Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Planes, trains and automobiles

Now that I’ve got over the excitement of my Blackhorse Road t-shirt, it’s time to get psyched up all over again for Christmas Part Two which will be spent in Manchester with the out-laws (like in-laws, but not legally binding). I’m currently at Bristol International Airport, although I won’t be taking advantage of the “international” feature today, only its Bristol-ness and airport-ability.

With flights at comparable prices to trains (the outward flight cost £29 including taxes, the return £44), I thought I’d give it a go. The trouble with me and flights is that I’m a worrier.

I worry that whatever form of transport is getting me to the airport (in this case, a train and a coach) may be delayed and I’ll miss the check-in. So I compensate by arriving horrendously early and negate any time benefit of travelling by plane. My plane is at 1430. I got to the airport just before noon. Over two hours to kill. But armed with my Vaio (c’mon, you didn’t expect me to go 8 days without as much as a peek at a blog did you?), a pair of earphones and the music files on my hard drive, I imagine I can find something to occupy my mind…

I remember Christmas 1993 as one of the occasions where my fears of getting to the airport on time were realised. It was the 22nd December and I was travelling from Lyon to London. My flight was at around 8am – I was ready to leave the college “internat” (where I was lodging) at 5am and made my way to the airport bus stop outside the “Mairie du 8ème arondissement”, a short walk away. The buses were frequent, one every 15 minutes, so I’d left myself plenty of time.

What this plan hinged upon was that the airport bus would stop at (or even go past) the Mairie du 8ème, like it did when I arrived in Lyon for the first time in September of that year. Failing that, it relied on there being some indication at the bus stop that this would not be the case, so that passengers could make alternative arrangements. As it turned at (and as, no doubt, you’ve probably guessed), this was not the case.

I waited and waited in the cold and dark. Other luggage-bearers (also clearly waiting for the airport bus) waited with me. As the time wore on, in which time several buses should have been and gone, we concluded that perhaps waiting outside the Mairie du 8ème was not yielding the desired result and decided on a course of action. We would take the next 39 bus and get off at Avenue Mermoz/Boulevard Pinel where we were pretty sure the airport bus would stop. On this occasion, we were right, and were soon on a bus to the airport. But, having lost so much time waiting, we finally arrived at check-in 10 minutes before the flight would depart. In the Witho world (i.e. one where punctuality is almost sickeningly guaranteed), this was decidedly “non-standard” and my nerves were in tatters...

It turns out that “the powers that be” had decided to change the route of the airport bus, so that it bypassed the Mairie and stopped at Grange Blanche métro station instead. What these same powers had neglected to do was to actually warn people – a sign at the bus stop might have been handy, for example.

I caught my plane, but due to my late check-in, missed out on breakfast. But when breakfast consists of a teeny weeny croissant that the human eye cannot see unaided, bitter disappointment is somewhat easy to contain...

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