airport at sunset

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, England

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 skyway

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.

P.S. I write a weekly diary which goes out every Friday to my subscribers. Sign up below to get on the list...

books by Amber Eve
  • TOTALLY worth getting a coffee for. And the insertion of drama made me relive the almost identical experience I had in a near flight miss to Sicily. Airports… who’d have ’em?

    August 15, 2014
  • I was holding my breath for most of that epic post!

    It is making me relive the day my husband and I were leisurely browsing in the duty free, thinking we had lots of time to get to our gate when we heard our names being called over the tannoy system. There is nothing more mortifying than being those people who have to walk through the fully seated plane. They had just started to take our luggage off when we finally rocked up sweaty and panting.
    I am now that annoying travel companion who must be at the airport 2 hours in advance even for a domestic flight.

    August 15, 2014
  • I am stupidly casual about the amount of time I leave to get to/through the airport. This is a much needed reminder that things frequently do not go to plan! How I’ve never missed a flight I don’t know.
    Bless you for guys for wanting to wait for John and Jolene, sweaty team spirit!

    August 15, 2014
  • Hahaha. Sorry if that seems like I’m laughing at you, I’m actually amused by the way you write. I hate things like trains and plane travel 🙁 It’s always SO stressful.

    August 15, 2014
  • Nicola


    Bless you this sounds awful! That would be my worst nightmare! I’m obsessed with being on time so if something like that happens I’d panic!
    I was getting stressed n worn out just reading your post let alone living it!

    August 15, 2014
  • Oh god, this is my NIGHTMARE. I hate flying as it is, but I’ve always thought one day this intense fear is going to be combined with my other most intense fear – of being late, especially for things that cost a lot of money, like flights.

    Right, I’m going to make sure I leave 3 hours before I need to now, instead of 2.

    August 15, 2014
  • Oh man…this is so close to what I just lived through as well. I missed my flight from Toronto to Frankfurt because of an accident on the road. Then managed to get on one the next day. On my return flight Heathrow was closed due to lightening storms for 2 hours during which time we circled above Brussels. (I had 3 connections on the flight, Amsterdam – Frankfurt, Frankfurt – Heathrow, Heathrow – Toronto.) Upon landing I had to sprint at full speed the length of Heathrow which must have been 3 football fields not including countless never-ending stairs and escalators. (I swear at that point it felt like I was in a very bad nightmare.) My legs were burning and my hair was matted with sweat by the time I made it to the gate (the very last gate in the whole of Terminal B, of course). I had “just” made the plane to fly back to Toronto before they shut the doors. Once I got to my seat the announcement came on that in fact we would be delayed 30 minutes. At least I had time to use the toilet prior to take-off. (I’ve learned to take joy in the little things.)

    It didn’t end there. I was lucky enough to catch the plane back but when in Toronto waiting for my baggage to show up I was left alone at the carousel, no bag. Apparently it had not made the connection.

    3 days later it showed up. Looking all smug like it had just circled the globe three times without me.

    Travelling like this is one way to age yourself 10 years. The adventure and the story you have to tell afterwards is priceless.


    August 15, 2014
  • I needed something to make me smile & you delivered. THank you x

    August 15, 2014
  • The bizarre thing is, that little more than two days later, the “mysterious brother in Kent” (me), missed our holiday flight out of Heathrow after a series of unlikely and unrelated events (including the mandatory “stationary traffic on the M20”). Unlike the stressful situation described by Amber though, the run up to the missed flight was taken as some kind of divine intervention and resulted in a cheery and unexpected family meal that night with a stress free flight from Heathrow 24 hours later.

    August 15, 2014
  • Oh my! You are such an amazing writer to be able to turn all that into such a story. This is why your blog is my favorite blog ever. Glad you guys made it, despite all the drama.

    August 15, 2014
  • Laura Malone


    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! You should do a book, I know I’d buy it!

    August 15, 2014
  • Suze


    Wowsers. An epic adventure!

    As if all that rushing about wasn’t bad enough, but with sore feet too?! Ouch! You should’ve flashed your giant blister at the Check-In desk – you never know, the Icy Blonde (with regulation ‘resting bitch face’!) might’ve shown compassion and granted you a VIP escort on one of those beeping mobility scooter thingys which always tear around the airport!

    August 15, 2014
  • Amber


    You know, we share a name and our luck HAHAHAA. This stuff totally happens to me all the time. If it wasn’t for my husband Thomas keeping me calm, I would probably just sit down and cry from all the stress. Thanks for making me laugh at myself and at your over dramatic (but hilarious) recounting 😀

    August 15, 2014
  • Lizz dot kay


    Best coffee break story ever. 🙂

    August 15, 2014
  • Maria


    I can’t believe it was delayed AFTER you all made it on! At least this story was hilarious (although a tad terrifying)!

    August 15, 2014
  • Poor Amber! The things you suffer for our eventual amusement 🙂

    August 15, 2014
  • Aunt fiona


    I was exhausted reading this lol. The same happened to us. Left edinburgh sat on the Tarmac for 2 bloody hours. The connection in London was on time, when does that EVER happen. Well I had to run as uncle Jerry can’t and plead with the guy shutting the door. In between this time I spy one of those golf carts . I said to person sitting there looking bored, please help us bad heart and all that stuff. Here was the reply ” you must book it”. Under my breath I said why don’t you f##k it yep. I was so angry. The guy at the door is calling to me you have 2mins it was like as scene from “chariots of fire”. But in way more slow motion. We did get on puffpuff puffxxx

    August 15, 2014
  • What a great read, loved it, sort of thing that happens to me x

    August 15, 2014
  • I read it all too! Hoorah for making the flight. That was a very entertaining read so I’m glad all this stress happened to you.

    It’s actually reminded me of the time I nearly missed my flight to Bangkok, maybe I’ll write that up as a blog post one day…

    Basically, I totally misjudged how long the picadilly line to heathrow would take and possibly slept passed my alarm by 30 mins. Then I turned up the wrong terminal and panicked when my flight wasn’t on the board. And then hotfooted it over to the correct terminal to be told off for being the last to check in. AND THEN, I casually purchased a bacon roll, perused the shops, chatted to my parents on the phone before thinking to check the board and realising my flight had boarded. ARGH! I had to sprint to the gate, which at Heathrow are miles away, and I could see the air hostesses sprinting towards me trying to get me on board. I was then greeted with annoyed scowls by the whole plane worth of passengers. I sit down, look sheepish, wipe the sweat from my head, and then the pilot announces the cockpit is broken. We were delayed for 2 hours. On the tarmac. Eugh.

    August 17, 2014
  • So glad you made it on the plane! At least all the drama made for a good read 🙂

    August 17, 2014
  • Amber, I’ve somehow never read your blog before but oh my gosh, this was brill.
    And also a little terrifying, as I’ll be experiencing Gatwick Airport myself on Thursday.
    Love your writing. Love the drama. I shall be back. Off to make a fresh coffee! X

    August 17, 2014
  • LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. I’m so glad I read this.

    I’m sorry you went through the stress, but it was worth it for the lolz!

    Corinne x

    August 17, 2014
  • Hana


    I swear I would have screamed if I read the post until the end and found out you didn’t catch the flight thanks to the Scary Blonde and her card check! I would have probably googled her until my eyes were red and made a voodoo doll… So happy that you made it, but as others have said, it makes for a great story!

    August 18, 2014
  • I’ve only had one experience of almost missing a plane and it too involved the highway and there was nothing I could do about it, talk about stress. But then there was one time when I misread the gate number, so seated myself at the wrong place, and while wondering why we weren’t boarding, I heard my name being paged to inform me that I was about to miss the flight. It’s stressful flying sometimes.

    August 22, 2014
  • A bit tardy myself in reading this, but laughed out loud at many parts. My friend missed her flight returning from my place in London back to Glasgow last year and rang me in a blind panic seeing as she was due in work. The Stanstead Express had ground to a halt and the lady on the desk was particularly unhelpful, until I told my pal that there was a flight of the same airline leaving Gatwick in a couple of hours. Cue mad flight across London!

    Re: your wondering whether to hop on the train – aren’t rail fares between London and Scotland extortionate?

    August 24, 2014
  • Brilliantly written Amber, I really enjoyed that story!! Oh the drama!! P x

    August 24, 2014