As a ski tour manager I have emerged from the this winter relatively unscathed. Just one injury to deal with. But I am not always so lucky. The worst day for catastrophes is the last day of a trip and when things start going wrong there is no telling what will happen next …
Valda decides not to ski to avoid injury and goes bowling instead …
I had just slipped into a hot bath and lathered my hair with shampoo when there was a frantic hammering at my door. Valda had slipped over in the bowling alley and seriously injured her arm. She was still at the medical centre but was being transferred to the hospital thirty kilometres down the mountain. The ambulance would be leaving in a few minutes and it was unlikely the driver would wait for me. I stuffed my wet, tangled hair into a woolly and hat, pulled on some warm clothes and raced down the road. The ambulance was reversing out when I arrived and paused just long enough for me to leap aboard.
It was a hair-raising ride down the mountain as we bumped over potholes and veered round sharp corners. Occasionally Valda would let out a shriek of pain despite having been heavily sedated. I could not do anything; I could not even hold her hand as there was a plastic screen between us. All I could do was shout words of sympathy util we arrived at the hospital.
X-rays revealed several fractures that would require surgery so she would not be able to fly home with us the following day. I waited until she was taken to the ward and made her as comfortable as I could before getting a taxi back to my hotel. I had missed dinner by then but I had sent a text to Oscar, a member of the group, and asked him to liberate some bread, cheese and wine from the restaurant for me. He was waiting in the lobby when I got back. So was Polly. Oscar was anxious for news about Valda and Polly wanted to know why the packed breakfasts for herself and Olga had not been delivered to reception as promised. I could do nothing about this problem as the kitchens were now closed. Polly could have asked in the restaurant while it was still open but it was more fun to berate me about the hotel’s shortcomings.
It was a race against time to pack both mine and Valda’s cases and make all the necessary phone calls – insurance company, next of kin (daughter) and my office. As it was a physical injury there was no necessity for anyone to stay with Valda and once she was able to leave hospital she would be collected, transferred to the airport and then met when she arrived in the UK and taken home. I would take her case to the hospital the next morning as soon as I had dealt with my first departure at four thirty the next morning.
Polly has some disturbing news for me …
It had rained during the night and then the temperature had dropped and every surface was covered with a thin layer of ice. Cars were slithering around on the frozen road and I was very relieved to see the transfer taxi appearing through the gloom. As soon as it had departed I collected Valda’s luggage and got a taxi to the hospital. During my journey I had a call from Polly to say their driver was complaining that he had not been paid and unless my company paid the bill for all the transfers that day all the other vehicles would be cancelled. I had confirmation of payment so I told Polly to tell the taxi driver I would fax him a copy as soon as I got back to the hotel.
The roads were still treacherous and despite the early hour the traffic was already building up. My taxi driver took a heart-stopping short cut down a ski run and we were soon at our destination. I retained him to take me back to the hotel. The ward the sister told me they had been waiting for me to wash Valda before her surgery. I did the best I could. When I realised the hospital staff expected me to look after her all day I explained I had to get twenty people back to England that day and left.
On my way back to the hotel Zoe, Valda’s daughter, called to say she thought I should stay with her mother as she was involved with birthday celebrations that evening and then the following day she had an important business meeting. I said it was not possible and anyway the insurance company would not cover my expenses. A volley of calls passed between me, Zoe and my company – all on my mobile phone. Zoe must have been very persuasive as my manager was suggesting I should stay. Our discussion was interrupted by a second call from Polly. They were at the airport and their driver was asking them to pay for their taxi as he had no proof that the bill had already been paid. She put the driver on the phone and I promised to fax the details of payment to him within the next hour.
More problems were gathering on my horizon. I did not have enough cash with me to pay my own taxi fare. I sent Oscar a text asking him to meet me in reception with some money. By now there were queues of traffic everywhere. These had been created by an abundance of tow trucks desperately trying to rescue vehicles that had skidded off the road but they were fighting a losing battle. We were barely moving and the situation deteriorated as drivers abandoned vehicles on the road to continue their journey on foot. We crawled along until we were one kilometre away from the village. My driver pulled over and said that was as far as he was going. I asked if he was going to wait there while I walked to the hotel and then returned with his fare. He gave me an exasperated look and said he would accept what I had in my purse – half his fare. Both the road and the pavement were so treacherous that the only way I could battle up the hill to the hotel was to cling to garden fences and pull myself along and finally I stumbled into reception.
Gaye’s transfer does not arrive as all roads into the resort are blocked ..
My first task was to fax details of payment to the taxi firm. While I was doing that more calls were coming in from Zoe and my manager. Zoe had changed tactics and disclosed to my manager that her mother had been very ill and had only just recovered. This illness had not been declared to the insurance company and a whole new can of worms had been opened. However, the matter was quickly resolved by the insurance company – if Zoe would stop insisting that someone should stay with her mother the claim would be accepted otherwise further investigations would be necessary regarding the undeclared condition. Zoe backed down.
Another crisis was looming. The taxi transporting Gaye to the airport could not get through. Her flight and transfer had been organised through another tour operator. Now I had another party to deal with. I set up a mini call centre in my room – a landline, a mobile and internet access on my laptop. Gaye remained calm throughout and even helped me deal with all the calls that were coming in.
We had just passed the deadline for Gaye to leave to catch her flight when I realised that there would be an unused ticket on our BA flight as Valda would not be travelling with us. I called her tour operator and asked him to investigate the possibility of using this ticket. Gaye could then travel to the airport with us. My suggestion was received enthusiastically and it was not long before the deal had been done. All I had to do was collect a ticket for Gaye at the airport. But would our vehicles be able to get through to collect us? They were already late.
A Race against Time …
Finally, three vehicles arrived to transfer us but all at different times so I was filling them up and sending them off as soon as they appeared. I was in the last vehicle and we soon caught up with the other two and who were speeding along the motorway speeding along through heavy rain. Such was our driver’s determination to get us there in time that he seemed oblivious to the traffic around him and the intermittent red lights ahead that indicated that the traffic was coming to a standstill. When he did realise and slammed on the brakes we nearly aquaplaned into the back of the vehicle in front. “Excusez moi,” he muttered and then began a series of undertaking and overtaking manoeuvres to try and get through the traffic. He talked constantly with his colleagues on his mobile. When the traffic slowed to a halt they decided to divert across country and we formed a convoy speeding along the narrow lanes. We had a few detours, one into a farmyard and another into a gravel pit but at least we were moving forwards all the time. Thanks to the local knowledge of our drivers we got to the airport in time.
A Bomb Scare at the Airport …
My group was on two different flights so I sent everyone off to their respective check-in areas and then went with Gaye to get her ticket for our scheduled flight. I had promised the group on the charter flight that I would follow them to their check-in desk to make sure everything was okay and say goodbye. Once Gaye had her ticket I walked to the other terminal building intending to keep my promise but I was not allowed into the building as the whole area was cordoned off. A suspicious bag had been discovered in the check-in area and was being blown up. Before the ‘all clear’ was given my flight was already boarding. I just hoped they would realise what had happened.
At last we were on our way home and I could relax – all I had to worry about was the £79 bill I had run up on my mobile phone. And then there were the calls I had made from the hotel that morning – lots of them. But it was all in a day’s work for a tour manager.