Regular air travel increases the likelihood of delays, missed connections and disrupted plans. Especially in winter.

IST queues.jpgI’m writing this in Skopje, Macedonia (my 4th visit) – and I love returning because of the chance to revisit great friends. But the weather can be decidedly uncooperative. This time last year, I was trapped for three extra days when fog closed the airport. My alternatives were to drive 3 hours to another airport which may well have been fogbound as well; or hire a car to Istanbul where i would catch my connecting flight.

This time fog affected my outward journey. My flight from Istanbul was actually cancelled after the doors were closed in preparation for taxi. Fortunately, I was able to travel the following morning.

But what a hassle.

  • We were put up in a hotel by the airline (which was good), but taken to the wrong hotel by the bus driver (similar name).
  • We didn’t reach the hotel until 11pm (the flight had been scheduled to leave at 7.30pm). But our shuttle was coming for us at 4am (for a 7.45 flight)
  • We finally took off at 9.30am.

I was pretty tired and fed up. But the main culprit was the weather not human error. Such is life.

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But the process were infuriating. Trying to get clear instructions and information was impossible. There was the language barrier – a few airline staff in the airport spoke English (my Turkish is minimal restaurant Turkish). And there was the syndrome of those overfamiliar with procedure forgetting what it’s like to face them for the first time.

  • So I was sent from pillar to post – first queue here;
  • then a bloke with minimal English gestured for me to follow him and then join a queue at the other end of the terminal.
  • I get a piece of paper stamped; then join another queue.
  • I get to the end of it to be told I’m in the wrong queue. Go back to previous end of terminal and join other queue.
  • Look for airline hotel reservation desk. Exhausted staff are fairly monosyllabic. Another piece of paper with another stamp. Then wait around over there.
  • Then called for bus; then wrong hotel; then angry Italian businessman tries to get us to our original hotel because we’re now miles away from airport; arguments, delays, hunger, frustration, anger, hunger, frustration, delays etc.

But as I’ve said, I got a very comfortable bed and I made it to Skopje in the end.

What on earth is the point of rehearsing such dull details? Well, I hate not knowing where I stand with middle-ranking authorities and bureaucrats, especially when they don’t seem to be operating according to transparent or intelligible principles. Being out of control is only bearable if you can trust those who are in control.

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But how different is my experience from that of refugees. Over the last few months, I’ve been travelling through various countries directly affected by the European refugee crisis: Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Macedonia. I’m thrilled to say that in all of them, Christian friends have been personally involved in giving hands-on support and help to these desperate people.

But when these people pitch up at border after border to be told ‘wait there’, ‘stop this’, ‘fill that in’, ‘go back there’, ‘avoid them’, what effect must it have on them? Day after day. You get to one border – because you heard others had been allowed through. But on arrival, you discover that it’s now closed (because of political pressures in your country); so you have to go to another. Somehow. It’s not a matter of flights… but improvisation and taking your chances. Who knows who to believe for reliable information? How can you predict which route will be successful? Or how you’ll be treated on the journey? Or what reception you’ll receive in your destination country? Or whether you’ll ever see your home again.

I’d hate it. Wouldn’t you? Puts a few delays and cancelled flights in their place, don’t you think? Where is our compassion? This current crisis is one of our generation’s greatest moral tests. It’s as simple as that. Even though hospitality is ALWAYS a risk (whether nationally or domestically). But that’s the nature of love. It can always be rejected and abused.

Yet that is never an excuse.

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