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Getting home from Cyprus – part two

When we finally arrived at Larnaca airport, stressed Heathrow-woman dashed off to check in, just in time, whilst the rest of us queued to check in to the BA flight to Gatwick. We were told that it was running 10 minutes late, due to a delayed departure from London. Well, that’s hardly an issue. We all made our way through to the Departures lounge and gathered by the gate. On the other side of the concourse, the EasyJet flight to Gatwick, which was due to take-off at much the same time as our slightly delayed plane, was already boarding.

Then a rather diffident, but terribly English, voice came over the PA. “Good evening. This is your BA captain speaking. I’m not used to using this PA system, but I really thought I ought to talk to you in person.” Uh-oh! This clearly can’t be good news! He went on to say that a Virgin Atlantic plane [subtext: NOT a BA plane!] had landed very heavily at Gatwick, the undercarriage had collapsed and it was stuck on the runway! As a result, Gatwick was closed to take-offs and landings, and all incoming flights were being held, where possible, at their originating airports until there was a clear way forward. He didn’t want to board us, and leave us sitting on the plane for an indeterminate length of time, but thought we’d be more comfortable in the Departures lounge with access to the airport facilities. Would we please not go too far from the gate, and listen for further announcements.

We all glanced at each other with resigned looks, and I decided I’d eat the sandwich I’d bought and had been saving for the flight. In the meantime, the EasyJet flight to Gatwick was on its Last Call, and we wondered what they knew that we didn’t! However, the delay didn’t seem to be too bad, as within half an hour we got the instruction to start boarding. Once we were all on board, the captain came back on the PA: “Gatwick was meant to reopen about now, but the other airline’s plane is still stuck on the runway so it is still closed. [subtext: It very definitely is NOT a BA plane!] There is however a second, parallel runway which is used when they’re resurfacing the main one, and it’s quite possible that we’ll be told to use that. If so, don’t worry, we’re all quite used to it. I thought you’d all also like to know that I have filled the plane with lots of extra fuel, so that if we have to divert to another airport or circle in a stack for a while, there will be absolutely no problem – we’ve got enough fuel for at least an extra hour’s flight [subtext: Unlike other airlines I could mention that are heavily rumoured to cut corners.]

We then took off, and about half an hour into the flight we got another update. “This is your captain speaking again. The other airline’s plane [subtext: I did mention it’s not a BA plane, didn’t I?] is well and truly stuck on the runway. They have been unable to shift it. So they’ve called on us – British Airways – for help. Our heavy lifting equipment is making its way around the M25 from Heathrow to Gatwick as we speak, and I have every confidence that will do the job. [subtext: BA riding to the rescue of Virgin Atlantic! Let us all thoroughly savour this moment…]”

A further hour later we got another announcement: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that our heavy lifting equipment did the trick, and Gatwick is now fully open. By the way, some of you may have been interested, as I was, to know what was going on with the EasyJet flight which was boarding before us. So I made some enquiries. Those of you on the left hand side of the aircraft may have seen it sitting on the apron at Larnaca as we taxied past to take off. It is currently about ten minutes behind us and is scheduled to land after us. [subtext: How smug am I that I didn’t keep you hanging about on the apron!]

We finally landed less than an hour late, which wasn’t bad considering that flights all over Europe had been disrupted. My taxi driver was there to collect me and take me to my parents’ house – I’d given him my flight details so he hadn’t even set off until my flight had a scheduled arrival time confirmed. He said that one of the other drivers from the same taxi company had been much less fortunate – the flight he was meeting had been diverted to Southampton, and sat on the runway there for several hours before allowed to fly on to the newly-reopened Gatwick.