Chaos at Catania Airport

Chaos at Catania airport
Photo by Natu00e3 Romualdo on

The woman at the British Airways desk refuses to check me in to the London flight until I can prove I am covid negative. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my covid certificate.

I’ve shown her my passport, my ticket, my European locator form and my five-star guest rating on AirBnB. But these count for nothing, sadly.

So, now, after five minutes of watching me rummaging through the crypts and crannies of my email server, she’s decided my time is up. Puffing up with bureaucratic self-righteousness, she jabs my passport towards me.

‘Step away from the desk, please,’ she says.

‘I will not,’ I reply.

‘Then I will have to call security, sir.’

Is she a fan of ‘Dirty Harry’?

She says this with a sinister Sicilian smile. It’s the sort of cold sadistic look you’d expect to see on the face of a Mafia hitman just before he pulls the trigger. ‘Go ahead, punk. Make my day.’

I wonder if she is a fan of Clint Eastwood in ‘Dirty Harry’ and turn to my wife.

‘She actually wants to have me arrested. Can you believe it?’

‘Yes,’ says my wife. ‘I can.’

I turn back to the BA check-in desk.

‘British Airways must have a process to sort out this problem?’

‘British Airways does not exist here. We’re just contractors,’ she replies.

In Italian, contractor is a euphemism for hitman, right? What if she is a member of the mafia? This is Catania airport in Sicily, so it’s not beyond possibility that she’s the daughter of the local Don and not just a BA staffer with a first-class degree in the art of telling customers how to ‘go f*** themselves’. I must tread carefully.

Doomed to roam the airport?

If I move away from the desk, I’ll be condemned to roam Catania airport until next Spring, as lonely as Tom Hanks in ‘Terminal’. This is the not just the last flight to London tonight but the last flight until Spring next year.  But if I stand my ground something miraculous might happen. The email confirming my negative covid test might suddenly reappear on my phone or Boris Johnson might call her personally to stress how important it is I get on this plane.

Boris would whisper: ‘Entrez nous, if this chap isn’t in London tomorrow for the secret Anglo-Italian prosecco trade negotiations, the talks will collapse. We want bucket loads more of your lovely bubbly stuff to drown the pain of not having enough turkeys this Christmas. Do you want to be the one that ruins a world beating Anglo-Italian prosecco trade deal just because of a single piece of red tape?’

Unfortunately, looking at her face, it’s clear she would be more than happy to wreck every trade deal under the Sun if it involved spiting me.

The other passengers are getting restless

Come on, mate. Get on with it.    

The plane is boarding and there are 10 people behind me getting anxious and angry.

The BA contractor come mafia hitwoman, come saboteur of Anglo-Italian prosecco trade negotiations flaps my passport up and down to catch my eye.

‘Step away from the desk.’

No please or sir this time. She’s cocking the gun.

Defeated, I take my documents without catching her eye. I slink away from the check-in desk towards a mound of lost luggage. The departure board shows the plane is now boarding and we are still the wrong side of security.

‘Their system is flawed,’ I say to my wife.

‘No system is idiot proof, especially from an idiot like you,’ she says.

‘I’m so angry I could harm something,’ I say.

‘Why don’t you start with yourself,’ she says.

Inches from the divorce court

It’s clear the next thing I say has to be spot on. A facetious comment or badly crafted gag will land me in the divorce courts sooner than you can say lateral flow test.

‘Sorry,’ I say.

She shrugs.

‘I saw the email with the certificate on your phone yesterday. What did you do with it?’

‘I deleted it,’ I say, looking at my toes.

‘Deleted it?’

‘Yes. I decided to tidy up my email box while we were queuing.’

She shakes her head.

‘Right. I’m getting on the plane,’ she says. ‘Here’s 50 euros. It’s all the cash I’ve got.’

‘You’re going without me?’

‘You bet,’ she says. ‘Good luck.’

I don’t blame her. In the last three months, I’ve lost every draft of the book I’m writing, my mother’s power of attorney (twice) and my father’s birth certificate. Each time, just when they were needed to push an administrative process forward. Why should she suffer because of my administrative autism? I am the archbishop of clerical cockups, the faux pas in the filing system.

My wife’s face lights up.

‘Have you called the test centre and asked for a copy of your covid result?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘Will they be open now?’

‘How do I know?’ she says.

‘It’s nine o’clock at night and they’re in South Africa.’

‘Got any better ideas?’ she asks.

It’s the last roll of the dice. The BA check-in desk is closing in ten minutes and the flight is boarding. If the test centre isn‘t open and willing to send me another copy of my test certificate, I’ll be dining on half eaten ham and mozzarella ciabattas from the airport bins for the next six months.

The phone rings twice before the nurse at the covid test centre picks up. She remembers me.

‘That thing you did with your face when you put the covid swab up your nose was most amusing,’ she says.

‘I’m desperate,’ I say. ‘Could you send me another copy of my covid test?’

‘Of course,’ she says. ‘Give me your email, again.’

Within five minutes, an email comes through.

I wave my new negative covid test certificate at the woman behind the BA check-in desk.

‘I’m negative,’ I say. ‘Just like i told you.’

She waves us on without looking at me. The security guard beside her looks crestfallen.

‘The gate closes in 10 minutes,’ she says.

As we run towards security, my wife asks me if I’ve learnt anything from this experience.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Never to travel without you.’

‘Argh,’ she says. ‘I hate holidays.’


Published by Man in the Middle

Ecce Man in the Middle. The stale meat in the inter-generational sandwich.