I’m stuck in Amsterdam, already delayed by 30 hours. It’s snowing hard, and I’m not optimistic that I will get home tomorrow. I’ve not suffered at all, but the experience has given me the tiniest glimpse of what it might be like to be a refugee with uncertainty, lack of information, crowds, queues, discomfort, and being a second class person.
I had my first signal of what was to come on Saturday night when I left a jolly meal in an Ethiopian restaurant. There was light snow, and I had a message on my phone from British Airways telling me my flight the next morning was cancelled. I had to ring them to be rebooked. The friendly woman told me she’d try to get me on a slightly later flight and ring me back in five minutes. She didn’t ring. When I rang again a man told me that I was now booked on a flight at six in the evening, eight hours after my original flight.
It began to snow the next morning, but the hotel kindly let me check out at 2 pm rather than noon. I got lots of work done, although I discover today on my iPad that I’ve lost two hours of work. At 2pm I trudged and slid to the station through snow and slush, surprised that no grit or salt had been put onto busy walkways. At the station I saw that many trains were cancelled and unusually couldn’t see a train to the airport. I joined a queue of about 10 people to learn when the next train would be. It was 30 minutes away compared with the usual 10. I paced up and down to keep warm and then joined a big crowd making for the train to the airport. Would we all get on, I wondered. We did. It was no worse than the Northern Line in the rush hour.
At the airport I saw that many flights were cancelled, mine among them. I went to look for help and found enormous queues everywhere. Some, I heard later, queued for six hours to be told that nothing could be done. I wasn’t sure which queue to join, so tried ringing British Airways but couldn’t get through. I was lucky in that I accosted a British Airways staff person, who took me to the front of a queue and handed me over to a harassed woman under a British Airways sign. She began to search for a flight for the next day but told me there was nothing. “What about a hotel?” I asked. She shrugged, but a man beside her stepped in, got me booked on a flight the next day, and booked me into a hotel. Looking at the huge queues around me I felt very lucky.
I felt less lucky when I encountered the large crowd waiting in a snowstorm for a shuttle bus to the hotel. We waited perhaps 15 minutes for a bus and then pushed on when one came. It was crowded and chaotic, but most people seemed to get on. Some people had mobility problems, some children, and some heavy cases. Some, I imagined, must be facing much more disruption than me: lost long-haul flights, crucial appointments missed, and sleeping in the airport.
Soon after I arrived in my hotel my flight for the next day was cancelled. I tried ringing and either couldn’t get through or was immediately cut off. The website told me that I was confirmed on both of the flights that I knew were cancelled. I tried various times to ring British Airways or get information through its website, but I got no joy from either. That’s continued to be the case for 24 hours. British Airways, it seems, has abandoned me. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I began to look at other airlines, no joy, and trains. I could not get a train on Monday, but I might, it seemed, on Tuesday.
I went to bed on Sunday night not knowing how I might get home but thinking I’d have to do something in the morning. Before I went to bed I went for a drink and a meal. “How will you pay?” asked the woman pouring a beer.
“Can I put it on my room?”
“Are you a delayed passenger?”
“Well, you must pay cash then.”
When I went for dinner, having studied the menu, I was asked for the token I’d been given. “Over that side of the room for delayed passengers and have the buffet,” said the waiter. The buffet was limited and unappetising, and our tables had no candles or cruets.
In the morning I spent time trying to contact British Airways and searching for flights on other airlines, but all to no avail. Deciding I must act, I booked a train ticket and a hotel room, the two costing me over £400. I’m lucky to have such money and the option of a train. The bar downstairs is filled with people who can’t go by train, endlessly scrolling through their mobile phones, hoping for something to come up.
Meanwhile, the snow falls.
I’m not having to cross the Mediterranean in a small boot, and I’m not penniless, hungry, and cold; and I’m trying to get home not flee a tyrant. But all this has taught me something. We are all only one step from disaster.