i was one of the unlucky who was heading to heathrow airport on wednesday, feb 20th, 2008. the natural disaster was the fog. my flight from helsinki landed as my flight to back home to tokyo was taking off somewhere in the nearby runway.
to make the day more memorable, my gigantic suitcase came out with no wheels. the ticket sales booth had such a long queue that the customer service desk didn’t want any more people to go there. but instead, i was given a phone number to call the next day and a polite and vague request to find a hotel room on my own in london, with a tip that all airport hotels were already fully booked.
to make my time more useful i took the trouble to report the damage on my luggage, while searching for a vacant hotel room on my laptop. by the time i reached the agent past the thorough open-bag-search security screening, i had already called about 15 hotels in london which were all full that night.
i couldnt help but sharing my frustration with the lady at the counter that there’s no vacancy in any of the hotels and that BA wouldn’t/cannot do anything about it. she paused for a perceivably long moment. when she started to speak, her face brightened: “you can stay with me tonight. i finish my work at around 10pm, if you can wait for me.”
i was lost for words for a longer while. i never expected anyone working in that bloody bleak airport in a particularly spectacular chaos could possibly be so kind. she gave me her mobile phone number to show how serious she was. touched by her kindness and my embarrassment of not believing in the good of humanity for a while, i thanked her and left the place, doing more eager search for the vacant hotel room late on wednesday night with my 23kg of broken luggage.
this is my second experience of missing a connection here. if you dont have a laptop with wifi access and a mobile phone and do not have home in the nearby area, beware: the internet terminals in the departure area block all access to hotel/airline booking websites. the one and only hotel reservation center at the airport charges you not only the booking fee but offer rooms at the seemingly over-the-rack rate. mobile internet connectivity was a bliss for me to eventually find a room at 300 quids/night, but i felt the strange guilt leaving the airport full of people still queuing for their turn to find some hope to get out of there, as if i lived a very brief scene of digital divide.
had i had any tool for finding out – would i have saved another person or two with me from the temporary misery that night? would we have started to collaborate in that space and context to find a sharable solution instead of standing passively in that queue? it is appalling how our actual life contexts are still so absent from the potentially useful tools that we all are using for playing around. but that night, the real question for me was: would i ever have the guts to accept her kindness, and what will it take for a city girl to trust a total stranger?