The fine art of not being early
An Irishman’s Diary on two different approaches to air travel
“When the bus pulled up at departures, I out-sprinted another panicked looking passenger (she was (a) female and (b) from Holland, so however late she thought she was, it wasn’t as late as me) to the door, before descending the steps at the speed of Arjen Robben falling in a penalty area.” Photograph: Kate Geraghty
Flying home from Beauvais earlier this week, I was forced to face up to the possibility that, in the matter of travel arrangements, I may be addicted to cutting things fine.
The thought had struck me a few days beforehand when talking to a woman who was also about to leave Paris and, even though her flight wasn’t until late in the evening, was writing off the whole day, planning to spend several hours at the airport, because she hated the “stress” that would otherwise arise.
I didn’t enjoy stress either, I said. And yet I couldn’t truly sympathise with this woman’s attitude. To me, turning up at an airport any earlier than necessary smacked of defeatism.
Sure enough, a few days later, I had to catch a Ryanair aircraft for which, if you believed the official advice, the bus left Paris at 7.30pm. But I had a column to write first and that took me until nearly five. Also, I’d agreed to meet a friend for coffee before leaving.
Then, in one of those miracles than happen in Paris, the coffee turned into a glass of wine in a charming Latin Quarter bar, where the long-haired, bearded waiter looked like a 19th-century Russian anarchist. And after that, amid a lively conversation about Paris, bars, and 19th-century anarchism, the glass of wine turned into two glasses.
So by the time I set out for the nearest Metro – a longer than usual walk in this area – the schedule was getting tight. It was raining now too.
And dragging my luggage through the sodden streets, I was suddenly panicked by the thought of having to change lines at Chatelet, a Metro station about the size of Louth. So I did something I never do in Paris and hailed a taxi, which was a big mistake. The first thing the taxi driver did was to sigh heavily – in French – and say that traffic was bad. He was not exaggerating. Some 45 gut-wrenching minutes later, we were stuck in yet another petrified tailback in yet another side-street that had looked like a short cut. The driver used every rat run he knew – trying to make sense of his route, it occurred to me that he was following the Paris sewer system – but none worked.
Meanwhile, on top of the time-related stress (I’d stopped checking my watch because that only made things worse) was the driver’s homicidal lane changes and junction manoeuvres, whenever space appeared. When you’re not used to being a taxi passenger in Paris, it feels like bumper cars – minus the actual collisions, if you’re lucky.
Anyway, after the cab ride from hell, we reached Porte Maillot just as a Beauvais-bound bus was revving up to leave.
I ran to the ticket desk, and waited until I was safely on board before daring to check the time. Five past eight. Not too bad. Only half an hour after the bus I was supposed to be on, and surely there was 30 minutes of leeway built in?
I felt almost smug for a while. Then I noticed the bus was making even slower progress than the taxi. My stomach, which had briefly relaxed, now reformed itself into one of those knots that only Boy Scouts use as it took us a full hour to shake off the clinging embrace of Paris to the point where the motorway started.
Another 50 minutes later, when we’d finally reached the outskirts of Beauvais, I was noting the location of hotels, assuming I’d need one. But when the bus pulled up at departures, I out-sprinted another panicked looking passenger (she was (a) female and (b) from Holland, so however late she thought she was, it wasn’t as late as me) to the door, before descending the steps at the speed of Arjen Robben falling in a penalty area.
There was a surge of relief at the realisation that my flight hadn’t closed yet, after all. But in truth, it didn’t last long. Instead, by the time I joined the long queue at the gate, where boarding hadn’t even begun, the stress was already being replaced by a sense of deflation.
Despite my best efforts, I was early. In fact, it was another 20 minutes before boarding began – 20 minutes too long to be standing in a crowded shed-like hall when you haven’t eaten since lunch and the only food available is from a vending machine selling Mars bars. This is probably the bit I’ll remember next time, when the stress has been forgotten. Then, no doubt, I’ll be tempted to wait for the 8.30pm bus from Porte Maillot.