Ejo #22 – Our Flight To Madrid, Spain (Or; How Emirates Airline Completely Screwed Us Over, And Yet Managed To Redeem Themselves As Well)

I’ve been known to have some zany stuff happen to me.  Of course, nothing comes even close to the travails of Dangerous Doug, but still, I’m prone to predicaments.  Our recent flight from Dubai to Spain was quite an adventure.  Our flight was scheduled to leave at 8am, so we left the house at 5am.  We like to get to the airport the full three hours before a flight, to avail ourselves of the free champagne on offer in the Emirates Silver Lounge.  Yes, even at 5am!  Don’t look at me that way!  It’s free Veuve Clicquot; you drink it no matter what time of day it is!


Anyway, things went awry from the moment we checked in.  We were advised that it was a very busy flight and we should proceed to a different counter to drop off our bags and collect our boarding passes.  This seemed odd, but we casually sauntered over to the other counter to complete the check in process.  When we got there we were asked for our paper tickets.  I think I guffawed.  Paper tickets??  Was it 1997?  No, we said, we don’t have paper tickets – we’ve already checked in and just need to drop off our (already tagged) bags and pick up boarding passes.


The lady behind the counter then looked at us funny and asked, “Chryss and David?”  We looked at each other warily and nodded.  She plastered a smile on her face and told us that the flight had been overbooked and we may get bumped to the next day’s flight (there’s only one a day).  She then proposed a pretty sweet deal – if we voluntarily took the next day’s flight, we would each be given another ticket to Madrid (valid for 12 months) – for free!  We asked for time out to confer and entered into deep, frantic discussion, quickly weighing up the pros and cons (like some weird game show).  We came to the mutual conclusion that even though it was a tempting offer we’d prefer to take our chances and try to get on this flight.  After all, we had already booked (and paid for) a connecting flight to Barcelona, accommodation and a fancy dinner that night.


The lady looked at us with a glint of admiration in her eyes and directed us to the standby counter.  As we turned to leave, she whispered conspirationally, “I hope you get upgraded to Business”.  Gee, I thought, that’d be nice but I just hope we get on the frigging flight!


So we went and registered, along with dozens of other people (all bound for different destinations around the universe) and  waited.  And waited.  And waited.  A couple of hours of waiting later we had to accept that a pre-departure glass of champagne wasn’t looking good.  In fact, it was looking like we’d have to hail ourselves a taxi and go back home.  Having just finished working a night shift, David was visibly starting to flag.  He’d been awake for about 24 hours.  I’d had only three hours sleep and was beginning to feel rather fatigued myself.


All but resigned to spending another night in Dubai, I figured I might as well try to find out what was going on.  Our flight was due to leave in 35 minutes and I didn’t hold up much hope but thought it might be worth asking anyway.  I approached the busy counter, jostling my way through the throngs of people and said to the lady, “Madrid?”  She asked my name, typing it into her computer.  When she looked up at me I immediately knew we were on the flight.  The skies opened and the sun shone onto her face as she smiled and said, “Bring your bags!”  The disgruntled crowd parted as we loaded our luggage onto the weighing station.  She printed off our boarding passes and handed them to us – 10F and 10J.  Business class, baby!  Woohoo!


It was now OK that we’d missed out on Lounge time because we could get as much free champagne as we wanted on the flight!!  Seriously, I would have been happy seated in economy (yep, even between some morbidly obese guy with a BO problem and a baby with seven hour screaming capacity).  We were on our way and that’s all that mattered!  Business class was just a bonus.


We rushed to the departure gate and were the last ones shooed onto a bus which took us to the aeroplane.  On the 20 minute ride David actually started looking pale with exhaustion.  I wasn’t feeling great either.  But there were no complaints out of us!  We were going to Spain!


When we finally got onboard, it was already 15 minutes past our scheduled departure time.  We were then delayed an additional 90 minutes because of an air-conditioning problem.  We happily passed the time sipping champagne and, eventually, we took off for our seven hour journey.  It did cross my mind that the three hour buffer we’d allowed ourselves in Madrid to make our connection to Barcelona might have dwindled a little bit, but I never really considered the possibility of missing it.  I’ve been close a few times but in all my years of air travel I have never actually missed a flight.


So, we arrived in Madrid with about an hour and fifteen minutes to catch our domestic flight.  Madrid airport is enormous and, unfortunately, we were departing from a different terminal to the one we’d arrived in.  But first we had to jump on the airport monorail for the ten minute ride to Baggage Claim.  Once there, we grabbed our bags and made a dash to the information desk to find out how to get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 2.  The information guy told us, in tortured Spanglish, to catch the “green shuttle bus”.  With time ticking we ran outside, carting our bags, and couldn’t believe our luck when we saw a green shuttle bus waiting to depart.  We jumped on just as it pulled away from the curb and we both breathed audible sighs of relief – we might just make the flight with 50 minutes left until departure.


A few minutes into the bus ride, I looked around at the other passengers and noticed that, oddly, no-one else was carrying any luggage.  A bad feeling ensued.  The bus eventually pulled into a large car park and everyone disembarked.  We just stood there, bewildered, tired and confused.  We must have looked quite pathetic because one guy came back to inform us that we had somehow got on the bus to the staff car park.  My heart sank like an anvil.  When we told him where we wanted to go he very kindly directed us to another (green) bus parked up ahead and told us to catch that back to Terminal 4 whereupon we should catch a different (green) bus with T1/T2/T3/T4 on the front.  As we shuttled back to the airport we started to worry for the first time that we actually wouldn’t make our flight.  I felt really bad for David who had been up for over 30 hours by now.  Still, we had to try to make that flight to Barcelona.  We weren’t giving up.


Back at Terminal 4, we jumped on the next green bus to Terminal 2 (yes, we made sure that was, indeed, its destination) and arrived there five minutes later.  There were still forty minutes before departure time.  We’d formulated a plan that David would put all the luggage on a trolley and that I’d race ahead to check in and get them to hold the flight for us (brilliant plan, no?).  I started following the signs to Check-In: around a corner, up some stairs, around another corner, up two escalators, down a travelator, around another corner – wondering the entire time where the hell check-in was.  Eventually I found it and waited in line while David caught up.  When it was finally our turn, we breathlessly asked the check in guy about our flight.  He looked at us with compassion in his eyes and shook his head.  Check in for that flight was closed.


I had now officially missed my first ever flight.  It was not a very good feeling at all.  Unfortunately, all remaining flights that day were solidly booked up.  We tried the other domestic carriers in the terminal – same thing.  No flights left today.  We were told that the only other option was Iberian Airlines, which operated out of the International Terminal.  Yep, we had to trudge back to Terminal 4 on that ridiculous lime green bus.  We were certainly becoming experts at negotiating the Madrid Airport transport system.


Back in Terminal 4 we approached the Iberian Air ticket counter and were told that it would be better for us to go to “Puente Aero”.  Hmmm, OK, sure.  Why not?  It just added to the comedy factor at this point (I could almost hear the Benny Hill theme song in my ears).  We found the Puente Aero counter and plaintively asked if they had any tickets to Barcelona.  When the answer came back “Yes” we were taken off guard.  Perhaps our luck had changed.  We were so happy that we didn’t mind paying the full fare of €460 (though it does sting a bit in retrospect, especially as the original tickets cost only €70).   The next flight was boarding immediately so we got right on the plane, relieved to be on our way at last.


We got to Barcelona airport OK but the fun and games were not over.  When we got to Baggage Claim we couldn’t find our flight number on the display board.  This rang alarm bells, of course, but we were so tired that we just followed everyone else from our flight to Baggage Carousel #15.  We figured it might just be a printing error on our boarding passes.  Haha, how optimistic of us!  Half an hour later, when everyone else had collected their luggage and ours was nowhere to be seen, we figured we’d better ask someone what on earth was happening.  I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if it transpired at this point that our luggage was on its way to Iceland.


We asked around and were told that we’d have to go to the dedicated Puento Aero baggage carousel to collect our luggage.  Naturally.  Where was that?  Why, in the next terminal, of course!  This time it was only walking distance so we dragged ourselves, like a couple of zombies, across the airport wondering when these shenanigans would end.  When we got to the special Puento Aero region of the airport we were shuffled back into the airport (huh?), through the x-ray machines and security.  What the hell?  We went in and then right back out again (our minds boggling, the entire time) and, lo and behold, there were our lonely looking bags waiting for us.


Exhausted, but happy, we grabbed a taxi and checked into our accommodation without a hitch.  We also managed to get to the restaurant on time, and had an amazing 7 course degustation dinner.  Unfortunately, we only remember a few of the dishes as we kept dozing off during the meal – and no amount of kicking each other under the table helped.


There were bruises the next day, but that night we slept the sleep of the dead.

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