This was so much one of "those" days, it made up for any amount of "not one of those days" that I may have had in the last month.
In common parlance: ARGH.
Sundays is airport transfer day. Things almost always go wrong, though usually only one or two small incidents per week. When you’re moving 1500 people around, things are bound to slip occasionally. This week, there were more slips than in a factory making flimsy underskirts out of banana skins. For once, though, very few were directly our "fault" which is in some way a little heartening.
As ever, when reporting on work stuff I’ll be honest. I know some employers don’t like you nattering about "behind the scenes" goings-on in public, but as ever I’ve not identified my employer and in honesty there’s nothing untoward here. In fact, I think at the end of the day we coped pretty well.
First off, we were forewarned that a coach from one of the resorts would be over an hour late. This is a worry, as check-in desks are at a premium in the charter terminal where we’re based and have a habit of closing on the dot. Late arrivals can cause a ruckus as the check-in staff and luggage handlers’ routine is disturbed.
The reason for the delay wasn’t good either. We serve two airports so two buses were on resort. The handbrake on one slipped off, it rolled down the hill and into the other. Which had some of our guests already on board. As far as I’m aware, damage was minor (buswise, anyway) and nobody was hurt. In fact, it’s a good thing the second bus was there, as otherwise the first one would have left the road (this I heard from one of the passengers, not officially). Luggage was offloaded and put onto a replacement coach (hence the delay) as the other coach was pronounced roadworthy and set off.
However, there was a mixup with the luggage. Most made it onto the coach for Geneva. Some of it meant for Geneva was put on the ChambÃ©ry coach, and one or two pieces left behind. By this time there were other buses arriving, picking people up for later flights so it just kind of happened. Unfortunate, but chaos – at times – reigns supreme.
At another resort, a coach problem resulted in two buses being swapped over – the later one replacing the earlier one while the earlier one was repaired to take its place. Simple enough, you think. But this had repercussions later. Bus B was due to come in from one resort, but deliver guests to another. Bus A was due to do a simple "there and back". Of course, this needed to change as well. But try explaining that to a French bus driver who’s paperwork says one thing while you try and tell him another.
The first of the buses with problematic luggage arrived and the passengers whose stuff had been misplaced (not lost – we knew exactly where it was) were understandably miffed. We rang a couple of numbers, confirmed that we knew exactly what luggage was theirs and ensured it was labelled. They left somewhat angry, but mollified that their items would be couriered via DHL at the very beginning of one week. One girl complained that all her medication was in one of her bags and on this front I would give this advice:
don’t put all your medication on your hold luggage. Always have 2-3 days’ worth in your cabin bags. Contact lens stuff, pills, creams… whatever. Yes, I know we have these annoying regulations about pastes and liquids on flights now. However, I believe I’m correct in saying that with a doctor’s note, these can be waived for specified items. Worst case, get some small tubs and squirt some of the medications into them. Enough to do you a day or three in case the worst happens.
The second bus with absconding luggage arrived. This with just one bag astray and at the wrong airport. We did get the bag transferred over, but unfortunately too late for the guest who were touch and go with their flight time anyway. Another one to DHL, but labelled and safe.
As has happened every week except last week, we had a coach (un-repped, so no staff member on it) drop guests off at the main terminal for the flight home. No use when they depart from the charter… I’m not sure if the driver had been told or not. Some are just stubborn and insist on only dropping at the main one, which is strange as the traffic there is far worse than where we’re based. It took us a while to realise the guests hadn’t reached us – the drivers of unrepped vehicles rarely make themselves known to us. We send a staff member over and found them having just discovered they were in the wrong place. We escorted them along the short walk between terminals and squeezed them onto the flight at the last minute.
In amongst all this, we had a guest arrive with us who was deathly ill. It turned out he had cancer and had taken a turn for the worse overnight. Had we known, we’d have had him dropped at the main terminal where they can supply wheelchairs – they do a roaring trade during the snow sports season. However, we did the best we could with the limited facilities. The other guests happily let the party queue-jump and the staff booked them in very quickly, not even requiring him to stand at the check-in area. This meant he could sit elsewhere and rest.
After being rather stressed and angry when they arrived at the lack of care facilities, the family were very grateful and friendly when they passed through passport control. A bad situation turned round very well, I felt. Lovely people, and I could understand their frustration. Best wishes to the man in question.
By now we were approaching late afternoon and what was normally the last flight of the day. I’d managed to squeeze in a sandwich and some cake courtesy of the wonderful staff from Zermatt. Somehow they feed all their guests, stay well under budget and still have enough food to treat the transfer staff on a Sunday. Thanks, guys!
Then another problem, and one definitely out of our hands. The luggage all arrived fine at the charter terminal. But someone, somewhere, somehow had guided all the passengers off their plane into the main terminal. We had 144 bodies (plus infants) to locate, corral and herd around the airport. Half a dozen of us trekked over and – thankfully – were shortly greeted by a large crowd of people who took it in good humour. The chance to see a rare breakdown of traditional Swiss efficiency is probably worthy of a postcard in its own right.
Their luggage was collected and buses departed. Only one man had managed to collect the wrong luggage and headed for one resort, while another guest stood in the airport fuming at one of our reps for not running after the bus fast enough to stop it. Rather unkind and unrealistic, I thought. We’ll manage to get the bags swapped over by tomorrow morning, I’m sure.
Got a bag that looks cool… but looks like a million other bags that other people have? Make it individual. I sew patches on mine – not country flags, every backpacker does that. I sew on ones from obscure heavy metal bands. Or scrawl on it in marker pen. Who cares? It’s only a bag. And better a bag with your signature on it in 7" high letters that you get back than a clone that walks off with someone else.
Another family had left a kind of modern-day papoose on the plane which we’d located but knew it would take a while to get hold of. They were fine and even insisted on leaving us to sort it out so they didn’t hold the coach up waiting for them. Said item was located and returned to them in the hotel later on.
Our final flight – an extra one for reasons unbeknown to us or the guests on it – arrived at the main terminal where we simply weren’t used to working. The coach driver flailed his arms and yelled about there being no space to park. Not now, not in "trente minutes, quarante minutes, soixante minutes!" until I realised the guy was a right wind-up merchant and actually one of the best drivers we have. I could still have kicked his arse for it after the day I’d had!
Thankfully, things went pretty much smoothly after that. All luggage in the right place, a pleasant group of guests to take back. The driver even made an impromptu toilet stop with no complaints for one of the children. I’ve heard nightmare stories about some of the jobsworths who won’t even stop at services when they have 4 year-olds leaking pee everywhere. And then complain about the mess. No such problems with Jacky – top driving.
And so back to the hotel. Then McDonald’s for the first time in well over a month. My boss had said she’d let me pass a meal on expenses at the airport as I was working an extra couple of hours with that late flight. Only I didn’t get the time to eat there! I think I was justified in pocketing the receipt for the late meal instead.