Saturday, 8 February 2014

The disaster that keeps on giving

I blogged yesterday about our missed flight to Gibraltar due to a standstill on the M25 resulting in a four hour journey to travel 50 miles and BA insisting on us paying nearly £600 to transfer our tickets to this morning's flight, which we reluctantly paid as no other options were available other than losing our holiday.  Surely nothing else could possibly go wrong.

Could it ?

So last night, rather than spending an evening at our favourite table at The Rock Hotel overlooking the twinkling lights on the Bay of Gibraltar, we were instead in cold and rainy Swindon, eating Tuna Pasta Bake at my (tea-total) Mother-in-Law's house. Mustn't complain; she's a lovely lady and it was good of her to put us up at short notice, and Swindon is closer to Heathrow than Kent so we didn't have quite so far to travel this morning.

Up at 6am and on the road by 7am and (all to plan) we arrived at Terminal 3 by 8am.  Onwards to check-in.  "Good morning Sir, I am afraid the BA 490 to Gibraltar has been cancelled today. But don't worry, we have instead booked you on to the BA 492 to Gibraltar, which leaves two hours later at 11.50am."

We gritted our teeth and said nothing; after all it's not the fault of the charming man at check-in (memories and angry ranting people on the "Airport" documentary always come to mind at times like this).

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at some faux-French bistro with bentwood chairs, I even smile benignly at the pompous waiter who refuses to bring English mustard as it's a "French" bistro (but happily offers me HP sauce) and ask each other why people feel it necessary to order pints of lager at 9am just because they are at an airport.

We board the flight on time, and as we taxi to the runway the Captain comes on the PA system.

"Welcome Ladies & Gentlemen, bad news I am afraid. Cross-winds coming off the Atlantic have resulted in it being impossible to land at Gibraltar today, we are therefore diverting this flight to Malaga, where our Ground Agents will lay on a coach to transport you back to Gibraltar."

My heart sank. Having lived in Spain for a year (actually just outside Malaga) I knew only too well how efficient Spanish transportation can be. And my worst fears were not wrong. We landed roughly on time, but then had to wait 15 minutes whilst the airport found a staircase for us to disembark. Having found a staircase we were not allowed to disembark as they couldn't find a bus to transport us to the terminal. Finally we were allowed off. Spanish customs were their usual welcoming selves. No-one from BA nor their Agents told us what was happening. We finally found a women who was holding a hand-written sign "BA redirection follow to lower ground floor and board coach at Bay 14). The sign was written in Spanish and she didn't speak a word of English; fortunately someone we had befriended knew sufficient Spanish to understand what was happening.  We boarded the bus and waited. And waited. Then we were told that we should have collected our luggage (no-one told us we had to). Off we all got and traipsed back to the arrivals hall. There was no signage and no-one to help. We finally found our luggage piled-up in a corner. Returned to the coach and waited. It was now nearly two hours since we landed and the coach hadn't left or even looked like it ever might ever do so.

Then a lady who resembled Tubbs from the Local Shop in Royston Vasey appeared and handed-around a print out. "Find your name and cross it off" we were ordered. The list wasn't alphabetical and the passengers were spread across three coaches. It was a slow and painful process. About 20% of passengers couldn't speak English and had no idea what they were been told to do. Another 20% who lived in Spain had escaped and caught taxis home. The exercise was therefore pointless and no-one actually knew who should be there and who had escaped this living hell. At one point some clipboard carrying Spanish bureaucrat actually boarded the coach an announced, "if anyone who should be here but isn't here and who have not crossed their name from the list, please make themselves known to us."  The absurdity was beyond parody.

Finally we set-off and the journey isn't too bad. We befriended a Royal Navy officer is the seat ahead who had flown out to join the nuclear powered warship Britain has sent to Gibraltar to growl at the Spaniards over their border delays. He was in touch with his ship who texted to say, "Spanish border police playing up again - 90 minute delays at the Frontier".

Finally, we arrived at Gibraltar at 8pm - 12 hours after arriving at Heathrow and 38 hours after leaving home. 

Several years ago I recall visiting Gibraltar in the lead-up to the second referendum on sovereignty, when 98.7% voted to remain British. Every taxi was bedecked with posters bearing the message GIVE SPAIN NO HOPE.  I remember being taken aback with the brutality yet simplicity of the message - four words managed to sum it up nicely.  As our taxi pulled away from the airport and drove passed a gaggle of gun carrying Guarda Civil our driver wound down his window and shouted, "Chuppa mis lluevos". I couldn't possible comment!

Footnote; our faith in human nature and our love of Gibratar was restored as soon as we arrived at The Rock Hotel.  On check-in the receptionist confirmed that despite pre-booking three nights we would not be charged for our missed night's stay as "our non arrival was not our fault and they value our custom."  If only British Airways treated their customers with similar respect and understanding.


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