On the Plane…Off the Plane, the Denouement

18 June 2015
Once, we were regularly scheduled passengers, ready to fly home from Barcelona, with the usual runway jitters, but buoyant and jokey, greeted by crew like we were new best friends. But now, twice-cancelled, we were nomads, ghosts in the airport, folks the airline had to deal with, but wished it didn’t have to…like relatives, who promise you’ll always have a place to stay, but now’s really not a good time.

Today started in Castelldefels, a half-hour down the coast from Barcelona. At Sunday’s check-in we were told of a 7 a.m. Monday bus back to the airport, which cleared the rooms well before 7 a.m. There was a breakfast that most passed up in favor of lining up for a place on the first bus. And if it weren’t for a 92-year-old man in a wheelchair, the first seat would have been mine. Third day and the gloves were off.

The airport was a study in contrasts. On Sunday, just yesterday, an avalanche of humanity from Bilbao was going home after a Saturday night championship match in Barcelona. They brought the chaos and disappointment of Bilbao’s losing effort to the airport. And Barcelonans wanted nothing more than to shepherd the Bilbaons back home. Today it was our turn to be shepherded. But no shepherding was needed…the airport was eerily quiet…at 8 a.m. I was second on line at the check-in…aced out again by the 92-year-old in the wheelchair. Then to security for an x-ray and a quick frisk and…conformity to security norms once again established…we were cleared to roam the passengers-only part of the airport. It was 9 a.m. and our new just-posted departure time was 11:30.

Ritualized behavior clicked in; an attempt to use the airport’s free WiFi failed; then the usual breakfast of cafĂ© con leche, croissant and orange juice. A couple we recognized from the cancelled flights ambled over to chat, telling us, in triumph, that they got rescheduled on a flight first to Frankfurt, then to Newark. It would take a few hours longer, but no way they were going to set foot on “that” plane again. We smiled a brave “what do they know that we don’t” smile and said auf weidersehen as they walked away.

It was then time for a third chance in three days to leave Spain…our passports were metal-clicked, making us emigrees once again in the “limbo” of the airport gate. “Only passengers beyond this point.” “Did anyone else have control of your luggage?” “Did anyone else pack you luggage?” A last passport and boarding pass check, and with pre-analgesic grimaces, expecting the worst, we lined up to board, group by group, one to five. One of our number, experienced with artful airline shenanigans, had taken a picture of the tail fin of yesterday’s plane and definitively announced that this, indeed, was a different 767. There was no catering issue, no crew legality issue, no cargo door closure issue.

The plane took off nearly on time, landed nearly on time (+48 hours, of course). “Piece a cake” as a trainer at the gym used to say, counting reps.