In for a Penny

Somewhen between 9/11 and the last global recession, European airlines offered flights at tantalisingly low prices. Every Tuesday, RyanAir, EasyJet and other budget operators would release hundreds of seats on dozens of flight paths arcing continental Europe, the UK, and Ireland. Flights would start as little as one penny and after tacking on a few bucks for airport fees and for the luxury of choosing your own seat, the sum total of your next European jaunt would cost around €10.

As a broke college kid on her first foray in Europe, these dirt-cheap flights were a godsend, allowing me to maximise my study-abroad experience. I constantly chose between going grocery shopping or buying another bargain ticket for a weekend on the continent. Many times, I was happy to go hungry if it meant another stamp in my passport.

With tickets so cheap and a rented bed in a shared hostel room costing not much more than the price of the flight, my friends and I travelled to a different country nearly every weekend for three months. Before our semester abroad drew to a close, we decided to splurge on one last hurrah—18 hours in Northern Ireland followed by 36 hours in Milan. The entire trip was shoestring, coming in at just €38 per person.

As my Type A personality dictated, I often assumed the role of organiser in our travel group, ushering us to where we needed to be, ensuring everyone had their passports and tickets, had exchanged currencies and hadn’t packed anything on the TSA list of banned items. Naturally, getting to the airport on time fell to me. I successfully guided us onto an air-conditioned coach in Manchester and navigated us to our seats for the short 30-mile hop to Liverpool.

When we reached John Lennon Airport, I led our small queue to the check-in desk, handed over my blue American passport, printed ticket and smiled.

“I’m sorry,” the lady behind the desk spoke, “this flight has already departed.”

I scrunched my face in confusion, “The flight to Belfast?”

“Aye,” she nodded. “This flight was two hours ago.”

I felt hot and panicked. My friend behind me, a British guy, stepped up to intervene.

“Anyonita, you muppet!” he laughed a few minutes later. “Our flight was at 13.15!”

“Yeah,” I said! “It’s 3:00 now! I don’t understand how we’ve missed it.”

“13.15 is ONE FIFTEEN not three fifteen!” he explained.

I never understood why the cost of flights was so cheap in those days, but that day I was certainly grateful that my inability to translate time from a 24-hour clock cost me no more than a Super Size Big Mac meal.


Category: Airports

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