The Politics of Prestwick

Leeds had gone well. Pints of improbably fresh Tetley Ale lent some effervescence to the concert, and the hospitality of the show's organizers was top notch. The next stop for Greg and me was Glasgow, via train, then London, via plane—a £1 flight on budget airline, Ryanair.  

There was some time to check email before boarding the train to Glasgow. The presenter of Glasgow's show had apparently written me the night before, judging by the timestamp: "It turns out there's another show going on the same time as yours that's probably gonna take away all your audience. So, I'm canceling. Sorry." This was a new experience.

After a quick inquiry into the cost of train tickets from Leeds to London, we determined that it would be more economical to take the train to Glasgow, spend the night there (surely the presenter would find a place for us to stay), and board our £1 flight to London the next morning. I wrote a measured response to the presenter, expressing "dismay" but still "hoping to see" him later that evening.

The train ride from Leeds to Glasgow is famously beautiful. Our particular experience of the landscape was augmented by a child who spent the duration of the journey asking a cyclical set of high-pitched questions to his mother: "Mum? Are we going to go through the darkness tunnels? Will Gram be in the darkeness tunnels? Has she been to the darkness tunnels? Mum?", etc.

Our first hour or so in Glasgow was spent draining a phone card with straight-to-voicemail calls to the presenter. Failing a telephonic connection, we wandered to a nearby internet cafe to see if there had been any response to my earlier email. The internet brought no new information other than the fact that Greg's apartment had been broken into the previous night. I found some way to incorporate this fact into a dark joke, to which Greg responded, "Too soon, Rainey. Too soon." 

"Dismay" slipped precipitously to "fury" as it became clear that no accommodations were forthcoming. Efforts turned to logistics: where was the airport, how were we going to get there, where would we stay?

£1 flights rarely take place at civilized hours and often depart from locations well outside of urban centers. Ours was at 6:30am and left from Prestwick airport, which, we learned, was a 45-minute express rail shuttle away from the city. The shuttle operated between 7am and 11pm, meaning that we would have to take it that evening and find a hotel of some sort nearby.

It was still light enough when we arrived at Prestwick to note that the airport looked like it had very recently been used to store large quantities of grain. It was also possible to see a small village, shrouded in mist, some miles away.

Once inside the airport, I asked a customer service representative if there was a hotel nearby. She seemed to be blindsided by this question. When she regained her composure, she informed me that there was not a hotel or anything like one anywhere in the vicinity. She cheerfully suggested that we could, however, sleep in the airport.

We didn't sleep in the airport, though we spent the whole night there, mostly losing money in various kiosks with stiff metal keyboards that promised internet connections at dialup speed with exorbitant per-minute rates. 5:30am found us nerve-ridden and bag snack-fed, as we joined a gathering collection of bleary-eyed travelers in the check-in line.

Boarding passes in hand, we proceeded to Prestwick's single terminal, where we learned that our flight was delayed. Hours passed as other travelers began to crowd into the old barn and learn that their flights were also delayed. Heathrow's air traffic control system had undergone a severe computer crash, and, by 8:30am, it was just beginning to come back online.

Our flight was canceled. We limped defeatedly to a line for rebooking, where we were given coarsely cut slips of paper instructing us on how to receive a refund for our £1 flight. No flights were available for the rest of the day, nor was there any guarantee that we would find one the next day. 

The only reasonable way to get to our London show in time was to take the train from central Glasgow, so we headed back to the shuttle. On the way, I noticed a sign informing travelers that shuttle passengers with airline tickets would receive half price fare to and from Glasgow. Had we known this the previous night, we would have saved £10. I was not about to let this happen again. We needed a win, however trivial.

One pays for the Prestwick shuttle on the train itself, handing the money to a conductor who travels through the cars for this explicit purpose. As the conductor approached me, I handed him our boarding passes. He held them at a variety of lengths from his eyes, squinting, before handing them back.

"These are boarding passes."


"You need a ticket."

"Aren't these better than a ticket?"

"You need a ticket."

"It was an e-ticket."

"Do you have a printout?"

"No. Why can't you use the boarding passes?"

"Too easy to fake."

I paid the full price, and he left the car. My fingers ran along the rounded edges of the thick, laminated paper on which my boarding pass was printed, and I began to wonder about the type of person who would attempt to counterfeit this object rather than print out a fake email on an inkjet printer. 

My thoughts shifted focus when I noticed an older woman a few seats away, making a call on her cell phone. "Robert, there are two gentlemen on the Prestwick shuttle with boarding passes, and the conductor won't give them the discount. Right. Okay. Get back to me."

I blinked a few times and then realized that I had my laptop with me, e-tickets saved in my inbox. I got the conductor's attention as he passed by at the next stop.

"I have the e-tickets right here."

"You need a printout."

A short conversation played out along by now predictable lines, resulting in no discount. The woman got back on her cell phone. "Robert…", etc.

When we got off the train in Glasgow, she approached us, handing me a business card and saying, "This isn't how we like to treat guests in Scotland. Give me a call, and I'm sure we can get you each the £5 you deserve."

"Thanks, but don't worry about it. We've had a rough 24 hours and were just hoping for a break."

She left cordially, and I took a look at the business card in my hands. It read:

Irene Oldfather
Member of the Scottish Parliament


Bhob Rainey is a renowned improviser, Professor of Music Technology at Loyola University New Orleans, and editor of the upcoming book/album, Manual.

Categories: Airports, Airlines

Latest Stories
Checking In/Checking Out

Filter by Category

Everyone has a story to tell...

Submit Yours Here

Points of Departure: