We all know that traipsing through airports and travelling on planes with small children is rarely a joyous experience (unless you’re my husband who takes the kids to eat at Dubai International on his days off).
But if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to add a whole new dimension to your journey, it’s the traffic light system in staff check-in that tells you if you’re actually on the plane or not.
You’ve done the packing, got to the airport with overexcited kids in tow and feel geared up to go, but whether you end up at your chosen destination or back on the sofa depends on the stand-by screen, which shows a green light by your name if there’s room on board and a red light if the plane’s full.
Staff travel is, of course, the most wonderful perk and allows us to go round the world at minimal cost – IF you plan it right. Get it wrong – and by that I mean try to travel on stand-by at busy times such as Eid, Christmas or peak summer season – and you might as well just join my DH and the kids for lunch at the airport then head home.
My last-minute plan was good in theory: to fly back to London for the weekend to be surprise guests at my mother’s birthday party, see my whole family gathered under one roof (a rare event!) and watch some fireworks and effigy burning on Bonfire Night. It was our timing that sucked.
When we pitched up at staff check-in just before lunchtime, it looked promisingly quiet. But by 1.50pm, about 40 minutes before take-off, every employee and his wife had appeared out of the woodwork, all hoping to travel to London for the five-day Eid holidays.
People were craning their necks to get a look at the stand-by board, their luggage haphazardly filling the floor and other hopeful passengers trying to find a path through to the queue. The boarding pass fairy smiled on no-one which meant the crowd’s focus changed to the next flight – to Gatwick – a little while later.
“When will we get on the airplane,” a raring-to-go BB asked a hundred times, as his little brother busied himself trying to unzip random suitcases before darting out the door.
Gatwick was also a no-go because the throngs of people meant we couldn’t even get close to the check-in desk. LB was, by now, starfished on the floor in front of oncoming trolleys.
“Daddy, just pay!” pleaded BB, his patience tested to the limit and his rounds of rapid-fire questions hitting me full pelt.
The next option was a late-afternoon flight to Heathrow, so off we trooped to waste some more time, while trying to head off the ear-bending disappointment we were guessing was just round the corner and which only kids know how to express.
But, by now, the thought of enduring a seven-and-half hour flight with a small child (LB was staying in Dubai with DH) after waiting around with the boys for so long was making the sofa look appealing.
So when the traffic light turned from amber to red – and the check-in girl announced “London Heathrow, no chance!” – I was of course sad I wouldn’t get home to England for Mum’s birthday, but also relieved the waiting game was over. You would have been too, if you were as knackered as I was.
EID PART II: Just when I thought it could only get better…coming soon!