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MARTEL MAXWELL: Ukrainian refugees put my Edinburgh Airport delays into perspective

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Ah, that giddy sense of hope that comes with going on your summer holidays.

The car boot’s bursting with bags and you’re wearing shorts with the knowledge you’ll be somewhere hot in a matter of hours.

A bit of Cliff Richard on the stereo and you’re off.

“We’re all going on a….”

But, for a lot of people this year this year, going on a summer holiday has been as much fun as standing on a plug.

Take the thousands who queued in cars for the Eurotunnel for 21 hours.

Roads flowed with urine as gridlocked passengers had no option but to wee in the street before rationing a bag of crisps between a family of five.

Probably not the al fresco dining experience they’d been hoping for.

For others, it was only when they arrived back – and namely to Edinburgh Airport – that the chaos started.

Rather embarrassingly, golfers who had travelled from all over the world to play at The Open in St Andrews, flew out of Edinburgh while their bags did not.

Piles of luggage were left behind, meaning many had none of the clubs or clothes they needed for the next tournament on their circuit.

A friend arrived in Italy with none of the summer wardrobe she’d bought for a 20th wedding anniversary with her husband.

They’d saved for the past few years for a dream getaway to Tuscany for their milestone.

But the new dresses she’d dreamed of wearing for romantic dinners only arrived when she got back home because handlers at Edinburgh hadn’t put them on the plane.

Edinburgh Airport is the final hurdle

We had a week in Spain and I was thankful, not least with three boys, that there were no excessive delays.

It was only when we reached the final hurdle of Edinburgh Airport, when everyone was tired, grumpy and in need of their own beds, that the waiting started.

When I tried to get any information about where our suitcases might be, one staff member replied: “We don’t have an information desk for this kind of thing.”

Edinburgh Airport.

“What, no information desk or staff at all?” I asked as my youngest licked the floor and weary travellers stepped over him and his brothers.

“Nothing,” she said, “And I’ll be honest with you. You could be here all day. It’ll be hours anyway. They sacked everyone over lockdown and didn’t think they’d be this busy until 2024.”

She advised me to call Swissport – the handler for our Ryanair flight and I left a message on the answer machine, certain no one would listen to it, much less reply.

In the end, we waited for almost three hours but at least they arrived.

Covid can be the reason or the excuse

It all paled into insignificance though, when I spotted an information desk set up to meet Ukrainian refugees.

Volunteers welcome them to Scotland, get them a taxi or bus and book them into a local hotel, with leaflets, advice and warm smiles.

The volunteer that day told me nine in ten of the queries he was handling were not from refugees, but from passengers wondering where their belongings were.

Each time, he had to explain that not only could he not help them, there was no one who could.

I thought of the refugees arriving here only to find the little they had left and had packed into a bag, was lost or missing because Edinburgh Airport wasn’t ready for a busy spell.

Sometimes Covid is the reason for ineptitude and poor customer service – but sometimes it is the excuse.

As we headed for the carpark, a lady was in tears.

She’d left her home in another country to set up a new life with her new Scottish husband but – after six hours of waiting – she had no luggage.

A member of staff was taking her phone number and telling her she’d get a call when – if – it turned up.

I hope it did.

Edinburgh Airport has fallen short this summer – not least for visitors whose first impression is weary at best.

But wherever you’re off to this summer, from Fuengirola to a day out in the Ferry, I hope it goes smoothly.

And that Cliff’s unwavering optimism fills your holiday heart with joy.