Impotently stressing. In an attempt to keep costs for my trip down, rather than travelling on a chewing gum spotted, overpriced train seat, I booked a coach to Stanstead airport from Victoria Station. There were three key things I learned from this experience: one, it is incredibly inefficient to travel from North London to South West, to get East… Two, even more so when time is of the essence, always take the train out of London, and three, buses do not leave on time. Something I already knew, but gained a greater appreciation for, never drive through Central London.
I had a con-call for work on the day of my flight. As the most junior and by far the least important, I have little power to negotiate the time of these calls, let alone not be on one. The earliest others (who, for the record, are all incredibly lovely and supportive, just much more senior and busier than I) would / could do was 2:45 pm, so the earliest possible coach I could get was the 3:15 pm. My flight was at 6:05pm.
Had I checked a map (and/or exercised an ounce of common sense), I would have realised that going all the way to Victoria was completely nugatory, as to get to Stanstead, the coach has to weave through central London – crossing the Thames from north to south and back again, what felt like a million times – to go East past Limehouse and out onto the A12. The bus left 15 (long, painful) minutes later than scheduled and took nearly an hour and half to get to the motorway; and the longer the coach sat lamely locked in endless, motionless congestion, the more agitated and desperate I became. Staring helplessly through the window at the Tower of London (45 minutes into the journey) I resigned myself to missing my flight, my main concern being, whether I should go into hiding and still take the two days off work, or save my holiday, return to the office and face the shame of being too incompetent to get to the airport on time.
Somehow, in defiance of GoogleMaps and City Mapper’s estimate arrival times, the coach pulled into the airport with about 30 minutes to spare until take off. Arriving in time for the ‘Gates Closing’ mark was long gone, but as soon as the doors of the coach opened, in a blind panic, I ran into the airport, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I could make it. This faint glimmer of hope was short-lived. As I scurried to the first set of security gates, all I could see was an impenetrable wall of bodies, snaking back all the way to the entrance. I did about 7 rows of shuffling and waiting, standing too close to the person in front of me, selfishly and pathetically hoping they and everyone else before them would move forward about 200 meters out of my way. In the end, having 10 minutes until my flight was supposed to take off, I decided (for the first time in my life) to jump the queue, politely of course – but it still felt so wrong and so un-English, it was great! After reclaiming my shoes and shoving my plastic bag of toiletries into my carry on, I ran to the gate.
Airports are the worst place to navigate when you are in a rush. Amongst their many functions, they are made to contain a lot of people (who, if they are prepared, on time and/or not a complete idiot, have several hours to pass) in a relatively small space – so have countless distractions and winding routes to aid time-wasting (and money spending). Furthermore, there are families scattered everywhere, meandering slowly with wheelies, buggies and children, in unpredictable directions, making un-signalled, manoeuvers and impromptu stops. An absolute nightmare.
However, my stress, worry and obnoxious running past and into anyone in my path, from leaving the body scanner to arriving at Gate 46 was not completely in vain – I made it in time to board! With only one person ahead of me in the queue, the process from the final passport check to my uncomfortable, crumb-invested seat, was incredibly efficient.
As I sat, a sweaty, puffing, dishevelled mess, caged into the window seat of Row 4, I reflected on my unnecessarily stressful journey so far. The fact that I had even made it to this point, despite my complete incompetence, gave me a very good feeling about the trip.