Standing at the Gates of Hell


Snow. Christ, we’re awful at it but Heathrow isn’t the only place in the world where it can go wrong. Take Innsbruk, for example. My last holiday three years ago involved flying into Innsbruk. We got in ok. Crossed into Northern Italy and had a great time. Plenty of snow on the ground, blue skies all day. A good time was had by all but as we made our way back over the Austrian border, the snow came. The airport was glimpsed from the coach through misty murky snow. We checked our baggage with no trouble & headed off to collar a table.

It was a group tour, about 10 of us. As conditions deteriorated, we watched as all the flight times got as murky as the weather. A lot of UK flights were due in & out that day. We weren’t worried. This was Austria. They know how to do snow. As tensions rose around us, our table entertained ourselves. Our group was entirely made up of doctors, a nurse, pharmacists, a vicar and a lawyer. I readily admit it. We were high as kites on the massive ice cream sundaes & other treats we’d had before setting off for the airport. We’d been giddy for hours, which is how we came to discuss disaster plans. All the medical folks agreed they’d be useful. The vicar would pray (loved that vicar. Older than my parents, he assigned himself as my wingman during the holiday). They turned to me. What would a lawyer do? We’ll I’d deal with the authorities to get the bodies home. Being the group of well-rounded, mature people that we were, that was the funniest thing anyone had said since the last sick joke. Other Brits around us were starting to look worried.

We ate, drank and were merry but, sooner or later, we were going to end up going through security. Sooner or later we were going to ask questions about our flight. A vote was taken & we crossed the threshold from a crowded but fairly comfortable airport to the Gates of hell. There was barely room to move. Seating wasn’t going to happen without a large bung to the current occupant. As you know, I’ve got some physical limitations. One of them is my ability to stand still for more than a few minutes at a time. Rucksacks suddenly became a luxurious chair for me. Thanks to what I now know are “silent” migraines brought on by fluorescent lights & made worse by new meds I’d just been put on I was also half blind. If it came down to a battle to survive, I’d be the first victim of cannibalism but my lovely group huddled round my inert form, providing a barrier between me and the potential predators.

Questions were asked. What was happening? Were we ever getting out? “Maybe,” was the answer. It came down to how experienced, brave or downright foolish our particular pilot was (apparently this was not an unusual state of affairs at Innsbruck due to the lay of the land). Any pilot who was able to land would be allowed to fly back out. If our pilot had none of these traits, we would be bussed to Munich or Vienna. No comment from the airport over whether Thomson pilots were known for being experienced,  brave or downright foolish. We could only wait. Oh, and pray. We gave “our” vicar strict instructions on that front. He had a tendency to giggle at requests of that kind though. Not sure he was quite on our side.

Time passed. My first run to the toilet involved a slow hobble through the hordes. I struggle to weave through crowds without a walking stick for support at the best of times & now had the added strain that my baby antelope wobbliness was being noted in much the same way as by a pride of lions, pondering the viability of a spit roast on the tarmac in poor weather.

Worse was to come.  When I got down the stairs to the basement where the toilets were located, I came to a broad open area, lined with people slumped on the floor. Slack jawed, glassy eyed; they awaited their fates in quiet misery. There was no banter in this desolate antechamber. I hurried out of there as quickly as I could, which was a snail’s pace, not wanting to be sucked into the vortex of gloom.

Back upstairs, things seemed relatively lively but it was still a glassed in prison. Even though our group kept a steady line of good humour,  the stale air in that overcrowded overheated place took its toll. When a flight was called, I’d join the back of the queue just to feel the cold air rush in through the open gate. It felt like a huge luxury after a few hours stuck there.

We saw other Brits shuffled off to other airports (or so we were told) but, finally, our turn came. Our pilot was a hero. He landed his inbound plane and on we got. That’s the only flight I’ve ever been on where Brits spontaneously applauded on arrival back in the UK. Virgin can stuff their superhero ad. That one man from Thomson was our hero.


2 thoughts on “Standing at the Gates of Hell

    1. lawgeekblog Post author

      Ha ha! & thanks! Not sure I’d have said “hero” if the Virgin ad didn’t annoy me so much. Mind you, my overnight painkillers were in checked baggage so he did save me a lot of pain 🙂


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