Christmas journey to Spain, Part I

It’s hard to believe February is coming to close, but I wanted to share this story of my journey to stay with my in-laws this Christmas… Part I.

Every year, we rotate between spending Christmas with my family in Georgia and with my husband’s family in Spain. Last year, we were in Georgia so this year was our turn to go to Spain. Christmas abroad is never the same as being at home, but still magical.

My journey from England to Spain, however, was anything but magical. Our last day in the office was Friday, December 23rd. I had my flights purchased to leave that night. My husband had already left for Spain as his sister had been visiting us the weekend before and they returned together. (Plus, he’s a university professor so when classes are out, he’s free to start the holidays.)

As midday arrived that Friday, I headed home from the office to pick up my suitcase en route to the train station. I was already hesitant about my journey ahead as it consisted of the following: 2 train rides, one bus ride, two flights, and then a 1 hour drive from the airport to my in-laws’ house. Let it be known that typically there is a direct, 50 minute train from our town to the airport, but for some inexplicable reason, the rail company decided that Christmas season was the optimum time to tear up all the lines. My flights were sending me through Portugal as there were no convenient routes from England to where my Spanish family lives in the northwest of Spain.

To start off my journey, there were heavy winds and rains delaying all the trains. My train was delayed an hour. Luckily, I was able to hop on the previous train that had also been delayed to my original train’s departure time. I caught my second train and then took the provided bus to the airport. 3 legs of my 6 leg Christmas journey complete.

At Manchester International Airport, I breezed through airport security thinking my travel troubles were behind me. That was until I noticed my first flight to Portugal was, you guessed it, delayed. I had plenty of time to make my connection in Lisbon. As time passed, the expected departure time got pushed back and back. When the gate agents announced that the plane had yet to arrive, I started to worry about getting my connection. Now scheduled to depart over two hours late, there was a group of distressed travelers hovering around the gate desk. The majority were Portuguese travelers with tight connections from Lisbon. They were all speaking together. Listening for any clues that sounded like Spanish, I could make out a bit of what was going on.

They were wanting to know from the gate agent, also Portuguese, if the airline was going to hold our connecting flights for us. One girl was particularly distraught. She had a connecting flight to São Paulo, Brazil. I couldn’t imagine the stress of trying to catch a flight to South America on December 23rd with flight delays. The girl was weighing out her options. As her chances to catch her connecting flight were dwindling, she was contemplating staying in Manchester to try to take another flight to Brazil the next day as there weren’t as many options out of Portugal. The ground traffic coordinator was putting a lot of pressure on the girl to make a decision as the team was needing to get the approval to load all the bags under the plane. Everyone was watching.

I couldn’t help but sympathize with the girl. She must be living or working in the UK and going home to spend Christmas with her family. Travelling is stressful enough on its own, but even more so when you live far away and you just want to be home warm and cozy with your family over the holidays. I was also impressed by the way the girl seamlessly altered between Portuguese and English with the different gate agents. In the end, the girl decided to take the flight to Lisbon. She was convinced by a fellow traveler to Brazil, who informed her that the airline would be responsible for putting her up in Lisbon if she missed her second flight. If she willingly stayed behind in Manchester, the airline wouldn’t offer any refunds and she would have to buy a new flight to Brazil herself.

Finally, we boarded the plane and sat there on the tarmac another 45 minutes at least. I had checked online that my second flight had been delayed as well, so there may be hope that I could still make it to Spain that night. The only concern I had was the time I would lose passing through security a second time; the UK isn’t a member of the Schengen Zone and therefore, passport control is in place to mainland Europe.

The atmosphere on the plane was tense. It was obvious many travelers were worried about getting to their final destinations. The flight attendants were trying to reassure some passengers that the airline would do their best to accommodate the delays. As I strapped my seatbelt, I considered the possibility that I could have to stay the night in Lisbon. I didn’t really mind about that, I had been to Lisbon a few years ago. What I was more nervous about was the airline not being able to put me on another flight to Porto the next day- there are rarely open seats on flights the week of Christmas. I was already picturing myself spending Christmas alone in Lisbon. The pilot directed the plane to the runway. I pulled out the in-flight magazine to try to distract myself from worrying about my delay, although I had no idea at the time that the travel complications were far from over. To be continued…