I’ve always maintained that success in life demands more than a little bit of good luck and timing.
A chance to fly to Scotland for a combination of work and visiting friends was good luck. Flying to Scotland on the same day as the uncovered terrorist plot to blow up planes flying from London to the US was a case of bad timing.
Not too much I could do about it. I mean I could have cancelled the flight for my family and I, but may have risked not being reimbursed in the process. Better to fly and take my chances. Scotland is – after all – only a few hours away by plane (not counting the layover in London). What did I have to lose…except possibly my life?
We departed on the August 10th at 9:40pm from Southern Italy’s Brindisi Airport. I’d already learned that carry-on luggage wasn’t allowed, so we re-configured our luggage to make space for some wine and gifts. Surprisingly, the young man at the ticket counter was very laid back. Sure, we couldn’t carry on cell phones or liquids, but the big challenge – he said – lay ahead when we were to touch down at London’s Stansted Airport. Stansted is a “secondary airport”, not a main hub like Heathrow. For low-cost airlines like RyanAir – which we were flying – airports like Stansted made perfect sense for establishing air routes as they typically had less people, less air traffic and presumably less potential for headaches.
Not on this day.
The minute we debarked and entered the air terminal I could tell something was up. Hundreds of passengers – all running late – clogging the lines at the Passport/Entry Control point. I made a mental note that it probably was a good thing we decided to sleep at the airport, because it was already midnight when we arrived, and I figured correctly that by the time we broke through the checkpoint it would be closer to 2am. As we had a 6:30 am connection to Glasgow I felt good about not making hotel reservations.
The family and I made it through the entry point and proceeded to get our luggage. Anti-terrorist security measures were already causing a back-up on in-coming flights so virtually everyone on our flight was mulling around wondering where our luggage was. After about a half hour the luggage conveyor belt jolted into action and up came….a beauty case.
This is not good I thought. My sentiments were shared by at least 200 other passengers. I noticed a RyanAir baggage claim desk in a far corner only to discover that the airline didn’t have a baggage representative. Or any for that matter. Another way RyanAir keeps costs down is to keep personnel to a minimum.
You want to see confusion? Stick 200 or so Italians who can’t speak English in an airport….lose their luggage….and shut down for the night. I became suddenly very popular. I managed to track down a generic looking airport control officer who said they were “working on the problem”. In the meantime the clock was ticking. It was now closing in on 3am and our check-in was at 4:30. The good news was at 3:15 all the passenger luggage for our flight magically appeared. We got our luggage. Some other passengers weren’t so lucky as their had been rifled through and they were missing several pairs of pants and a cd player.
We quickly proceeded to the main terminal – all of us – starting to drag a bit by this point. The game plan: park ourselves right in front of the RyanAir check-in counter and be first in line for our next flight. What the heck was I thinking? We turned a corner and walked into several thousand passengers all with the same problem: their flights were cancelled or risked being so. Nothing else to do by now except plop ourselves down and rest if we could.
At 4:45 the check-in counters opened for business and I felt like I was jockeying for business on Wall Street. In not-so-quick succession I discovered our flight (and dozens of others) had been cancelled. I processed a quick refund and rushed over to EasyJet.com only to find that all their flights had been cancelled due to security reasons as well.
I scooped up the family and looked for other options. It was now 6am. The train ticket office didn’t open until 9:00. A taxi from Stansted to Glasgow would run about £800.00 (about a thousand bucks). The bus seemed a possibility but I figured I’d rent a car and make better time.
I bullied my way up to one car-rental after another with no luck, as there were no cars available. Last rental car agency in line was EuroCar and we were in luck. A mini-van available for the not-so-low-price of £120.00. That wasn’t part of my budget but it didn’t matter. We had transportation….Glasgow was about 8 hours away with our final destination of Edinburgh just a bit farther. I was happy but really, REALLY tired.
Postscript I: It was announced later in the day that the terrorist-act target date was 16 August. We were supposed to fly on the 17th so I figured we were in for more long lines and cancelled flights. It’s too early to tell.
Postscript II: This morning – the 14th – it was announced that the terrorism “threat-con” level was downgraded from “Critical” to “Severe” and that some carry-on luggage would be allowed.
Good news for sure. But right now I’m here…the family is here…and I have a lot of living to do between now and the 17th.
More to follow…..