We woke Benjamin at 4.45am. "It's time to go to Lapland," we told him. He didn't want to go. "I can't, I'm still sleeping," he said. So we reminded him of the treats in store. His first trip in an aeroplane! A meeting with the real Father Christmas! My four-year-old nephew didn't need much more persuasion. He got up.
Benjamin thought Gatwick was an incredibly exciting place. It wasn't so much the sight of so many aeroplanes but the moving walkways and, inexplicably, the acres of garish carpet. As it turned out, that was about as good as it got.
At 7.40am, 10 minutes before we were due to leave, we were told our Air 2000 flight was delayed due to technical problems. We waited, in traditional resigned fashion, and eventually boarded the plane, to be greeted by a crew wearing reindeer antlers and Father Christmas hats. "Hello, Mrs Reindeer," said Benjamin. "Ms Reindeer, actually," the stewardess replied frostily.
All the parents went "whooo" with exaggerated excitement as the plane surged off the ground. Benjamin seemed singularly unimpressed and remained engrossed in his Bananas in Pyjamas comic.
The captain informed us the problem had been a "leak in the undercarriage", due to problems with the hydraulics. We were running almost two hours late, but were assured that we would simply return later from Lapland.That's all very well, I thought, but I'm the one who's going to have to deal with a tired, tetchy child at midnight.
"What's the plane going to do next?" Benjamin inquired innocently. Nothing for about three hours, I hoped nervously. We had barely reached cruising altitude. I was wrong. The next thing the plane did was break down again. The hydraulic problem had recurred, apparently, and it wasn't safe to continue, not to Lapland anyway. But weren't we lucky? There was a spare plane in Manchester, so we were being diverted.
There was lots of murmuring among the adults, as they realised that this day trip was rapidly turning into a nightmare. I was starting to flag, and the weighty responsibility of taking my nephew on an aeroplane began to hit home.
But we maintained a cheerful front for Benjamin's sake. And anyway, he was more interested in his comic, so our rants about charter flight companies working their aeroplanes too hard went, literally, right over his head.
As we began our descent, there was an air of excitement among the children. Through the windows they could see a dusting of frost over the Peak District. "Is this Lapland?" asked Benjamin. No, it wasn't. It wasn't even breakfast time.
We landed at 10.40am. We hadn't been given breakfast on board, but no one wanted to drift too far from the gate in search of food. We ate biscuits and played hide-and-seek.
The rep, Vanessa, was visibly shaking when she told us, an hour later, that the trip was cancelled. There simply wasn't enough time left to make the day trip worthwhile, she said. The news was greeted with weary resignation and surprisingly few tears. Some of us felt privately relieved.
Back home, we asked Benjamin what the highlight had been. That was easy: the meal in McDonald's to which we'd treated him on the way home from Gatwick. He hadn't complained once all day, but even a four-year-old could tell that the trip hadn't quite turned out as we'd hoped. It had been, he said, "a very silly day".
We turned down the offer to try the trip again a couple of weeks later, and got our £900 back. Instead, we took Benjamin to see Father Christmas at Selfridges. It didn't cost us a penny.Reuse content