I live in Scotland and I now travel to London often, for work. It’s something I am getting more used to the more times I do it, and I am probably well-versed enough to know the processes involved and how best to streamline them, for my own benefit and others. For example I now know the best way to pack my luggage to allow me to extract the clear plastic liquids bag easily just before security, and in what order to disrobe myself to allow the most efficient travel through the security process. I know what to wear to avoid being beeped going through the scanner and having to stand like a robot and have my feet swabbed for explosives. I know to put the bloody plastic tray back in the stack and not leave it lying on the roller track after x-ray, like everyone else in Heathrow seems to do. Laptop goes under the laptop case. Everything else stuffed into another tray and through we go. Easy.
A few days ago I was down in London for what was supposed to be a quarterly board meeting but it was called off at the last moment, leaving us free to sort out the office and attend some other meetings. Wednesday was a long day travelling early into London for a meeting in a place that is logistically difficult to get to. A train from the office, then possibly a 40 minute walk, or perhaps a taxi or the tube, or maybe an Über taxi thing; I’ve never done an Über before and was really surprised by how quick and easy it is. Push a button on your phone and literally 1 minute later you are stepping into a car. It’s amazing. So we did that.
Meeting finished, we headed back to the office again via the pub down the road for lunch and to discuss bits and bobs. It was a bit of a rush job as the meeting was fast approaching, but the food was great and it was nice to stop for a moment. Second meeting was with the Accountants to discuss Wills and R&D claims; heavy stuff. A few hours of that and then it was time to get back to Heathrow via taxi; the drivers are always up for a chat, so 45 minutes of company history and thoughts on influencers, before drawing up at Heathrow drop-off at 6pm. More than enough time to waft through security, which is surprisingly quiet, and have a lovely calming sit down after such a draining day before heading on the shoogly plane up to Edinburgh and in bed for 11pm latest.
As I clothed myself after security and headed into the vast shopping and eatery emporium of T2 Heathrow, my phone buzzed and it was an email from FlyBe to say that my flight was delayed. Not ideal and certainly a bit annoying, but hey it gives me a little bit more time to maybe read an article I wanted to read, and not worry about things. I like to sit very close to the gate, upstairs so that I can watch the planes taxi out and, in the distance, land and take-off. It’s also handy for nipping to get a coffee etc over climbing many stairs and walking for a few minutes. Convenience wins the day. When it’s about 20 minutes to gate opening time I have a quick wander, take in some toilet stoppage and prepare myself for the flight; get headphones ready, maybe a book or whatever it is I will be doing whilst we are soaring at 28,000ft on our way home. I’m a little ahead of my schedule but I’ll go and sit at the gate after my wander to make sure I am not late.
On my way to the shopping area I look up at the board to check my flight is on there. I’m a little confused at first because the times I’m looking at for the Edinburgh flight say 09:25, which is odd that they would add a zero to the start of the actual time of 9:25pm…I then glance over at the boarding times and to my abject horror see that the 8:45pm flight to Edinburgh, the one that was originally scheduled and that I was taking part in, was BOARDING. I am sweating. This can’t be! How can this be? My flight is delayed. I have an email!
I am running now and looking like a flapping buffoon as I approach the escalator, which is currently resting in idle mode to save energy because no-one has used it in such a long time. The escalator leads to another escalator that heads down to gate A1; my gate. The one I’d been sitting upstairs from, for the past 3 hours. As I round the corner to gate A1 I am called at by the gate people. “HERE HE IS, YOU ARE LATE, OH NO, YOU’VE JUST MISSED THE BUS!’
My face is up on the computer screens like a convict; this is the guy you are all waiting on, and here he comes looking manic and perplexed. No way, I state clearly, have I missed this flight. It cannot be. My flight is delayed and I have my email to prove it. Never in the history of empathy has there been so little guided towards another person, for the check-in people just couldn’t be more disinterested. “You should have been sitting at the gate.” Yes, you are absolutely right, I should have. However can you just nip out there and get that car, and just drive me out there? “There was only one bus for this flight, it was empty.” Well please can you call it back? “No sir, they won’t bring a bus back for one person.” Surely there is something you can do so that I can get on this flight and not be stuck in London? “No sir, do you have any friends?” No I don’t, I live in Scotland. Can you just call someone and get me out to that plane? “You can head back up to check-in and book a flight tomorrow, in fact let me ring them now.”
At this point I’m traversing many emotions. The first is obviously disbelief. There’s no way I’ve missed this plane because my one is delayed. Then it’s frustration because I’m being told that my plane actually wasn’t delayed. Then anger. Why was I sent the email? Why was there no call over the announcement thing, because I was listening to them all and there certainly wasn’t one that ended with FlyBe or my name? Why can’t you just drive me out there? Why are you not as upset as me about this situation? Then the anger increases to a strange concoction of anger-sadness-irritated-frustration. I’m standing at the window with nothing going through my mind now. Just staring at the nothingness of Heathrow service roads. The lady is on the phone to someone about booking me another flight tomorrow as another person comes along and sits behind the other computer. Her question pierces my haze like a dart: “Why did you miss your flight sir?”
I explain as calmly as I can muster, which at this point is voice-shaking and trembly hands, that I had an email at 6pm to say my flight was delayed, here is the email on my phone. “Oh yeah, that’s strange.” Yes it is, isn’t it? Anyway, I delayed my process because I’m not going to sit at a gate for 3 hours, am I? “Oh that’s a shame. You should have been sitting here though.”
Fuck it. I’m handed a phone to speak to the check-in desk and arrange for another flight in the morning at 8:45am. There’s a good few long minutes of phone silence and keyboard tapping before an announcement that it will cost me £55 for the privilege. Now get yourself up and out to Check-in, to pay and pick up your ticket. “Have a lovely evening sir” I’m warmly told, to which I respond politely, “you too.” I’ve resigned myself to the unthinkable; I’m stuck in London for the night.
I call Mrs and my suppressed frustration is released on the stairway, just out of sight of both the gate ladies and the main concourse of weary travellers. Watch out, there’s a madman below. Mrs suggests to calm down and go and get a hotel. I make my way back up to T2 departure, then up to the security gates to reverse the process and get the hell out of dodge. No can do. I ask a passing purple jumper how I get out of here and the questioning starts over, “why do you want to get out of here? You missed your flight? Why did you miss your flight?” This would be the first of many people to ask me the same question as I weaved my way out of the labyrinth of back halls and locked service doors that eventually brought me out at International Arrivals and the Immigration process. My phone rang along the way; it was check-in to say she was heading home and my boarding pass was ready at the desk to pick up tomorrow once I had paid the fee. Great, thanks.
Along the path to the Immigration centre, I meet another man who had also missed his flight, due to technical issues with screen-grabs of his ticket barcode not scanning at security and the inability of Aer Lingus to find and print another copy of his boarding pass. We get to Immigration and weave back and forth through those ribbon barriers until we get to the passport scanners. He headed effortlessly through the digital scanners with his passport and headed off into the night. Me? Well I was flying domestic, so didn’t have a passport, just a drivers licence. But this meant I couldn’t scan the little chip inside the new e-passports, thus I couldn’t waft out T2 like the other guy. Instead I was directed to a Security man sitting at a desk. Then began another frustrating conversation, laced with more indifference and disinterest, but with an extra level of confusion.
Hello, I would like to leave T2 post-haste, but I do not have a passport for I have flown domestically and thus can’t get through the Passport scanners over there.
“Where have you come from?”
Departures upstairs. I missed my flight and want to get out of here please.
“Why did you miss your flight?
Because I was emailed to say my flight was delayed, when it wasn’t.
“Were you not sitting at the gate?”
No, Sir. I was not.
“Oh. Well where have you come from, where is your Passport?”
I have come from Departures upstairs, and I don’t have a Passport as I flew domestically.
“Where is your passport?”
In my house! I have only my drivers licence.
“Give it to me”
Here you go.
“Where have you flown in from today?”
I didn’t, I was in London and I’m heading home.
“Where have you come from?”
“No, where have you flown from?”
What!? I haven’t, I arrived by taxi and walked in the front door!
“Are you on a connecting flight?
No, I was in London today and I’m trying to get home.
“So where are you flying to?”
“Stand in that queue there for Immigration.”
That mile long queue? I just want to get out of here, can’t you just open a door and let me out?
I joined the queue which was maybe 100 people long, full of tired and stressed families travelling from far off places; people clearly wanting out of here too. Kids were kicking off, bashing into me and everyone else, so I called Dad to try and transport my mind from this nightmare. It didn’t. Dad was taking his opportunity to compound my misery with stifled giggles and mum in the background shouting “just turn your pants inside out!” We chatted about my earlier, more successful day and parted as I approached Security. Same questions once more, why had I missed my flight etc.
Then I was free. I had made it out of T2. Almost. I now needed to find a hotel. Fatigue had properly set in now as I walked the length of T2 to get to the sign that said “HOTELS” and approached a man who had just taken a massive bite of an apple. I would like a hotel please, as close to this place as possible and not very expensive. No problem he said, and after some keyboard bashing and slurping, suggested a place called Park Inn by Radisson. I asked if it was a nice one, and he shot back with incredulity, that it was a 4-star hotel and it was nice, with breakfast included and the total is £125 please sir, insert your card into the reader please. I’m frantically trying to google the hotel to see if it’s a shocker; my search turns up thousands of reviews and an average 4 out of 5 star review. Sir, card in the machine please. Yes yes!
Here’s your check-in details, now you need to get yourself to the Central Bus Station and take the 105, 111 or 140 bus. Tell the driver you are going to Park Inn and he will advise. To get to the Central Bus Station, take the elevator outside Terminal 2, head down to level minus 1, not Zero. Then walk for 10 minutes until you get to another lift marked “Central Bus Station” and take that to level 2. Then head around to your left where you will find the bus stand. A bus should be along shortly thereafter.
I ask if the bus is free and he laughs. Yes, of course it is. Ok thanks, I say and prepare myself for another trudge, desperate in my tired brain to recall his directions to the Central Bus Station. Even that title makes me angry; why am I heading to a place that sounds like it’s in the heart of London? Am I going to find myself being driven by bus into London? Is he lying to me just to get some sales and commission? What if the hotel is horrible? What if I am being set up? I’m about to get all my worldly possessions stolen, aren’t I? All of these thoughts and more streamed through my mind as I plopped my way along the lengthy route to the Central Bus Station. Along the way I encountered many other tired souls, all looking as miserable as I must look.
Eventually I arrive at Central Bus Station and find the 111 bus, a double-decker no less, and get on it. I ask the driver if this goes to Park Inn and he can’t understand me. My accent isn’t the most clear anyway but in this state it probably is nonsense. He tells me a street name, obviously where to get off, but I don’t hear it and sit down regardless, getting my phone out to track my whereabouts and the location of this Park Inn Hotel for the Weary. It’s just outside the T2 boundary; great. I look at the pictures of the Park Inn by Radisson hotel and it looks good. I see it in the distance, illuminated in white like a beacon of hope. The bus drives right past it and I hop up and ding the bell to disembark, walking a couple of hundred yards back to find the entrance of the hotel swarming with wedding goers. An ivory coloured Rolls-Royce Phantom with metallic gold roof sits proudly at the door; the wedding car. I pick my way through the crowd and get checked in, which takes an aggravatingly long time for whatever reason. I ask if I can take drinks from the bar up to my room and she laughs and says of course. It’s almost 11pm by this point and I reason that a large glass of wine is just the thing for me. I’ll get myself up to my room first and then decide.
The corridors are the longest I think I’ve ever seen, stretching almost to a vanishing point. I find my room and get in, sit on the bed and a wave of tiredness washes over me. I call Mrs and say I’m heading to the petrol garage I passed on my walk from the bus to the hotel to get some water, then shower and bed so that I can get some form of sleep before my early flight tomorrow. I decide against the alcohol and instead get myself squared away; I do not want to miss the flight tomorrow. Perhaps before I go for a refreshing shower and comfortable bed, I’ll bash out an email to FlyBe explaining my evening and the financial deficit I now face. I also have to sort out the parking for my car in Edinburgh because it runs out at 11pm tonight. It all takes ages and by the time I’m done it’s almost midnight. By the time I get into bed and set 5 alarms at 10 minute intervals, I’m exhausted.
I get no sleep. My body and brain are drained but the little “Don’t Sleep In” warning light is burning all night long and I just can’t settle. My alarm goes and I get my bag packed up ready for the flying process again. I put on the clothes I’ve been wearing for a day already; the t-shirt is still damp from a rinsing I gave it last night to take the edge off, so I blast it with the light-breeze hardwired hairdryer and set off for breakfast. I look at the greasy blobs of the Full-English breakfast and I just can’t face it, so instead opt for some toast. The toasters are those conveyor belt type; drop your bread onto the slide and it’ll slowly work its way along the track whilst being subjected to vicious heat from both sides. 20 seconds later you have a weird “surface toast” product; bread that’s just barely charred on the outside, the same as if you were to go at a bit of bread with a blowtorch. My bread comes out lightly caressed with heat, so I think nothing of it and chuck it back in the toaster and, within what seems like seconds, there is black acrid smoke billowing out this machine. I manage to avoid burnt fingers and retrieve the closest of the two slices, but the first is well in there. Frantically I search for the heat setting but there’s just two knobs with no markings. I’m twirling these things as the smoke continues from the toaster and finally manage to speed up the track and kill the heat. My toast now ready, I get some butter and marmalade to cover both the dense black charred one and the limp lightly heated bread, and pick up a bitter coffee along the way.
I make short work of breakfast and get myself together and out the hotel to find a bus just leaving – no ticket, no bus. So I go wandering around the streets, searching for a place to catch the bus I took last night, but have a word with myself and exclaim to the air “what are you doing!?” I sort myself out rickety tick and head back to the hotel, where I get a bus ticket and wait 15 minutes for the next one to arrive. A guy comes over and asks if this is where you get the bus, and I say yes, but you need to go inside and get a ticket. He doesn’t thank me and walks off. The bus promptly swings into the hotel and I’m on my way back, to T3 this time, and a very long walk to T2.
I get to FlyBe check-in desk and speak to another disinterested chap to retrieve my new ticket. He laughs as I explain why I missed last night’s flight and once more offers that I should always sit beside the gate, even if the flight is delayed. I let his indifferent patronising warning shot bounce off me and get going. Through security once more, picking up some water as I go, I station myself right beside the gate on the seats; there’s no way I’m missing this plane. The gate is opened and we’re called to board. I’m the third person on the bus, after a lady in a wheelchair and a businessman who stood right at the gate desk. We have a problem-free flight and for the second time in a few days I’m sitting with no-one beside me, so I have a lovely relaxing journey home, playing solitaire on my phone and rueing the day I had yesterday. I will never make that mistake again, that’s for sure.
Soon we are descending and Edinburgh is a beautiful sight; a vast wave of relief washes over me, for I am home and it’s 10am, so the traffic will be light and I’ll be sitting in my house within the hour. A little hiccup at the carpark exit with tickets and matching reference numbers aside, I make it home before 11am and I have a shower in lovely fresh Scottish water, put on a nice clean t-shirt and all is right in the world once more.
What a challenging couple of days.