'First World problems, I know, but the age of stress-free travel is well and truly a thing of the past'

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By Fiona Walker

MY grandparents always used to get dressed up when they flew to visit us in Jersey. My grandmother wore a chic suit with matching heels and handbag, while my grandfather would be in his formal attire, shirt freshly ironed, tie impeccable. This was the norm for passengers; travelling by air was an occasion and something to be savoured, appreciated, and respected.

Before Christmas we were lucky enough to travel to Lapland in search of Father Christmas and, yes, we did find him, at home in his cosy cabin tucked deep in the forest. The children, aged 6, 5 and 4, were awestruck to meet the big man himself, and despite it being such a busy time of year for Santa and his elves, he took the time to read their letters and listen to their requests for somewhat unusual Christmas gifts. It was a truly magical occasion, and I hope that – like me – my grandsons remember and reflect on it for the rest of their lives.

The magic of the whole experience was still lingering a couple of days later when the time came for us to fly home. It was further compounded by an unexpected sighting of the Northern Lights shortly after we took off from Kittila airport in Finland, which seemed an appropriate finale to such an enchanting few days.

It wasn’t until we touched down back in London that the fairy dust was well and truly dispelled and the reality of 21st century travel was brought back into sharp focus.

After a smooth landing, the plane taxied to the terminal and there we waited and waited… and waited. Apologies came from the flight deck for the lack of activity to connect the aeroplane to the gate; there was simply no airport staff in sight and no information available on when that situation would change. On a flight with a disproportionate number of exhausted small children accompanied by equally tired parents and grandparents, the news was met with dismay. The cabin crew apologised profusely but there was little they could do to alleviate the situation. In a previous era, complimentary drinks or snacks would have been offered to passengers, but more recent changes to on-board catering facilities have rendered this small gesture impossible.

It was almost an hour and a half before the airbridge was attached and we were able to disembark. At least our baggage should be waiting in the hall, I remember thinking when eventually we set foot on terra firma. What a forlorn hope.

Our first challenge was the customs hall, where around half of the automated passport control points were failing in the facial recognition process. Passengers queued, tried, tried and tried again to initiate the procedure, then eventually gave up and queued instead at the manned stations, where the lines moved forward at a painfully slow crawl as the clock inched towards midnight.

Onto the baggage hall, which was ominously quiet. Not one of the baggage carousels was in operation, and announcements over the PA system advised passengers not to ask when their bags would arrive as the staff had no idea. By coincidence, it was the evening of the England-France World Cup clash, and rumours were circulating that a number of handlers were mysteriously absent. It was only when we’d eventually filled in the forms that would redirect our suitcases to Jersey and were about to leave the building that just one carousel rumbled into life – ours – and some baggage finally appeared. We grabbed our cases and ran.

The following morning, we duly checked in for the final leg of our journey. An hour later, the flight to Jersey was cancelled due to the weather, and, according to the website, the next available BA flight was three days hence. That later changed to two days, but by then we had rebooked ourselves onto a flight from Gatwick the following morning. Retrieving our luggage was an impossibility and unhelpful staff further compounded a stressful situation. Yes, they were extremely busy, but having sufficient staff, and giving accurate and appropriate advice would have improved things quite dramatically. Another frustrating hour was then spent re-negotiating the customs hall – the only way to leave the airport, regardless of how you arrived – before, at long last, we were on our way.

One suitcase finally arrived home nine days later, the other took over two weeks to be delivered.

First World problems, I know, and I do appreciate that we were lucky to be making the trip at all, but the age of stress-free travel is well and truly a thing of the past.

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