On Friday night, LSB and I were to return to Berlin after spending a warm, damp Christmas in Dublin.
The day had been stormy and the queue at the airport was frightful.
The woman before us looked particularly dismayed so I said: “Well, you’re one ahead of us!” to which she replied, “that’s not saying much given the circumstances.”
It took us an hour to reach the check-in desk, where calm was restored. Our luggage was within the weight allowance and the lady helpfully circled the departure gate on our boarding pass with a biro. It was quite old-fashioned really. Almost worth the wait.
We pulled our little carry-on cases to Gate 412. LSB whipped out his first ever smart phone – a Christmas present from his siblings – to connect to the free wifi. I reminded him of the time he used to read books, speak to me and look at me lovingly. I said those things because now I am the only person of my generation without a smart phone. He was too busy playing with his German grammar app to pay me any attention, so I took out my laptop and logged onto the free wifi too.
Moments later, a bell sounded and a soft female voice from the void said: “Attention: passengers of Flight EI330 to Berlin: this flight has been cancelled.”
LSB and I gaped like goldfish, our eyes meeting as we tore them from our respective screens.
I issued an expletive.
Soon after a tall, clean-looking man dressed all in blue appeared. He was proportioned like an ice pop. Perhaps this pleasant association explains why I took an immediate liking to him.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said. “I am extremely sorry but my supervisor has informed me that this flight has been cancelled. Unfortunately, Aer Lingus will not pay for accommodation as this is a weather event.”
A rotund German man in a brown coat erupted in indignation. “You are obliged to take us to our destination,” he spat.
The man said he was extremely sorry. He was merely repeating the instructions of his supervisor.
“You can re-book free of charge online,” he said. ” Which is what I’d advise you to do. The alternative is to queue downstairs, but you will be waiting for hours.”
An Irish woman with pink skin and mousy hair piped up: “Well what about all your taxes and charges shite? Will you be charging us again?”
“No, Madam we will not be,” said the man in blue.
LSB and I retreated to a corner with our electronic devices. His smart phone didn’t live up to its name – but after a few stressful minutes we had managed to re-book our flight for Sunday night using my laptop.
An elderly German lady was most perturbed by the commotion.
“What is going on? Does anyone speak German?” she asked.
I put up my hand and explained the situation.
“I am officially attaching myself to you” she said.
The tall, blue man appeared again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please follow me to reclaim your baggage.”
The German lady who had attached herself to me, said “where are we going?”
“We’re collecting the bags we checked in an hour ago,” I said with cheer that belied the dread I was feeling at having to call my office in Berlin to let them know I would be unable to work my weekend shifts.
As our dejected group was making its way to the baggage reclaim – I still had my laptop in my hands – a woman with blonde hair, red cheeks and a course voice pushed me to the side and said “Get off your fucking computer! Fuck off and let me by! I’ve been waiting for nine fucking hours!”
“You’re not the only one,” said LSB.
She stuck up her middle finger.
“Céad Míle Fáilte!” I said.
We retrieved out suitcases from the luggage belt. Then I sat down with the elderly German lady, who told me she was on her way back from Belfast, where she had been visiting her son – a translator who had married a Northern girl.
I explained that to re-book her flight, we would need her booking reference, as well as the e-mail address which had been used to buy the ticket.
She took out a small black notebook which was neatly filled with useful information. (I believe all German women of a certain age have a notebook just like this.)
She produced her booking reference, which she insisted on calling out to me in English. But the e-mail address presented a problem.
“My son booked!” she said. “And I don’t know what e-mail address he used!”
We tried three but none of them worked.
She called her son on her mobile phone but appeared either not to get through or to be unable to hear him.
At one point she said: “I am now hanging up! Alright, goodbye. I cannot hear you.”
The whole process took about an hour. I found the lady grateful but impatient.
In order to exit the airport, we had to go through passport control.
In an act of pointless confession, I told the passport control man that I had in fact never left the country and that my flight had been cancelled because of the storm.
“I understand,” he said kindly.
The elderly lady with the notebook got on a bus to Belfast. My father collected LSB and me.
We spent the weekend drinking Guinness with friends who thought they’d seen the back of us for another six months.
And who did we see at the airport on Sunday evening but the blue ice pop man from Aer Lingus.
“Remember us?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “Flight to Berlin.”
“Rough night on Friday, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“You’ve no idea,” he said.