Magazine article The Spectator

How a Saintly Airline Representative at Luton Made Us All Feel Better about the World

Magazine article The Spectator

How a Saintly Airline Representative at Luton Made Us All Feel Better about the World

Article excerpt

I think her first name was Denise. It was hard to discern on her small easyJet name badge; but the surname was certainly Williams. So let's call her Denise Williams. The name matters less than the circumstance.

It was Luton Airport departures corridor (gates 1 to 8 to the best of my recollection);

the time was Sunday 5 February, from before dawn until at least lunchtime. This (you may remember) was the morning after snow had blanketed most of England; and south-eastern airports including Luton were in the nearritual state of mayhem we all but demand of our transport infrastructure when there's snow. It gives us something to talk about.

'My airport hell' stories are uninteresting. Airports are not hell. Honestly, try hell, and you'll prefer Luton. Our generation is as hooked on competitive aviation-based conversation as doubtless a previous epoch anchored its anecdotage in horses, carriages, grooms and the villainy of horse dealerships.

My indifference to the relative merits of Iberia and Korean Air is fathomless and I honestly have no preferences between Schiphol and JFK. Anyway, it's fair to say Luton makes no claim to be one of the world's premier airports, nor easyJet any claim to be the Rolls Royce of international carriers; and that's fine. They do the job. What are you expecting for a £50 flight to Madrid?

This was scheduled to depart at 7.25. I'd struggled through London's snow to be at the airport by 6.30. Not much to my surprise, on arrival I found on the notice board that the flight had just been delayed until 13.25 for reasons too tedious to detain you with. I quickly reconciled myself to the wait.

I like being delayed at airports for much the same reason I should welcome a short stay in prison. There's absolutely nothing you can do about it, unseen and irresistible forces are in control, you're warm and dry, your diary is clear and nobody can ask you to do anything.

The occasional blank page should enter all our lives, and here now were six hours for wandering around, having bacon baps and cups of tea, reading the Sunday papers to check there was no news, catching up with emails on my swanky new iPhone, and staring at things I wouldn't dream of buying in Luton's eccentric array of duty-free shops.

(No trousers; only tracksuit bottoms. ) But to spice my morning with a dash of purpose, I decided to persist in a quest to realise easyJet's promise of £6 worth of refreshment vouchers: an offer that had pinged into my iPhone 'Your flight with easyJet is regrettably delayed. Our agent will provide you with further information and refreshment vouchers. We apologise for any inconvenience.'

'Agent'? 'Vouchers'? Probably mythical, I thought, but let's have a go.

And that's how I met Denise. Ms Williams seemed to be easyJet's vicar on earth, the airline's only airside incarnation in the form of a person. Hordes of mutinous passengers were swilling around the departure gates, requiring to know what had happened to their various flights to Geneva, Tel Aviv, Madrid, etc, and (until reinforcement arrived) the diminutive Denise seemed all alone. …

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