as she checked in the 3 passengers in front of us and then switched off and disappeared for good. It was a shift change. We watched a new army of officers march in and take over from their colleagues in all the kiosks. Kiosk 8 however remained unmanned. A new girl took over kiosk 7 and was signing on to her computer when she was told by the supervising customs officer to man (woman) a different kiosk leaving 7 & 8 still both unmanned with yours truly at the front of the now very stationery queue. The red mist descended and the moment the passenger at kiosk 9 moved away I skipped queues, pushed in and went straight to the customs officer at that kiosk and presented him with my passport. A foreign voice of protestation appeared at my right shoulder which I ignored and as the officer now had my passport in his hand he waved the protestor of foul play away and processed me. Now this is where I hadn't really thought this through. Jo was now stranded in that stationery queue, with uproar all around her. The Air France passenger behind Jo had followed my lead and presented herself in front of kiosk 6 to similar protestations and outrage. I had to help. I collared the supervisor lady who had allotted the officers to the kiosks and pleaded " me mujer, me mujer (hoping that really meant wife and not mother) siete y ocho, whilst pointing at my boarding card and my wrist, even though I don't wear a watch. Remarkably she seemed to understand and took Jo by the arm to another kiosk to the obvious disgust of that kiosks line but at the same time, an angry, elderly, overweight, red-in-the-face English passenger wearing something akin to a straw boater, grabbed Jo's other arm to prevent this happening shouting at the supervisor that she should instead get another officer for the empty kiosks. Jo wrestled free from boths clutches and made it through to my side. The chap almost having a thrombosis seemed to have made an impact as another customs officer opened kiosk number 7. We now only had the final obstacle of the single queue on the other side of customs for the 2 bag scanning machines - give me strength! We were patient and got through it without incident. Our flight had been called some time ago and again we tagged on the end of the 458 passengers now boarding the aircraft. What an ordeal! Our Virgin flight home with our extra leg room was superb. I watched the butler, that was ok and I also watched Grown Ups 2 which was entertaining enough in a slapsticky kind of way. The rest of the time we slept and arrived to another sunny morning in London feeling quite refreshed. Simon happened to be working at the ideal home exhibition at earls court so we managed to while away an hour and a half in his company at the show before catching the train home to bring to an end a very enjoyable trip to Cuba.