I couldn’t bear to write this post until I was 100% definitely on my way to The Gambia. So I started this draft in the No1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick Airport, thinking that unless something goes horribly wrong between here and the gate, I should soon be safely on my flight. Better late than never, hey!
I got to the airport ludicrously early this morning, in the manner of one who has recently learnt a lesson the hard way. For Friday just gone was the very first time I missed a flight.
The organizer in me – the anally early, Queen of Logistics – is pained to admit this. But it really was no fault of my own, there was no way around it and I did everything in my power to avoid it. Still I feel so ashamed. I mean, who misses a flight? (Apart from those whiney, disorganised people on airline TV shows?) Well, last week I was one of those people – crying, begging, pleading at the check in desk, which I finally hurtled up to 10 minutes after check in closed.
The day had started off smoothly enough. I rose at 5.30am, was on a bus to Victoria by 6 and strolled into the station at 6.25 ready to catch the 6.30 Gatwick Express I had booked online in advance. The station was calm and there was nothing to signify the chaos that awaited me. I collected my tickets from the machine and strolled towards the Express train I could see waiting on the platform.
“Is this the 6.30?” I casually asked the guard.
“No trains.” Was his unhelpful reply, “There’s been an incident.”
“What kind of incident? How long are the delays for? Can I get another train?” The questions poured from me.
“There is nothing going towards Gatwick,” he replied coolly. “I suggest you go upstairs and find someone to share a taxi with.”
The reason I had not taken a taxi from my home in North London to Gatwick Airport is because this cost approx. £60 – more if in a metered cab. I had spent £35 on a train ticket, I didn’t have another £70 going spare in my pocket.
“Well, can I get a refund on my ticket to help pay for the cab?” I asked the man.
“Join the queue,” he told me.
I joined the queue and when I eventually got to the front discovered that ticket refunds require a form to be filled out. This form takes 28 days to process and, if successful, you will be refunded in train vouchers! TRAIN VOUCHERS! There are no bloomin trains! That’s the entire problem.
Anyway there was no time to argue. It was after 6.30 now and I was due to fly at 9am. I ran upstairs to the taxi rank. There were no taxis.
In the meantime I had been co-ordinating with Jai and Monica who were also joining me on the blog trip to the Gambia. Monica was at Clapham Junction, Jai was at Kings Cross – there were no trains at these stations either. Monica fortunately found Simone (also on the blog trip) in the taxi queue and they jumped in one together. Jai had found herself a lift and mercifully said she could take me too. But Victoria was not easy to get to so I needed to get to Blackfriars as it was more on the way.
I ran back through the station, down the steps to the Underground, swiped my oyster and found it was out of money. I turned around to top it up and thankfully, after a few stops around the Circle Line, found Jai waiting in a car at Blackfriars, having arrived a few minutes before.
For the next hour and a half my hopes soared and dove as we encountered red lights on empty roads followed by unexplained heavy congestion. I wore my phone battery out following our progress on Google maps. We tried our hardest but eventually, after racing through departures like banshees, we got to check in 10 minutes after closing.
There was a family there already pleading with the staff to let them on. The staff knew about the situation with the trains, they said many passengers had not been able to arrive in time, but basically there was nothing they could do about it.
We offered to take only hand luggage; we offered to take no luggage. The check in desk called the Captain and he said no to all of the above. I thought of all the times I had been on delayed flights, where passengers failed to turn up at the gate, or fell ill on a plane. Just once I needed it to wait for me, but it was not to be.
Our friends who did make the plane tell us an announcement was made shortly before take off saying that the rail problem meant the flight was fairly empty and they were to sit wherever they liked. Gutted.
Jai and I were not to be thwarted though. We ran to a travel desk to see what other options we had. Monarch, who we were flying with, fly to Banjul only twice a week. Air Maroc had a flight from Heathrow that night which flew via Casablanca for the bargainous price of £2500 each! Erm, not sure I can get away with that on any of my credit cards.
Then at 9am, when their office opened, we rang the Gambia Experience team and a massive wave of relief swept over me when they said ‘leave it with us’.
I feel very lucky (and privileged) to be able to say that before we had even left Gatwick that morning, Gambia Experience had booked us both on new flights for the next Tuesday (today!) Before the end of that day a new itinerary had been turned around for us and, due to the flight schedule, we will now be staying for a week and have a lot more freedom to relax and explore in our own way.
We’ll be experiencing two sides of Gambia, staying at both the beach in Ngala Lodge as planned, followed by our last few nights in a floating river lodge at Mandina. I have had time to connect with people who live out there so we are planning on taking a local yoga class and I am meeting with a friend of a friend who has just moved to The Gambia in order to learn more about life in this part of the world.
So whilst last Friday was a nightmare, the result is something very positive. Having seen what the Gambia Experience can pull out of their hats at a moment’s notice, I can now also vouch for their customers being able to rely on them if they experience any similar setback.
For now, I’m off to get my flight. I’ll keep you updated as much as I can. Hopefully I’ll be tweeting you from the other side. If you want to find out how we’re getting on just search for #BlogGambia.
Have you ever missed a flight? How did you deal with the situation?
Disclosure: I am very happy and lucky to be taking this trip as a guest of Gambia Experience.