The chaos in the world’s skies over the last week meant that many of us wondered how on earth we were going to get home from Shanghai. Being stuck in China wasn’t high on anyone’s lists of places to be stranded, but there was little one could actually do about the situation.
Some chose to book incredible journeys around the globe, taking in places as diverse as New York, Casablanca, Cairo, Porto, Vietnam, Moscow, Dubai and Istanbul. Others chose to sit tight and wait.
I, despite having a four week old daughter that I desperately wanted to see, sat in the latter half of the group. Having spoken at length with fellow journos Hans Seeberg, Tom Clarkson and Edd Straw, we decided that inaction was better than overeaction… and then we struck gold.
We’d heard that Lotus boss Tony Fernandes, who also owns one of the biggest commercial airlines in Asia, was putting on a flight to get his boys home as soon as UK airspace opened. And the four uf us had, completely independently and without knowledge that the others had also done so, approached him about the possibility of getting on board. I asked in the middle of an interview live on SPEED on the F1 grid, and Tony was most gracious in saying a very smily “yes.”
All we had to do was to get ourselves to Kuala Lumpur, and Lotus would take care of the rest.
And so it was that at 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, we left out hotel in Shanghai and took a 200+ km taxi ride to Shanghai Hangzhou airport. After a spot of dinner and a massive shunt with some horrible beers, we realised that another journalist, Adam Cooper, had not arrived. Turned out he’d gone to the wrong airport, poor bloke. Rather than risk wasting the £300 round trip in a taxi if he’d missed the flight, Adam dropped off the plane and it was just the four of us… here’s what happened over the next 36ish hours.
From KL’s smaller terminal we took a cab into the city to the Equatorial hotel, in which Lotus had sorted us some rooms. We checked in, grabbed some breakfast and then set about getting a few hours sleep. Three to be precise, because at 10am came the call we’d not even dared to dream would arrive so fast.
“Get your arses to the airport,” came the shout from Lotus’ PR man Tom Webb. “We fly at 2.”
Cue hasty re-packing of bags and speedy check out from the hotel which had cost us a rather amusing 50 pence per minute of rest. Genius! Well most of hastily re-packed. Tom couldn’t do much, having sent his clothes to the laundry. He’s hoping they’ll send him his stuff in the post, as this was not a flight any of us wanted to miss.
We arrived at the airport and caught up with Mia Sharizman Ismail, Lotus’ Operations guru who called us to the front of the queue to check in immediately for the flight. We caught up with some of the Lotus boys who’d arrived a few days before and whom their team boss Tony Fernandes had been looking after, giving them tours of the Air Asia facilities, letting them try out the aircraft simulators (£15 million a pop), and who had organised a day of go karting and a massive party for the evening we ended up having to leave KL. They adore him, to a man. And it is easy to see why.
A quick McDonalds later, and we had passed security and were tucking into a celebratory beer with Tom Webb. The gate was called and we made our way over to Gate 16… and look who was waiting for us…
So almost 40 hours after waking up on Tuesday in Shanghai, all four of us had made it home, thanks to the incredible kindness of our new favourite F1 team Lotus, and our new hero, Mr Tony Fernandes.
A huge thank you has to go to Silvi Schaumloeffel and Mike Gascoyne and a lifetime’s gratitude to Tom Webb, Mia Sharizman Ismail and, of course, the legend that is Tony Fernandes. Thank you all.
And for those still stuck in Shanghai, a heartfelt “keep your chin up.” Here’s hoping everyone gets back soon.