Something you don't want to see when you walk into the airport
We’ve had so many people in the states tell us they are concerned about traveling to Europe due to terrorism concerns. I remind them that the worst terror incident in history took place in the states. I also have to remember that we were in Paris a week after it was shot up, the Berlin Christmas market just days after a terrorist ran a truck through it, we were on the seaside walk in Nice where a truck drove through crowds a few years afterwards. It happens over here, and yesterday and today, we landed right in the middle of one. We wound up smack in the middle of the Gatwick Airport drone attacks.
I have to point out that this was not a physical contact incident. It started when we were in the air headed to London from the U.S. when someone started flying drones across the active runway at Gatwick trying to purposely disrupt flights and air traffic. We landed at Heathrow and I didn’t think anything of it when I heard it. We had lunch in London then took the Gatwick Express to the airport, and got off the train right in the middle of it.
People were laying everywhere....finally just giving up where they stood
We enter the terminal to a literal sea of people. They cancelled over 650 flights yesterday and more the night before that, affecting more than 110k passengers. It is the busiest flying time of the year in the UK and this was purposely done at the height of it to disrupt and cause problems. There were people sleeping on concrete floors with their children. People sleeping on blankets that they were able to buy at an airport store. People making a “corral” out of their luggage and their family sleeping inside it on the concrete floor. Every hotel within 20 miles was fully booked.
We were truly blessed as we had booked a hotel actually in the airport (BLOC Hotels). Our flight was supposed to fly at 6:35 a.m. and transport from Central London to the airport doesn’t start in time to get us there. The hotel is very European, with a very well appointed but tiny room. It sleeps two but you better be friendly! The beauty of the place is that the elevator in the hotel lets you off right at departure security. That’s why we booked it…..it was too easy.
While THOUSANDS of other people were forced to sleep on the concrete floor in the airport, we had a bed, a warm room, a tv, a shower, and our own bathroom. We were fortunate beyond belief and I cannot tell you how blessed we felt. It had a tiny desk and lightning fast internet. Even though I had around 4 hours sleep in the past two days, I pushed on trying to figure out options to get us out of there and out of the UK the next day.
This is our in airport room with Bloc Hotels. And this is most of the room. It was very clean, everything worked, and it was incredibly convenient.
Information was sparse and hard to find. When we did get it, the accuracy was always in question. Sometimes it was true, sometimes it was a half truth, and other times it was a total fabrication. I found almost no flights out of the UK the next day, and if I did, the flights were around $1000 U.S. per person. I wasn’t looking for anywhere particular, just something on the mainland in Europe that would allow me to navigate and move. Seats were few and far between and they were costly. Even train tickets using the Chunnel to Paris were around $300 a person.
I was nodding and falling asleep, even though constantly barraged with information from BBC news and the internet. We decided to go downstairs to the terminal, have something to eat, and coffee. We came back down into bedlam that seemed to have gotten worse instead of better. Everyone was trying to take care of themselves and their families. The airport folks were doing the best they could but this was far beyond their control.
We wound up in a restaurant looking out over the terminal. We had a decent dinner and a beer. We wound up chatting with two guys at a table next to us. They were both originally from Argentina. One was a guy named Carlos Figueredo who lived in the San Fernando Valley in California. He was a CEO of an IT company and was flying family members from Argentina to Europe for Christmas. The second guy was a very well known Rugby player for Bath named Lucas Noguera Paz who played in the UK.
Lucas and Carlos waiting on their families
They had not known each other before that day. Lucas had family flying in from Argentina to spend the holidays with him. Carlos was in the same boat, and their families were all on the same plane. They had met at the information counter at 4:30 a.m. that morning and wound up hanging out all day together. They were two of the nicest guys you would ever meet and got along with each other like they had been friends forever. We talked for quite a while with them and they shared their stories.
Their families were diverted to Paris instead of Gatwick. After a lengthy wait on the plane, their families were loaded onto buses and driven to the English Channel. They then boarded a ferry, and when they reached the UK, the buses continued to Gatwick. Like us, their families had been awake for around two days at this point. It was on up in the evening and they were still waiting on their families to arrive by bus from France.
We talked to them for a while, shook hands, and we all wished each other luck. They were both great guys and we really enjoyed meeting them. None of us knew how long this would go on or how it would work out. We bid them farewell and we grabbed a coffee while walking around in the terminal to see what we could find out.
By this point it was pretty clear the airport was fully closed and would stay that way for who knows how long. We were stranded. Officials we talked to couldn’t offer much information. British Airways allows “night before baggage” check for early flights but all baggage check areas were closed. I talked to British Airways on the phone and they were doing the best they could with such a bad situation. But the people stuck in the airport with nowhere to go…….I felt truly bad for them.
This poor guy just gave up.
Families with small kids, trying to keep them quiet and comfortable, while trying to sleep on the terminal floor. Elderly people, sleeping sitting up in a chair. People from other countries that didn’t speak much English trying to figure things out and just to figure out what was happening. Gatwick was doing the best they could, but who could reasonably expect something like this?
Reports of drone flights over the runway kept coming in all night long. While I was in dire need of sleep, I also needed to take in as much information as possible so I could plan our moves and how we would deal with this. I would sleep for a few hours, get up and check all my information sources, then go back to sleep for a few hours. I did this all night. At 3 a.m. I finally got up for good and went downstairs in the terminal to see what I could find out.
We were told that the airport was still closed and they didn’t know when it was going to open. We were also showing “on schedule” for our 6:35 a.m. flight to Dubrovnik. We had no choice but to get out of bed and go downstairs and see how this was going to work out. I needed sleep terribly but if by some miracle we flew, we needed to be there and checked in. As a positive, the airline counters were open, and security to departure was open. None of this was reported on the news but we’ll talk about that in a while.
Another that arranged luggage around them and then went to sleep
We had breakfast at one of the airport restaurants. We were in no hurry. We were told that if we got to fly, we would have an hour from the time they posted the gate to the time they flew. The board showed that we wouldn’t even know a gate assignment until 5:52 a.m. We were supposed to board before that, so we figured it wouldn’t happen. We finished up, paid, and walked to the British Air information desk to say hello.
When we got to the desk, the agent told us we were to go to gate 13 IMMEDIATELY. The gate assignment wasn’t on the board but we went straight there. We sat down and were immediately told to stand up and get on the plane. We boarded, got seated, and stowed our stuff……..and we crossed our fingers.
A guy sat down on my right. He was flying into Dubrovnik from Antigua where he had been on vacation. His plane was diverted to New Castle far north of Gatwick. He sat on the tarmac for 6 hours before they let them off the plane and put them on buses. The buses drove 8 hours through central England and arrived at Gatwick very early that morning. He had not slept, showered, or shaved in two days. The poor guy only wanted to get home.
We’re on the plane, everyone is buckled in, and we’re all hoping this is gonna happen. Right before we push back from the gate, the flight attendant asks the guy if he would like to move two rows back and across the aisle as it was an open row. He moved back, strapped in, and we pushed back.
It was very dark outside and they turned off all the cabin lights. We taxi out and they don’t even stop at the turn onto the runway, the pilot firewalls the throttles, and we start rolling down the runway. We reach speed and you feel the plane get light and we’re in the air. In the pitch dark of the plane, I look back at the shadowy form of the Croatian guy two rows back. I extend a fist back and across the aisle and he leans forward and bumps it. Little victories.
Our ride to Dubrovnik. British Airways really shined on this trip.
Make no bones. This was a terrorist attack. While no one was injured or killed, it had the intent of using fear and/or intimidation to make someone behave in a manner that the terrorist desired. Some of the prime suspects are “eco-warriors”, who target airports. They want to use fear to make us be what they want us to be, oppressed, slaves to their beliefs and mindset.
I want to stand up for the Argentinian guys we met in the bar, the elderly lady sitting upright in a hard plastic chair all night, sleeping under a threadbare blanket she got from God knows where. For the parents with little kids, trying to get a nights sleep on the cold concrete floor of an airport in the UK in the middle of winter. For the thousands who couldn’t get home or couldn’t get a place to sleep. For the guy who sat beside me on the plane……who just wanted to get home.
I say to those cowards that try to force others to their beliefs using fear and coercion…………KISS. MY. ASS. I am NOT afraid of you. Everybody that got to fly today and still got on the plane stood up and said “I’m not afraid”. They didn’t give those who wanted to control them that power.
I flew today. And like all the others that flew out of Gatwick today, I am not afraid.