It was a much longed for trip. A holiday abroad. A real treat.
For 6 years we have enjoyed UK holidays as a family and experienced some great times and gained some unforgettable memories. But something was missing. Sunshine perhaps? Well most probably it was the lack of warmth and abundance of rain that encouraged us to take the children abroad for the first time this year. We knew that it couldn’t be too hot (our eldest is a red-head) and probably not too far for our first time on a plane together. We also wanted ‘All Inclusive’ in order that we could budget effectively. So finally we settled on a great little deal to Lanzarote and the girls counted down the weeks and then the days.
The day of departure finally came. Monday 28th May and, the car packed we headed off to the airport for our Ryanair flight from Birmingham Airport. We arrived the required 2 hours in advance and joined the (enormous) check in queue. In actual fact, with Ryanair, you check in online and then queue to drop in your bags. Doesn’t seem to make things any quicker though. We moved through the queue very slowly. Too slowly. I became nervous. Gossip was rumbling through the line. We weren’t going to be able to check in our luggage. What! The airport had experienced power problems through the night and luggage conveyor belts weren’t working. My stomach hit the floor. If we went without our bags, how long before they would actually turn up in our resort?
I wandered further up the queue trying to find someone to speak to. Finally, next to huge piles of luggage I found a Servisair employee who confirmed the rumours. The last 4 flights had flown without their luggage, and the evidence was piled high to the side of check-in. I’d never seen anything like it.
The nightmare continues
At this point we probably had about 30 minutes before the gate closed. And there were about 100 people in front of us in the queue. But the queue was moving so action was required. We packed medicines and some clothes into our hand luggage and hoped for the best. We would check in, make the flight and hope to see our bags in a day or so.
Then the queue came to a standstill again. Oh no. We crawled nearer to the check in desk but it looked like time was up. The gate would be closing. Rumours were rife that the flight would wait. Surely it wouldn’t leave half of the passengers behind? But this was Ryanair. The gate closed and they refused any further passengers. The flight left and we were just being checked in. Staff at the check in desk knew nothing. Passengers were running to the gate. Children were crying sensing everyone’s panic. A wedding party were refused entry to the plane and had to return to departures. They were due to get married in Lanzarote the following day.
So what now? We repacked our luggage. At least we wouldn’t be flying without our bags, but how were we to get there now? The Airport had sent 2 Customer Service representatives to us. Almost 80 passengers had missed the Ryanair flight to Lanzarote, and another 30 to Dublin. In scenes reminiscent of the tv programme ‘Airport’, passengers became angry, aggressive, upset and devastated all at the same time. It was chaos. Apparently we were now being left to find alternative flight arrangements ourselves. We were given an email address to send expense details to at a later date, but the Airport could do no more. There was outrage.
The hunt for a new flight
Thank goodness for smartphones though. Many people were hunting the internet trying to find alternative flights. There were none that day from Birmingham. Seats on another flight from Manchester were soon snapped up. Did we have another £1000 to buy a second set of flights? Were we prepared to do that when it seemed the Airport had put us in this incredible predicament? After some considerable time, one customer services rep did attempt to help us, taking us to various flight company ticket desks attempting to locate seats on flights to Lanzarote in the next 24 hours. Still nothing. Finally the rumour was that Ryanair had some seats on a flight from Stansted the following morning. It seemed this might be our last chance to get there relatively quickly.
But then something strange happened. Several men in suits appeared and whisked our friendly customer services rep away behind closed doors. Several minutes later they appeared and we, along with several other families and couples were bundled quietly to another part of the airport. At this point, it was well over 3 hours since we’d arrived, and almost 2 hours since we’d missed our flight. Tempers were frayed, and stress levels were extremely high. I was on the verge of tears. Miss E had already been crying, having realised what was happening.
Light at the end of the tunnel
We were given coffee and told to wait. Senior managers had given our customer services rep a credit card and she was taking family names. What could this mean? They still wouldn’t commit themselves and simply apologised for the situation and that they would do their best to rectify it. Another hour later, and our names were called. I was handed a receipt showing flight details that had been purchased for us. Four seats on the Ryanair flight from Stansted the following morning. Thank you, you’re done. Um, excuse me? Now what do we do? We have to get to Stansted (couldn’t take our car as we were flying back into Birmingham a week later) and we would need to stay overnight somewhere. That wasn’t their problem I was told, and should be grateful they had just spent over £1000 on new flights for us. I should have been outraged. I was outraged. But I actually wanted to escape the mayhem, chaos and drama and simply get out of there. We quickly booked a coach to Stansted before anyone else could, and headed off an hour later. We found a hotel at the airport whilst on the coach, and were so relieved that we would be going on our holiday after all.
A bitter sweet ending
We had been up and travelling with the children since 4.30am. We arrived at the hotel 12 hours later. Exhausted. And with the knowledge that we had to do it all over again the following day. A day which was actually Miss E’s 8th birthday, poor thing. We should have been spending it swimming in the pool, enjoying the sunshine and treating her to a day to remember. Instead we were again queueing to check in for our flight, thankfully boarding it successfully, and spending the majority of the day travelling. We did manage a sunshine dip in the pool late in the afternoon but quite frankly we were all way too exhausted and strung out to really enjoy it.
And so there we have it. Our first trip abroad for 6 years. Admittedly the remainder of the week, once we’d recovered from all the travelling was exactly as we’d hoped and expected. The girls had an amazing time and loved it; wished they didn’t have to come home. As for me, well it’s going to take me a little while longer to get past the difficulties we experienced. We’re waiting for Birmingham airport to respond to our complaint and if we do go again next year, I’m not so sure I’d fly Ryanair. Other airlines may have delayed their flight and may have looked after us differently following such an incident. For now, I’m just trying to focus on the girls’ faces when we finally did take off, and their shrieks of joy as they jumped, for the umpteenth time, into crystal blue waters under a beautiful hot sun. That was priceless.