As it seems to with all stories these days, my adventure started with a COVID test.
A week earlier, I had been invited to attend a meeting in Spain with a future business partner who was potentially considering investing in the company. As you can imagine, travelling in the middle of a pandemic isn’t as pleasant as pre-COVID times.
Although the situation is improving, only a few weeks ago airline options were limited, mandatory tests were numerous, rules were ever-changing and the prospect of a 10-day quarantine on return wasn’t all that appealing. Having opted for an early release from quarantine by paying for the day-5 test, travelling to an amber listed country was expensive, complex and a true pain in the neck.
Despite the inconvenience and expense, knowing how important it was to the company, I decided to go.
Kirsty, my fantastic assistant, booked the airline tickets (costly due to the lack of options), the hotel and all the relevant COVID tests (also expensive as hell – over £300 in total just for the tests) well in advance to ensure there weren’t any surprises.
Having previously flown on business with an NHS test, and knowing the number of private tests I’d need to take both during the trip and on my return, I went to the same local NHS testing centre I had visited before and completed my pre-flight tests. They came back negative within a few hours and all was looking good.
This is where things began to unravel.
First, around midnight, upon finalising the Spanish Health Questionnaire, I came across a statement of confirmation to declare: I had a negative PCR test.
Well, I did have a negative test, but… it wasn’t PCR. It was lateral flow.
I decided to do some digging and ended up on the UK government website which indicated Spaniards expect PCR tests from passengers arriving from the UK. The Spanish government website, however, stated that they required PCR tests only from countries on their Red List. As the UK was not on their Red List, the only logical explanation that came to my mind was that the UK website wasn’t up to date. Things had frequently been changing when it came to COVID and how each country was dealing with it.
The second sticking point revealed itself on the day of departure, in the form of a young, smiling Iberia representative, when the friendly greeting swiftly changed the moment she saw the NHS logo: NHS tests were no longer accepted.
“Really? How come?”, I reacted. She replied, “You need tests from a private laboratory now.” With only a carry-on and my laptop, I had given myself an hour to check in before my flight.
Directed to a private laboratory a few metres behind the check-in desk, which turned out to be closed, I embarked on my own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Upon being redirected to another laboratory and told if I hurried, they’d extend the time for me, I channelled my inner 007 and ran to the next available lab. Down the escalator, along the terminal, to the southern end of it. I asked which tests would be acceptable and the response was uncertain. Thinking a second opinion was best, I was then advised all that was needed was proof of a negative test from a private lab - regardless of the type of test - but the reply was hesitant at best. Third time lucky, the final response stated that while not 100% sure, it was likely a LAMP test, and not a PCR, was needed.
Desperately trying to book a test with patchy mobile signal (a prerequisite to even access the lab at Heathrow), I opted to get both tests and hoped one would work.
At this point, the end of the check-in process was 15 minutes away.
I rushed back to the check-in desks. As I arrived… they were closing. The manager who told me that they could wait for me was no longer there, and the lady at the check-in desk said she couldn’t wait any longer. Fortunately for me, a pilot arrived and asked to be checked in on the flight, too.
It took them a couple of minutes to attend to him, and as the manager was finishing the pilot’s check-in, my negative test result arrived! I showed her the message on my phone, and she gave me my boarding pass.
Now just the matter of finding the security gate with 30 minutes left before the plane was due to depart.
When I arrived at the security gate entrance, I soon discovered it was closed!
The reality of my situation dawned on me when a kind guard explained that I’d have to go to the other end of the terminal and pass through the other security gate.
This wasn’t good.
I started to run again.
Finally, I arrived at the north security gate with the flight status showing Final Call. But that was fine, I knew I could make it.
I took a deep breath and sighed with relief.
And then… a sinking realisation… where the f**k was my laptop bag?!
When I arrived at the airport, I had both my carry on and a separate laptop bag. And there I was…
Carry on? Check!
Laptop bag? MIA.
It dawned on me that the laptop bag was containing my wallet, credit and debit cards, driving licence, some cash, and both car and home keys.
I had a dilemma to face: board the plane without all my essentials (and most likely lose them) or miss the flight and lose a potential business relationship.
The bag could have been anywhere - the Iberia check-in desk, the COVID lab, the closed south security gate. The plane would be departing in 25 minutes. I would not make it back in time. Though security personnel offered to help me, they said it could take a while before they would be able to check all of the potential locations I’d passed.
And then… Eureka! A modern-day fairy godmother came to the rescue in the form of an AirTag.
I remembered that a week earlier, I’d purchased a few AirTags and placed one of them on my keys. I fired up the FindMy app and there they were - my keys - at the Iberia check-in desk. I showed my phone to security, and they radioed the exact location to their colleagues. It took another 10 minutes before they retrieved my laptop bag - but they did it! Amazing assistance from the Heathrow crew!
I had 15 minutes to get to my gate which was in another building, coincidentally a 15-minute walk (and a transit train) away.
I ran. Again. Like Forrest Gump!
I jumped escalators, stairs. Overtook everyone along the way.
I arrived at the gate to discover that it had just closed and the staff were about to leave. Red-faced, breathing heavily, sweat running down my forehead, I’d looked better but I felt even worse.
I could see the ground crew already removing concrete blocks from the wheels and knew the plane was just about to start taxiing.
Explaining to an incredulous member of staff just how important it was for me to board that flight (it was nowhere near as romantic as Love Actually or the final episode of Friends) and looking as if I might keel over, she tried three times to get in touch with the crew. Eventually, she smiled and said: “If you’re there in two minutes, they’ll let you in”.
I ran again. Forrest Gump 2.
I couldn’t believe I managed, but the amazing Iberia crew did open the door to the plane for me and, smiling, waved me inside. As I sat in my chair the plane started taxiing and very soon we were up in the air.
My (mis)adventure might have started with a COVID test but thanks to an Apple AirTag (and some questionable running), it ended happily on a plane that day!
When dissecting the lessons from this experience, my assistant decided a large glass of wine was necessary whenever I flew, but personally? I validated two things:
Firstly - never, ever give up! Even if people say it’s too late. That you can’t make it. You can’t win. Well - just push a bit harder. It’s worth it.
Secondly - smart tech really does prevent the unthinkable from happening.
If it weren’t for the AirTag - I could have lost all my valuables, important documents, irreplaceable data and personal effects that day - as well as missing an incredibly important flight.
Hell - my bag could even have triggered a terrorist alert if it hadn’t been retrieved.
AirTag, this small, £29 smart device, saved the day!
And smart devices can do the same for your home. That's why we're building Hiro ;)