Seconds to spare

Running with a suitcase © John Paul Robinson

My organisational skills always leave much to be desired. Although Melissa and I were planning a birthday trip to Ibiza, the thought of planning made me feel like taking a nap. So Mel took care of the major details. I was in charge of airport transfers.

The first omen was when I told my boss I’d booked a van leaving Baker Street at 3pm, arriving at Stansted Airport for 4.30pm. “It’ll be a rainy Friday afternoon with lots of traffic on the motorway,” he tutted. So I decided we’d catch a 2.30pm van instead. Ergo, even if we were late, we should still arrive by 4.30pm. Not quite. We missed the bus. One hundred other panicky travellers had the same idea, so the earlier bus was packed. As we stood in the rain I cursed myself for not booking an earlier seat.

Our 3pm bus arrived early, but the driver seemed agitated. Something about traffic and accidents on the motorway. We clambered aboard and buckled our seatbelts quickly, eager to get moving. Soon, though, a middle-aged Italian man was chiding the driver.

“It would have been faster to go the other way. I took this bus last week and missed my flight because of you.”

Mel and I gasped at this last sentence. It was akin to saying “bomb” on a plane. The driver, even more agitated, explained all routes were slow this time of day and if we’d allowed three hours he could guarantee we’d be punctual. We had an hour and a half. It soon became apparent that traffic was standstill, so we began calculating. Once we got on the motorway it would take another 30 minutes (and the motorway was another 40 minutes away). The latest we could arrive was 4.55pm, and then we would have to sprint for the check-in desk, which closed at 5pm. The harder the rainfall, the slower the traffic, and our calculations seemed grim.

We’ll take another flight, we decided, and nervously laughed at our predicament as we mentally totalled up how much a last-minute flight to Barcelona cost. 4pm came and went and we weren’t on the motorway. The Italian man scowled, shook his head, sighed loudly. Kate phoned.

“There’s a crazy man on the bus saying we’re all going to miss our flights,” I whispered.

“Yeah, I heard the traffic was pretty bad,” Kate said cheerfully.

The driver started overtaking traffic in bus lanes. “We’ll laugh about this in Barcelona tonight,” Mel said, as we tightened our buckles.

4.30pm and the airport was in our sights, except we weren’t sure if the signs were in miles or kilometres. One would be detrimental. 4.45pm and we were in airport territory, but we were tailing a Very Slow Driver, oblivious to our plight. 4.50pm and we discussed tactics. As soon as the bus stopped we’d run for our lives.

“Don’t stop running, even if you can’t hear me behind you,” I encouraged, stopping short of saying, “Save yourself.” At 4.52pm we unbuckled our seatbelts as we careened through a roundabout, sitting on the edge of our seats.

4.55pm and we were up before the bus stopped. “Sorry, we’re running late,” we shouted, haphazardly throwing everybody’s luggage to the ground as we searched for our bags. Mel found hers first.

“Run! I’m right behind you!” I screeched, throwing my suitcase to the ground and snapping up the handle. Onlookers stared as we screamed, trying to navigate the car-park maze. Mel was a faster runner than me, despite her 20kg backpack. Her sprint now resembled a sumo wrestler’s.

On we forged, me overcome with giggles at Mel’s gait and stopping to apologise to a woman whose foot I trampled. (That’s a lie; I didn’t have time to apologise.) At the top of the escalator I realised for a frightening second I had lost Mel, despite my encouragement for her to run on. I paused, looking for her giant backpack bobbing furiously. No sign. Game over, I realised sadly, panting for breath. Then I spotted her, Melissa waving furiously from a queue. The easyJet check-in desk. We made it. We high-fived. And we laughed about it in Barcelona that night, too.

Written by - Edited by Antony Barton - Photo by John Paul Robinson

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