Please excuse the length of this blog post; I didn’t have time to write a shorter one…
Remember my trip to London/Kent last month? The one that lasted just four days in real time, but which seems to have dragged on for at least four years in blog time? In my last post from that trip, I mentioned that while our journey TO the south of England was pretty uneventful, the return trip was filled with THE DRAMA. And now I will tell you aaaallll about it. This is a long one, folks: I’d say you might want to grab a coffee, but honestly, I think you might need something stronger. I know I do.
So! As you might recall, Terry and I had picked up a hire car at Gatwick airport, and driven it into London, and then on to Kent, where we were staying with Terry’s brother for a few days. On the way back, we planned to make the same journey in reverse, only without the whole “London” bit: so we’d go directly from Kent to Gatwick, and drop off the car there before catching our flight home. What could possibly go wrong? [/FORESHADOWING]
Accompanying us on the flight to Edinburgh were Terry’s brother John, and his fiance Jolene, who’d also spent the weekend in Kent. Jolene had spent the final day of the trip with her brother in London, and was going from there straight to the airport. Terry, John and I, meanwhile, would drive to Gatwick in the hire car, and meet Jolene at check-in, after which we’d have plenty of time for a nice cup of coffee and a catch-up, before making our leisurely way to the gate. Or so we thought.
In order to avoid any last-minute panicking, we set off for the airport in plenty of time, allowing a good half hour more than our already-generous estimated journey time. Because of that, when traffic on the M20 suddenly ground to a halt, we weren’t too worried. We had plenty of time! Tons of it! The traffic would start moving soon, and we’d be on our way, no problem!
Yeah, the traffic didn’t start moving. At all. And as we sat there and watched our extra 30 minutes tick away, and then some, it started to occur to us that we just might be in trouble here.
There were two main issues which could potentially cause us to miss the flight: well, three if you count the whole “motorway at a complete standstill” thing. The first issue was that bulging suitcase I’d insisted on bringing with me. It had to be checked onto the flight at least 45 minutes before take-off. It was really starting to look like we might not even be at the airport 45 minutes before take-off, though, let alone in any position to be checking in the baggage. Whoops. That’ll teach me to pack every single cosmetic known to man, plus fifteen spare outfits!*
(*I’m joking: I only took about 12…)
The second issue was the hire car. Not only did it have to be back at Gatwick by the agreed time (which was right before our flight, naturally), it also had to be re-fueled before we dropped it off, or we’d be fined. We thought we’d allowed plenty of time for this too, but, of course, we’d ALSO thought we’d be actually DRIVING along the motorway, not sitting stationary on it for 40 minutes and counting. Uh-oh.
Switching on the radio (Which, yes, we should totally have done BEFORE joining the motorway…), we found that the motorway was closed due to a truck fire, and not due to re-open until around about the time we were due to take off. That’s when we started to panic.
Kent: it is pretty
Pulling out my phone, I checked the British Airways website to see if we could switch to a later flight. Nope: ours was the last flight of the evening from any of the London airports. If we weren’t on it, we wouldn’t be going home that night, it was as simple as that.
“Maybe it’ll be delayed!” we said optimistically. “They’re always delayed, aren’t they?”
But nope, not this time: ON TIME, SUCKERS said the message on the Gatwick website when I checked it. And it was still ON TIME when I checked it again, every two minutes after that.
While all of this frantic checking of flight information was going on, Jolene called to say she’d made it safely to Gatwick, and was quickly instructed to head to the BA desk and ask if there was any possibility of them allowing us to check our suitcase a little later than we were technically supposed to. Unsurprisingly, the answer to this was a bit fat NO. Quite a gleeful one, actually. “They’ve told me to tell you not to bother hurrying, because there’s no way you’re getting on that flight,” reported Jolene tearfully. “They also said to tell you all their flights are booked for tomorrow morning, so you’re not flying then, either.” Awesome!
It was time for Plan B. Which would’ve been fine, except for the crucial fact that we didn’t actually HAVE a Plan B. In fact, we’d barely even had a Plan A, and now that it seemed to be a non-starter (a bit like the motorway, actually), we started to frantically run through all of the possible options, those being…
01. We could forget about the airport and just drive straight up to Scotland. Which would involve paying for an extra day’s hire of the car, 400 miles worth of fuel, and driving through the night. NOT IDEAL.
02 .We could drive into London and try to catch a train to Edinburgh. Which, again, would involve an extra day’s car hire (the car was due back any minute now, and if we kept it longer than agreed, it would cost us an extra day), plus train fares to Edinburgh, assuming we could get three seats. ALSO NOT IDEAL.
03. We could give up, head back to Terry’s brother’s house, and wait there until such a time as we could get onto another flight. This sounded good in theory, but in principle would’ve been the most expensive option of all, costing us – you guessed it – an extra day’s car hire, fuel to and from Kent, plus new plane tickets, as British Airways weren’t going to just put us onto a new flight for free. VERY MUCH NOT IDEAL.
04. We could continue on our way to Gatwick and spend the night, plus most of the next day there, before catching the next available flight. On the plus side: no extra car hire, YAY! On the minus side: absolutely everything else about this scenario. And, I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time we’d spent the night at Gatwick, but I think I’d rather walk back to Scotland than do that again, seriously. In other words, REALLY, REALLY NOT IDEAL.
Of these four less-than-ideal options, none really appealed to us. But time was ticking away, and we still hadn’t moved: GOD.
“If the traffic were to start moving RIGHTTHISVERYSECOND,” said John, consulting his watch, “We JUST might make it, although probably not.”
And right at that second, the traffic started moving. Who says there are no miracles in the world?
Our plans to re-fuel the car long-since abandoned, Terry put his foot down and we raced as fast as our little hire car would allow (Sooo, not that fast, then, although I DID adopt the “brace” position, just in case…) towards the airport. “If I don’t make it,” Terry told me, through gritted teeth, “You must go on without me. Don’t wait. Don’t look back. Do it for both of us – and tell Rubin I love him!”
“Nooo!” I wailed, “No man left behind! ll never leave you! And I’ll …”
“Shut up and RUN,” Terry said, screeching to a halt outside the terminal, and stopping just long enough for John and I to throw ourselves out of the car and grab the bags from the back, before he was racing off again towards the hire car drop-off. John and I, meanwhile, did exactly as we were told: we shut up and RAN.
When I say we RAN, I don’t mean we did a light jog, or even that fast “I-am-very-busy-and-important” walk you always see people doing at airports. I mean we flat-out sprinted through the terminal, as if we were being chased. Or were in a movie. Or were being chased in a movie. At one point we threw ourselves and our bags into a lift, and were forced to stand there for a few seconds, staring at each other in panic. John’s face was bright red with exertion. My legs were shaking (Note to self: reeeaaallly need to work on that cardio!). There was no time to think about any of this, though, because the lift doors were opening, and we were once again out and running – this time for the mercifully short distance between the lift and the British Airways check-in desk.
Without stopping, John slung the suitcase in my direction, and then raced off to find Jolene. I took up the baton – er, the suitcase – and dragged it as fast as I could to the desk, noting with relief that there was only one person ahead of me, who was just finishing check-in. My luck was surely about to change!
Or… not. I got to the check-in desk and threw myself on the mercy of the icy blonde who was on duty that night, and who glared at me as if she could smell something bad. (Which she probably COULD, to be fair: I’m not used to running that fast…)
“Where are YOU going?” she demanded, barely resisting the impulse to add the words, “YOUNG LADY,” but obviously thinking them.
“Edinburgh!” I gasped, thrusting my phone, with its boarding pass, under her immaculately powdered nose. “Or at least, I hope so.” And then I flat-out begged.
“Please, please, please, please, please let me check my case onto this flight!” I babbled, trying my best to look appealing. “I know I look like a disgustingly sweaty and disheveled traveller, but I’m really a princess in disguise, and if I don’t get on that flight, I’ll turn into a pumpkin! Or the plane will turn into a pumpkin! Look, there will be pumpkins, is what I’m trying to say!”
“You’re VERY late,” The Blonde snapped, as if this was new information she was providing me with. “VERY late. EXCEPTIONALLY so.”
“I know, I know,” I apologised. “But the motorway! Standstill! Thirty minutes before we needed to! Suitcase! Pumpkins! Please have mercy on my soul!”
The Blonde glared at me with undisguised contempt, then heaved an exasperated sigh. “Oh, ALL RIGHT,” she said, grudgingly. “Put the suitcase on the belt. AND HURRY UP!”
I didn’t need to be told twice. I heaved the suitcase up onto the conveyor belt, and almost punched the air with joy as I saw it slide away and begin its journey into the dark depths of the airport. (These were very unusual feelings for me. I mean, not only had I RAN TOWARDS AN AIRCRAFT, I had also prayed for it to be delayed, and now I was actually HAPPY to see my prechus clothes be whisked away to God knows where. It just goes to show, there’s a first time for everything!)
“You know,” The Blonde said conversationally, as she straightened up from attaching the baggage label to the case, “Yours is the only flight leaving here on time tonight.”
“I know!” I said, grasping at the opportunity that we might at least end this interaction on friendly terms. “What are the odds? I’ve been praying for it to be delayed for the past hour now!”
“It’s the ONLY one that’s on time,” The Blonde repeated. “And YOU’VE managed to almost miss it.”
“Yeah,” I said, sarcastically. “It’s a special talent of mine. I’ve been waiting outside the airport until it was ALMOST too late to check in. What can I say, I like the thrill of sprinting through airports and almost missing my flight!”
Except I didn’t say that at all, obviously. I WAS the one in the wrong, after all, and she could still have taken my suitcase back at that point. Also, I’m the kind of person who, if you scold me, I’ll find it almost impossible not to burst into tears. So, instead, I simply slunk away from the check-in desk, thoroughly chastened, and joined John and Jolene, who were waiting for me with anxious expressions and wild eyes.
Gatwick Airport: I’m possibly not allowed back
“We have about 7 minutes,” Jolene said frantically. “But we still have to go through security and get to the gate. Where’s Terry?”
Good question. Where WAS Terry? He had, as you might recall, last been seen speeding off in what we hoped was the direction of the car hire drop-off point. He could be anywhere by now, though – and probably was, knowing our luck.
“Call him!” suggested John. So I reached into my bag, and pulled out… TWO PHONES. Mine and Terry’s. Which I’d been using in the car, to check the flight information, because the battery in mine was about to die.
Terry had, of course, told me that if he didn’t make it to the gate on time, that I should go without him, so at least ONE of us would make it home. I didn’t have the heart to leave him, though, so I turned to John and Jolene and told them to go it alone.
“It’s no use,” I said my shoulders slumped in defeat. “I’m just not meant to get on that flight. It’s up to you two now: you can still make it without me!”
But they wouldn’t go. In vain, I tried to convince them that I was a big girl, who was perfectly capable of looking after herself, but, well, they DO know me, and they were reluctant to leave me behind. As we stood arguing about this, however, I happened to glance round, and who should I see coming racing towards us, but Terry!
“COME ON!” we all screamed as he approached. “You can do it! RUN, Forrest, RUN!” Terry joined us, and the four of us set off a sprint towards security. Here, it once again seemed our luck was changing: there was no line; no one got taken aside for a quick pat-down; no one’s bag was searched; no one realised she’d left some of her belongings in the little plastic tray, and had to go all the way back for them, not that that’s ever happened before, you understand. We were going to do it! We were going to make the flight with just seconds to spare! Now we were approaching the final boarding card check, and all that remained was for us to hand over our cards, have them scanned, and…
“Yeah,” said the woman on the desk to John, “This boarding card won’t scan properly. So, with just a couple of minutes left before the flight is due to leave, you’re going to have to go all the way back to the British Airways desk and hope The Scary Blonde will consent to print you out a new one. Have a nice flight!”
And then I threw myself onto the floor and burst into tears.
OK, I didn’t. I really felt like it, though, because after all that running and stressing and begging, we were STILL going to miss the flight, thwarted at the last possible second. GOD.
Now it was John and Jolene’s turn to try to convince us to get on the plane, while we insisted we couldn’t leave them. But there was nothing for it, so they turned and headed back to the BA desk, while Terry and I sprinted for the plane. As we thundered towards the entrance however, the woman manning the desk there looked at us in surprise. “Ooh, lookit you two running!” she said in amusement. “What’s the rush?”
“Er, getting onto the aircraft is the rush?” said Terry, bemused. “The one that’s just about to take off?”
“That?” said the woman, nodding towards the plane door. “Oh, that’s not leaving for ages yet! You still have at least ten minutes!”
Oh. It was an unexpected reprieve, but a very welcome one, so I texted Jolene with the good news, and then anxiously paced the floor until I saw the two of them finally coming towards us. We had made it! We were actually about to board the plane, and I JUST managed to stop myself singing ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now‘ as we filed on board and performed the walk of shame up the aisle, with all of the other passengers already seated and glaring at us, thinking, “Tardy assholes.”
Finally we reached our seats and collapsed into them gratefully, sweat still beading on our brows. “You know what would be funny?” I said to Terry. “What would be really funny would be if the plane was delayed NOW!”
PING! said the intercom. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. And I’m sorry to inform you that we’re going to be delayed taking off…”
And THAT’S when we finally got that delay I’d been praying for. Thirty minutes, sitting on the runway with the aircon busted, and everyone almost hyperventilating with the heat. Because OF COURSE.
“At least you’ll get a blog post out of it,” said John, as we disembarked in Edinburgh. And yes: yes I did.
* * *
Note: some emotions in this post may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect. Then again, they may not have. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead or working for British Airways, is entirely coincidental.