The trip to Athens went as I expected.  Mum was home from hospital when I got there, and seemed in good spirits. The only unfortunate thing was that Mum was occasionally uncomfortable.   We got a call on Friday telling us that the preliminary results were good, so we were relieved and happy going into the weekend.  We saw a lot of family at the weekend with nephews, nieces, cousins uncles and aunts stopping by to see Mum.  The best thing about it was that all this took place in 22 degrees centigrade, which after London’s biblical weather, was just what I needed.

Dad had asked me to change my ticket as soon as I got there to delay my departure.  I was due to leave on the Monday, but since we had arranged to go to the doctor on Monday, I thought I would change my ticket for Tuesday.

Due to the nature of my visit, I had purposely booked the ticket with the most flexibility.  I hadn’t known what to expect, so I paid the little bit extra and got the ticket that boasted free, simple changes to your ticket online.  Once I had decided to change my ticket I went online to implement this “Free! Easy!” ticket change.  I typed in my booking reference number and my surname and the whole screen came up written in red.

** One of your flights has been cancelled or changed.  Ticket changes and Web check-in are unavailable at this time.  There was a 24hr number, so I called it.

“Welcome to Aegean Airlines, a star alliance member, please press 1 for Greek or 2 for English.”

I pressed 2.  As I have said in the past, if a situation arose where speaking Greek was a matter of life and death, I would have to accept my fate.  My Greek, although fairly fluent, disappears under even the slightest pressure.

“Aegean Airlines parakalo?” (this is press 2 for English?)

“Yes, Hello, I am trying to change my ticket.”

“Ah, yes, sorry, how may I help you?” (Same voice, press 2 for English just means the same person answers and deals with your call in English)

“I am trying to change my ticket from Monday to Tuesday, same flight.”

“Try going to our website and doing it online.”

“I have tried that, it’s not working, that’s why I have called.”

“Can you give me your PNR number?”

Had I known then how often I was going to need this number over the next few days, I would have made more of an effort to learn it.  I read it out.

“Ah yes, Mrs X?”

“Miss, yes that’s right.”

“Do you speak Greek Mrs X?”

“It’s Miss. Yes, but I would prefer to have this conversation in English.”

“Ah, ok.  What is the problem, Mrs X?”

“It’s Miss. I can’t seem to change my ticket.  Also when I went to my booking, it says that my ticket cost £750 which I assure you it didn’t otherwise I wouldn’t have booked it.  Have you charged me for changing my arrival flight?  It was supposed to be free.”

“Just one moment please Mrs X, I need to speak with my colleague.  Please hold.”

“It’s Miss.  Ok.”

It turns out that holding in Greece is as annoying as holding in London.  It loses nothing in translation except that the Aegean employees keep calling me Mrs X which is actually my Mum and it’s freaking me out a bit.  There followed 10 minutes of irritating plinky plinky music which all the songs sounded vaguely familiar, like it might be pop music played on the bouzouki or something.  Well done, Aegean for not succumbing to the cliché.  Oh wait…

Anyway after 10 minutes, the voice comes back.

“Mrs X?”

“It’s Miss.  Yes?”

“Thank you for holding.  There is a problem with our computers.  We can’t fix it now because it’s Sunday.  You need to call back on Monday at 09:00.  Actually, you should leave some time for them to fix it.  Call at 09:30, or even 10:00 is better.  There is space on the flight you wish to change to, so don’t worry.”

“OK, so you have taken me off the Monday flight and after tomorrow morning I will be able to check online for the Tuesday flight then?”

“Not yet, but someone will be doing that tomorrow at 10:30, perhaps you should call at 11am, Mrs X. It’s no problem, they will fix it tomorrow morning, and you will be able to check in online.  Don’t worry.”

“It’s Miss or just Maria.  What about the £750?  Why is it showing that I spent that much?  I didn’t authorise the withdrawals of any more than the original amount.”

“It’s a problem with the computers, someone will have a look at it tomorrow.  If you want to know how much you paid, you could check your credit card statement, Mrs X.

It’s Miss.  Or just Maria. Thanks very much.”  I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to achieve anything that day, so I thought I would call them in the morning.

The next day in the morning, I called them.  I got the same runaround, except this time they said:

“Don’t worry, Mrs X.  Someone will call you.”

“It’s Miss.  Or just Maria.  The time is approaching where if I am still on the flight I should be going to the airport.  Have you changed my ticket for tomorrow?”

“Rest easy Mrs X, it won’t be a problem.”

This is a classic Greek response that can be applied to almost any situation.

“My house is on fire, is the fire brigade on its way?” 

“Rest easy, Kyria mou, they’ll be there.”

“We’ve been waiting for our dinner for over an hour.  What is the delay?”

“Rest easy Kyria mou, the chef’s only got one pair of hands, you’ll eat don’t worry.”

The more you complain and/or pester, the more defensive they get, until (if you have an English side as I do) you are apologising for the delay. 

Ok, sorry to trouble you with my pesky questions.  I’ll just pray for rain and get my neighbour’s dog to pee on the flames until you get here.

I went about my day.  I had stayed so that I could go to the doctor with Mum as he was going to tell us about the results of the tests.  Of course, this is Greece, so there’s no such thing as making a doctor’s appointment in advance.  When the doctor told Mum on Friday that he wanted to see her on Monday, Mum said, “what time do you want me to come?”, his response:

“Rest easy, Mrs X. Give me a call on Monday and we’ll sort something out.”

So Mum called him on Monday morning at 9am.  He told her to get there for 09:30.  Because Dad was going with us and he is more of a slow starter, Mum pushed it back as far as she dared to 11:30.  Bearing in mind that Mum has lived in England for 45 years, she calculated how much time she needed to get there allowing for traffic and looking for parking, and then told Dad to be ready for 11:10.   This was her first mistake in my opinion.  You should never lead with the actual time you want to leave.  I have some experience with this, not only with Dad but also with D.  D asks me what time we have to leave and I always start about 30 minutes before.  That is my opening gambit.  This then allows her to bargain a little bit, and when we finally agree on the actual time of departure it is nearer the latest time I feel we should leave.  She’s happy, I’m happy, we are on time, and most of all, I am not sweating and screaming at the door with my coat on 20 minutes after the deadline for leaving.  With D, the problem is almost always wardrobe related, she forgets that as well as dressing, doing her hair, make up, and jewellery, she also has to pick a handbag, switch all the stuff she needs from one handbag to the other and that is usually the delay.  (Unless of course what she was going to wear doesn’t look like she thought it was going to look, and then we have to change the whole outfit from the earrings down which means a lot of swearing and screaming, and that’s just from me.)  I went off topic, sorry.

So, Mum told Dad 11:10.  And Dad – aware of the fact that he had a deadline – decided that that morning was the morning he was going to finally perfect the art of slow motion.  I have never seen anyone move more slowly.  He left nothing out.  No allowance was made for the fact that Mum was getting antsier and antsier.  He just went about his business as if it were just another day, and there was nothing looming on the horizon.  Mum slowly got more and more worked up, she tried shouting, pleading, she threatened to leave, she read me the riot act because I don’t drive in Greece and so of course this is all my fault because the fact that Dad takes ages to get ready is directly related to the fact that I can’t drive.  Plus which even if I could drive, Mum would have taken the car and gone to the doctor’s without us, so we would still have had to take a cab.  Never mind, the point I am making is that Mum was extremely agitated and upset and Dad was if not oblivious, seemingly unconcerned about her plight. 

I went in to try and hurry things along.

“Dad, Mum’s upset.  We should be going.  Let’s go.”

“I have explained to your Mother that here in Greece, 5 minutes here and there don’t matter.”

“I get that Dad, but if we leave at 11:30, we will be more than 5 minutes late.”

“Don’t exaggerate, of course we won’t leave at 11:30.”

“It’s 11:15 Dad, and you aren’t ready yet.”

Anyway, long story short, Mum and I went and got the car and Dad came downstairs at 11:25.  There then followed the scariest 10 minutes of my life, where Mum channelled every racing car driver you have ever heard of and some you haven’t and we arrived at the hospital, our skin tight over our faces having broken the sound and light barriers (at a brief and fraught pause at a red light, I actually texted D to tell her I loved her and would miss her in the event of my demise).  As we pulled in to the hospital car park at 11:35, Mum called the doctor to say we had arrived.  He told us to take a seat in the lobby and he would be right there.

Mum parked the car, threw the keys at me and left to go and wait in the lobby.  Dad and I followed.  Slowly.

We sat in the lobby for a further 5 minutes waiting for the doctor.  It was at this point that I saw my Dad shift in his seat and take a breath as if he were about to speak.  I could almost see a giant speech bubble forming above him with words to the effect of: “You see?  I told you 5 minutes here and there weren’t going to be a problem.  Don’t you feel silly now for over-reacting?”  I also knew what the reaction would be.  I frantically looked around wondering how to create a diversion.  Options were presenting themselves to me and I was discarding them quickly – trip up one of the people wondering around to grab Mum or Dad’s attention.  Fake some kind of heart episode or seizure.  I was just about to shout FIRE! when fortunately the doctor showed up and we followed him to his office.  My parents introduced me as their daughter, but I am sure he understood that I was their doctor because he then proceeded to talk to me and only me, addressing me in Greek doctor-ese no less.  Fortunately, I was able to follow along and nod convincingly.  Mum and Dad asked their questions, and then he turned to me and asked me if I had any questions.  I said that I didn’t, we had pretty much covered everything we needed to say, we thanked him and went back to the car.

The drive back was tense but fortunately, we made it without further incident or discussion.  Dad went off to work and Mum and I hung out all afternoon nattering.  In the evening, I was about to go out with my cousin Y for a coffee when Dad came back.  Unable to hold back any longer, he gave Mum the I-told-you-so speech.  He felt completely vindicated.  No amount of me or Mum saying that there were no circumstances under which he had right on his side would or will convince him otherwise.  I beat a hasty retreat and left them to it.  I believe this is one of those situations they have agreed to disagree on.

Just before 6pm that evening, I thought I would try calling Aegean again to see if they had forgotten me.

“Please Mrs X.  Rest easy.  Don’t worry.  It will all be ok.  Someone will be in touch.”

“It’s Miss. Or just Maria.  Thanks very much.”

At 09:30 the next morning, I called again.  This time, they weren’t even pretending to be polite or understanding.

“Please stop calling Mrs X.  We have told you that someone will call you.  There is a computer glitch.  It will be fixed and someone will be in touch.”

“It’s Miss.  I am supposed to be at the airport in a couple of hours.  I don’t want to sit in the middle seat of the row next to the toilets.  When will I be able to check in?”

“Someone will be in touch Mrs X.  Rest easy.” And with an abrupt click I was summarily dismissed.

I went to take a shower.  Of course, having waited by the phone for 48 hours, it rang during the 10 minutes I was in the shower.  My mum answered, said she was me, and agreed to spend 20 euros doing something she wasn’t actually sure what it meant so that I would finally be able to check in online.  I was annoyed.  Not with Mum, with Aegean.

“Why did you agree to pay 20 euros?  It was their mistake, why are we paying? What was the 20 euros for?”

“They were speaking to me in Greek, I didn’t quite understand them, it’s only 20 euros, just pay it.”

“That’s not the point, Mum, it’s the principle.  I shouldn’t have to pay 20 euros for the privilege of waiting by the phone all weekend and changing my flexible ticket.”

“Well I’ve done it now.  You can check in online.”

She had a point, I thanked her and left it.

I left Athens and had a smooth trip back.  When we landed, the pilot gleefully informed us that we were ahead of schedule.  We had been expecting to arrive at 15:35 and we actually landed at 15:15.  Result. After walking for 20 minutes or so to get to passport control, there was one guy checking passports for two flights.  We were queuing for 45 minutes, all the while getting more and more frustrated as this one guy made a show of asking people to take their hats and glasses off etc etc.  The only positive thing about being at Border control for so long is that by the time you get to the carousel, your suitcase is already there.  So, all told, I was outside the airport at 16:30.   That’s an hour and 15 minutes to get out of Heathrow Airport.  That’s not in the brochure…  

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