We booked a walking holiday in Madeira last week, a holiday we eagerly anticipated, our first trip abroad since Covid 19 started
The Saturday before last we left home very in the morning and drove to Gatwick to catch our flight. Once on board we learnt that there was an hour's delay because we had missed a take off slot. An hour later the Captain said we were ready to go and he anticipated a flight time of 3 hours knocking half an hour from the normal flight time. There was a round of applause.
3 hours later as we approached the island, he came on the tannoy again to say that due to wind which had been steadily increasing, we were not going to be able to land, so we circled for an hour hoping for a lull, but the wind didn't drop. He intended to divert to Porto Santo, a neighbouring island, but then said that we now couldn't because we were no 5 in the number of aircraft circling and Porto Santo only had 4 stands for parked aircraft. So we diverted to Faro, in Portugal, another 1.5 hour flight.
When we arrived at Faro, where we had been told we would be provided with overnight accommodation, we found that the airport was just closing, and the baggage handlers had gone home. So we refuelled and flew back to Gatwick, where we were told we would be met by ground staff who would arrange meals and accommodation, and book us onto a new flight to Madeira the next day, Sunday. On arrival, just after midnight we found the airport deserted, and no one there to meet or help the 240 passengers. We hung around for about an hour until ground staff eventually arrived to inform us that there were no flights available to Madeira for another 2 days, and if we wanted we were advised to book them there and then. We tried to do this on our phones without success. By this time about half the passengers had given up, but those of us who had remained were booked on it manually. We were than told that a coach had been laid on to take us to an hotel in Epsom. We asked if we could extend the stay there for an extra 3 nights as it was not worth trying to extract the car from the off site car park as we would lose the whole payment and enter into a fresh contract, furthermore it would involve another very early rise 2 days later to return to the airport. We were assured this would be ok, and to tell the hotel on arrival. We were then bussed 40 mins to the hotel. On arrival the hotel staff were rude and unhelpful informing us that they only had a room for what was left of that night. There was no food available.
In the morning we had to get a Taxi back to the airport, where we had to find the airline staff and get our Boarding Passes for the new flight in 2 days. We booked into the Premier Inn which had a room and killed time the next day at the airport riding the escalators and shuttle train in between coffee breaks.
Then another early start and we checked in for the next flight to Madeira. An uneventful flight there until we arrived to once again find the wind was too strong and we diverted to Porto Santo. We sat in the plane for a couple of hours on the tarmac, and they wouldn't let us off. There was no food. Then they announced that we would be disembarked to use the airport facilities with the information that we would make another attempt to land on Madeira, and if that wasn't possible we would divert to Lisbon. On being disembarked we had to go through transit immigration and then used the airport's one little café staffed by just one girl who did a wonderful job of serving a plane load of passengers and still keep her cool. 2 hours later we re-embarked only to be told by the Captain that the winds were still too high on Madeira, and he wasn't even going to attempt a landing, instead flying straight to Lisbon. This caused a near riot amongst some of the passengers, some of whom were Madeirans, who accused him of breaking his promise! Passengers had seen from flight tracker apps on their phones that other aircraft were landing there.
He came back on the tannoy to explain that Funchal (Madeira) airport is one of the most difficult landings in Europe in high winds due to the proximity of mountains close to the runway, pilots had to undergo special training to be cleared for landing there, and he didn't want to do it this late in the day because he was "tired". This caused even more uproar with some passengers standing up saying that they didn't want to fly to Lisbon with a "tired" pilot!
Meanwhile time ticked by with passengers arguing, and the cabin crew trying to keep everyone calm. The pilot came back on saying he was quite capable of flying the 90 mins to Lisbon, and very likely Funchal, but because of the concentration required to make the Funchal landing he was making the decision to go straight to Lisbon on safety grounds because he and the crew were approaching the end of their permitted flying hours. He offered those who wanted to disembark the chance to do it there and then. No one continued to argue, and we flew to Lisbon. Arriving late in the evening.
Here, we were met by ground staff who split the passengers into 4 or five groups. We joined one at random and were bussed a short way to the Corinthia Hotel, a luxury 5 Stat hotel were even though we were approaching mid night the staff were very welcoming and laid on a splendid buffet, and comfortable rooms.
It seems that we were lucky in the group we were put into at the airport, another group which included families with young children were walked round to an on airport hotel were they were dumped by the ground staff only to find there wasn't enough accommodation nor food, and had been left to their own devices to try and ring round a find accommodation for themselves.
In the morning we were bussed to the airport and finally caught a flight to Madeira, which landed on time enabling us to finally start what was let of our holiday , we had missed 4 days, with just 3 days walking left - but it was superb walking although wet and misty on 2 of them.
My Grandparents went to Madeira for their honeymoon in 1954. They got trapped by big seas, since they were flying on a sea plane. By all accounts they had a whale of a time in their delay, including walking up Pico Ruivo with a local guide. My Grandfather had only taken suits and dress shoes, Granny was (and is) a little more practical. They were eventually able to fly home a week late, including an overnight stop to refuel in Lisbon, where they went out on the tiles with the pilot, before the final leg back to Southampton.
I'm sorry your trip was memorable in other ways!
Had a similar experience once trying to get to Samothraki - by ferry. Failed due to persistent winds from the wrong direction.
I have heard similar horror stories re Flores (Azores) but have got away with it so far.
Hope the rest of your trip was a good 'un
> Great sympathy. We had an apartment on a hill overlooking the landing flight path. Watched quite a few aborted landings during our stay. Fascinating.
What a nightmare! But it does have to be said....that airport is in an insane location. I would not want to be on a plane attempting to land in any sort of windy conditions.
There's not much suitable terrain on the island. It was once proposed to build an airport somewhere up on the plateau until it was pointed out that it would be enveloped in fog or cloud 100+ days a year. The present runway was extended after a disaster when a plane went off the end.
> What a nightmare! But it does have to be said....that airport is in an insane location. I would not want to be on a plane attempting to land in any sort of windy conditions.
I'll tell you what, our eventual landing was a white knuckle ride better than anything you will encounter at Alton Towers. Huge admiration for the pilots who do it.
Hah! when I was a lad I flew to Madeira with my girlfriend..... before the new runway extension had been built - a complete trouser filler, shot past the terminal at about 100mph with engines in full reverse and squealed to a stop about 100m short of the drop off into the ocean. And the roads on Madeira! I went back three years ago, they've built a modern highway along the north shore, most of the cliff hugging road I remember is now lying in the sea several hundred feet below.
But Madeira is still bloody wonderful!
Madeira's great. I was on a popular levada walk and came across a sign saying Path Closed. While I was peeking past the sign and reviewing my options, a Dutch couple popped out from behind it in the opposite direction, and made up my mind for me. You wouldn't want to take your granny though. Then there's the Funchal toboggan run!
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