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Quelle horreur: the joys of travel in 2022

July 4, 2022

Which is worse, I wonder? Waiting at a station among thousands of others for a train that might never arrive? Being stuck on a motorway in a ten-mile tailback without a clue about what’s going on and when it will clear? Or sitting in an airport after your first flight has been cancelled and the next one you booked is delayed into the early hours of the morning with zero information from the airline as to whether it will actually leave or not?

This summer, if you’re a British traveller, I’d say that your chances of being caught in one of these scenarios must be better than 50%.

Best surely to go on a cycling holiday within a fifty-mile radius of home. Or why not hire a horse, a donkey or, if you’re crossing the Alps, an elephant?

Our version of spoilt-brat, first-world hell came last week, when we attempted to fly home after a short trip to our place in southern France. Three days before we were due to fly from Bordeaux, an email came from British Airways to tell us that our flight to London Gatwick had been cancelled. Not only that flight, but every other one for the following three days. Merde! We called BA, asking how they proposed to get us home. They very kindly offered to take us to Madrid, and then on to Gatwick. Given the extreme likelihood that at least one of those flights would also be cancelled, we said no, and could we book an alternative with another airline? Yes, said BA.

So we found a flight with EasyJet that was due to depart a couple of hours later than our original slot with BA. Just about acceptable, we thought. We should get home before midnight, which would give me enough sleep for the morning, when I had stuff to do.

Our house is about two hours’ drive from Bordeaux, so we hit upon a bright idea. If the EasyJet flight was delayed we could drop off the hire car and take a bus into the city centre for dinner. shortly after we hit the road, my wife checked the departure schedule to discover that the flight would indeed be delayed for an unspecified period. But we were still asked to show up two hours before the scheduled departure time. The logic? In case security decided to shut up shop on time.

Faced with several hours at the airport with nothing to do, we decided to pop into the city anyway. What we hadn’t reckoned on was that, what with the roadworks and all that, the bus would make twenty stops before dropping us where we wanted to go. It took an hour. We dived into a brasserie, had a delightful seafood tapas, took a quick look around the very handsome square, and then hopped back on the bus to the airport. Our total time in the city was around 30 minutes.

The most interesting thing about the bus-ride, by the way, is that every stop has a name: Gambetta, President Wilson and so on. Not sure the 28th president of the United States would have been happy about a bus-stop in a banlieue named after him, but there you go.

When we got back to the airport, the flight was listed as “Delayed”. For a while, there were EasyJet reps handing out vouchers for 4.50 Euros on account of the delay. It turned out that we could have stayed in Bordeaux for another couple of hours, because security, instead of closing on time, stayed open for our flight. Eventually, after a leisurely sojourn in Starbucks outside the terminal, mostly spent people-watching, we went in and through security. And there we remained for three hours, cradling our free cups of coffee.

In case you’re not familiar with Bordeaux Airport, by the way, it’s not great. Concrete brutalist architecture, and three entries: Halle A, Halle B and the low-budget cowshed allocated to EasyJet and Ryanair, which rejoiced in the name of Billi. I immediately thought of IKEA bookshelves, but none were to be found.

As we sat waiting for a new departure time, nothing was forthcoming. There wasn’t an EasyJet employee to be seen, so all we could do was sink slowly into our rather uncomfortable seats in the coffee shop. One by one, other departures on the board disappeared. A feeling of dread slowly gripped us as we looked on the web for news of departures from Gatwick, or arrivals at Bordeaux. For two hours, nothing that remotely resembled an EasyJet flight appeared on the radar. A night at the nearby budget hotel loomed. I tried stretching out on a row of steel seats, which didn’t work out well. I’m too bloody old and soft to sleep on hard surfaces, though in my youth, when hitchhiking, I’d been quite happy to curl up in the rain under a hedge.

Eventually, around three hours later than expected, the board announced that we were ready to go. Ours was the last departure showing. Just before us, a flight to Fes had gone, also outrageously late. Had it been possible, I would have been quite happy to zip off to Morocco as an alternative to more hours in the cowshed. But no, EasyJet came good, sort of, and we boarded via that curious ritual wherein you sit down in a crowded departure lounge, and when summoned, thinking that the airplane awaited, you’re ushered to another holding pen where you stood around watching the remaining passengers leaving your plane. It’s called “speedy boarding”, apparently.

Finally we got on the plane. We were greeted by the captain on the intercom, who said that he wasn’t about to give us a list of excuses for the delay. He was nearly out of hours, so he needed to get a move on. He’d tell us all about it after we’d taken off. He did assure us that he was planning to put on the after-burners so that we could get to Gatwick without further delay. I fell asleep as soon as we took off, so I didn’t get the excuses from the horse’s mouth, but I gather there were storms in Ljubljana, a war in Ukraine and a longish delay while they found a replacement crew, because the first lot was out of hours. No mention of the much-maligned baggage handlers, who got the blame on the flight status website.

When we arrived in Gatwick, I passed the captain, who looked red-eyed with exhaustion. I felt sorry for him, but somewhat relieved that he didn’t actually overshoot towards Iceland. I needn’t have worried, because apparently his “brilliant young first officer” landed the plane. I had visions of a twelve-year-old at the controls.

We picked up our car, and satnav took us though a maze of country roads on the way home, because a section of the M25, London’s pride and joy, was closed for repairs. We finally made it come at 3.30am, just as dawn was breaking. Two hours before I was due to get up.

So fourteen hours after we left our little French outpost, we arrived at our English home. In the same time we could have driven back via the Channel Tunnel and made it back with a couple of hours to spare.

Not that I’m complaining. Well, not much. Others have had it much worse than us. At least the nonsense happened at the back end of the trip, which enabled us to use one of the two most popular excuses for absence this summer, the other being COVID.

But what really got to me, as so often happens on these occasions, was the uncertainty. We didn’t even get an email or a text from EasyJet telling us that the flight was delayed. And in the terminal, nobody seemed to have the remotest clue what was going on. And that’s what would have put me in Irish mode – spittin’ fire – had I not been too knackered.

So beware, be warned, bring the travel scrabble and a pair of decent cushions. But never, ever, put your bags in the aircraft hold. You might never see them again.

And we do this stuff for fun? Roll on 2023, when hopefully sanity has been restored. But plenty more madness to live through this year, I suspect.

PS: Just learned that the EasyJet Chief Operating Officer has just resigned on account of the current chaos, but not the CEO. Very Johnsonian, je crois.

4 Comments
  1. Oh Hahaha Steve… Sorry for laughing, but this blog post of yours just cracked me right up :-). There’s a lesson in there – NEVER go anywhere! Just lock yourself indoors with plenty of tinned grub and a big barrel of good single-malt. We’re all in “survivalist” mode now. brother.. permanent pandemic lockdown… Oh Hahaha! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ :-). Cheers!

    • Thanks Ronnie. I’m sure my wife wouldn’t agree, but painful travelling is a little like giving birth. You forget about the pain quickly and are soon ready for the next trip. S

  2. P.S. – As long as you make sure you don’t lock yourself indoors with this geezer as featured in this latest ‘Guardian’ report about him πŸ™‚ … https://bit.ly/3R5ZMWN

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