The journey home…
Now, after all that joy (and I wrote this bit first, because it’s still a little bit of a pants end to a lush week), we slipped out of our apartment at 0530 (0430 UK time) and hopped in the car to head home. Our host had told us not to follow our mad Australian Woman’s directions, and instead to run down toward Ljubljana and then across towards Trieste, and that this would be both quicker and easier. The sun rapidly burned off the morning mist, and for most of the journey it was sunny enough that we wished we’d the top down. Although the air pollution as we trundled through the north of Italy toward the airport actually meant I was glad that it was up. We arrived ridiculously early, our host being absolutely right, it was *much* faster.
We unloaded, returned the car, and wandered to the airport in the delightful Italian sun. Then sat outside the airport reading for an hour and, as booking in time approached, wandered in to book in. Book in went smoothly (oh, you can all see where this is going, can’t you) and we meandered round the airport shops, eventually succumbing to a book in the airport bookshop (I did, anyway), but otherwise safely warded off by the hilarity of airport prices. Being as last time BA treated us to, essentially, a miniature pack of pretzels on the flight, so this time we sat down in one of the Pizza places and munched a slice of adequate pizza, and drank some extortionately priced water. Eventually departure time grew near, we checked our gate, and wandered down to the gate through passport control.
….and just as we went to sit down at the gate, checked the screen and lo the imortal term ‘Cancelled’ was sat, unyielding, next to our flight’s number. There was no one else at the gate. There were no staff. No signs. Nothing. Heading back up to the main departure lounge, having asked at Passport control they let us slip back through, we hunted for a non-shopping related airport employee. The transfer desk was unstaffed. The signs still simply said ‘Cancelled’. Heading over to the security theatre produced the suggestion that we should go to our gate. So we went back to our gate, and now a small gathering had appeared. We were told to wait, and that we would all be on flights back to London today, and that we’d have to check in again at a different check-in desk, but not yet.
We sat down, I with my book, and chatted intermittently to Kathryn while we waited. The staff-person was nice, but seemed to be lacking information.
Then we were told we needed to go and collect our baggage. We rapidly walked school-crocodile style through the airport, zipping through some back doors to land up in the arrivals terminal, skipped through passport control and to the baggage reclaim, where we pulled our baggage from the carrousel. Off back to the departures terminal, and into a queue. A long, slow, painful queue. All through this time I maintained the optimistic hope that they wouldn’t force us through security again. I mean, what if we’d bought the bottle of Bellini we’d been debating, although we did have space and capacity in our case, there were plenty of people there who almost certainly didn’t. And despite the bottle of Limoncello lurking in one of our cases**, I’m always wary of bottles in cases on flights. So I hoped. There didn’t seem to be any more information forthcoming.
We waited. The line inched forward… people went from one queue to another check-in queue having reached the front of our queue, producing a fear that we might reach the front and have to join another queue.. There was another flight to London that’d been delayed by 2 hours and I briefly entertained the hope they might manage to cram us onto that one.
Apparently I have boundless optimism.
We reached the front, and it became apparent why it was taking so long. The polite British Airways check-in person was having to squeeze us all onto any random London bound flight. Her first suggestion was that we might like to arrive back six hours after we were due to arrive originally, having had a bonus change in Frankfurt. Painful though it was, we were okay with that if BA would then get us home, because we’d otherwise be stranded in London (given their performance later, I’m doubly glad we didn’t do this). They uhm’d and ah’d. We suggested maybe they’d like to fly us back to Bristol instead, because then it wouldn’t be a problem.
No, she averred. They couldn’t do that. We were booked to London, so to London we must go. It turns out the inconvenience only works in their favour, not yours.
It also turns out, however, that they care not which London airport. Kathryn suggested that any London airport earlier would be an improvement, and the check-in woman managed to locate us a flight that would get us in, theoretically only 3 hours late, at Gatwick instead of City which it seemed might be an improvement. Still no means of transport home. But at least we’d be in London in time to have some choice about the matter.
We accepted, and they gave us a voucher for ‘Medium refreshment’, and waved us in the general direction of the food place outside security. There wasn’t actually any indication what this entitled us to on the voucher, clearly less than ‘lunch’ and more than ‘light refreshment’. It turned out that this was a slightly soggy fruit salad, a slice of pizza or a sandwich and a drink of varying size depending on variety. After some confusion we headed off with sandwiches, fruit salad, and drinks and sat to digest the material on compensation that Kathryn had sensibly requested.
The sandwiches were carefully wrapped and put in our bag with the biscuits for the flight, and the fruit salad munched, and because we were now the wrong side of security again, the drinks drunk. And back through the security theatre we went. Having made it through we then headed straight for the gate, because we were about on time for gate opening. This time the Passport-control bloke waved us through with nary a glance at our passport. We sat and waited.
Our plane’s gate number was displayed without comments, and with our gate number.
Gate opening came and went with no information.
Gate closing came and went with no information.
Then the BA Staff appeared and headed to the gate. We made it onto the plane! This being an advance, we didn’t complain too much about being sat a row apart. It was better than the family of three (with a youngish kid) who’d been split into three separate seats miles apart (someone nice swapped to get them two seats next to each other). We sat and waited. And then, after a while more waiting the pilot informed us that due to the delay in arrival, and the delay boarding, we’d missed our take off slot and were going to be waiting up to an hour to take off. He tried to sell the ‘it won’t be that long’. About 10 minutes later he informed us that it would be another 20 minutes. About 30 minutes later we actually took off.
And landed…in London… an hour late. By now we were four hours late and our prebooked bus had escaped and was an hour toward Bristol. We came through customs. By which I mean, I walked through, and Kathryn waited for the slow, painful, non-EU queue. I looked at prices for Trains (130 quid for us both including the taxi at the end), normal-non-po-ass coaches (100 quid for us both including the taxi at the end), and ‘Megabus’ (the student coach – £70 quid for us both including the taxi at the end).
Kathryn joined me…and we waited. It said ‘Wait’ on the baggage reclaim screen. We waited some more… there was an announcement. They, it appeared, were unsure exactly where our luggage was or why there was a delay. Using the height of pre-historic technology, they sent someone to the plane to find out where our luggage was. They didn’t radio, or use a mobile. No, they actually had to send a person physically to the plane. It was like a comedy of errors, although the comedic element was, by now somewhat lacking.
Kathryn had a genius idea, we could, she suggested, hire a car. A day’s hire on a car was way less than the cost of our tickets, sufficiently less that the cost of a hire car including petrol might well be less than the cost of any other method of transit. I looked. It looked optimistic. We started to be cheerful.
The announcer informed us that they still weren’t exactly sure where in the process the luggage was***, but seemed convinced that it would appear on a luggage belt imminently. Presumably, he was relying on previous experience and the concept that an entire plane load of luggage was unlikely to evaporate. Although the possibility does exist.
Our luggage eventually appeared. We grabbed it from the conveyor and made our way to the car hire places. Unfortunately, it then became apparent that the one-way fee for the cars eliminated the convenience factor. Pushing the price up to Megabus levels – before petrol. We then took the transfer train to the station where we sprinted for the “Gatwick Express”, making it with a minute to spare (where we ate our sandwiches whilst we trundling homeward). We then managed to make the bus with a couple of minutes to spare, booking it en-route whilst on the train… Finally, we grabbed a taxi from Bristol city centre…
Finally, as 1am rolled around we made it home… very tired.
Final roll call of methods of transport used? Rental car, Aeroplane, Pseudo-Mono-Rail (apparently it’s not a real mono-rail), Railway, Shanks’ Pony, Coach and Taxi. 21 Hours to travel 860ish miles. Average speed, around 40 mph. It probably would have been quicker to drive directly back from Savica to our house than to take British Airway’s plane (Google claims we could have done it in just over 17 hours). So yay for BA.
** And the half-used bottle of knock-off nutella in the other.
*** I fear the person who went to find the luggage may have been eaten by a grue.