In the spring of 2006, I was able to score some super-cheap tickets on Ryanair for a last-minute getaway to Barcelona from London, where I was living. It had been a great weekend, made possible I only had to pay the airport tax. The catch? I had to fly into and out of two less-than-central airports, London’s Stansted and Barcelona’s Girona airport. It was worth it, right?
What follows is a diary of my flight experience en route from Barcelona to London.
4:30 PM: I arrive early at the airport for a 6 PM flight. We all know you have to get to the gate before the other passengers in order to snag the best seat.
5:00 PM: Shortly after check-in, an announcement is made. The flight has been delayed an hour.
Ok, some extra time to score a panini at Girona’s atmospheric café. (In the above photo, do I look like I’m ready for take-off?)
Tip: Stock up on food, just in case. Girona’s airport café closed at 9 p.m. I’m glad I grabbed a sandwich when I did. Others would not be so lucky.
7 PM: A second announcement. The flight has been delayed for another hour. All assembled groan and pull out iPods, books and approved electronic devices. One nearby traveler starts clipping his nails over a waste basket, violating all manner of social codes (are clippers even allowed on airplanes?).
8:15 PM: A third announcement. Drum roll, please: The flight has been delayed for another two hours. The announcer says, with a tinge of exhaustion in her voice, “We hope to leave by 11. Thank you for your patience.” The thought of work the next morning was beginning to make me vaguely nauseous.
Around 10 PM: Boredom sets in. All other flights have taken off. The airport feels empty, save the other poor souls flying to Stansted. With hardly anyone around, I attempt to fit myself, horizontally, into a row of seats in any way that could lead to sleep. I am not successful.
Above: Nothing happening under flourescent lights.
Tip: Bring back-up diversions. That could mean catching up on your trip journal, watching all the TV shows you earlier loaded up on your iPod, making progress on that novel, or even flipping through some celeb mags. In short, have something to do. I had packed “Madame Bovary,” which only helped put me to sleep.
11:30 PM: All other flights have left the Girona airport, and there’s still no sign of our airplane. The 20 Stansted-bound passengers are told we will not take off until after midnight. No excuse is given.
Tip: Make friends…if there are any out there. At some point after midnight, I found myself chatting with a couple from Los Angeles. A bottle of vodka became open. (Glad they took advantage of Duty Free when it was open…hours ago.) I pass up a shot (work seems ludicrously close), but others around happily partake. The mood lifts… and distorts.
1:30 AM: We take off, nine hours after my arrival at the airport.
Tip: Know when to go! Turns out there’s more than one good reason not to check any luggage on a budget flight. If you’re delayed, you could risk missing the last bus out of the arrival airport.
2:30 AM: We arrive at Stansted and immediately there’s a mad dash for the bus to London. And for good reason: The last one leaves the airport at 3 am (and sometimes earlier, depending on reasons I couldn’t quite understand). If you miss the last bus, you have to get a taxi, which can cost upwards of £60, or wait until 7 am when the buses start up again. I make the bus.
3:30 AM: I’m dropped off at Marble Arch on Oxford Street. What’s my name? Who am I? And how do I get a taxi? Work the next morning was, well, another story…
In the end, this experience didn’t deter me from flying on budget airlines. Over the next year, I’d often take cheap flights, including easyJet and Aer Lingus, for quick getaways. But I learned something about flexibility that long night in Girona.