At 1000, after our night in the lounge, the electronic board still said that our flight was leaving at noon. However, all the other noon flights were also posted, with a gate identified, while ours just said ‘delayed’. I went to the desk.
“Ah, Kabul. No, that is now cancelled. Sorry. Would you like a hotel?”
“When is the next flight?”
“Tomorrow. Would you like to be re-booked?”
“There are three of us.”
“It’s OK, we can re-book you all. For the next flight.”
“And me, please.”
I looked around. A large man with a short grey beard stood beside me. We nodded to each other. I left and went to find my colleagues.
We got back to the desk and had our flights changed, although somehow we all kept the same seats. We asked about the hotel.
“You must go to the end of the food court, down the stairs back to passport control, tell them you want to stay in Turkey, go outside to the arrivals area and then go to passport control, go outside through customs and then to the Turkish Airlines hotel desk, it’s in the corner near the Starbucks.”
“We have to get a visa?”
“Yes you must. Sorry.”
“It’s sixty dollars.”
“Sorry, but the hotel is outside, in Turkey, so of course you need a visa. You get it before the passport control.”
“I’ll come with you.”
I looked around. The large man was there again. He walked with us, and introduced himself as Peter. He was a Jesuit priest, travelling from Rome to visit various groups working in community based education. He waited as we got our visas. He was from Germany and didn’t need a visa. Some time ago Canada imposed visa conditions on Turkey, so now Turkey has reacted and visas for Canadians are (a) needed and (b) more expensive than for pretty much anyone else. We got the visas, went through passport control, then customs, then found Starbucks and, sure enough, the Turkish Airlines hotel desk. The people were very helpful.
“Did you stay in the hotel last night?”
“No, in the lounge.”
They laughed, being of the sensible opinion that the hotel was better, and asked that we sit and wait until our names were called.
Which they were, and we rode in a mini-bus through the traffic tangled streets of Istanbul to the hotel. In the lobby we agreed to meet for lunch and dinner, and Peter invited himself to join us for the latter.
Lunch was a strange soup of yoghurt and rice, served lukewarm. I didn’t ask for the recipe. This was followed by the world’s largest chicken nugget, at least we guessed it was chicken, breaded and fried and served with white rice and potato wedges. Afterwards my colleagues went for a walk, but I retired to a long hot shower and a sleep.
We met for dinner at 7.30, and were served the same food as at lunch time. Peter didn’t mind, as he had skipped lunch. He told us stories about his work, and we spoke of ours, and soon the shuttle bus arrived to take us back to the airport. We already had our boarding passes so we only had to clear security, and then head up to the lounge. On the way through the terminal we suddenly stopped in disbelief. The departure board showed the Kabul flight as being delayed, by two hours.
The same young men were on duty at the desk.
“Hello again! Was the hotel good?”
“Yes, thank you. But we just saw on the board that our flight is delayed tonight as well! What’s happening?”
They looked at each other, and at the computers. One of them lifted the phone and talked to someone. They shrugged.
“It is the weather.”
“Let’s have a drink,” suggested Peter, so we went and found some chairs clumped together, and had a glass of wine. We chatted, and slowly the lounge emptied. I went to check the departure board, and returned to report.
“Now we’re delayed until 0530.”
There were various exclamations of disbelief. I didn’t know that Jesuit priests were allowed to swear. Or were so good at it. Peter stomped off, and returned with a full bottle of wine he’d collected from the drinks station. He poured hefty glasses, still swearing and muttering.
We pulled chairs together again, drank our wine, then slept fitfully as the floor polishers manoeuvered around us, and the automatic piano tinkled away, and the lounge staff clattered as they replenished food and drink stations for the morning rush.
“Goodbye! Hope not to see you again!” said the young men at the desk, as we left for our plane.