The alarm went at 6am, the time I should have been arriving in Heathrow to get home for Mark's birthday: not to be. After a lovely shower I changed back into my full-length leggings and floral dress and headed down to the concierge desk to find out how the airport would let us know about flights. The concierge desk didn't have a clue. They couldn't tell me what had been happening over the previous days when flights had been delayed, and simply went on the internet to see if flights were running: one bloke helpfully told me that a flight left at 1am this morning, I told him I already knew that because it was my flight that went without me. I went for breakfast and made sure I got my money's worth, or rather the airline's, and had cereal, a dodgy coffee, shrimp dumplings that taste like pork, and a sort-of English breakfast.
I sat next to one of the women from the airport, Michelle, who now lives in Adelaide but was heading to London to spend Christmas with her family. I informed her of the concierge desk's helpful nature and we resolved that it may not be the best idea to stay at the hotel and wait for a phonecall that would most probably never come. One group of people paid another HK$300 for a taxi back to the airport at 7am, as none of ther staff informed them about the free minibus that left for the airport every hour. We congregated in the reception and booked our places on the 9.30am bus, then stupidly checked the weather reports online, which of course made us doubtful of getting home any time soon.
Once at the airport we headed straight to the Cathay Pacific desk, where the staff told us to head to the standby desk. I used my long legs to get me there first, and registered as number 668 for a standby flight. The bloke told me to call a number to confirm the booking, but I headed to the Cathay information desk to find out how and where I call the number, only to be told the number only works outside of the airport! She looked online to try and confirm a flight for me, but told me the next one available was Christmas Eve! Unsure I'd have any other option I confirmed myself on the flight and headed up to the luggage office to collect my rucksack: it had been sitting in the airport since last night when I flew in from Saigon. I followed a member of staff through to the arrivals carousel and asked him if he knew if flights were heading to Heathrow today, he just pointed to the bags and said 'this way'. My face lit up as I spotted my, Claire's really, faithful rucksack amongst the many other bags, and I gladly lifted it on my back before the bloke had any chance to get a trolley.
Next stop was the check-in desk where the standby desk had said to go to at 1pm. It was 10.30am and I headed straight there to find ten people with the same idea. I sat down in the queue, preparing myself for another wait. At around noon a few staff appeared, telling us nothing as we searched their expressions for clues as to our fate. One girl headed to the desk to sign up for standby, and was quietly told that the check-in desks were to be changed to the other side of the airport, apparently she wasn't meant to telll us. She told everyone. A mass movement over to the furthest aisle of check-in desks took place, where we were told to take a seat as they would call us up in standby order. This didn't promote much faith as we'd been told to take a seat and wait for their calls with no further actions since we landed at the airport, so wy should we believe them now: we were also annoyed as people who'd arrived this morning had numbers above those of us who'd arrived last night.
TV cameras had arrived by now, and we realised why we'd been moved to the far end of the airport. After some people getting irate with a man we think was a big boss at the airport, some crackers and water were brought out to sustain us, and we were told there was enough room on the midnight flight to Heathrow for all of us. We happily queued up and checked-in our baggage, gleeful when we had our boarding passes in hand. A couple of the girls were offered the 3pm flight, but declined because their bags might not have made it in time. I asked about the 3pm flight, all bags in my possession, and was told it was full! Telling myself it had all happened for a reason I made my way to lunch with three of the women on the same flight, all of us happy to be heading home, and tucked into a Peking duck pizza. Acouple of the moaning men had decided to go into Hong Kong to make the most of the time, but after just three hours sleep since Sunday night we weren't all that eager. One of the blokes who'd been there before said how wonderful the seafood was, but I remembered how disgusting the water was and declined this tempting invite, happy to opt for the peking duck instead. Fed and watered, we all felt like sleeping, but seeing as it was only 3pm and we weren't boarding until 11.30pm we had to stave off sleep.
A mammoth wander around the airport followed: we tried Dragon's Beard (a furry sweet), drank many coffees and hot chocolates, shopped to use up some last minute pennies, and became delirious as the flight appeared on its own screen at the gate. I wandered over to buy some chips with one of the girls, Kate, and wondered why she didn't think we could use a certain lift: I said the arrows went up and down, but eventually she pointed out that the lift didn't have anything above it but air, which might just impede our ascent. Time to go home. Everybody had congregated at the gate by 10pm, all worried that something else might go wrong, but we all boarded the plane and sank into our chairs as we relaxed after more than twenty-four hours of worry. The journey was blissful: I was sitting next to a family from Manchester who had impeccable manners, and I slept for most of the thirteen hour flight, waking only for water and food. I tried watching a couple of films, but even they weren't enough to keep me from the land of nod. At 4am we were all delighted to hear the captain declare Heathrow was clear and we would be landing!
We could now truly relax!