YOUR HOLIDAY DISASTER

Oliver Gray wanted to fly to Spain from Gatwick. It was more like flying to Hell
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The Independent Travel
It was going to be such a good day. I needed some pictures of typically Spanish things for a lesson I was going to give. Easy. Go to Spain and take some photographs.

I found myself booked on Swordfish Airways (not its real name) to Malaga. On the day, however, things soon started to go wrong. The train I planned to take from a frostbound Shawford station didn't turn up. I rang enquiries and discovered I would still be able to make it via Winchester. A panic- stricken taxi ride ensued, but I manged to catch the train.

At Gatwick, Swordfish Airlines announced there would be a long delay. How long? No one knew, we had to watch the screens. This was difficult, as the flight number was nowhere to be seen on the screens.

An official explained the problem: the plane had lost a wheel in Lyons. A wheel would be flown out to France, fitted, and the plane would then fly to Gatwick to collect us. We could expect an update at 3.30pm, earliest possible take-off time being 5pm. It was 10.30 in the morning. What on earth was there to do for six-and-a-half hours at Gatwick? It's full of knicker shops (I've got knickers) and tie shops (I don't wear ties).

I had a jacket full of money and a bag full of things. I wanted to sleep but I was frightened they'd get stolen. In the end I decided to lie on them. lt was uncomfortable, but at least I wasn't causing a security alert.

In the middle of the afternoon I awoke with a start. The paranoia of the public sleeper had set in. Had my pockets been picked? Had I been snoring, grunting or dribbling? And then, another thought. Maybe there'd been an announcement while I was asleep? How was I to find out? The Swordfish Airways' desk was deserted and the VDU said "position closed".

Eventually, an update. The earliest possible departure time would be 7.30 pm. Seven cups of tea later, the announcement came: "The aircraft has left Lyons and will get here ... er ... eventually. Await further announcements."

It was 7.30pm and still no sign of any action. Suddenly, I was starting to get annoyed and worried. What had started out as a bit of a laugh had become thoroughly unpleasant. At 7.45 pm I burnt my boats by finally entering the departure lounge. There was the official valiantly fending off the flak from passengers. Estimated departure time was now 9.30pm, estimated arrival 1am, likelihood of finding a hotel: debatable.

The plane left at 9.45pm and arrived in Malaga at shortly after 1am. I found somewhere to sleep and took my photographs. Everything was fine.

The story should end there, but it doesn't. That evening, the return flight from Malaga was cancelled and I was put on a plane for Cardiff. A coach then took me and another hapless victim from Cardiff to Gatwick, arriving at 1.15am. The first train home was at 5.38am, which meant that I had to spend the night trying to sleep, like a tramp, on the same Gatwick seat, a scarf wrapped round my head to keep out the glaring light.

As I trudged home through the rain, spattered from head to foot by passing cars, I resolved never again to pretend to be an international jet-setter.

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