I knew we were back in England when we had to dig for a poud coin for a non-refundable trolly to put the bags on.
As you will no doubt be aware from my facebook moment-to-moment description yesterday, it was a long day.
On Tuesday night we went to bed early and decided to set an alarm for midnight (to check the news) and then 4am (to decide whether to get up and try for the Paris flight). Neither of us slept very well and at 3am had stirred. At 3.30pm I had a text from Haj, a colleague at work who I had discovered was at another hotel in Dubai (paid for by Emirates). The text said that she was at the airport and had was in line for a ticket for the first flight back to Birmingham. If I hadn't received this text we would not have got home yesterday.
We showered, brushed our teeth and got dressed, paid the hotel bill, got transferred by complementary hotel mercedes limo and were at the back of the airport queue by 4.05am - not bad ey!? I will post photos of the airport escapades in due course. It started with passengers lining up neatly in front of all the desks - though there was no organisation into which desk was for which flight (Newcastle, Birmingham, Glasgow, Heathrow, Gatwick, and Manchester plus other European flights), it was reasonably ordered and civil...but there was only one member of Emirates staff visible.
The Emirates 'plan' (I use the word loosely) was first come first served. So if we didn't get on a flight yesterday, we would have to have queued every day until we got on one. Even people who had 'confirmed bookings' were in competition with people needing rebooking like ourselves.
We stood there for a good 45 minutes before a member of staff appeared and decided that it would be a good idea to make a zig-zag row system.....so ithere was a lot of pushing and shoving and trolleys over toes and frustrations as we all tried to get into a straight line.....
...Time dragged on and then the same man announced that he wanted us all in date order. Anyone who has worked in primary education will be able to picture 26 children trying to organise themselves into height or age order and the large amount of confusion, arguing and movement this involves. Picture about 2000 people trying to do the same in Thursday through to Tuesday order. It was chaos. I actually started to find it all very stressful at this point. Perhaps it is because I am acutely tuned in to other people's distress but I watched older, weaker, smaller (Darwin's victims you might say) being trampled on. I heard stories of people not having enough medication and spoke to a lady using a walking stick who hadn't got anywhere to sit down and wasn't allowed a wheelchair because she wasn't technically disabled. My tears came when the queue actually started to move and I passed a boy (probably about 13) with his mother. He had fainted and his mum was pouring bottles of water over his head. Other passengers were shouting at her to move out of their way and we had no choice but to keep moving. He needed a doctor or a nurse....or a seat at the very least. In the end his dad got him to the toilets while his mum held their place in the queue. Matt couldn't comfort me because you can't hug or anything in the United Arab Emirates as it's "innappropriate touching" so I had to give myself a pull-yourself-together talking to.
There were no tannoy announcements and no visual displays of information and from where we were standing we couldn't see the departrues board so we had no idea which flights were going and which had space. When we finally got to the front we were asked where we were going to. I had to bite my sharp tongue at this point as it was no time for sarcasm, or philosophy for that matter. We said we would go anywhere in the UK but Birmingham was our first choice. He tagged our luggage but would not take it from us and sent us across the concourse to another queue where our boarding cards would be issued. I was deeply cyncial. I couldn't see how we could be on standby for a flight that would have been full before it opened with all these extra people but I followed his instructions nonetheless and we joined our new queue compainions and chatted whilst we tried to decipher the mumbles of the staff members as they attempted to communicate with the masses.
It shouldn't have been funny but the best sight of the morning was the Emirates member of staff praying at the desk. I desperately wanted to take a photo but my morals kicked in (fortunately) but it is an image I will never forget - I really did want to ask him what he thought about allah's volcanic plan (people kept telling me it was an "act of god") but I stayed quiet.
At 7.45am we were told we had not got on the flight and told to rejoin the first queue we had been in to start the process again. Noone got angry but there were a few tears, rubbing of faces, men going off just to stand away on their own for a few minutes and people telling their children that "the nice people over there are going to help us but they are sooooo nice, look at all the people who want to speak to them."
Matt and I had seem to have become part of a small group now with a family going to Birmingham, a mother and son (it was her 65th birthday and her son had taken her to see her other son in Austraiia and she was due to be back for a party last night), a couple going to Manchester and a lady on her own also going to Manchester. We all stood together and exchanged stories from the trenches.....before realising we were in the wrong queue. Off we walked to somewhere else where we stood for ages...and then it happened, we got a ticket with a seat number at about 9.45 - some 5hours 40 minutes after joining the queue. I would have kissed the guy behind the counter (but decided that I would probably just be arrested.) So I had a little cry instead. And then I checked the tickets over and over to make sure there were no errors that would prevent us setting foot on British soil.
To celebrate this event we had a coffee and extremely chocolately donught from Costa before rejoining our compadres (the Manchester and Birmigham flights were next door to each other in gate terms). I was told everyone's life stories (obviously) and provided brief psychological therapy to a couple of these anonymous people - I kid you not - the one lady's daughter had just had a miscarriage which is why she had flown out to Australia on her own and the other's woman's mother had died a year ago today and she was upset because she couldn't visit the grave. Believe it or not, other than that it was a great giggle and the time flew - we had a 5 hour wait between getting the golden ticket and the flight taking off. I got up to strech my legs and went over to the departure board only to discover that the Birmingham flight had moved from gate 223 to gate 123. Dubai airport is HUGE and long so it meant a hurried goodbye to our Manchester 'friends' (whose names we still didn't know) and a brisk 20 minute walk.
We sat at the entrance to gate 123 and who should walk by but Rami, an administrator I used to work with thus reinforcing Matt's theory that "we can't go anywhere without seeing someone I know." She was on her way back from a wedding in India and had a booked seat on the same flight....but was on standby and didn't think she'd get on. The started getting us through the gate about an hour before the flight so I said my goodbyes to her, feeling guilty that she was going to end up in a hotel overnight for no good reason.
Matt and I were at the back of the plane. There was a collective sigh as it took off.
The flight was ok but neither of us managed to sleep. The smell of body odour from the flight should be bottled and pumped into any cave or hole where Bin Laden is thought to be - he'd soon surrender, it was 'high.'
After the collective claps, cheers and tears as the plane touched down, the piece de resistance was the public address from our pilot Bjorn (yes you read right) who said that though we were 5 feet from the stand, the 'navigation sytem' had failed and we just needed a little help hooking up.
The arrivals hall was like a Brummie, slightly drab version of the airport scene in Love Actually. As we turned the corner from customs we, like 300 others, scanned the sea of faces before I gallopped towards the barrier to give my dad the biggest hug.
My mum had been in and stocked our fridge, put flowers in a vase and cleaned the house. She's a legend.....But the person most pleased to see us was our cat, Bentley.