It’s difficult to be angry with a man wearing a Santa hat.
The plane has been sitting on the tarmac at Marco Polo airport for nearly thirty minutes now, waiting to depart. The pilot has told us that there’s been an incident at Bristol airport. A plane has skidded off the runway during landing. Nobody, thankfully, has been hurt but there is likely to be a delay of several hours. There’ll be more information as soon as he gets it, but it’s likely they’ll be taking us off the plane soon.
It’s not ideal, but neither is it the end of the world. We have, perhaps, a three hour drive to Pembrokeshire at the other end so we’ll be arriving later than expected, but nothing too serious. I adopt the sleeping position (always easier for me than the brace position) and settle down for forty winks prior to the next announcement.
I only manage about twenty of them. The pilot emerges from the cabin wearing a bright Easyjet-orange Santa hat. He exchanges a few words with a couple in the front row and I hear the words “not good news”.
Not good at all. The airport has been closed until further notice. Easyjet have therefore cancelled all flights into Bristol and the customer service in Arrivals will do their best to make alternative arrangements for us. In the meantime, he suggests, we’re free to use our telephones or tablets in order to try and sort things out for ourselves.
Phones are whipped out like Colt 45s at the O.K Corral, and everyone taps away furiously. I check Bristol. There are no flights scheduled for tomorrow. Gatwick, then? Yes! I tap in our details as quickly as I can and submit them. I slump back in my chair. Starting our holiday on the M25 isn’t ideal, but at least we’re going to get back. Then the screen flashes up a message. The cheapest flight is not longer available. The next one costs half as much again. I don’t care. I’m prepared to throw money at the problem to make it go away, as long as we can get back to the UK for Christmas. I hit submit again. In the time taken to press the button, somebody else has nabbed it. There are now no seats remaining.
I’m trying to stay calm, but it’s not easy. Edinburgh? Is Aberdeen too far away? If we fly to Belfast could we get a boat? If the worst comes to the worst could we just get a train back? Hell, if there’s nothing else at all would Easyjet be obliged to pay for a cabin on the Orient Express?
Liverpool. Lovely, wonderful, almost-in-Wales Liverpool, with plenty of seats available the following morning. I receive the booking confirmation and sigh with relief. It’s not perfect, but it’s a flight to the UK.
We get taken off the plane, and bussed back to the terminal. The pilot apologises to everyone, and wishes us good luck and a Merry Christmas. He hands out sweets to the kids. People are stressed and unhappy and yet – it’s that damn Easyjet-orange Santa hat – it’s impossible to be angry with him.
As we wait for our bags to be taken off, one of the passengers is wandering around and telling anyone who’ll listen that the pilot – the pilot, mark you – has personally told him that Bristol remained closed for just thirty minutes, and that Easyjet were the only company to cancel flights. This, naturally, has the effect of angering and upsetting people. One woman puts her hands to her face and seems to be on the verge of tears. ‘Only company to cancel,’ he repeats. ‘The pilot told me on the way out.’
This will turn out to be nonsense. Bristol airport remained closed until midnight. But, for some reason, Unknown Passenger has chosen to play the part of Scrooge in our little Christmas Carol.
We collect our bags and make our way to Arrivals. The queue snakes away into the distance, to where the customer service desk – a little orange cube at the end of the hall – is manned by two people.
We try and take stock of things. We have, at least, a flight which is more than many people have. We could just go home. But we have friends staying in our flat and cat-sitting over the holidays. It doesn’t seem fair to disturb them. There are people who, we know, would put us up. Similarly, it doesn’t seem right to put them to trouble just before Christmas. No. We’re going to queue up, and let Easyjet arrange a hotel for us.
And then something quite wonderful happens. We start talking to the people behind us. Then Caroline spots a couple of teachers from Padua who she met only the week before. We all joke about the length of the queue and how we could all do with a drink, and, before you know it, people are working in shifts to go to the bar and bring back spritzes in plastic cups. We keep a place in the queue whilst people head off to eat pizza slices off paper plates, and then they do the same for us. An Easyjet representative works her way along the line, handing out food vouchers. It turns out that the nearest bar will not accept them as payment for drinks. But then a public-spirited citizen announces that they’ve found a bar at the opposite end of the terminal which will. Huzzah!
Slowly, but surely, the distance to the recycling bins to dispose of the empties increases, as the distance to the customer service desk decreases.
It should be horrible, stressful and upsetting but – against all the odds – our section of the queue is having a right little party. We all get booked into the same hotel, a workaday Marriott just ten minutes from the airport, and say we’ll meet up again later.
We don’t, of course. Neither of us feels up to two parties in a day any more. We have a modest dinner, and an early night. The next day we’re up early for an uneventful flight to Liverpool and a drive to Wales where Christmas will properly begin. And yet, in a strange way, those three hours in an airport queue were amongst the most, well, Christmassy of the entire holiday.