I woke up at 7 am on Thursday….I went to sleep at midnight on Saturday morning. With the time zones I traversed I don’t really know how long I had been awake for but I can tell you that when my head hit the pillow on my best friends pull out sofa bed in Norwich, I felt like I hadn’t slept in days. That was not the plan.
Thursday morning. On opening my eyes in New York City to the soothing chimes of my alarm, my plan was to read in bed for half an hour, take a bath, amble down 6th, go to a Soho sample-sale, take myself for a late lunch and then slowly make my way to John F Kennedy Airport before catching my first flight home for Christmas in four years. None of those things happened.
As I rolled over, lazily turning off my alarm, I saw a text from my airline, the now dreaded Norwegian Air. Oh, shit. My flight was cancelled, and with it my ticket to Christmas. Why? Because some twat had flown a drone over Gatwick and all hell had broken loose.
I cried in bed for an hour amid panicked calls to my sister, Julia. I had tweeted Norwegian Airlines, phoned them numerous times only to have my call dropped. I was directed in the initial text to book on to a new flight with them but there weren’t any free seats until after Christmas. I was starting to lose hope. My sister found a seat on an Aer Lingus flight that would get me home via Dublin. Great. Only, when I went to book it was coming in at $4000…so actually really, really, realllllly not great.
After some more crying and a few stricken mouthfuls of hair-dried-hot left-over pizza, I realized I only had an hour to check out of my room. I still had to pack, Fuck. Now I didn’t even have time for a shower. I wouldn’t see one of those again in two days.
A last ditch attempt showed me all flights leaving New York to London before Christmas were either cancelled, delayed, or way out of my price range. To be fair, five days before Christmas, with two weeks unpaid leave from work and a 30th birthday party on the horizon, I didn’t have a price range at all! Everything direct was coming in well over 5k! I gasped in disbelief when I stumbled across a flight to Budapest for $1800 CAD. Sure that was over double the price is my already really expensive outbound flight, but it was the best of a bad bunch. Europe…right?!That’ll do. I saw they had a connecting flight to Luton so I booked with emergency money my sister leant me. At this point I’d like to say, yes I am a twat for not having insurance and no, my sister couldn’t afford it either. She is a working mother of two, but the point is she had it to lend and my being marooned over Christmas wasn’t an option. We would just have to figure it out later.
Pleaseeeeee accept my card. Pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase accept my card.
Mysterious LOT POLISH airlines, here I come!
Throughout this whole desperate process I had been talking about my issues on social media. None of the airlines, including my big deserters, Norwegian, replied to me…but hundreds (actually hundreds) of people had messaged me words of encouragement as they saw my sniffling face and desperate eyes. I posted a link to my PayPal half jokingly declaring that if anyone wanted to buy me a coffee, dinner in Budapest or huge glass or fucking wine to see me through my ordeal then I would appreciate it. Thinking I’d muster a quid or two for some overpriced airport treats, imagine my shock when kind hearted person after person actually took the time to understand my plight and want to help me get home. I started seeing donations of $5 dollars, $10 dollars, $20 dollars popping up. What!
I sat in the hotel lobby, having been turfed out of my room, trying to cover my puffy post meltdown eyes with makeup. Was I really about to go to Budapest? You betcha.
After circumnavigating the New York Subway like a boss (a sad, sad, very lost boss wearing a truly impractical hat) I emerged at JFK and thought I would see if I could get an answer from Norwegian. My hopes of getting on a flight to London with them were already dashed, but I really wanted answers about the money I was set to lose. I arrived at the Norwegian desk to see carnage – people sitting on the floor, others pacing angrily. There was absolutely no sign of a member of staff. I would have been checking in at roughly this point so I was shocked they had no one to help people who had no idea how they were getting home. A woman in the queue said representatives had been absent all day. So no phone, no social media interaction, no help on the website and no people actually at the airport dealing with front line drama? I get that the drone of doom wasn’t their doing, but the way they handled the situation had been, and continues to be, hideous.
I had to abandon Norwegian in favour of my new flight. I had to get home. Shall I repeat the first Christmas home in four years bit? 2018 had been a bitch for both my mum and me and we had been counting down the days until we got to see each other.
When I got to my new terminal I found out my replacement flight was delayed three hours. Ergh. Of course. This put my Luton connection in serious jeopardy. Heart racing again. Eyes stinging again. What was supposed to be a Christmas with my family was vast turning into choosing between pleading with strangers in New York or strangers in Hungary to offer me shelter! I might be starting a new life in Budapest, after all.
I had no option but to wait six hours in the airport for the most expensive flight of my life. I connected to the wifi to panic message my mum, sister and my friend Emma who had bravely volunteered to pick me up at the other end. As I bumbled with the Internet connection, I got an email notification from PayPal…wait. What? It seems I had been given hundreds of dollars in total! Like actually, what! That must be a mistake!? It wasn’t.
It seems the kindness of strangers and some excellent friends had been out in force. Friends I hadn’t seen in years were sending me $10 to get a wine on them, people who I had never met told me they wanted to chip in for the cost of my flight?! I sat down and cried actually happy tears. This was the fourth time my mascara made jet streams of black sludge down my face and I was past the point of even trying to erase them. Jesus I’m a mess. I would say was, but I definitely don’t think past tense is applicable here.
With a guaranteed hefty wait, I decided to check into one of the airports lounges. For anyone ever stuck I would recommend it if you can. It was $50 to enter and you get unlimited food, hot drinks, snacks and an open bar. Yes. Open bar. Plus there are comfy seats, a faux fireplace and good wifi. Of the whole horrendous experience, my time in the Alaska Air Lounge was actually great. A big thanks to them for letting me in when they didn’t have to. And cheers to the four irresponsibly sunk rosés that helped numb the pain of a trying day.
Gatwick and the drone drama was all over the news and as I sat at the lounge bar, I browsed numerous stories on the internet. I saw my friend Michael McCrudden, a well-known YouTuber, had talked about my delay on his channel! It seems the far more popular Jack Septicieye also was stuck and I was a secondary piece of news in the discussion. Mike kindly linked my PayPal details at the bottom of his video. I was shocked!
Finally, the time came for my flight to Hungary. Alight with the flush glow of free rosè, I swished to my gate only to find more delays. Cool. In a half drunk stupor, I then waited on the floor for a further 45 minutes.
The flight itself, when it took off, was fine. It seems we actually got dinner included which is a rarity these days. Although as my flight was so last minute there weren’t any vegetarian options, so I had to do some choice picking around mystery meats. Literally, beggars cannot be choosers.
After 30 minutes of half sleep and a night filled with being jostled in my aisle seat, the plane finally touched down at a snowy Ferenc Liszt Airport. Right on cue, this is where the drama picked back up again.
I landed with an hour and 30 minutes to spare before my next take off. That would be fine usually but for some reason, owing to the gods of faff, I had to collect and recheck my baggage. Ergh. Time ticked on and the first bag didn’t make its humble way down the heavily eyeballed chute for thirty minutes. After a semi itersl eternity, my bag was finally spat onto the conveyer. With just 47 minutes left on the clock, I arrived at the check-in for my final leg to mighty Blighty with Wizz Air. Buuut, of course, that is when the emergency alarms went off.
I don’t speak Hungarian and hadn’t planned to find myself in Budapest that afternoon so hadn’t exactly practiced any choice phrases. It seems, in the airport terminal at least, the staff aren’t too interested in speaking to you in English either. I asked a police man what was happening. He shouted something I absolutely didn’t understand at me. When I looked at him with wide-eyed vacant panic, he said one simple word; bomb.
Oh. Cool. Bomb, then.
Turfed out into negative four degrees Celsius, my big winter coat was in my case but I thought better of being that twat in a crowd who took the time to open up their luggage amid a crisis (I had to sit on it for it to even close in the first place). Teeth chattering, emergency lights flashing, my life was turning into a particular dramatic episode of the 00s British reality tv show Airport. Boom. Honestly no pun intended as by this point I was devoid of humour.
On reflection, I think the bomb scare brought me more time. A sentence I never thought I would write. Amid the disruption, flights were delayed and I had time to check in to my flight and make the plane. PHEW.
And finally, the drama was done. As I flew over England, the stress lifted from my heart. A Christmas with my family and friends. At last. Touchdown on the tidings of comfort and joy. Someone pass the sherry.
As I was arduously waiting for my baggage for the second time in a day, I connected to the dodgy Luton Wifi.
Wait….more emails from PayPal. This can’t be right? But it was.
I was absolutely shocked and amazed to see that kind Christmas souls of the internet for some reason seemed to care about me had together raised enough to almost cover the excess cost of my flight, my lost train ticket home and probably the phone bill I can expect to get at the end of this ridiculous adventure, amid the teary phone calls and panic roaming data. It was a Christmas miracle.
89 people sent me money to make my situation better. 89! A lot of these people don’t even know me but they still care about me. The kindness of strangers and the kindness of friends has astounded me this Christmas. Thank you for reminding me that the world is a beautiful and nurturing place and that even amid disaster magic can still happen.
You guys came through and actually saved me. Literally. Thanks to you not only am I home, I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to make things work or my impending January rent. It is all because of you. Thank you, my 89 Christmas miracles. Thank you so much.
Here is a shout out to ever single person who helped me. I will also be making a video when I get back home saying all of these names and emailing you all a thanks. Once again, thank you. Thank you!
Ashley Jeffries, Ruben Nas, Chris Bushing, Garbriel Gomez, Misty Cook, Tarni Carothers, Arthur Robinson, Nico Plikus, Don Kethsiri Wisandra, Jack Doyle, Hei Tung Mak, Azra Bajarami, Levi Dykes, Jaden Moojelski, Noah Carter, Kaegan Ricks, Katherine Brooker, Sean Jeffrey, Ben Stoud, Angela Scott, Zoe Crisp, Jason Millington, Jonathan Guerra, Daniel Beasley, Bryan Avila, Michael McCrudden, Kelly Murphy, Izzy Walcot, Heather Trevanna, Christiaan Funkhouser, Kevin Brigger, Ciaran Farren, Matthew McElrath, James Brown, Camilla Muncey, Nicholas Cruz, Jennifer Robinson, EDS Pearce, Stephen Turner, Ashley Whitlock, Dennis Kent Jr, Kevin Rodriguez, Melissa Boudreaux, Hate Clique, Essen Røneid, Fernando Flores, Oscar Canter, Michael Boland, Christopher Forbes, Graham Nichol, Elvis Koyama, Katrina Ainslie, Ethan Leftridge, Erica Dawson, Vanessa Frankzke, Ashli Day, Katie Goodfellow, Olk Lapthorn, Ian and Emily Longmore, Tyler Duclus, Fredrick Edington, Devan Leblanc, Steven Reilly, Mark Tallentire, Paul Luis Koekemoer, Gail Bishop, Hayley Pickford, Adam McDermott, Hayley James, Diego Montws, Isaac Mercer, Charles Shelton, Freddy Gomez, Deanna Marshalls, Jesus Rangel, Joe Ness, Bart Van Liercop, Sam Jarred Dinn, Derek Turkmen, Clive Gardner, Max Cunningham, IC Sports, Alfred Carnot, Adam Blanco, Katie Brennan, David Redner and Corey Vidal.
Thank you. If I ever have the pleasure of seeing you in 2019, the first beer will be on me!
Also a special thank you to my sister Julia and my beautiful friend Emma and to all those who wished me well.
Merry Christmas to you all 💛