Susan C. Anthony

Flight to Italy

Dennis with his skisMarch 20, 1988

Dennis wanted to ski in Europe. He really wanted to ski, and despite my every effort to discourage him by painting grim pictures of budget-busting prices, poor snow conditions, and the long backtrack from the Alps to Egypt and Israel, he could not be dissuaded.

So we flew from Nairobi to London on March 18 for only $225—$350 off the regular price—on Sudan Air. We'd heard rumors about Sudan Air, that they had only two jets, that flights were often delayed for up to 48 hours, and that service was questionable. But all went well for us. We left right on time, flew for 15 hours, ate four decent meals, and arrived in London on schedule. The downside was landing in Cairo and Rome for just a tantalizing glimpse. We planned to visit both places. It would be a long way back.

The first morning in London, we made our way to a "bucket shop" near Victoria Station to inquire about ski packages. "Bucket shops" sell discounted airline tickets and travel packages. Dennis realized after looking at the brochures that most week-long packages left that very day. In a week's time the prices would double because of Easter holiday. Panic...

The travel agent was wonderful and called place after place to see if there were any openings on packages leaving the next day, a Sunday. After several calls, she found one, to Livigno in the Italian Alps. We booked post haste, and Dennis scoured the city for skis and boots that afternoon. Everything was charged to American Express, and as we signed for our purchases, I began to feel like a "typical" tourist.

Unlike typical tourists, however, we camped in London. It saved us about $30 a night over the next cheapest accommodations. We dutifully packed our bags Sunday morning and headed for Gatwick via bus, tube and train, arriving at about 10:00 a.m. for a 1:15 p.m. flight. We checked in, had lunch and called our parents, then entered the international lobby. On the big board was posted Flight 244A to Bergamo, delayed until 15:10. As it worked its way up the board, it changed to show a delay until 15:20. When it reached the top of the board, it disappeared and did not reappear.

"Hmm," I thought. "We'd better check this out." I asked the man at the information desk. He consulted a computer and informed me that the flight had again been delayed, this time until 18:05. I asked him why it was no longer on the board and what gate would be used. He advised me to be patient. Details would appear about 40 minutes before departure.

Not knowing what else to do, we bought a couple of expensive cups of lukewarm tea and prepared to wait it out in the crowded lobby. We took turns guarding the hand luggage and wandering around the duty free shops. After a trip to the loo (rest room), I returned to find Dennis gone and the baggage unguarded.

I spotted him at the Information Desk just moments before he saw me and came running over.

"The plane is leaving right now. Gate 36," he said. We have to run.

We did run, through the concourse to a train that took us to a satellite terminal. It was 15:05. We were baffled as to what had gone wrong. Dennis said he'd glanced up at the board for the umpteenth time and there it was, flashing "Last Call."

A long line of people waited at Gate 36 and I relaxed. Dennis didn't. "These people don't look like skiers to me," he said. He was right. They were dressed in business suits. But it was Gate 36!

When the ticket taker saw our boarding pass, he shouted, "Here they are!"

"Come on," said a young man. He pushed past all the people on the stairs and led us outside at a run in a different direction from everyone else. As we reached the fully-loaded airplane, he found breath to ask us in exasperation, "Where were you, anyway?"

We never figured out what we had done wrong.

Go on to Italian Trains
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony