The Joy(s) of Air Travel

Over the past year I have become rather accomplished in airport protocol. (That’s what happens when you enter into a relationship with someone who lives in an different country.) There have been only a small handful of instances in which my usually slick schedule has been dented, and for each one of them I can confidently claim outside interference the reason for the mishap.

One notable heart raiser was caused by an hour delay on my drive to Stansted (adding 50% extra travel time), and the subsequent scenic route the TomTom took me, which felt like a whistle-stop tour of every village and hamlet known to man and beast in the vicinity of Cambridgeshire and north east Essex. Arriving at the carpark considerably behind schedule, I boarded the shuttle bus (for a further ten- to fifteen-minute journey to the departure terminal) exactly one hour prior to take off time, which, quite frankly, was not a lot to work with. Luckily the security queues were manageable and, ever efficient, I raced through them in record time to find that my flight’s gate was the furthest one possible. I was also getting hungry ( / hangry) which didn’t much help. With carry-on suitcase in toe, I legged it all the way to Gate Far Far Away, hovering, momentarily, at each and every food outlet en route, gazing longingly at the falafel and houmous wraps before rationalising that it was much more sensible to actually make the plane rather than satisfy my hunger pangs, and, either way, I could always get some dry roasted peanuts mid-flight. Eventually I reached the long lost gate, which was mid-boarding but not yet departed. Phew. Obviously I had not paid the £6 upgrade to let me sit on the plane for five minutes longer to watch the hoi polloi file in (I am not made of money, and I am not totally stupid), so I had a few moments to work with and my mind was firmly on falafel. The adjacent W H Smith satisfied my time-poor and houmous-hungry needs. My Middle Eastern dinner and I made it safely onto the plane, and tutted, with everyone else, at the latecomers who held us all up.

The second, far more costly, airport-related disaster involved Ryanair. (Need I say more?) This time I was at my gate with near hours to spare, staring at a constantly pushed-back departure time for my flight, making the hours I had to wait get longer by the minute. Tannoy announcements extended the company’s “sincerest apologies” about the delays, and assured the now growingly disgruntled gathering that as soon as the inbound flight had landed and disembarked we would be right on our way. I found out via my boyfriend over in the Netherlands that the flight had been cancelled before Ryanair deemed it necessary to inform its passengers of the decision. But however much this lack of communication vexed me (a lot), it did give me a head start against my fellow passengers to get back to the check-in desk to re-book onto another flight. This behind-the-scenes journey through secret doors and passageways of parts of the airport one never ordinarily sees was partaken in a speed walk / slow jog tempo, keeping as much of an eye on the (lack of) directions back to the desk as on my fellow passengers, constantly calculating how best I should overtake them. If I say so myself; I got there rather swiftly. I arrived to be third in line at the Ryanair desk, which was yet to be opened. Obviously.

Juggling transatlantic calls to the other half, Skyscanner search engines for alternative flights and listening in to the game plans of those around me, this ten minutes of waiting made me even more stressed that the cancellation of the flight itself. My phone was also on 5% battery and my hanger levels were nearing overflow. Earwigging on the discourse between the passenger in front and the uninterested Ryanair advisor (when he finally got there), I gleaned that there were no available seats on Ryanair flights in the next two days, and the options that stood were a full refund (on your highly discounted Ryanair fare) or, well, that was your only option. (The computer said “no” to transferring you to a different airline.) Helpful. As I was called to the desk I did my best to feign helpless lone female (not sure if there was any feigning required to be honest) to try to get on one of their fully-booked flights, or be transferred to another airline. I achieved neither. Asking if Ryanair would compensate me for a night in a hotel (it was now gone 9 pm and I was in London sans car) and an available flight the following day with another airline, I was responded to with a smirk, a throat-clear, and the ever-supportive, “you can try”. I replied with a “thank you for being so unhelpful” and dropped the mic.

A sassy exit I may have had, but what was I to do now? My Skycanner search now changed to that of Booking.com, and my iPhone battery reduced to 4%. From a quick thumb scroll I realised I had a few options: cheap and shitty; slightly more upmarket with a price tag reflective; totally beyond my means. Although I was more than tempted to go superposh, with Ryanair to pick up the bill, I spoke a little sense to myself and settled for upmarket. (I could’t be doing with any more budget bust ups tonight.) Finding the hotel shuttle bus stop was a nightmare in itself, but once I had walked around the pitch-black airport surrounds for circa forty-five minutes I finally happened upon it, with the desired coach just pulling in. But seemingly the whole of Stansted was against me that night. As I lumbered up to the driver not only did she CHARGE ME! (£3.) What? She WOULD NOT ACCEPT CARD AND I HAD JUST £2.50 TO MY NAME. She wasn’t having any of it. She directed me to the ‘nearby’ (pfft) cash machine, but confirmed that she would not wait for me while I withdrew cash. I soon realised that no amount of puppy eyes were going to work on Miss Trunchball reincarnated, and began my lumber back down to the darkness, praying that another, more amenable, coach would be coming soon. At which point my saviour appeared. A middle-aged Brummy man proclaimed behind me, “I can lend yaouw fifty pee, love”. I have never been so grateful in all my life.

Once checked in, settled, fed (omelette) and watered (red wine) it was time to hunker down before my EasyJet flight in the morning. However. Travelling frequently and ‘light’ means that one does not take makeup remover, toothbrush and toothpaste, or deodorant in one’s carry on. One has everything that one needs at one’s end destination. But with an overnight interruption to proceedings one runs across some basic hygiene problems. I will leave you to imagine the bleary- and blackened-eyed, red-wine-tinged and slightly smelly mess that reacquainted herself with the airport the following morning. All that I will say is that she did eventually reach her desired destination (unrecompensed for any of the losses – monetary or otherwise), albeit nine hours behind schedule.

But for my most recent aviation adversity the compounding factor can only truthfully be put down to forgetfulness (with a small consolation being that I was not alone and so only half (at most) to blame). As I and Mr Unpronounceable arrived at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik last month to return our hire car and catch our flight home we conversed, rather self righteously, about how excellent our time management and organisational skills were, as we skipped into the airport with plenty of time to spare. Without access to any kind of weighing device during the packing process we partook in (just as prior to our outbound flight) a last minute weigh-in and re-jiggle of our suitcases’ contents at the airport, in order to meet the specified restrictions. This we carried out leisurely and with calmness, not a care in the world with so much time to play with. Waving them off on their conveyor belt ride to the plane, we continued on our journey through the airport system, with nothing left to carry apart from one tiny cross-body handbag (on me) and one (not so tiny but still reasonably small) backpack (on him). The joys of going hands free! We could hold hands and walk at the same time, and even had another hand spare – each – to clutch our boarding passes! What a delightful experience this checked-in luggage afforded.

Security was the next point of call, which we sauntered up in our now accustomed ease. Then I heard a very Dutch sounding “Fuck” from just over my right shoulder. It was a slightly high-pitched and rapid exhalation of the profanity; a version of the remark appropriate for when stubbing one’s toe or hitting one’s head on a sharp-cornered cupboard door. At first I thought he’d forgotten his passport, and then I remembered he’s really not that stupid. Then I thought he’d forgotten to drink the water in his reusable bottle (greater than the limit for fluids on the flight). And then I realised that was far too extreme a reaction for the requirement to chug half a litre of water. So then I stopped fantasising in my mind and asked him, “Whaddup?” “My suit!” he proclaimed, his eyes growing wider by the second. Oh shit. His suit. Yes. That thing we were supposed to remember on the back seat of the hire car…

I have never before had to un-scan myself backwards through an airport barrier, but it turns out they have a whole system for that and it is probably more common than you might think. We pegged it out of the terminal building and across the vast grey carpark – in the rain (pathetic fallacy) – back to the Thrifty office, a confusing state of embarrassment and urgency making us both a curious shade of red. The guy with whom we had returned the car was still on duty, so we made a beeline for him and explained, between pants (short breaths not trousers), our situation. (He, in fact, could be another outside factor to blame for the whole situation, as he ‘checked’ the car or its return, but I won’t get into the blame game. (It was all Gijs’ fault.)) As he took us to the car to claim our lost property Gijs remarked, flippantly, that – can you believe – we were almost on the plane before we realised what we had left! The hire guy took this very seriously and understood that we HAD been on the plane and were let off to retrieve our item. So he insisted on driving us back to the airport entrance, abiding to absolutely no road markings and definitely breaking the carpark’s speed limit if it had one, repeating the words: “I won’t let you miss your flight”. We were too embarrassed to admit that we still had two hours to kill before it was due to depart. So we rushed into the terminal building – to continue the pretence of absolute emergency, and got safely inside and out of eyesight before LOLling to high heaven. Our skin tone slowly subsided to a more natural, less tomato-based, shade, and our breathing became more controlled and less audible. I grabbed my Dutchman’s one free hand and squeezed it, encouragingly (with perhaps the slightest touch of blame), as we skipped off to security for the second, and final, time.

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