Airport Hell

Eleven fifteen they released us from the airprison. Some people had nowhere to go and were still waiting to find out were they were sleeping. People with kids. Old people. They may still be waiting as I write this twelve hours later.

This had the lot. Starving children, thunderstorms, men with machine guns…

The day had started so well. A beautiful Constable sky, smooth take-off into it from London City Airport, the prospect of a nice full house in sunny Jersey with time for a fresh lobster after the show. Time – 4.20pm ish. We’re all seated on the plane looking forward to the drinks trolley.

Then the announcement that raised the unanimous unspoken grunt of “Typical” in the cabin:

“There is a technical problem… We will be landing at Gatwick for a minor adjustment and taking off again shortly. There is nothing to worry about.” Not much.

We landed at Gatwick around 5.20. An hour after we took off from City – the same time it takes to fly to Jersey. There was the usual obscure aura of irritated tinkering that accompanies all interruptions to mechanised transport. We sat some more looking out the windows or at the ceiling. Then the rain started.

So we sat on the plane for several hours, in fact, while the thunderstorm crackled and spat all around us.

We survived on occasional rations of hypermarket Just Juice and water and some stuff which looked and, I assume, I suspect, tasted like that legendary substance – ship’s biscuit. ‘My God’, I thought, ‘I’ve been press-ganged.’ Well I didn’t, but I might have done had I not been stupified with boredom to the point of physical pain.

The kids seemed to be coping better than most, but not because their every need was catered for as in a normal prison. No, because (presumably ) their needs were almost totally ignored by the airline and airport. Though you have to say that the cabin staff did their best in the circumstances. You do have to say that.

So first they starved us and then, when they agreeed to let us go back into the airport, they lost our baggage. By this time Jersey airport had closed, and people just wanted to go home. They couldn’t. So then they starved us some more.

They told us the flight had been cancelled and that the next flight would be at 12.45 the following afternoon.

They told us they would put us up in hotels and pay for taxis for those returning to London.

They told us there were no baggage handlers available at that time. That’s what we were told.

Those are some of the things we were told, by a lot of different people wearing strange multi-coloured hats and scarves bearing their names and pictures to remind them who they were and what they looked like and what they were supposed to do. I suppose. Because that’s all they did seem to know. One of our dancers lost it gloriously and addressed the assembled masses with defiant revolutionary fervour and got one round of applause out of the weekend.

Some of us, the lucky few who could at least take their disappointment to a bed or bar somewhere, eventually staggered out in the first wave, gallantly leaving our starving, increasingly vocal companions behind to their fate.

Then just as a finisher, to add that essential garnish of genuine nightmare, as I was fleeing through one of many gleaming white hermetically sealed sci-fi corridors the two large men in black showed up.

Walking slowly down the corridor towards me getting bigger all the time. Men with very functional, obviously expensive, long, matte black objects born visibly on their chest among a lot of other dark, hard objects of various shapes and sizes. It was not a nice sight to see. And after the day I’d had, they looked like my coup de grace, and I wasn’t quite expecting that.

I swore audibly and involuntarily. A medical curse. The larger and more sensitive of the two took exception. I was told in no uncertain terms not to swear as there were children around. There were’nt, of course. They were all back in the Starvation Lounge listening to their parents swearing and passing out.
But nevertheless, I was convinced that if I opened my mouth again, he would kill me. So it’s OK to starve children, but not to swear in front of them. And this from a man apparently on his way down to mow them all down for being a nuisance. They dress to scare the Bejasus out of you, and then when it works, they apparently threaten to kill you. That, presumably, is what you’re meant to think. After a day of British European’s hospitality I was very, very tempted.

Rob Kenyon

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