If Dante was alive today, I am sure he would have included failed air travel in one of his Circles of Hell, for I can’t think of a better punishment for anyone who leaves their house with the hopes of going on holiday.
Traveling around the holidays can sometimes be a bit tricky as the weather can play a few tricks and it appears that the transport system in the UK cannot cope with it at all – this time the culprit was too much rain.
This is what happened to me this year – I had my flight to Marrakech scheduled for the 24th of December from Gatwick and there was a rainstorm the previous night, that caused not only landslides that cancelled train travel all over the country but also flooded the North Terminal of Gatwick airport.
The trip from Grantham to King’s Cross was uneventful but all the trouble started when I found that trains going to Gatwick were all cancelled. The staff were also quite useless and had no information to provide, some of them not even aware that there would be no further trains. I had no other choice but get a taxi, which set me back £100. Ouch!
Not all was bad as the cab driver was a very nice Iranian gentleman, who told me about his life in Iran, how he went into exile some 30 odd years ago and how he was arrested by the Shah regime, let go when the Ayatollahs took over, allowed to go back to university and then arrested again because he joined a political party who also opposed the oppression of the regime.
He told me a funny story, about being in a house with several exiled people from different countries. Someone said “the dictator is dead!” and everyone was hoping it was ‘their’ dictator, as at that time a lot of countries had that same problem.
I was then dropped at the airport and felt relieved as I made it in good time to do the check in and all that. It didn’t last long as I entered through the door and saw the massive queues of people.
Information was hard to obtain – there was a power failure and we couldn’t check in, as the baggage system wasn’t functioning. No one knew a lot but I managed to find out that my flight had been moved to the South Terminal. And there I went.
As I got to the hall where Easy Jet was checking in, there was a chaotic sea of people and not a lot of information. Easy Jet employees were shouting out the names of cities they were processing and it wasn’t a great system- you could barely hear them and I found out later that some people missed their flights because they didn’t hear anything – no announcements on the airport PA were being made nor were the panels being used.
I found out that by 11 they were only checking in flights that should have gone out at 6 and 7 in the morning so I went to the lounging area to charge my phone and take a nap. That lasted until I saw a French girl crying on the phone to her family that she wasn’t going to make it as her flight had been cancelled. I then thought it would be a good idea to go downstairs to find out what was going on.
Luckily I managed to ask about my flight and it hadn’t been cancelled, unlike others. There was still hope! I banded together with other passengers for the same flight and was adopted by a lovely family from Oxford: Monty, Helen and their three children. We looked after each other’s luggage to take trips to the loo and go and find out further information. I am extremely grateful to them as it would have been a lot harder if I had been on my own the whole time. I didn’t feel so lost and the stress was more manageable.
After a couple of hours queuing and seeking reassurance that our flight was still going ahead, someone finally borrowed a megaphone from the police, who by then had already made an appearance, just in case things got a bit hairy. By that time there was a big cheer – we could now hear what flights were being called and the poor Easy Jet staff didn’t have to shout anymore.
In the end, the hall was getting cleared – so many flights had been cancelled that people started leaving and others had been called to check in. Ours was one of the last flights to be called and it was a relief when it happened, although I said at the time, “I’ll only believe it when we are up in the air”. For good measure, as later we heard stories of people who had boarded the planes and then asked to leave again and were still stuck in terminals not knowing what was going on.
We were watching the panels like hawks at this point, waiting for our boarding gate to be announced – which happened for 2 seconds, only for the message “closed” to be added. Everyone was very confused. Nonetheless, we all headed in that direction and queued. And queued some more. The monitors had no information (they were actually switched off or with Windows updates going) and there was no Easy Jet staff in sight. When we realized this we started feeling a little bit desperate – we had no information and we all felt abandoned, it seemed like everyone had gone home to have their Christmas and had left us stranded at the airport.
We were all a very calm and civilized lot – there was word of other people getting a bit nervous and being handled by the police. Some Italians were asking the police to arrest Easy Jet and one lady was arrested herself , as she was very rude, claiming the police officer had to do what she told him as she was the one paying his salary…
We sat around and I was starting to wonder if I was flying at all and what would I do, as there wouldn’t be any trains back to Grantham for a couple of days nor any flights the next day… We were starting to equate spending the night at the airport. I felt a bit panicky at this time… I must have aged a few years that day, such was the stress.
All of a sudden, some workers from a different airline opened the gate and started boarding our flight. Hope again! As our bus got to the aircraft one of the crew members came on board and said that they’d been sat in the aircraft for 4 hours, not knowing what was going on either and they were worried that if it took too long they wouldn’t be able to go anywhere as according to regulations, they can only be at work for a set amount of hours (they had to fly back to London afterwards). He asked if we could go in, put our stuff away and fasten our seat belts real quick, for a chance that we might make it out of there. “Can you do it?” We all let out a loud cheer “Yeahhhh!!!”.
So we sat down and buckled up, still very nervous, praying that we would leave. I had some other nice travel companions and we chatted a lot, as we were all pretty stressed. Finally the aircraft was given permission to leave and off we went. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as relieved as that day, for a long time.
I had a quick chat with one of the flight attendants when they were serving some drinks and was told that someone from one of the flight crews went to the terminal at some point to try and help and was assaulted by a passenger. Horrendous. In these situations you can really see the best (the family that adopted me) and the worst (people being dickheads out of frustration). He also told me that the bad weather had not only caused the flooding but as some flights couldn’t come back the previous nights, the aircrafts weren’t in London in the morning, as they should. It all added up to one of the most disastrous trips I’ve had in my life.
He was very nice and stopped by later to thank me for being so nice and smiley and that it really made a difference – after all, they were having a shitty day as much as we were… I told him that I always had respect for their profession and got even more after reading Confessions of a Hostie. It also made my day as it shows that having a smile on your face does help you and other people.
As we approached Marrakech we were served a round of complimentary hot drinks and it worked a treat – there was not enough sandwiches or meals on board due to the whole chaos at the airport and everyone was in need of comfort. We finally landed, I went past Moroccan immigration, picked up my luggage and said goodbye to my travel companions, just before being greeted by my husband and his father who had patiently waited for me to come out.
It was a hellish day that ended well. We suffered to the last minute and found out that if we had taken 20 minutes longer we wouldn’t have left England at all. We were the lucky ones.
According to the news, the whole thing was due to an airport failure and not Easy Jet’s fault, although I still think there was a lot of disorganization. I know everyone was trying to do their best but it would appear they didn’t have a contingency plan for this sort of occurrences – for example, only having the megaphone brought in several hours later made everything a lot more difficult unnecessarily.
I’d like to thank everyone who was nice and courteous and the Easy Jet staff who did try their best in the worst of conditions, it wasn’t easy!
I took a lot of photos on this trip, so expect a few weeks of Moroccan updates!