The big freeze and travelling home for Christmas

No-one, I’m sure, has escaped the news of chaos in Britain over the past weeks because of the snowfall. Trains were delayed (none derailed though?), all major airports cancelled flights and eventually closed their runways. Thousands of people were stranded in the UK and abroad only a week before Christmas, with no hotel rooms, little information and no-where to go.

For anyone who grew up in a country where snow is no uncommon occurrence, like me, you may looked at the chaotic scenes that have been reported by the media in detail with a) astonishment that for the third year running the UK seem to have been ‘surprised’ by the snow and b) some amusement that 10 cm of crisp white snow can make a whole country go into panic mode.

As one of the many who had a ticket booked to fly out from Heathrow amid the turmoil yesterday, Tuesday 21st December, I followed the snow reports with great interests in the days leading up to it. First the airport closed as it couldn’t get rid of the show and planes got snowed in. Then on Sunday night one of the runways was re-opened, but most inbound flights were cancelled and there seemed little hope of making it out. UK newspapers reported that only 1 in 3 flights would take off over the next two days…

Monday night came around, two SAS flights after the one I was travelling on had been cancelled, mine still showed as one of the ‘planned’ ones. I packed my suitcase (full of lovely Christmas presents, and in hindsight very few clothes for the cold Arctic conditions I was heading to), woke up on Tuesday morning, and checked the official flight schedule from Heatrow Airport. My flight was still scheduled to take off! I got ready – it felt like preparing to go to battle – and tweeted at SAS, just to confirm my flight. As I was leaving my flat to head to the airport, a tweet from SAS said “it’s been cancelled. Call your local office to rebook.” WTF?! Here I was, all ready to go – not having been back at my childhood home for one year . My gut feeling said “go to the airport, the flight is showing as departing on the official flight schedule”, so I quickly wrote down the number I needed to call, and decided I’d call from the bus to Paddington Station. I eventually dialed the number only to be advised that “the office doesn’t open until 8am, please call back”. Excuse me?! People are stranded and customer service office doesn’t open until 8am.

Ignoring all recommendations to stay at home and not head to Terminal 3, I made my way to Heathrow. Arriving at the airport, I was met with rows of people queuing outsite with the hope of getting into the terminal, makeshift waiting areas (massive marquees) had been erected outside and the Salvation Army had set up a food stall. The doors were guarded by airport workers who ensured that no-one entered the terminal building unless they had a scheduled flight and that the check-in was open. The guy in front of me was told to wait for another 30 minutes…outside in the cold. I, luckily, got to go to check-in immediately. Inside the terminal, a white board next to the SAS check-in area informed Scandinavian travellers that only 10 or so flights were scheduled for departure; mine was one of them. On my way to the security area – the gateway to the departure lounge – I walked past people sleeping on thin foam mattresses with only a silver space age blanket to keep them warm. Others were sitting on the floor with tired and sad eyes – what I can only imagine was the effect of several hours, or perhaps days, of uncertainty and waiting for a flight.

I found myself, quite quickly in fact, in the departure lounge, among the lucky ones. As I sat there waiting for the SAS flight to get a gate, a cheer broke out not far away upon the announcement of a ‘go to gate’.

My flight was delayed for only one and a half hour, and eventually headed for the runway and its destination: Oslo Gardermoen Airport. Unfortunately, due to the delay, we arrived at 15.40 local time, five minutes after my connecting flight had departed. Having been rebooked to the 10pm flight to Bodø, I had to wait six hours at the airport, but eventually, eight hours later than thought, I finally walked through the door at my parents’ house.

I made it home for Christmas.