I live in Somerset; I took the decision to drive up to Gatwick overnight forgoing a hotel and hoping to catch some sleep on the flight that morning. I left my house just after midnight. It was a good drive to Gatwick, clear roads and I arrived at the airport parking around 2.30am. The airport was very quiet, only Chelsea fans there at this time of the morning. The check in desk for my flight wasn’t open yet so I had a walk around the departures hall. I bought a few papers, changed some money and by the time I had done that my check-in desk was open. I was probably one of the first there for that flight and managed to secure a window seat in an emergency row for both legs of the flight, this cheered me up straight away.
I then proceeded through to the departures lounge, again security was quick and there were no problems. If only airports were always this easy! Most of the retail shops were closed but all of the food and drink outlets were open so that was good. There was no gate posted for my flight so like many others I settled down with a sandwich and a pint and read the paper for a while. I waited until about 5am and I then went to check for my gate number, it was still showing ‘Wait in Lounge’ so I went back to my chair. By now some of the retail shops were opening and other people for regular flights were beginning to arrive.
As time went on I was getting a little worried about my flight and the fact that there was no gate posted. Streams of other fans were now leaving along with many other flights. It must have been 5.40 before a gate was posted for my 5.55 flight so I hurried down to the gate only to be confronted by a large group of other fans going nowhere. It soon became clear that there was a problem. Soon after my arrival a representative from ‘Flight Options’ (our agency) arrived. He looked a little flustered but asked for a few minutes to find out what was going on and off he went to see what the problem was.
Half an hour later he returned and told us that the flight was being delayed due to a technical fault. He was in contact with the Captain and assured us that a replacement part was 20 minutes away and that we were now looking at a revised departure for 08.30. Fair enough, no panic yet. Some people went back to the bar; I tried to sleep a little. For some reason two of the Chelsea fans decided to throw a few punches at each other during this time. I never really did discover what their problem was. It did mean however that a few police arrived and had a few words with the protagonists.
Our next update was around 09.00. Again we were assured that the part had been fitted and that the plane was being checked before we were to be allowed on. I think it was somewhere near 10 to 10.30 when a cheer went up. It was time for boarding. There was much checking of watches and some singing broke out but we still had time and the first bus duly left for the plane. Soon after however the gate staff stopped any more of us from checking in and informed us that the bus was returning, as there was a second fault with the plane.
There was a lot of shouting then, but that was all. As is common with most of these kinds of incidents we just wanted to know what was going on but as is also common very little information was provided. The gate staff took a lot of abuse, but we just wanted to know what was going on. Soon after this a lot of police appeared, most of them armed. They fanned out down the corridor, seeming to isolate us from the rest of the public in the airport who were passing to go onto their own flights.
Again there was shouting, but only from a few and nothing else. Finally at around noon we were informed that the plane was not going to depart, there were then some tears and a little chair kicking but by now I think we were all resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to the game. We all left fairly quietly which surprised me after all the shouting that had gone on before.
As we were air-side we had the ignominy of having to go back through immigration before going back to the arrivals side of the terminal. Luckily we were fast-tracked through; I don’t think the airport would have liked us queuing to get back in, having never left, so to speak!
There was nothing more to do but to go home. It was a very hot afternoon, I’d had little sleep, I felt like crap and I now had to drive home with my match ticket in my pocket. I was very low at that point.
Home I went, to contemplate watching the game on TV. I couldn’t face the pub and didn’t want to see or talk to anyone else, so I watched the game at home on my own. The game’s outcome everyone knows, so I’m not going to comment on this.
The next morning I emailed the travel agent to ask about refunds and to find out just what went wrong. To my delight I was told that not only were they going to refund the flight but also refund my match ticket and other expenses such as parking. This was I feel a very generous gesture as they could have told us to pursue this with our own travel insurance, which would not have made for a very good outcome I fear.
The explanation for the cancellation was this…
We have been asked many times why another aircraft was not substituted for this flight. There are many reasons for this, with the main one being that ALL available aircraft within Europe were either being utilised for their regular services or already in or on their way to Moscow. A plane could have been flown back from Moscow but it would have meant a four hour wait for this and then an alternative airline crew would have been needed as the existing airline crew would have been over their legal working hours.
The other main reason was that airline engineers and the captain of the aircraft were absolutely confident that this problem could be fixed relatively quickly which subsequently turned out not to be the case. We can only act on the information to hand.
What else can I say? There’s an empty void in my stomach, I should have been there. It was a great night for both clubs. I’ve been to Moscow before so I didn’t miss that, it’s just the sense of occasion that I wanted and now will never have.
Another time perhaps…