Today, whilst at my desk in London, I watched in horror as a dump of snow came out of the sky. As you may have figured out, any kind of snow - and anything more than a few millimeters of it - causes London and the Saurf-East to grind to a halt.
Soft Southern Snow-dodging Slackers.
Anywhoo. I slid along to London Bridge through the snowfall, and jumped on a train just in time. And got to London Gatwick airport (Twitter: @Gatwick_Airport) - perhaps the worst of all UK airports. Dirty, smelly, always in need of repair. Its a testament to the efficiently of soviet-era planning and concrete. It was recently sold by BAA (the Spanish building company) to a new bunch of owners, who claim to be fixing it.
On Tuesday when I flew down - the brand new tram system - the one they spent six months putting in over last summer (causing hellish disruption to anyone foolish enough to use Gatwick) broke down, so over 1,000 of us played 'Lets Queue Outside In Sub-Zero Temperatures' waiting for the single bus to take us to the North terminal, the train station, and escape.
I gave the Easyjet ticket desk lady my best sociopath smile, and asked to be moved off the 5:30pm flight to the 2:30pm one. You might not be aware of this - but they do this for free. I got the last seat, and stood in the speedy boarding queue, watching a poor wee Spanish lady try and take three enormous bags - each weighing 50kg each - onto a flight with 3 minutes to spare. The desk guy - unsurprisingly - couldnt let her bags on the belt - maximum weight is 25kg - and she hobbled off (crying) to the ticket desk.
Oh. Speedy Boarding. Worth every penny. Always use it with Easyjet, or get their card. It makes the whole economy adventure more like having a BA Gold card (I used to have one of those) - queues just get so much shorter, and at my favourite airport - Edinburgh - you get to go through the staff security section.
Through the slowest security in the world. No. Really. Slowest. Why dont they have a queue for folks like me who do this bullshit every single week, and can actually understand how metal detectors work. And can be trusted to actually hold a tray.
Finally, at the boards in the glitzy shopping mall. And the board said that my flight - the 2:30pm one to Edinburgh - would open its gates at 23:02. Oh. God. At that point, the snow came down at Gatwick, and the runway was shut for 30 minutes. For about 15 minutes, visibility was down to 15-20 feet.
And then I looked at the monitor, and it told me to leg it to Gate 55. Now. If you've never been to Gate 55, it is by far the most craptastic airport gate in history. Straight out of the seventies. Its not been touched in years, its miles away, and the wonderful picture that security takes of Domestic passengers is then compared to your face.
So I always - and this is childish - pull a stupid face. Tonight, the horribly grumpy and pissed off bloke on the desk checking the pictures actually cracked a smile.
I get to gate 55. There's the same bloke who checked me in earlier, and there's talk of actually getting on the plane early. Nice. And we all do what all Easyjet customers do - we stand in line. For an hour. A whole hour. Every ten minutes, the bloke would pull a pained face, get on the radio or the phone and make another apologetic announcement.
First, they couldnt find any crew. Then they couldnt track down a flight dispatcher. And then finally - hurrah - we got to board the plane. At 3pm. Half an hour after we were supposed to be in the air. I was third on, and ran to my favourite spot - window seat in the middle emergency ailes, and dragged out my laptop. And then did the usual Easyjet game of trying to stop folks sitting beside me by looking very fat (easy), coughing a lot (easy right now - I have this horribly phglemy cough thats going around) and whipping the computer out (lots of elbows sticking out).
So far so good. The flight was full, so two blokes parked beside me, and we all seemed to get on well. At this point, we're waiting for the de-icing machine. And we wait. We were told (around 3pm) that there were eight aircraft ahead of us in the queue, and that we'd be going soon.
I fell asleep, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy close-up-and-personal my elephant grade snoring. Drooling, the whole 9 yards. Pleasant.
I woke up a few times - the air crew came along with water. And then the damn kids started wailing. This is where splashing out on £30 denon or sennhauser in-ear noise cancelling headphones really works. Another hour spent catching up on podcasts.
Then we were told the food trolley was coming out. Another hour later, I got a muffin, a small can of pringles, and a 200ml bottle of diet pepsi. Thats all they had left.
I thought another hour, and it was going to get all Lord-Of-The-Flies. Not good.
We spent time playing I-spy-the-De-Icing Truck - Gatwick only appears to have one. A BA flight which boarded next to us a clear hour after we did was de-iced, and disappeared. Another BA flight actually came to the gate - possibly the same plane. It passed the time.
And then - shock - at 18:02 - the de-icing machine appeared. Not some incredibly complicated structure - it was a wee man on a cherrypicker, with a pressure hose full of fairly liquid and antifreeze. Lovely. He sprayed away, and we all felt we might actually get airborne.
Ah. No. By then a number of passengers (including the screamers) had decided that they were in fact not going to travel. Cue the airbridge being moved back on (and this took ages), then the hold being opened up and their bags being found.
Nice. Some passengers might have started jeering at this point.
One of the chaps who was about to leave turned around and addressed the plane. He suggested that we sue whomever was responsible for this complete fiasco. And in his opinion, it wasnt Easyjet. It was Menzies Aviation - Easyjets' ground handling agents at Gatwick. He got a huge cheer for this....
I just googled them and got this:
Finally. Around 7:30, with much clapping we actually got pushed back from the terminal. Four and a half miserable hours since we boarded, and five and a half miserable hours since I stood in the queue at the gate. And five hours after we were supposed to be airborne.
10 minute wait behind one other plane, and we were off. Thank god. I watched Sherlock Holmes on the laptop whilst most of the passengers joked about suing Menzies Avation.
We landed around 8:48pm, we actually touched down. Taxi'd to gate 11 at Edinburgh. And then the plane stopped. And waited. After another 10 minutes it was explained that they were looking for ground staff. Finally they appeared. It was over.
Thank God. My last flight of the year, and it really really kicked me in the bollocks.