AIDA AUSTIN: 'Nothing bar an act of God can stop us from boarding that aircraft'

Saturday, 7pm, London.
Due to work commitments, my husband must fly home tomorrow. My daughter and I, however, do not need to return until the following day.

Right now, my husband, daughter, and I are sitting on the sofa in Vanessa’s flat, drinking wine.

“Have you packed?” I say. 

“Travelling alone has its perks,” he says, “not packing the night before is one of them.” 

“Do you know how to get to City Airport?” I say. 

“Where’s Vanessa?” he says, “I’ll ask her. She’ll know.” 

“She’s rolling a fag in the kitchen,” I say, “ask me.” 

“No thanks,” he says, “not consulting you about my travel plans is another perk.”

“An hour tops,” Vanessa says, entering the sitting room, “bus to Brixton. Brixton Tube to Canning Town, then the DLR to City Airport. An hour will give you plenty of time.” 

“I don’t need plenty of time,” my husband says, “I’m travelling alone. 

“I’m not travelling with the epi-pen.”

“What’s an epi-pen?” my daughter says. 

“A medical device,” I say, “for injecting adrenaline.”

“Travelling with Mum,” my husband says, nodding in my direction, “is like being jabbed with an epi-pen every five minutes.” 

“You’ll need to take at least 15 off that,” I tell Vanessa. 

“At least 15 off what?” says Vanessa. 

“15 minutes,” I say, “off his journey. He’ll need 45 minutes to get to the airport max. To get a buzz. When he’s travelling, he needs two things: a plan — and not quite enough time in which to execute it. It’s essential, for the buzz I mean.” 

“Even so, 45 is cutting it a bit fine,” Vanessa says. 

“45 is plenty,” my husband says.

11pm. My husband and I are in bed. 

“Remember,” he says, “I booked your return flights — so your itineraries were sent to me. You’ll have to sign in to my e-mail to print off the boarding cards tomorrow.”

“Taking responsibility for my own travel documents is one of the many perks to travelling alone,” I say.

11pm, Sunday. I’m getting ready for bed. My husband phones me from Ireland.

“CityJet was amazing,” he says, “bang on time, loads of legroom, free gin and tonic. It was like something off Mad Men. No stress, no running for no reason, this travelling alone thing might be the way forward.” 

“You’re preaching to the converted,” I say, “I’ve given myself two extra hours to get to the airport.” 

“And yet,” he says, “you’ll still be rushing the whole way.” 

“Let me set my own pace,” I say, “stop ruining my perks.”

Monday, 1pm — and my daughter and I are heading on foot towards Streatham Hill Overground. 

“It’s fantastic,” I say, “knowing that today, I’m in control of my own destiny. It’s so relaxing knowing I’ve left plenty of time...” 

“Why the hell are we running then?” my daughter pants. 

“...And that absolutely nothing bar an act of god can stop us from boarding that aircraft.”

“So what’s the bloody panic then?” my daughter pants. 

“Keep up,” I say, “we’ve a plane to catch.”

1.30pm, Clapham Junction Station.

“It’s just so wonderful knowing we have all the time in the world,” I say, “and left nothing to chance.” 

“Stop running like the clappers then,” my daughter shouts, “I nearly fell down the stairs.”

Gatwick airport, 2.30pm. 

“Straight through to Departures,” I say, “no time to lose.” 

“We’re two hours early for Chrissake,” my daughter says. 

Customs area, 2.35pm. 

“Here’s your boarding card. Hold it face-down on the scanner. Hurry up.” 

“It won’t scan,” she says. 

“Of course it’ll scan,” I say, “look, face down, like this.” 

“See?” she says, “yours won’t scan either.”

2.32pm. I’m seeking assistance from airport official, as instructed by machine. A bit of a hiccup — but it’s just marvellous to have so much time on our side.

“Let’s see,” says the airport official, taking our boarding cards. 

“Silly machine,” I pant, “won’t scan properly.” 

I turn to my daughter and whisper, “there’s a lesson here — it’s good to prepare for every eventuality. If we’d been travelling with Dad, we’d be doing all this now with five seconds till take-off. Imagine the panic.” 

“You’re in Gatwick,” the airport official says slowly, “not in Stansted.” 

“Yes?” I say. 

“The silly machine won’t scan properly,” she says, more slowly, “because you’re in the wrong airport.”


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