So on Tuesday I went on the world’s shortest press trip: two hours sitting on an orange bus before de-planing and heading home again. Thank you French air traffic control. You really are dicks.
I was supposed to be flying to Mahon on Menorca, for a 24hr trip to visit the home of lovely Pretty Ballerinas, with two fashion editors and their UK PR, a trip that had been planned for weeks, with much finessing of dates and moving around of things to make it happen. Ha.
Then this happened.
Our flight was supposed to depart at 1350. When we arrived it was already delayed by at least four hours. And Gatwick Airport South Terminal in high summer on an air strike day is very much not the airport in which to be delayed. The terminal is small, there are bugger all power points, gangs of sugar-ramped feral schoolchildren from multiple nations roam the halls, screaming infants, and hot, cross and bothered extended families desperate for their well-earned holidays are discovering that they are going nowhere fast.
Desperate for power for my failing laptop so I could work, I coughed up £30 and spent the afternoon in the haven of the No 1 Lounge, with this sunny view taunting me.
Around 5pm our flight suddenly announced it was closing, and we sprinted like madwomen to the gate and thence to the bus to the plane.
And then we sat on the plane for two hours, cooking in the sweltering heat. The Easyjet pilot very charmingly explained that the baggage handlers had smelled gas in the hold and that five fire engines were making their way to us as a safety precaution – because once you report something like this at an airport, a massive protocol rolls into place. This meant we lost our departure slot (although we all suspect that that was a gloss of the truth, as he then told us there was no way we would be departing until 9pm. NINE PM! And that was if everything down below was sorted in time.)
There was not a lot of goodwill to the French at this point. In fact none whatsoever. The plane was sauna-like, as the air con had to be switched off because of the fire service investigation down below, and the realisation was gradually dawning that, whilst we may eventually arrive some twelve hours late, there was zero guarantee that we could return as planned the next day. There is just one Easyjet flight a day, and if a plane can’t get in, there isn’t one to turn around for home.
I had a dinner last night in London, a meeting this morning, and am leaving for Paris at lunchtime – on a Eurostar no doubt crammed with airport rejects, so I had no choice but to cancel.
So the four of us de-planed, along with six or so others, who, like us, were only away for a 24 or 48 hours and couldn’t risk being stranded. We waited for quite some time for transport back to the terminal – and huge thanks to Gatwick Aiport – well, Menzies their ops people, who really were fantastic at this point, finding two estate cars to get us all to the terminal, as there were no buses available.
Meanwhile Departures was in chaos thanks to the bloody French air traffic control. Downstairs was reasonably calm.
Upstairs, by the very small airline desk, was not.
We weren’t allowed to leave the terminal without an official escort, as we needed to clear both immigration and customs, and we waited for a Very Long Time – Easyjet had just two harassed reps on the counter, and plane loads of cancelled passengers with which to deal. Eventually a Very Nice Man arrived and herded our group through multiple behind the scenes and deserted corridors to Arrivals, where a dedicated Immigration lane had been set aside for us (thank you Gatwick!) and FINALLY we were free.
I eventually arrived home EXACTLY twelve hours after I had left.