If you were writing a sitcom about an awful eastern European budget airline, you might easily come up with the name WIZZ AIR. That a Budapest-based airline with such a name really exists should have been warning enough.
In Lublin this morning we were called for boarding and herded into outdoor sheep-pens on a runway with no aeroplane in sight. Babies screamed. Harassed parents became desperate. Old ladies passed out. Old men pleaded to be allowed back inside to go to the toilet.
Nearly two hours later a fuchsia-and-mauve plane landed beside the sheep pens. We desperate passengers charged on board, all safety rules ignored. People were still conducting violent marital tiffs and moving around the cabin during take-off.
I had been bought an Extra Leg Room seat by my Polish hosts, and sat in embarassed solitude on the slightly less confining middle row. Asked by the dismal flight attendant if I would operate the safety exit in the event of an emergency, it being situated on my row, I said that everyone would be safer if someone more confident with machinery and aviation sat by the door.
The dismal attendant went glassy-eyed. She could not sit anyone else there because Nobody Else had Paid the 16-Euros Extra Leg Room supplement. I said, “So what? Plenty of passengers would like that seat and could operate the door.” The three large men crammed into the row behind me all volunteered. Glass-Eyes continued to maintain No Pay No Upgrade. But when I offered to swap with one of the large men, she finally gave up and let reason prevail. Just think! How outrageous! A man who had not paid the supplement got legroom!
Turbulence was terrible and the flight-attendants looked terrified all the time, as if they knew something we didn't about a defective engine. The first thing I did when I finally got home was look up W(H)IZZ in the dictionary. Since the 1600s, as a verb it has denoted the movement of lethal missiles such as bullets and cannon balls. In the Depression a Whizz meant a pickpocket or petty thief. In the 1970s ‘going for a whizz’ meant urinating. In the 1980s and 1990s ‘whizz’ meant ‘recreational’ amphetamines.
It was only in September 2003, exactly a decade ago, that the term became associated not only with lethal danger, being ripped off, taking a/the p**s and psychotropic chemicals (all of which seem appropriate to my experience this morning), but an airline so abysmal that I would very much rather have hitchhiked all the way. You have been warned.