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Posts tagged ‘Stansted’

Technically in Cork

Recent events have prompted me to muse with delicate frown and pursed lips on my history with transportation. The origins of this tempestuous, codependent relationship can be traced back to:-

  • 1984: Twelve years old, and for reasons that will remain forever obscured by the mists of time, I was required to catch a bus from Dublin to be reunited with the bosom of my family in Limerick. After a long journey, the bus shuddered to a stop. I sat there long after the remaining passengers disembarked, kicking my legs and reading a ‘Bunty’ magazine by streetlight.Half an hour later I was getting cold, so alighted and, keeping an eye on the coach in case it took off unexpectedly, I backed up to the only human life-form present and enquired when the bus would be leaving for Limerick. Which is when I found out the bus was not going to Limerick.

    Also, I was technically in Cork.

    I must be able to blame this on some family friend or relative – I mean WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR A TWELVE YEAR OLD CATCHING A BUS?

    I was gasping for a wee, so I decided my first priority was locating the bathroom. Then disaster struck: I had no money, and access to the toilet cubicles required a 2p piece. (If you think I sound pathetic, really it was WAY worse.)

    Luckily, there was a 20cm gap between the foot of the door and the floor. I stuffed my bag in, thereby committing myself, then wriggled under the door after the bag. It was a tense widdle; I was terrified someone with 2p might creep in and burst into my cubicle and accuse me of weeing for free.

    Afterwards I went outside, sat on my bag in the deserted carpark, and considered my predicament. Luckily, my parents had equipped me to deal with adversity. Back then, what that meant was that I knew how to make reverse charge phone calls, rather than identify perverts. Indeed I wouldn’t have recognized a pervert had he asked me to sit on his knee and waved a flesh-coloured stick at me, but man could I place a reverse charges phone call.

    I rang my mum, who was good enough to accept the call.

    “I’m in CORK!” I sobbed, suddenly struck by the tragedy of being abandoned in a strange land.

    The next bus to Limerick was the following morning, so my parents arranged for me to stay with some people they chose at random from the telephone directory.

  • Circa 1993: On my first business trip, I missed not one but two flights AND lost my passport and ticket along the way. I finally arrived in Switzerland 24 hours late. Thought I’d blogged about the incident, but it seems not, so can’t provide a link. If anyone wants the grisly details I’ll see what I can do.
  • 2000: Job interview in Bahrain. The Interviewer arranged a ticket for collection at Dubai Airport. Even though I arrived a full half hour before the flight, the Emirates representative claimed the check-in was closed and refused to hand over my ticket.“All right,” said Husband during an emergency debrief. “Call The Interviewer, and tell him there was a problem with your passport. No- your residency visa. An issue with your residency visa, and you’re sorting it out, and will get the next flight in two hours.”

    “Ok. Problem with residency visa. Next flight. Check.”

    I dialed The Interviewer: “I MISSED THE FLIGHT!”

    He hired me.

    Can’t explain it.

  • 2000: Fast-forward three weeks to a business trip to Bahrain to meet The Company’s biggest client. My phone rang at 06:00. It was The Floridian, formerly The Interviewer.“I’m at the check-in counter. Where are you?”

    “I’M IN BED.”

    However, not only did I catch the 07:00 flight – triumphantly arriving at the airport 10 minutes later – I even had time to demolish the buffet breakfast in the Emirates lounge.

  • Probably 2005: Róisín underestimated timing from Paddington to Heathrow (so entirely her fault; I have a signed confession). Emirates Airlines – at this stage totally accustomed to me – rescheduled me on a later flight. At the baggage check, I realized I had left my mobile phone in Róisín’s handbag (don’t ask. Just . . . don’t). Located a pay phone and called Róis, who returned to Heathrow to give up the phone.
  • Possibly 2008: Husband and I arrive at Dubai Airport, totally overexcited about our first ever skiing holiday: two weeks in Austria. We had booked a hire car, arranged accommodation; we were sharing the chalet with friends who were en-route.Passports: CHECK! Tickets: CHECK! Luggage: TRIPLE CHECK!

    Bags sorted, we proceeded to passport control. I went to the e-gate, already planning where I should wait for Andrew, who was at the manual passport control. When I scanned my fingerprint, a buzzer sounded and a big, red X blinked on the gate.

    The man on the passport desk beckoned me over.

    “My finger’s not working,” I giggled, wiggling the digit at him.

    I forgot how ineffective charm is on airport security.

    “Your rrresidency visa,” said the administrator. “It is expire.”

    “Oh. Well. No problem. I’ll renew it when I get back. I’m going skiing!”

    Never have I been more mistaken.

    Never has Husband come closer to divorcing me.

    In a vain attempt to conquer the moral high ground I told Andrew to go without me, but he opted to stay. For a while it looked like he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the airport, since he was fully checked onto the flight. He sulked for roughly a year. He still wins arguments on the strength of that ONE LITTLE INCIDENT.

  • Near miss: Once, I got to the boarding gate for an Emirates flight before realizing I had left my passport and ticket in a tray at the baggage check.

The geographical equivalent of ‘nemesis’

I consider myself an organized, compulsive, dependable person. This premise forms the foundation upon which my entire self-image is constructed; that I am the type of citizen strangers would ask to pack their parachute, or to whom they would entrust the care of their children.

Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the number of people in public parks who fling kids at me.

Unfortunately, it has become apparent over time that my self-image does not apply to public transport. For many years – in the region of 12 – I have blamed Husband. However, while an attractive feature of marriage is having a vanilla scapegoat for any given circumstance, the truth is that Husband has never – to my knowledge – or, incidentally, his – missed a flight.

Not that I missed a flight on this trip. No, that’s not where this is going – although it does pass through the immediate vicinity.

I made London with the minimum of drama or spilt beverage, and my friends Raff and Carol collected me. 

This time, I escaped unscathed from Stansted, even though the airport is like the geographical equivalent of my nemesis (is there a word for that? Solartap or Vet: I’m counting on you, I have to know that word. It would be great if it had five or more syllables. Also Solartap: update your blog, it’s a disgrace.)

The day after, I got on the Internet to book a place on the 04:00am coach from Cambridge to Heathrow the following morning. Afterwards, because I am organized, reliable and dependable, I decided to check in online for my 08:40 Emirates flight. And even though I know my passport details off by heart, because I am compulsive, I decided to fetch the original document to double-check the expiry date.

Aaand my passport was gone.

The panic was instantaneous. Because I always put my passport and ticket in the left hand pocket of my computer bag, behind my wallet, on top of my international travel adaptor. It lives there; that is its home. If it wasn’t in that pocket, it was not of my luggage. (Ok, if something can be ‘not of this world’, then the same rule must be applicable to luggage, SURELY.)

Still, I spent about five minutes staring into the pocket, occasionally groping around the bottom in case my passport had shrunk to minute proportions in the previous 24 hours, or fallen into a secret compartment I had been unaware of.

Then I tore everything out of both travel bags.

Twice.

I went downstairs and announced admirably calmly: “Bad news. My passport’s missing.”

“What d’y‎ou mean?” said Raff, understandably.

“My passport! It’s gone! It’s not there! I’ve checked- it’s- this is- ARGH! I can’t believe- I think I might- I might have- no, I couldn’t, I’m so anal, surely not! How- no, WHY, yes; why why, WHY does this always happen to me?”

We went out to the garage and scoured Raff and Carol’s car. It wasn’t there. Similarly, it failed to turn up during any of the several subsequent sweeps of my bags.

“Think back,” said Carol. “When did you have it last?”

“When did I- that’s a good question, I- ok, let me think, I’m pretty sure I had it at Stansted- yes- they check the passport just before baggage reclaim, so I had it- I seem to remember sitting somewhere looking at my photo in the front- it’s a crap picture- blue background doesn’t suit my complexion-”

Instead of gripping my by the shoulders and shaking, Carol said, “So you think . . .”

“Right. Yes, well. It could be in the bathroom just off baggage reclaim. Or the Duty Free. OR the arrivals hall at Stansted.”

I called the airport, and followed the voice prompts to Lost & Found, which had closed at 4:30 or two hours prior. Then I called the Irish Embassy and left an incoherent message on the emergency message machine. Then I called Stansted again and followed another perilous IVR trail to a dead-end.

Following is the text exchange with Andrew:-

Me: Honey, disaster here. I appear to have lost my passport. No, I’m not even kidding. We’re trying to get someone at Stansted. Not looking good for flying tomorrow x

Andrew: Ok.

Meanwhile, Raff took over telephonic negotiations. Using a combination of lethal charm (similar to Yogi Bear’s but several degrees more potent) and applied blagging, he managed to hunt down the Duty Manager at Stansted. And if you’ve ever tried to use Stansted Airports’ IVR system, you will appreciate the skill involved.

“Yes, thanks for taking my call. I have a friend here – she’s Irish,” (like that had anything to do with it) – “and she came through the airport yesterday, thinks she might have left her passport there. And it’s an emergency, because, she has a flight to catch first thing tomorrow morning. So if you wouldn’t mind- if you could just- oh, I see. I understand.”

Then he emitted a sequence of ‘mmms’ which ranged from noncommittal to negative, before he said, “So you have it then?”

Carol and I had an extra-large gin & tonic while Raff biked the 90 minute round trip to Stansted to collect my passport.

There aren’t many friends who will do that for you.

Or, for that matter, get up at 03:15 in the morning to drive you to Cambridge to catch a bus.

They’re great

Of course, they might have wanted to be ABSOLUTELY SURE I left.

I haven’t told them the coach stopped at Stansted en route to Heathrow.

LOOK IT WAS ONLY FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES AND THERE WASN’T MUCH TIME LEFT OVER AFTER I GOT MY HOT CHOCOLATE.

Crapair

Every time I’ve ever woken up with my head wedged down a toilet, I’ve sworn I will never drink again. Or, for that matter, bob for apples in the toilet bowl.

In a similar way, every time I go to Ireland, I swear I will never, I mean never EVER, fly Ryanair again.

It’s just that they’re so very cheap.

So very crap, but so very, VERY cheap.

The fuckers.

Having been caught out before, I set off for Stansted from Clapham the previous day. I arrived so early, there were only fifty four people in the queue. After I checked in, I had so much time to spare that I decided to do a bit of shopping. I bought a universal adapter. Then I had a sandwich.

At 17:30 I decided – just to be on the safe side – to proceed to baggage control for my 18:20 flight. And that was the end of the proceeding for the next 40 minutes. Baggage control was carnage: panic, hysteria, old people trampled underfoot. 

I finally staggered to the boarding gate at 18:10. Perhaps it was 18:11. Thereabouts.

Let’s say quarter past six.

The gate was closed, blue tape across the double doors. A forbidding attendant stood fingering her walkie-talkie. She radioed the airplane.

“Passenger here with a bag checked in.”

If you didn’t pick it up, the critical portion of this sentence is the latter. In fact, you can just italicise everything after the word ‘here’. Because I have no doubt that, but for my bag aboard the plane, I would have spent the next eight hours at Stansted before paying Ryanair the equivalent of a first-class ticket to the Bahamas for the only available flight to Ireland for the next three months – to Belfast.

The plane reversed back down the runway as I emerged onto the concourse. A steward met me; I could tell he was important because he had on a fluorscent vest.

“Are you Nam Shaw?”

“That’s Niamh. NIAMH. Doesn’t sound anything like it’s spelled-”

“Get on the plane.”

“Oh, ok.”

I mean, there’s no need for that level of unpleasantness. I take comfort from the fact that Crapair was recently fined €3m by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (although they sound just as dodgy). I also stole the inflight magazine.

“Lucky you caught it,” said Husband. “Otherwise you would be known as . . . as a person who misses flights. A lot.”

Learning from past mistakes

Previously, my average public transport success rate was inching up to around 80%, but it took a bit of a knock on the Irish trip. Of course, there was the disaster at Stansted when I missed my flight to Ireland after standing in the wrong queue for an hour.  

Then I caught the wrong train to Dublin, where I was admittedly over-confident. After all, trains are much easier than airplanes. There’s less mucking about: no check-in, no baggage check, no cavity search. Often, you don’t even need a passport, which considerably reduces my potential margin for error.

 

And of course, I had LEARNED from past mistakes.  

 

Unfortunately, not enough . . . because we come to my return flight to Dubai. Again – and I appreciate that you might find this hard to believe given the incidents above – there was a surfeit of confidence happening. After all, I was equipped with a library of Hard Lessons, including:-

(1) Make sure you double-check the flight date/time, preferably prior to the flight;

(2) A driving licence is not accepted as a substitute for a passport;

(3) Get to the airport before the flight;

(4) Stand in the right queue; and/or

(5) Read the ticket;

(6) Bring the ticket;

(7) And don’t leave it in a phone booth;

(8) Or anywhere else (I haven’t actually LEARNED this; it falls more under the category ‘Near Misses’)

(9) Make sure your residency visa hasn’t expired

In fact, I figured the only lesson left is to ensure I have a visa for countries requiring one, and there’s plenty of time for that one.

That morning, I was up at 06:45hrs, packed some final bits and pieces and bade farewell to Róisín’s boyfriend, whose flat we were staying in. It was around about then that I checked my bag for passport presence and . . . it wasn’t there. You might say the presence was poor to non-existent.

Hard Lesson #10: relative proximity of passport. (Ok, so I actually learned that on a business trip, but it was over 10 years ago so it was about time for a refresher course.)

We guessed that the most likely location of the passport was Róisín’s flat, at which point I spent five minutes running around in circles screaming, which gave Róisín an opportunity to waterproof her new Ugg Boots. Seriously. I was wearing a hole in Tim’s welcome mat, going: ‘We might be able to make it to the airport via your house in time if we leave now, I mean NOW in the immediate sense of the word,’ while Róisín sprayed her Ugg Boots: ‘Just a second, I need to do the heel’.

Then we exited the door at a gallop. Róisín’s sense of time is rather Irish; she was confident we’d make the trip from Clapham South to Walthamstow Central in twenty minutes, including a stop-off for coffee.

An hour and 3 litres of cold sweat later, we arrived at Walthamstow Central and charged a taxi.

“You forgot your passport?” said our driver, slapping the steering wheel. “That’s a joke. Ha ha! Very funny.”

“You know, firstly,” I said, chillingly, “I’m not finding it all that funny, joke-wise. Secondly, I think it’s technically more a cliché than a joke.”

“Why didn’t you check your bag before you left the house?” enquired our driver.

“Good question,” said Róisín. “Niamh?”

“You should always check your bag before leaving the house,” advised our driver.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “<mutter: Don’t count on getting one yourself>”

“Once I picked up a woman. She was all excited. Going on holiday, you know? I brought her all the way to Heathrow. Then remembered she left her passport at home. I had to drive her back.”

“And?” said Róisín, ever idealistically yearning for the happy ending.

“She missed her flight.”

My passport was on Róisín’s living room sofa underneath a duvet.

On our way back to Walthamstow Central, Róisín rang Tim, who had checked the Emirates flights from London and established that there were seats free on the 14:15 flight. I am strongly encouraging Róisín to marry the man. One second after it opened, I rang the Emirates Service Desk and booked myself onto the afternoon flight.

Róisín didn’t slag me off once. Either the woman can’t recognise an opportunity, or she’s a saint.

The following text exchange with Andrew reminds me why I am blessed to be with him:- 

Me: Missed flight 😦

 

Andrew: Bugger. What happened? 

 

Me: Which would you believe? (a) The flight was cancelled (b) A flock of rogue sheep took over Heathrow (c) The wing fell off the airplane (d) I forgot my passport 

 

Andrew: Those dam sheep 🙂

I like to think Husband was so thrilled to see me he didn’t mind my arriving at 01:00hrs

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