(written July 2003)
Things hadn’t gone exactly to plan – but then even the best of plans can sometimes go awry. It was departure day, the flight leaving at 7:25 in the morning required us to be at the airport at 5:25.
Naïvely, I thought that the queue for our flight would be well finished and we would move through check-in rather quickly. We entered the check-in hall to be greeting by a massive queue, not just for our flight, but one long queue feeding a whole host of flights. There were over 150 people in the snake queue – for every meter forward you advance, you must travel ten or fifteen meters laterally.
What to do, we joined the queue.
Now there wasn’t much time to complete check-in, security clearance and get to the gate, but the only course open to us was to stand in the queue and watch time tick by…
Then the announcement, “Those going to Istanbul proceed to the late check-in desks, 58 and 59.” So we withdrew from the main queue and hastily made our way over to the late check-in desks. Now I had a choice, 58 or 59.
I chose 59.
Only later did I learn that 58 was moving four times faster than 59. People who queued after us were long gone whilst we patiently crawled forward in our queue.
At last to the head and with check-in procedures accomplished we turned and headed directly to security. Things were looking up. Up the stairs to security to be greeted by another snake style queue about 80 people long. We joined the back of the queue and slowly, slowly we advanced to the head. At the head of the queue the man said we were allowed only one piece of carry on past that point. To this I readily agreed. According to the airline we could have one carry on and a camera or computer.
This we had, one computer and one piece of hand luggage each. He then informed me that that may be what the airline allows in the air plane, but the airport only allows ONE piece ONLY past that point. hmmm.
There was no point in arguing. Besides there was a queue of eighty odd people wishing us out of the way so they could continue. So, there was nothing for it but to go back to check in and check in our hand luggage. So downstairs and back we trekked. Joined a short queue and were soon back where we started at the late check in desk.
The girl took the bags, and then had to charge us £10 each for the extra baggage. To pay for this meant a trip to Customer Services – a short queue of 8 individuals.
I joined the queue.
However, it was a queue that was stuck – not moving. I looked at the clock and we had twenty minutes to pay for the extra bags, pass through security and get to the gate. Boarding would soon be commencing and here I was at the back of a non-moving queue.
The good English people of the queue made allowance for me and invited me to the head of the queue – which I gratefully did. I paid my money, got my receipt and back to check-in to show it to the lady. That done, back to security.
When we arrived at the top of the stairs the sight that greeted us was not a queue of eighty odd people as last time, now it was 100’ish frazzled travellers, or maybe more accurately put ‘would-be travellers’ trying to advance to security and finally to their gate. The cause? Now, instead of two people checking people through, there was only one.
What to do, be calm, rest in the Lord, take our place in the queue and move through the process….
Which we did.
Finally the head of the queue – one carry on each, no problem, through the doors to see one more snake queue with in excess of 150 people slowly making their way through to the next stage of security.
Now it looks utterly hopeless. The queue is massive. And we are at the back end of it. It seems our baggage, all checked through, may be making this journey without us. What to do but rest in the Lord, be patient and do what was in our hands to do – wait in the queue.
Slowly, slowly, back and forth we travelled and progressed forward in the room. Only two more switch-backs to negotiate and then we can go through the security check, when we see two personnel checking boarding passes. We call out “Istanbul” and they, checking the boarding pass, moved us immediately to the queue going through the door.
Good – but already I know it is ‘too little, too late’.
Through the final security check. The overhead screen shows we need to be at Gate 18 and it is boarding. Not “go to Gate 18”, but we needed to “BE” at Gate 18.
No time for a tea, no time to get a newspaper, off we head towards the gate walking as quickly as we can.
It is a distance – time is not short; it is gone. I start the “old man” run – you know, not the athletic, virile sprint of a young man, but short running steps, of a huffing and puffing mid-aged gentlemen. My thought was, if I can make the gate, if they are still there, I can hold it until T. can catch me up. So I jog-run on.
T. has joined me in this little exercise – and a good thing too. I was heading down the indeterminable corridors when I hear T. say “Where is Gate 18?”.
Where indeed, the overhead sign only points to 1 – 17.
I had inadvertently jogged passed 18, it was a side door, with stairs downstairs. So, together we clamour down the stairs and over to Gate 18 – here there is no queue but there are two Airline employees still there. They look at us and ask if we were the Munros – I guess they were waiting for us, the aircraft is still there. We proceeded through the door, across the tarmac and up the stairs to the waiting aircraft.
The plane was full, no two seats left together anywhere, so I sat further back on the right, T. a bit ahead on the left. I sat down, looked at my watch and it was 7:35 – the plane was supposed to leave ten minutes earlier. I praised the Lord and settled in for the flight.
I glanced out of the window to see a truck piled high with baggage trundling across the tarmac – except he stopped and was picking up some bags which had fallen off – he lugged them to the truck, threw one up, which promptly fell back down again and my thoughts turned to my “carry on” which was now “hold luggage” and I always carry my camera in my carry on – except this time……
On arrival, which was on-time, we rejoiced that through it all, all our bags had made it as well – including our “carry on” which at the last minute had became hold baggage. Praise the Lord.
It was good experience – life often does not go to plan (actually rarely goes completely to plan) – and patience and calmness in the face of circumstances we can not control or change is essential. This is where our faith becomes real. This is where we can let our light shine. The natural reaction is to panic, to be frustrated, to be anxious, to fret, to worry, to become agitated, to ‘vent our spleen’ at ‘jobs-worth’ (or so we can assume) and the bureaucratic nature of human relations and to wallow in the mire of despair or be overwhelmed in slough of stress.
But, it is just for times such as this that God’s Grace is sufficient – we can go through the storm, aware of what is happening, but not being overcome by it; but show forth His Grace and Power in our feeble and weak vessel.
A queue at an airport is hardly a “storm” I know – a mere triviality of life – but it is in the mere trivialities of life that opportunities arise to allow the Grace of God to live in us and for us to be different from those around us – then we are light; then we are salt; then we are a peculiar people; and when we face the “real storms” of life we are prepared by the minor and mundane things to face it.
On our return I had need to go the the bank. They have a queueing system – take a number wait your turn. Sounds promising. I took my number – but the system was calling numbers from different series. I had 726 – but they were calling 484, then 2005, then 3517 and 010. Impossible to see the logic behind it. Obviously there is a logic behind it – but it is not apparent nor intuitive to me – nor to the irate, upset and vocal fellow-queuers. People who come after me are seen before me. An hour and a half tick by before my number comes up – but come up it did in the fullness of time . Another mundane opportunity in life to let His Grace keep my heart, be at rest and in peace and smile and be different…