Or What Not To Do on Your Summer Vacation
Spending a night at Gatwick Airport was not on my bucket list, but I’m going to add it because now that I have done it, I hope to never do it again.
The travel website Airhelp publishes a yearly ranking of airports and eight of the bottom ten were in Europe. Since Airhelp is a German claims management company (specializing in airline disruption claims), I can see where they may look more closely at European airports. That’s their bread and butter. But, hell, have they ever flown out of Trenton? Or even Newark? Waited for luggage in Vegas? (And waited and waited.)
Gatwick was listed as one of the 10 worst airports in the world. (It could very well be because it has a Wetherspoons. More on that to follow.) Lisbon was listed as the absolute worse. Frankly, neither one is that bad. I’ve been to some shitty airports in shitty countries and Lisbon and Gatwick both have clean bathrooms, so they are WAY ahead of many, many airports. O’Hare? O’ewww.
Since I recently, unwillingly spent a night at Gatwick, I am really not predisposed to defending it. (Yet, here I am.) My flight out of Inverness was a bit late boarding and then the flight attendants (I will be petty enough to note that they were male) could not get a correct head count. They had an extra head. Not sure if the torso was attached or even of import. They counted. They counted again. And again. Then the chief flight attendant went through the almost completely full flight with his little clicker thing, counting heads.
Here’s an idea. On a full flight, take the total number of seats and subtract the few empty seats. It’s a helluva lot easier.
“Is there anyone onboard who thinks this is the flight to Bristol?”
Well, if they do, they’re certainly not going to cop to it in front of 300 people.
Now they had to call in the heavies from airside, presumably someone who could count.
The engines at this point had been warming up for a while. They powered down. This is not a good sign. Especially when you have a 90 minute window to catch your connection. I wasn’t panicking at that point because I didn’t have to go through immigration; I merely had to find my next gate. I might not even have to walk outside and back inside as I had to do coming into Gatwick from Portugal. Easy peasy.
I dozed off.
I woke up. I had no idea how much time had passed but it seemed we were ready to take off. Cool. I dozed off again.
About an hour and a half later, I wake up, we’re on our final descent and I know we are late. What I don’t know is how late.
As we’re landing the pilot makes his announcement and notes that the local time is “just gone eight.” I look out the window at an airplane taking off, betting that it’s my connecting flight that has just gone also.
If you’re going to travel, you have to learn that shit happens. All the time. It’s nothing personal. So, I disembark and follow the signs to Easy Jet ticketing. There are at least a dozen others who have missed their connections, including a mother and daughter from Inverness, also heading to Faro. There are no more flights to Faro tonight, the agent explains. But I can put you on the 8 am flight tomorrow morning.
He actually said “No charge” like he was doing us a favor. We pointed out that if his flight attendants could count, we would have made our connection. “Do you suppose you could throw in a hotel or meal voucher?”
That would be a no.
The mom and daughter, Claire and Torrie, adopt me. I suspect Claire adopts people as a matter of course. I already like her; I saw her go “all Scottish” on a different agent with regard to not being helpful (i.e., useless) and it was a wonder to behold. We trooped over to the nearest hotel, hoping to find rooms. The lobby of the hotel was a madhouse. A lovely and kind agent informed us there were no rooms available and then he went above and beyond, checking nearby hotels. Nothing nearby either.
We trooped back to the terminal.
Everything was closing down for the night. We managed to find some sandwich-y type food and coffee and then picked up groceries to tide us over. (Groceries being cookies for me.) We wandered around the terminal, looking for a place to plunk ourselves.
Gatwick is not big on seating until you are through security. As in, about 8 seats, marked handicapped and some backless stools at a workstation counter. We plugged in our phones and sat, self-consciously in the handicapped seating, willing to shift if anyone needed a seat.
The ladies were heading to a “hen party” and they were already missing out on some festivities. I heard Claire explain to her waiting friends that they were stuck in Gatwick for the night and would join up the next day. Around 11 pm, Claire got a text telling her to pick up food on the way in because they were all hungry. She looked at the phone.
“I told them we wouldn’t be there til tomorrow.”
“I think they’re having a very good time.”
“But not better than us.”
Because really, what are you gonna do? We passed the time. We chatted. We adopted another woman who came in for an early flight. (Security was not yet open.) We dozed and watched each other’s stuff.
We went upstairs when security opened, made it into the secured part of the terminal and immediately passed a lounge FILLED with sofas and comfy chairs.
We did not say feck. But something close to that.
Of course, the first place with food (i.e., coffee) that we encountered was Wetherspoons. They had the added attraction of being open.
Having weathered Wetherspoons in Inverness and knowing that ordering anything other than the most basic of meals was an invitation to disappointment at best, I ordered the equivalent of an Egg McMuffin. How can you fuck up an Egg McMuffin?
A link sort-of-sausage was sliced lengthwise and the ends were hanging out the sides. (Really, you’re a major restaurant chain. You don’t know how to source round sausage patties?) There was an egg in there. The muffin had briefly crossed a grill, and was stone cold. Actually, all of it was cold.
I looked at it.
Torrie starts laughing.
I looked at the poor server.
“This is how it comes.”
I poked at the cold muffin.
“It comes cold?”
“This is how it comes.”
“Well, the plate is warm. Too bad there’s no transference.” I can tell her command of English does not extend quite that far.
“I know this is not your fault, but…” Feck it. “Thank you. This is… interesting.”
I looked at Torrie. “Stop laughing. Wait til you get your order.”
I took a couple of bites and decided I was better off with the coffee. Coffee at Wetherspoons comes out of a machine, if that gives you ANY idea of how fantastic the coffee is.
Claire and Torrie’s meals arrived. They were equally disappointing. We covered the meals as we would the victims of a road accident, which they may well have been. It is a kindness the food didn’t deserve but the other victims of Wetherspoons did. No one needs to see what’s coming. Let them have the joy of surprise when their meals arrive. Claire decided the best remedy was prosecco. She was absolutely correct but I didn’t join her. I should have.
I went to refill my coffee. Some mixture of liquified crap squirted into my mug. The electronic sign on the machine said something like “We’re hocking up all the loogies from the last 459 cups of shit dispensed by this machine.”
I nod, resigned. Why not me?
I hit the hot water dispenser and rinsed the cup a few times. I hit the hot chocolate button. What the hell. It can’t be worse than the coffee. And it’s not. It’s right on par.
Eventually we tired of sitting at Wetherspoons and decided to wander with our packs around the stores. Too late we found several places we should have eaten. We made our way to a pretty good bakery (upstairs, if you’re looking) and finally found decent coffee. I added a cinnamon roll. I have earned it.
We’d been in the airport for close to 12 hours. It was cold. We hadn’t had any real sleep. I’m at the age where a night spent in a chair wreaks havoc with my back. We trudged gingerly (well, two out of three of us—Torrie is a young ‘un) towards the gate. Claire and Torrie had missed going out on a yacht that morning. Neither whined about it but you know they had looked forward to going. I would have. I mean, if I asked you, “Hey, wanna spend the morning on a yacht in The Algarve” you’d probably say “Hell to the yeah.” Good people to spend time with for sure.
We shuffled through the gate check, waited patiently in line, and boarded the plane, hoping it wouldn’t be a repeat of the previous night. It wasn’t. We took off and landed on time. I lost Claire and Torrie at passport control. My driver was waiting for me, patient as always. He took my bag, led me to the car, and I settled in for the short ride home.
So, Gatwick as a place to hang out for the night? Not so much. But it gave me the opportunity to meet two very cool women so really, no complaints. Next time, we’ll go through security on the upper floor before things shut down and snag the comfy chairs. We have had the full Gatwick experience and we now have the local knowledge we need to face any layover challenges. Onward!