Yesterday was an eventful day. My plan was to fly to Munich, Germany for two days of workshops with a customer, the result was somewhat different.
At the beginning of the week the weather forecast was for a reasonably sized storm to pass over the UK some time on Wednesday or Thursday. As the week went on the situation looked increasingly severe with the Met Office eventually declaring a Red Weather warning, which is as bad as these things get.
I checked with the airline and was told that they were still planning on flying and that I should make my way to the airport. Expecting the roads to be problematic I travelled early and made my way through security.
Having plenty of time available I stopped off for a coffee and chose a seat by the window overlooking the airport apron. The wind was really starting to pick up; so much so that the building was humming with the vibrations and there was a draft forcing its way through the seams around the windows.
After a short while I made my way to the gate and watched the windows flex in the high winds and wondered about the flight. The building was rattling and everyone was avoiding sitting underneath the large glass dome in the middle. Everything outside was moving in the wind; even the wings on the planes parked outside.
Something made me start to smile. People respond to times of potential crisis in different ways and found some of them quite amusing.
There was a lady who walked up to the desk at the gate, huffed at the lack of personnel, walked across the room and huffed at the wind blowing against the windows, and then back again, and on, and on. I’m sure that she had no idea what she was doing, but it made me chuckle inside.
There was a group of middle-aged men who were regressing to their childhood years with lots of wow’s and ooo’s.
Eventually there was an announcement on the television screens:
Apologies for the delay please take a seat
It was clear that the weather was making things very difficult.
Then an announcement to say that there was a delay because the plane hadn’t landed yet.
Then another update on the screen:
Followed by an announcement over the public address to tell us that the incoming flight had been diverted to Brussels (of all places) and that we wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight.
Immediately everyone was on their feet, as if someone had sent a bolt of electricity through all the chairs. This made me snigger too; what did they think they were going to do now they were on their feet? Some people even went running off back towards the security area. Many people reached for their phones.
Shortly afterwards the staff explained everything. We were to go through the gate and down to collect our luggage and then to join the queue for the ticket office. As you might expect this was greeted with all sorts of moans and groans. I just chuckled; what did they expect?
Progressing through to the baggage area was quite painless although the people running down the corridor to be first waiting for their bags to arrive made me smile once more.
When we got to the ticket office we discovered that this wasn’t the only flight that had been cancelled for this airline, all of the passengers from another two flights were already ahead of us. The queue was huge and there were only a couple of desks. I joined the back of the queue and waited. There was a mum, baby and little girl in front of me. The little girl had picked up on the idea that this was something unusual and she thought it was an adventure. “Mummy this is exciting”. They had a lot of travelling left to do and Munich was only the first step in their journey. Mum wasn’t at all convinced, I smiled at the different perspective.
G.K. Chesterton once said:
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
After standing for several minutes in one queue those of us without connecting flights were ushered into a different queue. This new queue was just as long as the old one and going absolutely nowhere. A couple of hours had passed since our flight had been cancelled. Occasionally someone would go to the desk and sometimes they would leave holding a piece of paper; sometimes they would approach the desk and then re-join the queue. Behind me was an American gentleman who was a salesman. He had all sorts of sales meetings lined up for the following day in Frankfurt. In front were some German businessmen on their way to Dusseldorf. A community spirit was starting to build.
A ripple of excitement passed along the line: “Anyone for Dusseldorf come this way.” Off went the German businessmen with smiles on their faces like prisoners released. The American salesman and I started spontaneously celebrating each little bit of progress. We applauded everyone who was liberated from the queue, we gave a little cheer at every inch of progress towards the desk. People around us started joining in. It helped to make the many minutes pass quite pleasantly.
A ripple of excitement made its way along the line; a new plan was being enacted. Rather than book everyone individually they had got the central booking team to rebook everyone and all of the new schedules were churning out of a printer. Staff came forward with handfuls of paper and started calling names. One of the first ones to be called was the American salesman, I smiled and congratulated him. He was delighted, perhaps he would make some of his sales meetings after all. Scenes of congratulation went around the gathering as different people were released from the queue with a new plan and a hotel for the night. But still some people moaned; “why hasn’t my information come through, I was nearer the front of the queue than they were?”
About half way through the gathered group it was my turn to receive my piece of paper and be given my new schedule. A flight in the morning with a different airline and a hotel for the night in the interim. here was no point in trying to go home because all of the major roads were closed. All I had to do was to go downstairs and get on a shuttle bus to the chosen hotel. I made my way to the place where I had been instructed (and where the signs pointed to); I waited and waited, and waited, but no shuttle bus. About twenty or thirty people joined me at the bus-stop all German apart from me.
A shuttle-bus arrived for another hotel so I went to ask whether he knew anything. He told me that we were in the wrong place and instructed me where we needed to be. It was then that I became amateur tour guide. The instructions had been given in a thick Mancunian accent and no-one else had understood. So off I went with the crowd following. There was a mini-bus waiting with room for three so off they went. A while later two more mini-buses came and in I got along with the rest of my tour group.
It was nearly three hours since our flight had been cancelled.
Once in the mini-bus we sat and we waited, but we didn’t move. “Why are we waiting?” I asked the driver. The reason was that the hotel we were supposed to be going to was full. So I sat in a mini-bus in the road at Manchester Airport amongst a group of bemused Germans, I joked with them that this was the way we liked to do thinks in Britain, they joked that this was down to German pilots being unable to land the plane, we chuckled together.
Eventually a new hotel plan was communicated; we were to be transferred to a hotel in Blackburn, Lancashire. The centre of Blackburn is only 10 miles from my house; the hotel I suspect they were going to use is only 5 miles from my house. I decided that if the mini-bus thought it could get through then so could I, despite the major roads still being closed.
Leaving the mini-bus I made my way back into the terminal to pay for a day’s car parking and then out to the bus stop for the transfer bus back to the car park. It was now just after ten and it turns out that the buses to the car park run very infrequently after ten (according to one of the bus drivers travelling a different route). I walked to the car park, smiling to myself at the day’s events.
The journey home was reasonably painless. Thankfully everyone else had heeded the advice of the authorities and the roads through Manchester’s city centre were empty apart from a few which had trees in them. I made it home for a little after eleven knowing that I would have to be up again before five thirty in the morning to do the whole thing all over again. Six hours sleep in your own bed is definitely better than eight in a hotel though.
I’m not sure why I found all of these events so amusing but I have a couple of suspicions.
A friend of ours is in a very difficult place medically and he was recently telling us about the laughter that keeps welling up in him. Perhaps I was subconsciously thinking that if it was good enough for him and his circumstances it was definitely good enough for me and mine.
The other reason is that I have to confess to not really wanting to go on this business trip. There are many reasons for this, but one of them was a worry that things would go wrong and that it would get messy. Things, of course, did go wrong and it was messy, but so what, my worry didn’t make a bit of difference to it. Rather than worry and be grumpy I chose laughter.
There was something of God in the way that I experienced yesterday. I wasn’t, at all, in the place where I felt like laughing until it all started to unravel. It was only after it got messy that I started to see the lighter side of it.
Woody Allen apparently once said:
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”
I don’t quite see it like that. I see it more like this: God laughs with us in our plans; whether they work out the way we want them to or not.
This morning I got up early in Preston, drove to Manchester Airport, parked the car and flew out of a sunny Manchester on a Singapore Airlines flight along with half of the other people from the queues the night before. The views across England were glorious and the arrival in Munich was lovely.
As I waited in the gate for my rescheduled flight this morning there were lots of knowing looks between people. One German lady I spoke to, who had been part of my tour group had been one of those that got into the mini-bus that was leaving as we got there. When she got to the hotel there were no rooms left, but she was offered the spare bed in a room by a British lady who was listening to her predicament at the check-in desk. I smiled and we laughed together.