Stansted Inferno by Angela Caldin
When we were invited to go to a wedding in Tuscany a while ago, it seemed like a very good idea to book flights from Stansted on Ryanair to Pisa. This would be a quick, cheap hop over to Italy. Lots of young friends of our acquaintance had made the same safari out to Essex and had flown effortlessly on to various European countries. We were fit, strong and young at heart, so why shouldn’t we do the same?
The First Circle
I booked an early evening flight for the outward journey to allow for various appointments during the day, and it was with great anticipation and excitement that we set off on the tube mid-afternoon to Liverpool Street, each with a small carry-on bag and the minimum of toiletries under 100ml in the regulation plastic bag. We had a webduo ticket for the Stansted Express which meant we must stick together at all times and not be separated for one single minute. So, joined together like Siamese twins, we arrived at Stansted. We’d checked in online as requested so it took but a minute to get through the initial gate. But after that, the words smooth and slick went out of the window and we entered a world of bedlam, mayhem and chaos which Dante himself might have struggled to describe. A roiling sea of disconsolate humanity, as numerous and as crammed together as a football crowd on cup final day, was being slowly herded and funnelled into the very narrow gap leading to the security screening area. We shuffled forward painfully slowly, knocking and jostling against fellow passengers. Nobody had explained at any stage that if you didn’t allow plenty of time for this process, you risked missing your flight. A disapproving voice announced in various languages the many items we must include in our see-through plastic bag: not only toothpaste, lotions and potions, but also mascara, lip-gloss, deodorant and sundry other articles too esoteric to mention. Each time the announcement came we had to dive into our suitcases to fish out yet another item to put in the plastic bag which pretty soon was bulging fit to burst.
Another Eight Circles
After what seemed like an eternity, we rounded a corner to see a dejected line of would-be travellers snaking back and forth between barriers, hither and yon, crissing and crossing the many circles of hell until finally we reached one of the very few security channels actually in operation. After removing shoes, belts, jackets and small change, we were finally through. Like animals released from their pens, people were charging along at the speed of the bulls at Pamplona, rushing to get to their flights and knocking over small children as they went. We ordered a coffee at the first bar we came to, to discover that our flight had been called, so it was off to the gate at breakneck speed only to wait for another eternity until the flight finally boarded and we squeezed ourselves into the black plastic Ryanair seats. By this time we were starving and ready to pay almost anything for a Kit Kat to stave off the hunger pangs. It was 10.30pm before we picked up our hire car and drove at a snail’s pace, in the dark, along winding roads to Montaione in the Tuscan hills. Soon after midnight we sank thankfully into bed. The whole nightmare journey had taken about ten hours.
A small slice of heaven followed with a most wonderful Italian wedding and visits to San Gimignano (disappointing and crammed with tourists), Certaldo (charming and relatively unspoilt birthplace of Boccaccio), and Siena. On our last day, we arrived at our cheap as chips hotel in Pisa, returned the hire car, wolfed down a plate of spag bol and a slice of tiramisu and bedded down for the night. It had seemed eminently sensible all those weeks ago to book an early flight, but the reality was that we had to wake up at 5am to be in time. I banged my head 5 times on the pillow, a wake up method that never fails, and at 5.15am we were walking through the darkened streets, converging on Pisa airport with other cheapskates who had booked on the dawn flight. The process in reverse was a much smoother affair and if there hadn’t been early morning fog over Stansted, we’d have been back in good time.
And the verdict on this new experience? Never again will I be tempted to travel from Stansted and risk the plunge through those nine hellish circles of suffering. We live about 20 minutes from Heathrow. In future I’ll be booking all flights from there whatever the cost.