24 Nov 2003 - To Paris with Bruce Air

It takes a lot to get me to drag myself out of bed before double figures on a Saturday morning. But, a flight with Bruce to see a Maiden show in Paris is just a little more interesting than laying in and watching SM:TV. So, after a long wet drive to Gatwick in my wobbly little Micra, I'm at the check in desk with my ticket for flight 666!

I hung around at check in for a little while, meeting various people from the office, from EMI and of course the lucky competition winners. Bruce appears in his pilot's uniform with a couple of Astreus flight attendants and the press in tow (the press will proceed to follow him all over the place all day) and says hello to everyone and does some shots for the various TV crews. People at the other check in desks, off on their routine flights to wherever, look a bit baffled by all this!

Time to leave this madness and go upstairs for some breakfast. We'd taken over part of Chez Gerard and there was a huge buffet breakfast laid on so that people could chill out and get some grub. Or go and stress themselves to bits watching the rugby on the big screens. As a good Scot's girl, I was obviously supporting Australia, and was having a great time watching the predominantly English crowd looking rather anguished. But, after all the extra time, they went and won it, didn't they. Much cheering, running around hugging random strangers and general English celebration... pah! :)

During the rugby, Nicko had arrived and was chatting with fans and doing the autograph thing while simultaneously trying to have breakfast. A nice surprise for the competition winners, who didn't know he would be acompanying us on the flight.

As the rugby had gone on so long, there wasn't much of a wait before the call to board flight 666 came over the tannoys and we made our way down through passport control, onto the bus and out to the waiting 737.

Once everyone's settled Bruce comes over the tannoy with a few cracks about the rugby, but also doing his pilot thing - making sure we all listen to the safety briefing and so on.

Some standard UK airport sitting around, and we're off - bound for Paris! It's a pretty short flight, but there's time for a light lunch and Nicko comes round to have a wee chat with everyone on the plane - all 150 of us! And there's plenty of First Officer Dickinson over the tannoy as well.
Oh yes, I almost forget... free goodie bags on boarding! Including a tour programme, Bruce Air stickers and a blue waterproof mac, which caused no end of perplexed faces until people unfolded it and saw that it's a Rainmaker promotional thingy. You see what we did there? Rain... Oh whatever!

A round of applause erupts on landing... I don't remember that ever happening on EasyJet. Apparently it's a pretty short runway by 737 standards, but not a problem for Bruce Air. Now it's organisation time - we've got to get everyone off the plane and into place for the 'school photo' under the wing and we've got to do it fast, as another crew will be taking the plane away very shortly. Val takes charge and everyone's in place, Bruce and Nicko front and centre. The press descend upon them again, but after some firm guidance we get the photos sorted out and everyone piled onto the three waiting coaches.

Two coaches whisk their occupants the few miles to the hotel right next to the Omnisport de Bercy. Unfortunately, I chose the one with the driver who decided to take a 'shortcut' to avoid the heavy Satuday Paris traffic, and ended up going a rather scenic route! Needless to say, he was replaced for the journey back to the airport the next day.

Check into the hotel, out to grab something to eat (an excellent pizza) and it's time for a bit of pre-show hospitality - drinks and nibbles at the hotel. We've all got seats at the gig, so there's no need to queue up early. The hotel is literally 5 minutes walk from the venue, so we take our time. Some people go to catch Helloween, others preferring to stay where the free alcohol is!

Excellent concert. Everyone from the plane is seated up to the right of the stage, so we've got a great view. The sound in Paris is always good - it's loud, but clear and doesn't leave your head ringing afterwards. I had borrowed a 'better' digital camera, but unfortunately discovered that it doesn't like low light conditions very much, so out of the hundreds of photos I took of the concert, you're probably going to see about ten! After the first few songs, I pretty much gave up with it and just took in the show. Paschendale in particular was spectacular. This was the first time I've seen this show, and I was very, very impressed. The French crowd were great too, it's fun being up in the seats and watching the people at the front swirling around and just going crazy.

Next morning, most folk are downstairs for breakfast, but I sleep in and miss it. Apparently the food was good too. I meet a few folk from work in the lobby and discover that Bruce is doing a little press conference later and I'm on video duty. Back into work mode then.

Once that's all out of the way, the coaches return to take us back to Le Bourget for flight 667 - our return to Gatwick. A combination of light Sunday traffic and a driver who knows where he's going means we get there in about twenty minutes, an advantage that's then neutralised by lots of French standing around smoking cigarettes and looking confused. Not that anyone on the coach is that bothered, as there are quite a lot of hangovers being quietly endured.

There's more press stuff going on, the TV guys getting some shots of Bruce in the cockpit and so on, while we all get on the plane. It's a nice surprise to be individually welcomed onboard by Astreaus' newest trolley dolly, Nicko McBrain. Bruce comes over the tannoy to let us know that the weather back in England sucks (it was sunny and warm in Paris) and doing his piloty thing again - slightly surreal having seen him fronting Maiden the night before. We set off on time and fly through clear skies over France.

During the in-flight meal, Nicko comes over the tannoy and leads a round of applause for the people who've been taking care of all the organising of the weekend - well deserved too, as there was a lot of logistics and the whole thing ran smoothly and nobody got left behind anywhere. There was a slight moment of 'we've forgotten Dave from the office' panic until someone remembered that he'd gone ahead to Dortmund!

We hit the English Channel and the skies go dark. Hmmmm. Fasten the seatbelts then, cos it's getting bumpy. As we start the approach into Gatwick, Bruce is on the tannoy again to warn us that the weather's getting bad and we might have to go around. Sure enough, not long into the descent the engines rev up and we're going upwards instead of downwards. There's too much windshear to land, so Gatwick are going to have us chug round a few times as the weather front should be passing fairly quickly.

The plane lines up for another attempt at terra firma and this time we make it. There's another round of applause on landing, but this one's a more heartfelt - a lot of people are rather glad to be back on the ground, myself included. Bruce apologies for the bumpy landing and informs us that we're one of only two planes that have managed to land at Gatwick in the past forty five minutes or so - not a lot is coming in and even less is going out. Good old English weather, eh?

Bruce comes back into the cabin to shake everyone's hand on departure from the plane, chatting, signing things, doing both of his jobs at once - signing Iron Maiden albums while dressed as an airline pilot. The weather's horrible so everyone says their goodbyes and go their seperate ways. Some have got a long way still to go, having come from as far away as Brazil to be on the trip!

In summary, an awesome weekend and a true once in a lifetime experience!

- Skunk

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