Homeward bound as ash turns to dust

News editor stranded in Malaga describes her family's joy at returning to the UK.

    Many British holidaymakers made their way back via the navy [AFP]

    Exactly one roller coaster week after our planned return date - we take our first steps onto UK soil.

    All bags off the carousel, sleeping daughter placed safely into buggy and we are whizzing through customs with nothing but our enormous grins to declare ... spurred on as well by the news that Michael O'Leary, the Ryanair chief executive, has finally succumbed to public pressure and will pay limited compensation.

    We have been the lucky ones involved in the ash chaos.

    We had resigned ourselves to one week more in Spain and actually relaxed slightly. 

    Renewed hope

    Despite the backlogs with the airlines and the refusal of any funds from Ryanair, the talk of crazy car journeys, trains from hell and D-day style Naval rescues were no longer part of our emergency itinerary.

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    After giving my daughter some much needed attention and letting her throw sand at us on the beach we returned to our "second home", where I started once again to hammer away at Ryanair's website on the PC.

    Something had changed. I noticed that they had suddenly updated their emergency info and plastered a huge statement from O'Leary about extra flights starting now.

    Really? Quick - my fingers trembled as I headed to the "change my flight" section of the website and tried once again with renewed hope to get an earlier flight.

    The website crashed.

    I tried again. I got through. I requested a new flight on April 22, the website chugged and spluttered, showed me an egg-timer, then ... I started shouting for my husband, my aunt, my daughter, the dog and anyone who could hear - "they've got space on the flights - they've got space tomorrow!"

    I felt sick with anxiety that my nervous fingers would muck it up. "Get it - get it now" screamed my husband helpfully in my ear ... I clicked CONFIRM and immediately the website crashed again.

    Twice more we went through this until the flight said "four more seats left" (there are three of us).

    "Oh, god, we're not going to get it," I said panicking.

    Clicked CONFIRM.

    The egg-timer looked slightly different.

    Then the next screen gave us its confident message of: "Your change of booking has been CONFIRMED".

    There was much hugging, jumping up and down, various phone calls across the channel and even a few tears!

    'Exhausted relief'

    I couldn't believe we had been the lucky ones and got one of the "Gold" tickets home. I was slightly surprised that Ryanair's website thought it fair to charge us £300 for the privilege, but assumed that was an error.

    Bags packed we watched what we hoped would be one of our last Spanish sunsets for a while and I got on the phone to the airline.

    One hour and 22 minutes later, on phone calls that have a cheerful pre-recorded voice reminding you that the delightful hold music you are listening to is costing you 10p per minute for the pleasure, then someone picks up.

    They tell me they will of course re-imburse the flight change fee we've been charged and that is an unfortunate error.

    When I then asked what we should do about any accommodation or food expenses we might have, I was told "we are not committing to pay for anything". The customer service is about as appealing as the hold music.

    Malaga airport was busy, but not chaotic. The queues were long but moved quite quickly. There was a sense of exhausted relief all around.

    Mystery flight

    Everyone had their stories of hardship, panic plans to get home, exceeded credit card limits, their concerns about work, whether the government had done enough and was it ever planning to do more. 

    No-one had a bad word though to say about Britain's National Air Traffic Service (Nats) or the flights having been stopped.

    "I've watched Aircrash Investigation", said one man. "They were right to stop the flights - we could have died".

    Everyone around nodded in agreement.

    Unsurprisingly, no-one had a good word to say about Ryanair.

    We are told that the backlog of flights is due to last a while, which then left us with the mystery of why - when I stood up and looked round our plane, our flight was only half full.

    Failures in administration?

    Lack of communication with stranded passengers?

    Over-estimation of how many are actually stuck?

    Traumatic week

    When the plane doors locked and we started to taxi for take-off, my husband and I could finally let ourselves believe that this traumatic week was coming to an end and we were actually on our way home.

    "I don't like it when the plane goes really fast" said my little girl.

    "I do darling - that's how we get home."

    "I don't want to go home then" came the grizzly response.

    "Well I certainly do, young lady" another passenger chipped in from the row behind.

    "Oh" my daughter said looking surprised.

    I smiled at her and said: "Come on then plane, go really fast".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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