I am in Wales?? You’ve got to be kidding me!!
Fifth of February this year turned out to be a very long day. I started out at 2 am on just another work trip from Mumbai to San Francisco, via London. All was well, the BA flight was on time and I had got myself some good stuff to read… I can’t sleep on flights but I consider this a blessing because I can then catch up on my ‘always-wanted-to-but-couldn’t-come-around-to-reading’ books.
Eleven hours later we were hovering over Heathrow waiting for a go-ahead to land.. which never came and we kept hovering till finally the captain said guess what we’re not landing here after all and are going to Cardiff. We.. the jet lagged, sleep deprived, fatigued folks wondered, hey what was going on?? Well, turned out that while we were up in the air, oblivious of the earthy matters, UK had seen it’s first snowfall of the season and London had come to a standstill. The skies were now clear, but the airport did not have sufficient de-icing equipment. So the planes parked in Heathrow cannot leave and the new-arrivals cannot land. “This is a crazy. We have snow all the time in Canada and cope just fine. What is it with Britain?”. Our Canadian friend will very soon find out and so will all of us!
So, we went to Cardiff, Wales. The aircraft taxied and finally came to a halt in the middle of the runway. The captain said nobody goes out yet. The tiny Welsh airport didn’t know what to do with big plane full of non-Europeans. 2 hours tick-tock. The captain says please don’t ask for food or water because the cabin staff is off-duty now. Their shift is over. 2 more hours tick-tock. Captain announces that a coach will take you to the terminal for immigration process.
Cold. Think of your warm jackets..all secure in the checked-in baggage. Kick yourself. BA stewardess shrugs. Join the meandering immigration queue. 4 hours tick-tock. Get used to the queue. That’s where you’ll be all day today. Baggage queue. 1 hour tick-tock. Want to grab a bite 14 hours after your last meal? ‘Food’ queue. 1 hour tick-tock. Rush. Got baggage, will lug it around..will load it on the coach…will find it thrown out on the road by some rouge..will fight to get it back on the coach. Finally on the way to Heathrow. 3 hours tick-tock. The airport resembles a refugee camp. How does a first-timer in Heathrow find her way?? How can the internet not work?? Scramble. Re-book the next flight ticket out-of-here queue. 3 hours 40 minutes tick-tock. Book a hotel room queue. 3 hours + something. Too tired to care..
You think that you’re having the worst time ever when the American lady who had become a ‘Q buddy’ tells me that it’s deja vu for her because this is exactly what had happened in Dec 2010 , only it was much worse when this lady was made to stay in a tent in the cold outside terminal 3 of Heathrow for the whole weekend, “like those make-shift bomb shelters on the London Underground during the blitz”.
But there really was nothing even faintly amusing about the incompetence displayed by BAA that day. The company, which enjoys a license to mint money through its ownership of the world’s busiest international airport, failed comprehensively. There was no staff in sight for any information or assistance. Travel agencies and touts had a field day.
32 hours after onboarding that Sunday, I could finally hit a hotel bed, close my eyes and call it a ‘day’. Tomorrow, 10 hours to destination. tick-tock.