Oscar Thornton arrived early to the airport. He always does. That way he can relax and get a coffee and be first in the queue to get on the plane. It was a cool, breezy day in early December. Snow had covered Salzburg the previous night, but that didn't usually stop Austrian airports from functioning, so he wasn't worried. Having checked in, he made his way to the departure lounge. Once through security and re-dressed, he made a beeline for the coffee bar. Coffee in hand, he scouted out a seat.
The airport was particularly busy today so he ended up at a small table opposite a woman whose nose was deep in her iPad, her tea neglected in front of her.
'May I?' he had ventured, indicating the vacant seat. Her curt nod said yes.
He sat down and sighed. Today was going to be a long day.
A full hour, three cups of coffee and half the newspaper later, Oscar sighed again and stretched a little. As he put his newspaper down on the table in front of him, he was surprised to see that the woman opposite was still there, still reading her iPad intently.
Fortunately he'd managed to seat himself near one of the screens which shows the departure gates and times. He turned to look at the screen, waiting for it to refresh and show his flight. He waited again. The screen refreshed again, showing later times, then back to earlier times, with the flights currently about to leave at the top. When it refreshed again, a cool sweat began to break out on Oscar's brow. He was beginning to recognise some of the destinations, but London Gatwick wasn't one of them. Panic began to seep into his brain. Was he here on the wrong day? At the wrong time? Had he missed an announcement over the tannoy? The more he stared at the screen, the more sure he was that the flight was not there.
'Excuse me?' he said, turning back to face the woman opposite. She didn't look up. He saw the tell-tale white wire appearing from under her thick, red hair: she had earbuds in. 'Excuse me?' he said again, this time gently nudging her arm. She jumped sharply, and narrowly avoided dropping her iPad on the floor.
'I'm terribly sorry,' Oscar said sheepishly, 'But can you check for me that your flight is on the screen?'
'What?' she asked, as though she'd just woken up and wasn't sure what was going on. She peered at him suspiciously over her glasses.
'Can you check the screen there and tell me if your flight is on it?' Oscar repeated, adding, 'It's just that mine isn't so I want to know if I'm mistaken or if—'
Just at that moment, a voice came over the tannoy: 'Can passengers travelling on flight BA2653 to London Gatwick please return to check-in? That's a call for all passengers travelling on flight BA2653 to London Gatwick to please return to check-in.'
Oscar turned to the woman, who stared back at him. 'What?' she said again.
'That's my flight,' Oscar explained. 'The one that was missing from the screen.'
'It's mine, too!' the woman said, coming to her senses and standing up quickly, stuffing her iPad into her oversized handbag whilst putting on her jacket. Oscar picked up his belongings, didn't stop to push in his chair, and strode after her back through security to the check-in desks.
A small crowd was forming around the British Airways check-in. What's going on? people were whispering. Has the flight been cancelled?
A flight attendant called the group to attention. 'I'm afraid your plane has been redirected and has landed in Munich,' he announced. The group turned to look at one another, murmuring.
'Munich?' said the woman with the thick red hair, glasses and oversized handbag 'Isn't that, like, in another country?' she asked Oscar.
'Yes, it's in Germany,' Oscar said quickly, still listening to the attendant explaining how they would be bussed to Munich. After the attendant had finished, Oscar turned to the woman to find her looking like she was trying to mentally map together Europe and work out how far Munich and London were from Salzburg. 'Salzburg is next to the border with Germany. Munich is about an hour and a half from here by bus. The flight to London will be about the same as the flight from here. Then they'll put us on a bus from Heathrow to Gatwick.' Oscar saved her the pain of asking.
'Heathrow?' she asked, inclining her head.
'Yes, for some reason they're flying us to Heathrow. Terminal 5.'
'Terminal 5. Of course.'
'Let's go and get our suitcases,' Oscar suggested.
'OK,' the woman replied and they followed the crowd to the baggage pick-up.
Outside, the cool December air tickled their exposed faces. Before coming through the doors, the woman had paused to put on a scarf and hat. Then she and Oscar joined the queue to get on the waiting bus.
To be continued...