After my trip to the Falklands in 2012, the even more remote British overseas territories were in my mind as places I definitely wanted to visit. My dream was to take a trip on the RMS St Helena, on one of its occasional voyages all the way from Southampton to Cape Town, via Ascension, Saint Helena and maybe even Tristan da Cunha.
News that they were building an airport on Saint Helena ruined my plans, as the St. Helena would be withdrawn as soon as flights started. They were briefly resuscitated when the airport turned out to have been built in a location with such severe crosswinds that planes could rarely use it. But the plans were ruined again when, instead of frequent large jets arriving from Cape Town, the airport was put to use for weekly small planes coming from Johannesburg.
One Monday afternoon, wanting to go away somewhere for a couple of weeks, my thoughts turned again to Saint Helena. Flying would be less fun than a five day boat journey out into the Atlantic, but the island still looked pretty awesome. And in their midwinter, last minute planning did not seem impossible. I booked flights for the Thursday evening.
Lack of boat did not mean an easy journey. I would fly via Dubai, Johannesburg and Windhoek. Transport to Gatwick was in chaos thanks to a massive signal failure in South London - many trains were cancelled, so I got a bus instead. But the chaos was spilling over onto the roads, and the bus was heavily delayed. I got to the airport at 9.15pm, with takeoff scheduled for 9.45pm. It seemed disastrous. I wouldn't get to Johannesburg in time for the flight to Saint Helena unless I paid £1600 for a direct flight the next day, which would give me just 1h45m to transfer.
But Emirates saved me. They phoned the gate, where the plane was already boarding, and threw me a lifeline. "No guarantees but there's still a chance! Start running and do not stop!", they said, so I set off at speed. They shouted the gate number after me as I ran off.
Airports are stupid. You have to walk through these stupid duty free shops via a stupid snaking path that is infuriating at the best of times, and with the clock ticking down to disaster, I was filled with rage. As I ran, I heard occasional announcements that the flight was closing. I kept up a strong pace all the way to the gate. Half way there, a ground crew person said "Dubai?" I gasped "yes" and ran on, thinking that surely they would have to let me board. It would be very cruel not to. And when I got to the gate, to my massive relief, they did.
So I flew to Dubai and it took me much of the flight time to recover my equilibrium. I had seven hours in the United Arab Emirates, and I got the metro into the city. All the streets were utterly deserted; it was a Friday morning and presumably everyone was in mosques. It was stunningly hot, over 40C, but a thick dusty haze hung over everything. It didn't look like a terribly nice place.
I took in a quick view of the Burj Khalifa, and then headed back to the airport.
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