Anyone who knows me will know that booking holidays is traumatic. I scour the internet for months looking at locations. I then repeat the process for villas and then finally change my mind and start again in another location. Once I’ve found a villa and location, then it’s flights and car bookings, all subject to the same rigmarole of locating, quoting and then finally running them all through every price comparison and holiday site I can find.
I can tell you the best beaches in Spain, the sand varieties Canaries and in depth cultural setups in Majorca. I can tell you the best time of day to land and the likelihood of a crosswind at take off.
After 3 months of planning, booking and rebooking we had secured a beautiful villa in Spain, a bargain of 2 cars and 8 return flights to link it all up for a reasonable price. Multiple bookings with multiple providers coordination akin to the New Year fireworks in the capital. Dogs care sorted, airport drive done, cars packed off to a compound with meet and greet, feet on the concourse and we’re off. Then the ogre that is affordable flying rears its head.
After queuing for 2 hours to drop off the one bag into the hold, we were told we were too early. We should queue again as by then we can check the bag in. There’s no signs, no guidance to say ‘2 hours from this point’, ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here’ or ‘dear god why did you opt to save £4.99, you could have gone with a proper airline instead of this’.
Complaint logged and we got our bag checked albeit after another 20 minutes of to’ing and fro’ing. Through security and happy days, low queues, friendly staff and the obligatory body search for my 9 year old, who appears to set off every detector in every airport. Still, minor smuggling infractions aside we were through. How those scanners pick up the remnants of a chicken nugget in a back pocket are beyond me. Dinner at Jamies, something of a staple for our Walton-esque eight-some, facebook selfies, sunburn anticipation and general happiness abounds.
Form a wagon circle in the waiting area and dispatch to the shops in military formation,
“son-in-law-ish – you’re on Go Pro duty, fixings and remotes”
“daughter-in-law-ish – you get to placate the 11 year old Victoria Meldrew who keeps scowling at me from below her new Snap Back”
“Wife-ish – toilet dashes and general security”
“Me, I’m off to the book shop for a browse, back in a bit, synchronise watches and back here for dispatch in 10”.
We did the shopping and started toward the boards, surely the gate would be there now, only 20 minutes until it closes, and then comes the announcement.
“Easyjet Flight EZY8671 to Alicante, the gate is now closed”
Surely not, have we lost some sembelance of time tracking in the joy that is Gatwick shopping?
“Easyjet Flight EZY8671 to Alicante, apologies, the gate isn’t closed, we made that up, apologies for any confusion”
Wow, close one, but hey, we’re on holiday and the travel is the piece that gets you wound up so you can truly enjoy the relaxation when you get there.
Then my phone beeps, an update from Easyjet, must be the gate announcement… the flight is cancelled. Not delayed, not a running a bit low on overpriced pretzels….cancelled. This is where the tides of emotion and raw human confusion then flood the information desk and watch in awe as a force of 2 overwhelmed Easyjet employees try to make sense of it.
Nobody had bothered to tell them. 25 minutes later and we’re led in groups of 20 by an adolescent wearing a backpack and an orange lanyard toward an exit. I’m intrigued on what power that backpack bestowed upon this poor Spanish Harry Styles substitute, I needn’t have wondered, none.
20 became 50 as everyone ignored his adolescent mumblings. Led in staccato fashion to collect the luggage from the belt, it’s just like returning from holiday, then through customs and we’re back onto the concourse.
Directed to the information desk who haven’t got a clue what day it is, let alone who Easyjet are or how best to handle a few hundred of the great and the good Easyjet customers. After 45 minutes of queuing, it’s the wrong queue, we need to go and queue at the check in desks.
There’s a scene in Alien where you first see the egg sacs, then the camera pans to the queen. A feeling of surprise, mild relief then abject fear. That’s the feeling that surfaced after turning from relatively short queue to seeing a throng of human despair trying converge upon the check in desk. Taking it in turns to queue we quickly demolished another hour of joyous abandon, explaining to the kids why we were back where we started and that the phrase ‘you f*cking charlatans’ wasn’t a tribute to a 90’s northern band.
Eventually someone told the ground staff what was happening and a beleaguer looking orange vest stood atop the check-in desk. Like Moses at Ararat he gestured to the sea of despair and it stilled in anticipation. Who was this god among men that dared control the barely contained anger of Geoff from Chippenham and Kylie from Billericay.
“We’re sorry but there are no alternate flights tonight. Or tomorrow. Or ever. Don’t worry, we’ve contacted local hotels and can confirm they are all sold out. We suggest you try and book something yourself if you need something and try and claim it back…sorry about that”
In the second it took the baying pack to take a breath in, he withdrew like an agrophobic cuckoo behind the shutters on the desk. That’s it. No flights, no options.
As we sat there watching the tides of emotion wash past we realised the enormity of it. 6 months planning, work schedules adjusted, clothes bought, dog sitters organised…all for nothing. That’s not to say we didn’t try to book with a different carrier. We could have got to Alicante on Weds, spent Thursday and Friday there to fly back Saturday, but it seemed a little…..disappointing. Centerparcs thoughts came and went. Then we called the car company as the dreams of summer sun disappeared. They’d have to get the cars back from the impound, we should hold tight for 30 minutes.
To the credit of the ground staff we were issued £25 vouchers to spend which brings me back to the fridge full of toasted salt beef sandwiches we woke to this morning. The man in the convenience store was chuckling away as we spent £200 on magazines, sandwiches and Pringles just to ensure we got some satisfaction out of the evening. When I’m going to read Tatler and finish off one of the 18 tubes of Sour Cream Pringles I just don’t know.
Where are we now….I need to claim insurance for the villa and car, Easyjet for the 8 flights and hope the weather gods shine upon us as we try to salvage something from a week off by hitting the Cotswolds in the only empty house for 8 people in Northern Europe that isn’t;
A) A castle
B) A bungalow that looks like someone recently died in it
C) Over £5000 for 3 bedrooms and the promise of great views of the council estate on the other side of the motorway
Easyjet, I salute you for giving us the opportunity to find ourselves as a family despite ourselves. I’m sure we’ll have a great time and I can genuinely say I will pay over the odds in future to avoid ever having to see your chirpy orange livery again.
I will add, I don’t blame the bodies on site, they had nothing they could do. Easyjet central control or mind hive, Davros or whatever you are, I hope that this triggers some semblance of human emotion and empathy, if not for the despairing customers, for your own staff who had to deal with it.