All / Originally Posted on Skirt

Digressions and Diversions

“Folks, we got some news for ya.”  These are words you never want to hear from a pilot. 

I flew back to the UK on Tuesday, planning to arrive in London on Wednesday morning.  Flying always induces a mix of emotions in me–excitement about imminent travel, nostalgia for the good old days when flying was glamorous, and abject terror that something will go amiss.

I’m not afraid of crashing.  Some of my friends have serious anxiety about flying; I’m not one of those.  What gets my palms sweaty is the idea that I might miss my flight.  I had a connecting flight this time, with a pretty short window to get from plane A to plane B.  I had kept waking up in the night imagining myself running down the gangway, shouting, “I’m here, I’m here!” as the plane prepared to pull away.  (Note: this has actually happened to me once.  But they were still at the gate, so unbelievably they let me on…like anyone would ever do that now.) 

Even more than the short connection time, I am terrified of security.  I am one of those people who never does anything wrong mainly because of the terrible but indistinct vision of what the consequences might be.  (And because, frankly, I’ve never had the desire to do anything malign on a plane, apart from maybe using an unregulated amount of handcream.)  My fears about airport security are pretty unrealistic, seeing as I never do anything wrong.  It’s more that I really hate surly people.  Especially surly people who have all the power in a given situation–talk back and they can take your clothing away and search you.  How is that fair?

However, recently the TSA seems to have been giving ettiquette lessons to its staff, because even during busy times nearly every security employee I’ve met has been pleasant, friendly and helpful.  This time I got into a conversation with the guy monitoring the line and found out that his son is an undergraduate taking five languages, including Arabic.  He wanted to know if I thought it was a hard language to learn and probably would have chatted longer, but I was busy hopping around on one foot whilst trying to get my laptop and shoes into the little gray trays. 

So really, my fears about travel are pretty unfounded.  In fact, once a situation has actually gone wrong, I’m usually pretty calm and collected and just do what needs to be done; it’s only when there are a thousand what-ifs parading through my brain that I get nervous.  And then it’s always the thing you haven’t even worried about that happens anyway.

So yes, there we were on Wednesday morning, having awoken from our transatlantic naps.  The cabin lights had just been put back on when the pilot came over the loudspeaker to say the dreaded words, “Folks, we got some news for ya. Gatwick airport has been closed because of some unexpected snow over there, and we tried to divert into Heathrow but they’ve been unable to accommodate us this morning, so right now we’re being diverted to Manchester Airport.  We’ll keep you updated as we know more.”

At that moment half the passengers were saying peevishly, “Manchester?!” while the other half went, “…Where’s Manchester?”  Manchester is, in fact, more than 150 miles from London.

Shortly afte rthis pronouncement we landed in a light snowstorm.  It was still dark, and would remain so for the next hour.  We could feel the plane skidding on the runway over the ice.  We could see snow falling under the runway lamps.  Taxiing off the runway onto a disused slip of pavement, we noted five empty 747s lined up next to us.  Not a good sign. 

Periodically the captain updated us with news, which for a solid three hours was, nothing to report.  Originally we were waiting to see if Gatwick would eventually open and we could rediver to there, but it was clear to most of us that this was an extremely remote possibility.  Gatwick was pretty well snowed under.  The captain consoled us by pointing out that all the flights after ours had been diverted to Amsterdam, so at least we were in our country of destination.

At last it was revealed that we were remaining in Manchester.  Buses to Gatwick were being arranged.  This thought made my stomach lurch.  Six more hours breathing the same air as these people, followed by another solid hour of public transport to the home of the friends with whom I was staying? 

But at least I didn’t have a connecting flight, so it could have been worse.  Plus, I had a brilliant on-the-ground team to support me!  My friends advised that there was a high-speed train from Manchester to London, preceeded by a short hop via train from Manchester Airport to Manchester Picadilly.  I could be there in a mere three hours, once past security and reunited with my bags. 

I considered that, given the complete immobilization of Gatwick, it was possible the coach or the train would break down on the way to London.  I decided it was infinitely preferable getting stuck on the train–at least they have coffee.

We never even made it to the gate–we had to go down the steps and take a bus to the terminal.  Those things are exciting when you’re landing in a hot country, but in the snow, we all clung tightly to the handrail.  But soon after that (well, soon by glacial airport-pace standards) I was under way to London.  The train was delayed slightly, but I still got to my friends’ house around 5, where a kindly member of the household was waiting for me at the door with the kettle on.  Sometimes a roundabout journey just makes your stopping place all that much cozier at the end.