24 AUGUST 1985, Page 33

High life

Fly in the ointment


hen Aristotle Socrates Onassis won the right to own Olympic Airlines in the early Fifties, the man who lost out in the bidding was none other than my papa. Being far shrewder than my father, the Old Turk made an offer to the government that the Taki family was unable to match. Airlines back then, especially Greek air- lines, were supposed to be as profitable as a kosher restaurant in Teheran is today, therefore no tears were shed when the Wily One and Constantine Kerensky — sorry, Karamanlis — signed the deal. Needless to say, we were wrong. Onassis made a fortune out of the airline, and he used the planes to his heart's content, once even emptying one that was ready for takeoff in order to fly Jackie Kennedy to Greece and marriage.

I used to fly Olympic in those days because I knew the executives on the airline and some of the pilots were my

friends. But I always paid the full fare although at times I was certain I was the only Greek among nine million that did. When the Wily Old Turk died in 1975 Olympic employed 5,900 people and was making money. Ten years later — Olympic was nationalised by Kerensky because Onassis had backed the Junta — it employs nearly 10,000 Neo-Hellenes and is losing a fortune. Politicians of the ruling party, civil and public servants, not to mention their distant relatives, now use the airltne in the manner the Wily One once did, butshat is not the reason Olympic loses per annum almost as much as the Soviets spend on disinformation per year. Olympic loses because it is the worst-run airline in the world, with the possible exception of Bora Bora Air, although the latter's personnel are like Jeeves in comparison with the savages that work for Olympic.

Although everyone has an airport horror story to tell, I am willing to bet my last devalued drachma that for once Olympic wins hand down, as far as making passen- gers miserable, that is. Take for example Flight 901 to Salonika last Sunday. After being kept in a hot, filthy and crowded airport terminal for nine, yes nine, hours, passengers were told their flight was can- celled. Simultaneously there was an announcement telling passengers for Flight 901A to Salonika to board. The ones who had waited for nine hours were so outraged they boarded the bus for flight 901A by force. Olympic quickly took a decision, something it had not been able to do for the past nine hours. It called the fuzz and they attacked the bus with vigour. (One of my karate boys is a cop and told me the story about storming the bus.) Flight 901A left for Salonika with only four hours' delay.

Six weeks ago, a flight to Crete was delayed for a couple of hours. The people, needless to say, were on board, standard procedure on Olympic (board the plebs and then see if there is a captain to fly them, or even if the plane is in flying condition). By the third hour a passenger began to complain out loud, and when the pilot finally began to taxi he yelled for him to wait because he (the passenger) could see a couple of people near the airport who might want to fly too. When everyone began to laugh and call the plane a milkplane, the pilot stopped taxiing, and. . . got off saying he had been in- sulted.

Two weeks ago an irate Greek, after having waited for four hours inside the sauna-like craft with absolutely no in- formation from the crew, began to swear. The hostesses were outraged and refused to fly. The passengers then began to beat them, just lightly. A strike followed as Olympic refused to install bodyguards for the crew.

One week ago I flew to Zante and had a normal flight. I waited two hours inside the plane and then was taken off. Two of my fellow passengers were partially paralysed but no chair was sent for them. While we waited for another two hours in the stink- ing airport no drinks or apologies were offered. When I demanded a refund I was told in an extremely hostile manner to leave my ticket and that I would lose half of it for cancelling late. We finally left after four hours and half the aeroplane were given a glass of warm canned orange juice. I was lucky. I was at the front and got mine. Onassis is lucky also. He's dead and cannot see from that sauna-like place where he is what the Neo-Hellenes have done with his airline.