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Gozo to Caithness and back – Part One

On our Summer 2010 visit to Malta we decided to take the opportunity to make the relatively short hop up to Caithness to visit Mike Clark, the author of the wonderful Clark in the Park and Clark’s Caledonia columns on this site. (Relatively is right – it’s a four-hour flight from Malta to Scotland…)

It wasn’t as easy to do this as we’d imagined it would be. Clarkie warned us against flying to London and then taking an internal flight up North, especially to Wick. So Ryanair’s flights Malta-Edinburgh-Malta appeared to offer the most realistic option pricewise – even though that would mean a long drive up the M90 and A9 in a hire car to get to the Far North, and the Edinburgh-Malta leg took off at a cruelly early hour in the morning. The cost – a mere €445.54.

Outward journey

As ill luck had it, I’d knackered my knee shortly after arriving on Gozo so was unable to walk. On the advice of Ryanair veterans, I got Dave to phone ahead to let them know that I would need special assistance to get me onto the aircraft and into my seat – apparently there are safety limits as to how many disabled passengers they can carry. They have a dedicated number for dealing with special assistance requests – the member of staff Dave spoke to dealt with the request sympathetically and sorted it all out quickly.

Ryanair arranged for Malta Airport to provide a wheelchair and lift access to the aircraft. The good part of this was that Dave and I got priority boarding without having to pay for it. On the other hand, we didn’t get any choice in where we sat – they put me in a window seat in the second from last row at the back, and Dave sat in the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat unoccupied. And of course we then had to wait for all the other seats to be filled in the usual way.

Unfortunately they had no means of getting me from the lift to the seat on the aircraft so one of the stewards helped Dave to physically carry me in.  This was a most unpleasant experience, not least because it resulted in bruised and battered ribs which added to my mobility problems.

Overall the Ryanair flight was OK and the snacks were edible if somewhat expensive. It was not bad for a no-frills flight – much better than AirAsia anyway, and by no means the spartan ordeal we’d feared it might be.

On landing at Edinburgh, the disembarking process was similar, except that this time a narrow wheel chair was provided to get me off the aircraft and into a normal-sized wheelchair.  The wheelchair was a terrible design.  Unlike the ones at Malta, which have large hand-wheels so you can at least manoeuvre yourself a bit, the Edinburgh wheelchairs’ four small wheels made it essential for someone else to push the chair. Therefore, you were stranded wherever you happened to be parked with no option to move anywhere under your own steam. So I was left sitting outside the airport entrance to wait while Dave went and collected the hire car from Hertz.

Return journey

Because of the early departure time (0610), we had booked a room overnight at the Novotel at Edinburgh Park – the closest hotel to the airport. (You can read about our experience at the Novotel here.) It was a straightforward matter to get from the Novotel to the airport – all the more so as we were doing it at four o’clock in the morning and there was next to no traffic on the roads.

The procedure for getting on and off the plane was very similar to the outward journey but in reverse – again, I was in a window seat in the second from last row and Dave took the aisle seat.  This time a narrow wheelchair was provided at both Edinburgh and Malta.

Some jobsworth at Edinburgh Airport security confiscated my frozen gel packs which I needed to relieve the pain in my leg – even though Dave pointed out that they were medical, the woman was adamant. The guy who was escorting us suggested that it would have been enough for us to produce a medical certificate to confirm the need. Well, if a medical certificate was all that was needed, why didn’t either he or Jobsworth ask whether I had one? There must be dozens of people every week going through the airport with medical supplies of one sort or another. Surely it should be standard procedure by now?

However, one of the Ryanair staff was very good and improvised with a sick-bag full of ice-cubes, which did the trick.

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