Disclaimer: This post comes to you, courtesy of Vueling Airlines, who cancelled my flight not once but twice.
This is a story about me being stuck in Bari Airport for 12 hours.
A story about misery: the special misery of a journey that just never ends. It’s also a story about a man in search of the perfect ass. It’s also about the damage a petty surcharge can wreak on your soul when you just want to get home. And it’s about the importance of offering airport Wi-Fi that damn well works.
But actually? This post is all about why are we willing to suffer all these hardships and finding the reasons that make gruelling, stressful travel worth it.
Are you sitting comfortable, with your seat adjusted for takeoff? Then let us begin.
12 hours waiting in an airport. Waiting for news.
I choose to use make use of the time to make new friends. Enter Frederico, an Italian. He was on the same flight and making the connection to Lisbon like me. He is heading to Coimbra to study Portuguese and Spanish for a year.
‘I sorry for my English Kashhhh. My hope is to find buutiful Spanish girl in portugal to teach me good english.’
I inform him that in my experience Portuguese women speak far better english than the Spanish.
He pauses when handed this useful titbit of information before patting the tip of his nose.
‘Butta……I do not theenk that Portuguese women are that beautiful. Their hassss is not as beautiful as Brazilian women, no?
No comment Frederico.
I dedicate roughly 2 hours of the the new twelve trying to connecting with Bari Airport’s free wifi connection. Everywhere I looked, they tease me. “FREE WIFI AT BARI AIRPORT NOW!” the walls screamed at me in ridiculous font.
Eventually I gave into the temptation. However after patiently negotiating several web pages where I shared every intimate detail about my life except the colour of my underwear, I kept on being stumped at the final stage.
Somehow, even after paying the privileged sum of €0.01 to confirm that no I am not a bot, I am actual-human-being-with-credit-card, the confirmation page did not pop up with my username and password to login and use the ‘free wifi’ . I proceeded to try all the available 15 permutations and combinations of registration.
I swapped different credit card details. I try being ‘Mrs’ instead of ‘Mr’. I sometimes took the ‘guided credit card registration route’ instead of the ‘swift credit card registration route.’ Strangely, both ‘routes’ roughly took 15 minutes each. The end result was predictably the same.
So here’s a Public Service Announcement. Dear Nomophobics of the world:
Stay away from Bari Airport if you do not have your own internet connection.
I take the non functioning wifi as I sign that I need to temporarily disconnect from the world. Practise Il dolce far niente.
It doesn’t work.
Maybe time to read a book. Enjoy an Italian espresso. Slow the blood flow to my heart. I take a seat at one of the tables in the airport’s ‘de Canto wine bar.’ Out of nowhere one of the waiting staff jumps at me and asks
‘Are you looking to drink or eat sir?’
I look up startled and look around. I swear there was not a soul to be seen in the cafe just a second ago.
‘Hello there. I am just looking for some coffee today. Am Americano would be great.’
She wags her finger disapprovingly in a way that only an Italian could make look acceptable.
‘You can only sit here if you eat something’, she declares.
It was 4pm. I could eat a horse. I have had only a Nutella filled croissant since the morning. However, after days of gorging on delicious Orecchiette al Ragu di Braciole in the olive drenched lands of Puglia, I have somehow lost my appetite in the frenzy of my flight being cancelled.
I tell her that today has been a tough day and I just need to sit down.
Her tone changes slightly after sensing the tone of misery in my voice. She adds that sitting here will attract a ‘coperto’ charge of €1.50. A quick glance at the menu reveals that the coffee itself costs €1.80.
I agree to her terms swiftly and make no protest. It’s one of those days where I am being tested to the limit. Today, was all about survival.
I keep reminding myself: This moment will pass.
I dedicate another 3 hours of the day queuing trying to get Vueling to reroute me to Lisbon. I was lucky to arrive early at the airport to learn about my impending misfortune.
The ticket queue was quite small. Just three people were ahead of me. 3 hours later , I finally get my chance. The passenger before me, after being served gets an ironic smattering of applause.
The majority of the 70-odd passengers from my cancelled Vueling flight however have lost their sense of humour. With each passing moment, they have grown more angry and restless. Airport staff are not forthcoming about reasons why the flight was cancelled and indeed what options are available for passengers. There’s a lot of voices being raised. I am treated to a full repertoire of angry Italian men hand gestures.
There is a sense of desolation about the place. In the corner of my eye I spot a pregnant lady along with elderly grandmother lying slumped on the airport trolley, a resigned look on their face. All hope has been abandoned here.
Just as I was about to get served, the noted jazz singer Gregory Porter strolls into the airport with his band.
He is about to discover that his Vueling flight to Barcelona has been cancelled. I see his jaw drop, looking up at the screen…
This couldn’t be more surreal. Only a few hours ago, I was listening to him in full voice enthralling the crowd at the 10th Locus Jazz Festival. After the performance, the band had been gracious to spend some time with me and a few other attendees. We shared stories of how it was to live life on the road living out of a backpack. Locus is that kind of small intimate music festival where there is no barrier between the artist and the audience. You can meet the artist after the performance and have a beer with them. Coming to Locus was probably the next best thing to being serenaded by Gregory Porter in your own living room.
The band looked crestfallen after learning the news. They had a concert in Barcelona the following day.
After I get the ticket, I see Gregory Porter and the band have joined the fag end of the queue. At the rate at which customers are getting served it will probably a few hours before he gets to speak to someone. I go up to the group and say hello.
While they look upset peering at the length of the queue snaking in front of them Mr Porter looks quite cool and philosophical about it all. He provided me with the following timeless perspective:
‘I’m cool about waiting my turn and finding out. In the end if you think about it, even if I have to wait longer to reach my destination so be it…way we can travel nowadays with flying and cover such vast distances in such a short period of time it’s really a miracle.’
I am reminded of the miracle of flying very soon when I am crammed into a bus with the rest of the passengers.
We zig zag our way throughout the night, piercing our way through the darkness to Rome airport. In Rome, I just miss my connecting Vueling flight to Barcelona. I take matter in my own hands and with the help of the lovely people at Expedia book myself onto a TAP flight to Lisbon.
It is not till 8pm later that day, 31 hours after I set foot in Bari airport that I finally reach my final destination of Madeira.
At the airport I meet my lovely girlfriend, Sofia. I melt into her arms as we sink into a long anticipated warm embrace. All these moments of nothingness and frustration dissolve into ether and evaporate. Happiness, after these hours of misery, truly feels like a miracle.
It might be a while before I am tempted to fly again. I will probably hate Vueling for many years to come and for the lost 31 hours of my life.
At the same time, looking back I will remain eternally grateful to Mr Porter for the music and to the organisers of the Locus Festival for introducing me to his wonderful talent. His words of wisdom will stay with me long after this horrible journey has dimmed in my memory.
For better or for worse, for all the highs and lows, I raise my glass to the miracle of flying and all the unique experiences that come with it.
I was attending Locus Festival as a guest of Puglia Events. All the views expressed here are my own. The festival is part of a series of 42 quirky and lesser known festivals , me and 15 other bloggers are visiting across Europe. Head over MustLoveFestivals.com for more details