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Jan 05 2017

A Bad Travel Day: What a Start to 2017!

A Bad Travel Day: What a Start to 2017!

I would normally agree that travel is often about the journey, not the destination, but in this instance I would have to disagree. I really could have done without the additional cost and stress, not to mention feeling hungry, cold, and wet.

Let me start from the beginning.  I decided to go somewhere for the New Year.  To get times that suited me, I booked flights with the same airline but departing and arriving at different London airports.  I’m an experienced traveller, so I didn’t envisage that being a problem.  Famous last words!

After booking the flights a couple of weeks before, I forgot about it all until I had to think about the logistics of getting to and from the two airports.  As I was leaving on New Year’s Day, I decided to leave my car at the airport.  I booked airport parking to leave my car there on New Year’s Eve until I returned a week later.  I then booked a coach/bus to get from the airport to London to meet my friend for the start of our New Year’s Eve celebrations.  As soon as I had done it, I remembered that I had booked it into the airport I was leaving from (Stansted), not the one I was returning to (Luton).  I quickly cancelled it all and started again.  I was more careful second time round to make sure I had booked my car into a car park in Luton, bought a coach ticket from there to London on New Year’s Eve, and a bus from London to Stansted on New Year’s Day to catch my flight.  With a huge sigh of relief, it was done.  That was a close shave!

New Year's Eve celebrations in London

I enjoyed my New Year’s celebrations with a friend.  We went to the Shard, where we enjoyed a Champagne reception and a marvellous view of London by night.  Then, we had a meal, which was an interesting experience that I will gloss over for now.  Finally, we saw the New Year in by watching the London firework display from Primrose Hill before making use of the free tube service to get home.

The next day, I was chilled out because I had packed, and left with plenty of time to get the bus to Stansted.  I got on the airport bus that stopped.  The driver had checked and initialled my ticket, I boarded the bus, and had a relaxed journey to the airport.  I would get there in plenty of time.  Well, I would have done if I had gone to the correct airport.  I hadn’t.  I realised my mistake just as we pulled into Luton airport.  Yes, Luton, not Stansted.

Oh my goodness, what was I going to do?  How could I have been so stupid?  What about the driver who, supposedly, checked my ticket?  I had to think quickly.  Time was of the essence because I had about an hour and a half before boarding closed in Stansted for my flight.

I had no idea what to do.  My immediate reaction was to get the bus to where my car was parked, so I could drive to Stansted.  The bus to the car park was taking ages.  After waiting for five minutes, I saw a sign for a taxi.  I went to the taxi office, and asked if I would get to Stansted in time for my flight.  They told me I wouldn’t realistically get there.  That was it.  I had to let that flight go.  In all the years and the vast number of flights I have taken, this was the first one I was going to miss.

That left me with a dilemma.  Do I book another flight or forget about my holiday?  I had a week off, so forgetting about it wasn’t an option.  I had to work out how to get to Malta that day or the next.  I got online, and frantically started searching for flights.  I found one from Heathrow that evening.  It was expensive, but I decided to go for it.  I didn’t want to lose a day of my precious holiday.  I had a few hours to get from Luton to Heathrow, so I breathed a sigh of relief and booked a bus ticket from one airport to the next.  Panic over, or so I thought.

At the allotted time, I went to the bus stop to wait for the bus to Heathrow. It was raining, so I was surprised that there wasn’t any cover at Luton Airport for all the people who have to wait for buses in all weather conditions. I waited and waited and waited in the cold, wind, and rain. When the bus didn’t arrive on time, I was a little concerned.  I asked a member of National Express where the bus was, but he didn’t know. I told him I had to get to Heathrow for a flight.  As I was getting colder and wetter, I wanted to know where it was and when it would arrive. It wasn’t his job, so he wasn’t interested. After I persisted, he asked a colleague. He told me to wait where I had been waiting. I told him I was very cold and wet, and I needed to know where the bus was. There was a couple also waiting for the same bus. They asked if we waited inside would someone tell us when the bus arrived. Apparently, not.  They couldn’t do that. We had to continue to wait for a bus that was late, not knowing when it would arrive, getting wetter and colder.  He said he would see if they could track it. Time passed and … nothing. We were getting colder, my luggage was getting wetter, but we had been given National Express branded ponchos in the meantime. We could really have done with them before we got wet.

It looks as if we were dressed in decontamination suits, but these were ponchos we were given as we waited in the rain and cold for a coach from Luton Airport to Heathrow Airport that never turned up.

Still no news. I asked, only to be told they were still trying to track down the bus. We continued to wait. Still nothing. We decided to go inside and ask at the National Express desk. They told us they couldn’t track the bus and didn’t know what happened to it. In 2017, coaches/buses from the biggest coach company in the UK can’t be tracked.  Seriously?  By this point, wet, cold, hungry, and stressed about the fact that I could miss the new flight I had booked, I lost my cool. I got angry and raised my voice. I kept talking, questioning, and told them I did not want to miss my flight.

We were told that while we were waiting at the National Express desk, we could have missed our bus. That would be our fault, apparently.  We were told there was another bus to Heathrow due, so we asked if we could get on that bus.  If they changed our tickets, we wouldn’t be able to get on the non-existent bus we had been waiting for.  That was fine, as long as we got to Heathrow in time.  The original bus never turned up.  With our non-transferable tickets and an ever-increasing group of people in the same position, needing to get to Heathrow, the staff finally kicked into action.  A bus would be with us within the hour. Within the hour?  OK, there was a real chance I could miss my flight. I was beginning to question if someone upstairs was trying to put me off going to Malta.

We didn’t have to wait that long, though.  Within a few minutes, we were told there was a bus that could take us to Heathrow. It was a coach bound for Gatwick. As long as it was stopping at Heathrow, that’s all I cared about. Finally, I boarded the bus, sat down, happy to be out of the cold and rain, and thankful that I wouldn’t miss another flight that day.

It wasn’t the start to 2017 I had wanted or expected, but these things happen.  What did I learn from this rather stressful travel day?  I need to be more vigilant when boarding any mode of transport in any country to make sure it is going to the correct destination.  This was a costly mistake that I have no intention of repeating.  Crazy thing is, if I had gotten a taxi to the airport, I would have had a stress-free journey, and it would have been much cheaper, warmer, drier, and easier. You live and learn as they say, and this proves that I’m always doing that.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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