Thursday, January 07, 2010


With the arrival of snow greeting my first day of leave, I wondered if I'd hav any luck with my booked flight to Geneva. The Easyjet website told me the earlier flight was cancelled, but mine was still listed, and the news said the Bristol Airport was still open, so with some misgivings I set out on foot, lugging my case, unable to wheel it through the snow. Trains were running to time, but when I got to Bristol, the suttle bus on which I had a ticket booked was cancelled, so I had to pay out ten quid to share a taxi with two others to get to the airport. By the time with arrived in complete saftey, without incident, despite the weather, the airport was expected to re-open for afternoon flights. However, during my transit time, Easyjet had decided to cancel all flights.

So, I re-booked on the first flight available, Thursday morning, and wondered about how I might get back into Bristol to stay the night with Amanda and James, since there were no buses and the taxis were so expensive. Then I realised that a check-in for an 08h55 flight, if the airport was open, would be at 05h00, given that you're now expected to allow four hours to check in and go through the stricter security precautions (not actually in place yet). 

I texted Clare to ask her to check internet weather prognostications for tomorrow, while I enquired about hotel bookings. I was taken aback to learn that a room would cost me £140 overnight, meals extra. At this stage I was uncertain I would be re-imbursed by Easyjet because I had not had time to read through let alone understand the two page advisory note handed to me when I made the flight booking change. The check in clerk, under pressure, did not draw this to my attention. 

Many other passengers lived near enough to home and had cars at the airport to slide home in. Others coming from a distance evidently knew the score better than I. I heard from Clare that tomorrow would be fine, but the night very cold, I realised that crossing Bristol to spend half a night, then returning with no certainty of any transport back to the airport early enough for the flight was out of the question. I realised I'd have to stay where, but by that time there were no hotel rooms left close enough to guarantee return in such icy conditions for the flight. So I just had to stay there, in the somewhat chilly entrance hall, and punctuate the wait with snacks and hot drinks.

Ryanair flights, and some domestic services returned during the course of the day, but in the quiet times and through the night, there were perhaps fifty travellers who, like me, had been caught out by the jerky early flow of information, not been able to make alternative plans, and missed out on the possibility of re-imbursable accommodation. There could have been a thousand people stranded there, not fifty, had the public information not been quite so good as it was. However - 

If I'd been able to check for updates easily at Cardiff Central station I could have saved myself the bother, gone home and rebooked on-line.  

Or, if the train ticket office had been informed of the cancellation of the shuttle bus, it would have flagged up the growing problem, and not issued me a through ticket which I could not then make use of. But then, lack of integration of all the so-called public service transport companies at the most basic level of telecoms infrastructure means that lack of consistent up to date travel information is a common problem. So much so, that it's left to private web entrepreneurs to devise information services that work. 

Or, if I had invested / squandered / spent money on a smart phone or a netbook, I would have been able to find out all I needed as I travelled and turn back at any stage. But, over the past seven years my life as been largely confined to the square mile of the city centre. I could by no stretch of the imagination consider myself to be a 'man on the move' to justify such a purchase. In fact, I realised how out of practice at the art of travelling I have become. I hope that will change when I retire. Not that it's any justification for more technology cluttering up my life. Time for simplification. And actually an empty day with nothing to do but wait - 20 hours in all - was not such a bad experience after all.

I watched people, I read, I prayed without burrowing in the case for my Book of Offices, and in that busy place found some stillness of a sort. I witnessed an elderly couple first bicker, then quarrel and almost come to blows. They were en route to their retirement home in Portugal. The break in the familiar routine of travel was more than he could cope with. He kept insisting on trying to check in the cases, needing to be retold that the flight had been cancelled and that they had to wait - stress, tiredness plus short term memory loss, far from undermining him, made him belligerent, and the police were called when they nearly came to blows. She had not seen him react like this before, so smooth their few travel outings had been before.

It was disturbing to discover there was no first aid post or rest room available this side of the airport, no paramedic available, no first aid signpost. Normally in an emergency an ambulance could come at short notice, but on icy roads? Exceptional conditions on a night like this maybe, but to my mind something wasn't right about this situation. The airport was adequately heated, but the automatic doors stayed open for far too long - courtesy of the excursions of smokers, unaware of what loitering just outside the open doors with warm air blowing out, was doing on the inside to keep dozens shivering when they could have been warm.

Night passed, day came, flights resumed and ours set off on time and arrived minutes ahead of schedule. Geneva's weather was much the same as Bristol's but with everything running normally, as it ever does. Good to be here again, and see real snow clad mountains.

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