Life in the Big(ger) City: The Long Journey Home

It’s surprising how hard it can be to get to this point…

As I spent most of the two weeks before I was due to fly home complaining about leaving Russia, you would have thought that I would have been grateful to see that due to the problems at Heathrow, I might have to stay. Not so. The possibility of not getting home made me realise how much I wanted to be there, and so I spent most of the two days before my flight anxiously refreshing the British Airways and Heathrow websites in search of some concrete information. I was wasting my time. As far as I could tell when I left for the airport, my flight was scheduled as normal. Actual meaning – not cancelled yet!

After several hours of delays, a free “meal” from TGIs (actual meaning – a sandwich and some chips), and mild confusion as to why our gate was changing every five minutes, the pilot appeared. The appearance of the man who was meant to be flying our plane in less than half an hour’s time was never going to be a good sign, and sure enough the flight was cancelled. However, in typical Russian fashion, the airport staff assured us that we would fly as soon as Heathrow was willing to receive us. When the pilot protested, saying that surely the people scheduled on the next day’s flight would receive precedence, the BA manager for Pulkovo stared at him as if he was insane. “But this is their plane! When it flies, they fly!” Er, alright then – no complaints here.

British Airways continued to cater to our every whim. Four star hotel with all-you-can-eat breakfast? Check. Free shuttle bus between the airport and the hotel? Check. Pilot and cabin crew on site to harass at will? Check. As I relaxed in a room the size of my flat in St. Petersburg, pictures flashed up on the news of people sleeping in Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle, and I had a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment. Only a moment, though – I was still facing the prospect of spending Christmas in a country which doesn’t celebrate Christmas…

Over breakfast the next morning, we gathered a small crowd of “flight refugees” – a nearly-deaf Australian whose four days in London were diminishing rapidly, a young Australian couple on a round-the-world tour, a Mancunian woman who had been in St. Petersburg for a wedding, a Russian woman wanting to get home to her kids in England, and a Cambridge student who spent most of the morning working on an essay. We swiftly became united in the common goal of irritating the cabin crew, so when we were informed that only one flight was leaving that afternoon, and we wouldn’t find out who was on it until we got to the airport, we were rather distressed at the prospect of separation. Luckily for us, though, the Russians were true to their word, and people booked in for that day’s flight were being turned away to make room for us. Even holding the boarding pass in my hands didn’t quite convince me that I was going home, but it seemed to be happening, and we had a small celebration every time we got one step closer to the plane.

After coming so close the day before, nothing short of arriving in Heathrow was quite going to convince me that it was real. Noticing the captain walking down the aisle mid-flight inspired a mild panic attack but it was real and we arrived in London, with all of our luggage, only ten minutes late. Plus or minus twenty-four hours…

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