A Tale of Traffic – How to miss your flight in London

Never before in my life have I missed a flight. There have been a few trains and one or the other bus, though never a crucial fixed ticket one so far. And flights, never. I am one of the people who get always really nervous when going to the airport, so I am usually very very early. Not this time though, when I actually missed my flight from Stansted Airport to Germany last month…

How did this happen?

First of all, I had been to Stansted before, when leaving for Christmas in December. I had expected a budget airport, so not the most comfortable, but I had not expected this shoebox of a waiting area with seatings so close to each other that you basically sit knee-to-knee with strangers. In addition, you are surrounded by duty-free shops and restaurants and are forced to be in this area until 10 minutes to boarding – which is when they finally tell you which gate to go to. Gate areas are vast and empty, but no, rather keep those customers as long as possible in proximity to the shops until they finally give in and buy something! It may be only water (as tap water in the bathrooms is of course hot…), but hey, at least they buy. Stansted is really built as a consumeristic cage in which you are caught, unable to escape and deprived of any agency in the one way street between security and boarding. I had this quite uncomfortable claustrophobic feeling last time, so arriving early at Stansted was not really my priority this time.

Still, for the flight on a Friday evening, Chris and I had planned in a two hours span for getting to the airport from Liverpool Street. Too greedy to buy a Stansted Express ticket, we had opted for Easy Bus, which gets you a ticket on either National Express or the cheap and weird alternative Airport Bus. We got the latter one and embarked with a 10 minute delay at Liverpool Street around 4.30 pm, the flight being at 7 pm. Google Maps at that time told us the journey would take 1 hour 45 minutes, being the reason why we embarked and did not last minute switch to the trains.

However, those 1 hour and 45 minutes stayed as they were, no matter how much we moved (slowly) further in our journey. When arriving at Stratford after an hour, the map still showing 1 hour 45 min to the airport. It was very clear that we would definitely not make it to our flight. At the point in time, I did not really care as I had to go to the toilet but did not know there was one on board. I thought the whole time, well one more hour to the airport, that is fine, but as time went by, it was clear it would take about 3 in total! I was getting super nervous. Luckily, a lady next to use stood up to use the toilet at some point, so I realized it existed, thank god. The rest of the journey, we spent texting my mum who booked us a new flight for the morning, ahead of most others still hoping to catch it.

A very long three hours later during which we suffered from motion sickness from the stop-and-go crazy driver and staring-on-the-phone, we finally arrived in Stansted. At least we did not have to run anymore, no point! It was 7.30 pm, our plane was long gone. It was time to settle things and getting ready for the night. Our new flight would leave at 6:40 am in the morning. First, we had to make sure a spelling mistake in the passenger’s name was fine with Ryanair (my mum had written Christopfer instead of Christopher, making him Christ’s victim in German :D). Luckily it was, so we got dinner at M&S, toothpaste at Boots, used the toilets to change and brush our teeth and then cuddled onto the benches in the Arrival area. Luckily, this part of the airport is much better than Departure and not all too bad to spend a night. The benches don’t have armrests in between them, so you can stretch out, and there are also not too many announcements during the night. Overall, it was not the most comfortable but also by far not the worst night I spent anywhere. Lying down for about 9 hours, I think I slept probably about 6 of them, waking up in between all the time.

In the morning, we got ready for the security queue (you are not allowed to bring M&S yoghurt so eat it before!), I got my all important coffee and we embarked on our new plane. On the plus side, our early booking on the bus got us new tickets for 53 Pounds while people in the airport queue had to pay 100 pp fixed price. Also, checking in just the night before got us seats 2A and 2B so we got out of the plane right after arriving in Cologne!

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The view of Cologne from the plane

With the unexpected delay, we spent a slightly short weekend at home but it was still worth it. We ate losts of great food, got to see my cousin’s new baby and spend some great pre-carnival time at Stunksitzung in Cologne which is an alternative political comedy show in the local carnival fashion.

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Carnival spirit in Cologne – all the hustle was definitely worth it!

Some lessons for the fellow Londoner’s and any visitor to this crazy city. Never go by bus to the airport! For the way back into town, they are great (Easybus starts at 1,95 for one way!) but to the airport, the risk of traffic jams is simply too high. When taking either bus or train, give yourself a loooot of time, for the bus at least 3 hours, for the train 2 I would suggest. Also, check the Stansted Express website, at the moment they have some maintenance work and replace trains with buses (!). When you arrive in Stansted  early, chill in arrival before going through security – it is far more comfortable. Still allow time for the long security line and go at least 1 hour before departure minimum as it is really far from there to the gate (you have to take a little train as well). If you ever have to sleep at the airport, bring a blanket as it can be a bit cold. We had to take our jackets which always left one part cold, so a thin scarf/blanket in your luggage at all times can come in handy. Final tip: if you ever miss a flight, book a new one the moment you know it. Don’t wait until you are at the airport, especially with Ryanair which is all online anyways.

For now, have a good trip and hopefully you spare yourself a similar experience!

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