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Ben Morley’s travel nightmare

The week commencing 22 July 2019 was one of the hottest in Europe in decades. Little did myself, brother or mum know as we trudged through the near 40 degree heat during our holiday, that it would cause a whole world of problems at our departure. Whenever it gets that hot a large storm usually occurs. It did. Then everything went wrong.

We finished our four-day trip to the Alps sat by Lake Geneva enjoying the view, reminiscing about our holiday and looking forward to the airport. Our flight was scheduled to take off at 21:30, to be home just after 23:00. We are the type of holidaymakers who run around to see everything we can and use every minute possible of the time we have. Consequently, worn out in the sun, we were looking forward to relaxing back home in the UK.

We made it to our gate by 21:00 and all was looking good. The alarm bells were not quite ringing, but were soon to come when we noticed the rain utterly lashing down. Concerned by the more than mild activity at the desk, and suited businessmen chatting to the staff while clearly on their phones, my brother James went to sleuth. Each time he returned, the news got worse. The plane was not yet here. It is delayed. They are not sure where the plane is. The plane is in Lyon. The pilot is going to try to get to Geneva. The rain means he is struggling to take off. And then, the inevitable. It was cancelled.

We were left with a handful of other passengers, all alone, in an airport with no accommodation, way home or plan

This scenario has befallen many travellers, but this is usually their low point. At the moment of cancellation, one staff member announced that we could possibly get an update sent to us on our app, and that there were no rooms for them to book for us. Rather shockingly, they then all left. We were left with a handful of other passengers, all alone, in an airport with no accommodation, way home or plan.

For the next few hours me and James scrambled on our lagging phones to find some options. Matters were made worse by at least seven other UK-bound flights being cancelled before us. All other flights to London were sold out. The train was sold out. Bern, Basel, Nice and even Milan were all gone. Our one early option, a 24-hour long bus, was strikingly bleak.

We struck gold when a flight from Lyon was available for the next day. Just under two hours by train, relative to the abominable situation we were in, was perfect. Just as we got to the confirm screen however, it was sold out.

Several hours later, our options were: a four-hour bus ride to Paris, followed by a mad one-hour cross-city scramble to find the airport, check in, get through security and to the gate, or a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride, from Switzerland to Turin, to then wait half a day at the airport for the plane. We reluctantly booked the Turin option. I stress reluctantly as strong as possible.

At 05:00 we settled down for some sleep, still at the gate. Predictably none of us got any. Never did any soundtrack meet a moment more ironically as when the airport blasted the lyrics ‘open your eyes’. Around six, we tried to leave the airport. Logically, we followed the exit signs and they took us into the same arrivals hall we came through five days earlier. Just as we came in, it locked behind us, and all the other doors were locked. Fortunately, there was a phone for this exact scenario. An angry man came, demanding our passports who, of course, could speak absolutely no English.

Fortunately, James could speak French and Spanish quite well. Frazzled, and up for over 24 hours at this point, he had to communicate our predicament while locked inside a foreign airport, with a bus leaving in 30 minutes with or without us, without which we could not get to the plane we had just booked. Fortunately, he could explain and we got through.

We got to the bus terminal to Turin fairly early. Switzerland use the Franc, and we could not book online, so we had the money out ready. However, the bus company was run by Italians, so we needed Euros. We had none, and they would not accept it. So, with the minutes ticking – and still no sleep – we ran up and down the streets looking for a machine that would exchange correctly for us. None would. Desperate and exhausted, we found some luck: a woman in a nearby bank was transferring between  currencies and agreed to help.

After loading our million tonnes of baggage onto the bus, we tucked in to our pathetic-looking croissants. The road surely was plain sailing now. Yet somehow there were more hurdles to deal with, as in Turin we disembarked in the centre of the city, but with no idea how to get to the airport. The strangers we asked were mostly dismissive and unhelpful. 30 to 40 minutes pacing the streets, going into stations and asking in the raging heat proved useless.

Eventually, thanks to some helpful individuals, we did find our bus and got to the airport. Though the wait was enormous, and that plane was delayed too, we arrived home about 24 hours after we originally intended. After 43 hours conscious, we all slept quite well.

So if you ever see someone in travel distress, help them – you will be greatly appreciated

Though this is the story of weather causing chaos and companies being negligent, this is also a story which attests to the good of people. We would not have got through the airport if that man had not reluctantly trusted us in the arrivals area; we would not have got the bus or the plane had that woman in the bank not being generous with her time and we would not have got to the airport in Turin without a minority going out of their way to be helpful. So if you ever see someone in travel distress, help them – you will be greatly appreciated.

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