Stranded in London (Part 2)
That first night in the airport went by abysmally slow. We decided to set up camp in one of the few open spaces left on the floor of the airport, located right in the middle of one of the terminals. Some people slept, but I don’t know how… I was too wound up and worried to manage more than a few minutes here and there, my arms draped protectively over my luggage and the gifts I’d bought for my family while waiting on my flight earlier. After a few hours, the staff finally got around to our section, handing out foil blankets and water bottles. Though they didn’t look impressive, and kept me awake with the loud crinkling noises that they made whenever you moved even the tiniest bit, the blankets were great insulators in the chilly terminal.
Finally, around 4am, my friends and I decided to move towards the ticket counter for our airline in the hopes of gaining a decent spot in line for when the booth opened at 6am. We’d hoped that our sudden movement to a new location would go unnoticed, but instead we set off a mass exodus of people, all wanting information and help rescheduling from the airline. In mere minutes, the counter went from being surrounded by a few dozens sleeping people to a few hundred anxious for airline staff to arrive. We were so squashed that I could barely move, and only occasionally did I find enough space to be able to sit down.
Someone got the crowd hyped up, shouting that the desk would be open at 6am, but from what those who paid the steep fee for internet connections could find, 6am appeared to be the definite opening time. Thus, we weren’t too disappointed when 5am passed without a single red coated employee in sight, but began to grow more and more anxious as 6am neared and then passed, all without anything happening but the people around us growing more restless. It wasn’t until 7am that an employee finally arrived at the counter, only to tell us that they couldn’t help us unless it was for one of the Sunday flights; they weren’t able to help us with anything connected to the cancellations of the previous night.
Frustrated, I went off in search of my luggage with the other Ifsa-Butler students, and we found the line for retrieving luggage rather quickly. At this point, I decided to return to Queen Mary; the university, since it has its own housing, allows students to stay on campus all the way into January, or even year round for full year students. Others, unable to return to their flats, chose to stay at the Ifsa-Butler housing in Pembridge Gardens.
I was glad to have a few friends still hanging around my otherwise dead campus, and having my own room and bathroom made my extra few days in London rather cozy, especially compared to what so many others went through. The agency that I’d traveled through saw to it that all of the Ifsa-Butler students were booked onto new flights that week, but unfortunately my second flight was canceled as well, due to the airport still having issues with icy runways. On the 22nd, four days after my original flight date, I received an email telling me to head to the airport to try and reserve myself a standby spot on a flight heading out not even 3 hours later. Being an hour and a half away from the airport, I pretty much sprinted from the library to my room, and was checked out and heading to the tube station with my friend Tris in tow in under than 15 minutes.
Several Ifsa-Butler students also ran there for the flight, but they only allowed one of us on in the end. The rest of us decided that it would be best to spend the night once more in the airport, and attempt to catch a standby spot on another flight the next day. Our stay was far more comfortable this time; although there were still people sleeping in the terminal, their numbers were much smaller this time, and we found ourselves a relatively secluded corner. Mats and real blankets, made of cotton or fleece, were being handed out by the staff this time, as well as water bottles. Prepared, we stocked up on food, and even split the cost of a game in order to help pass time. My friend Tris stayed with us late again, playing games and helping us set up camp. By midnight, I’d fallen comfortably asleep.
The early flight to Newark the next day was canceled, but we managed to get on standby for a noon flight to New York. The wait to see if we’d actually get seats on the plane was torture; we were running between two locations for information, and preparing to get in line for the next standby if all else failed. Around 40 minutes prior to the flight’s departure, they finally began to call names, with those of several members of my group among them. When, just 20 minutes before departure, my name was called, I felt like Bob Barker had just called me down on ‘The Price is Right’. To be fair, I think we all felt that way; everyone was hugging and screaming excitedly, before running off to the line for security. I barely made it to the plane on time, but when I was in my seat, with a free upgrade to premium, I couldn’t contain my happiness.
In the end, I made it home on the 23rd of December, just in time to celebrate Christmas with my family.