Gael Force Winds

Many years ago, it would have been inconceivable for me to say, “It’s good to be back in England.” However, as I stood today, 27 miles south of Durham in the city’s eponymous international airport, this sentiment was first among my thoughts.

As I checked in at Dublin yesterday—the requisite two hours early—I reflected that the only travel-related malady on my week’s holiday had been, once again, to wake up in East Kilbride after a night out in Glasgow. Thirty minutes before the take-off of my flight to Stansted, I queued dutifully at the gate with my fellow passengers, as the departure screens flashed “BOARDING”. Oblivious to the fact that there was no aircraft on the stand, we were all rather surprised when they announced that our flight had been cancelled.

Then it was a schlep through the Arrivals hall to pick up our bags, and go to the ticket desk, to be booked on a later flight. Two hundred people would do the same, and I was not the last of them. Nevertheless, it took nearly two hours to reach the front of the queue and be told that all flights to Stansted were now full, and that my best option was to take the 1545 flight to Gatwick. (And, this being Ryanair, that there was no compensation, as this was “not our fault.”) Though such a diversion would make it difficult to get back in time for a roast dinner that I had been anticipating eagerly all week, I was glad that I would not require an overnight stay in Dublin. And I was glad that I wasn’t at the end of the rebooking queue: by now, six flights had been cancelled.

In the three hours that followed, I explored every last pier, gate and shop of Dublin’s surprisingly well-equipped terminal. I enjoyed a McDonalds that had previously been denied to me by the ridiculous earliness of my scheduled departure. I bought a copy of Time, and read up on world affairs. I got to the gate early, and was pleasantly surprised to find an aircraft standing outside.

The departure time came and went, though I thought nothing of this at first. Then the flight number disappeared from the gate, and there was confusion. A rumour began spreading that our flight was now up as “BOARDING” at a different gate: skeptically, I wandered up, and found that it was indeed—sweet freedom! Then they corrected their mistake, and it was now a flight to Eindhoven that was going to depart. The tannoy announcement went up, and as soon as the number one-one-six was read out, I made the all-too-familiar traipse to baggage reclaim for the second time that day.

This time, our bags didn’t materialise so quickly. After forty-five minutes (and the tease of a hundred bags to Blackpool emerging before us on the belt), I spoke to the Ryanair representative, and was informed that they were just coming off the aircraft. When, another quarter of an hour later, they finally did appaer, the reason was obvious to anyone conspiratorially minded. Up in the check-in area, half of the floor space was occupied by queuing Ryanair plaintiffs; our bags were being held back as crowd control. Rumours spread that the queue was five hours, end-to-end, so I made some calls and got booked into the Travelodge.

There I holed up for a night in relative comfort (especially when compared to the grimy surrounds of the Marlborough Hostel, where Jen and I had stayed the previous night), with wireless internet access, and an overpriced diner next door. My steak was competent, but hardly the feast for which I had been preparing.

Back in the room, I consulted the Internet to find a way off that island. Ryanair flights to Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Birmingham were coming up blank. I tried ferries and discovered that there was a sailing at 8:05 the next morning; I could get somehow from Holyhead to Cambridge, and get in just after nightfall. Aer Lingus would fly me to Glasgow for one euro, plus tax; Ryanair could also get me back to Prestwick, and maybe I could transfer onto an astronomically-priced flight back to Stansted. I went through Ryanair’s list of destinations, and hit blank after blank. Occasionally, I would find a flight, to Liverpool say, that would get in at midnight and cost €200. Eventually, I came to “Durham Tees Valley”, an airport that I knew only for the trivia point that it has its own railway station that sees just two trains per week. The flight was only €50 in total (the same as my original flight), and I knew I could get the train back to Cambridge from there. So I booked it, and sat down to watch Full Metal Jacket on RTÉ2.

I could go into tedious detail [continue going into tedious detail] about what followed, but it was smooth from here. The bus from the hotel was prompt, and got me to the airport cheaply and quickly. I got checked in, and through security, with minimal hassle (although they insisted on rifling through my bags this time*). I got out to the gate with plenty of time to spare, and the aircraft rolled up on time. Everything was going to plan as we boarded**, and the flight took off when it was supposed to. As we arrived at Teeside, they remarked that the flight had arrived five minutes ahead of schedule, and played a pre-recorded trumpet fanfare and self-congratulatory announcement about punctuality.

Durham Tees Valley airport is a shed, but the good thing about sheds is that they’re quick to get out of. And this shed had a free shuttle bus to Darlington station, where I would catch my train south. Which brings us up to date. I’m past York now***, and should get home a little over thirty hours late. At least it gave me a story to tell.

* A digression on airport security screening, and, since I went through it three times at Dublin, I think I’m close enough to observing the Sampling Theorem. Only the second time did I have to remove my shoes (it was compulsory at PIK and STN). Only on the third time did they go through my bag, remove a snifter from Royal Mile Whiskies, and ponder whether it was allowed through (whyever would it not be?). Oh, and at Prestwick****, they made me open up my laptop, and dusted my screen with a tissue, which they then placed in some sort of scanner; I’ve not seen anywhere else do this.

** If you’re enjoying the schadenfreude, I actually fell over when I was climbing the stairs to the aircraft. Maybe Ryanair would compensate me for that?

*** I’m not indulging in GNER’s in-train wi-fi, but one nice feature it has is a live map of the train’s current position, which appears on the log-in page. Worth having!

**** A diatribe about how shamefully poor is Prestwick Airport will follow for certain, if I ever have to go back through that hole.

5 Responses to “Gael Force Winds”

  1. Scott says:

    Wow, what a trek!

    I’ve had that with my laptop in America; I think they were checking for explosives or something. However, in their infinite wisdom, they decided not to advertise that they did this, so as my bag (with laptop in it instead of on a ’special’ tray) went through the scanner, I was suddenly surrounded by armed security asking me, “Is this your bag?”


  2. Colin says:

    Hey, good story! I was at edinburgh airport sunday leaving for australia and all they did for security was the usual bag through the scanner, all phones/watches/belt in the tub, and walk through the metal detector. Ohh, they wanted my laptop in a seperate tub outside of the bag i was carrying it in, but didnt inspect it or switch it on. there was no need to remove my shoes either. Interesting stuff.

  3. George says:

    Is STN definitely still requiring everyone to remove shoes? They were when I last travelled through at the end of October. They are only required to x-ray 1 in 3 passenger’s shoes and it seems that this is what other BAA London airports are doing. I have complained to BAA about inconsistency but have not obtained a reply. Edinburgh is also a BAA airport.

  4. Derek Murray says:

    George: it certainly was when I was passing through on the 25th of November. At Dublin it seemed they would only do it if they would set off the metal detectors, but there was no consistency at all.

  5. [...] mrry Derek Murray’s weblog « Gael Force Winds [...]

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