Silver Linings: ‘The brilliant people in the world amaze me’

Maria Voller, marketing communications and events director for the M&IT and AMI brands of Northstar Travel Group, shares her Silver Lining to a stressful week in Barbados.

I’d sealed my fateful week at the beginning of the year when booking a surprise holiday for my husband’s 60th birthday to Barbados. We weren’t aware of the coronavirus and it certainly wasn’t hitting the headlines. As the weeks went by, other countries were suffering and it hadn’t hit home just how bad things would get. If I knew then what a week we would have, I would definitely have cancelled.

The week before we were due to depart, Virgin Atlantic was looking at combining flights and changed our flight app a number of times and different aircraft mean different seat layouts. Now, as a nervous flyer, I know them all inside out – much to their amusement. After a number of conversations, we were moved to an earlier flight and back in the class we originally booked.

Our flight down was good, a bit bumpy but we had a brilliant flight service manager who kept an eye on my clearly nervous vibes and who kept us topped up with drinks. We were in good spirits on Saturday night, Sunday was good and then it went downhill from there.

You couldn’t escape the problem. The millions of rumours, the threat of no flights, closed borders and that the hotel might close without notice. I know it’s easy for people to say that there are worse places to be stuck, but believe me, while staring at a slice of paradise is an attractive thought, one of closed borders for a minimum of 30 days strikes fear through the most stable of hearts – of which mine isn’t.

Women were crying on the beach as one by one their flights were being cancelled, the husbands playing the dutiful role of ‘it will be ok’ – of course that had us all scrambling for our phones and emails each time it happened.

Nervous wrecks

Airlines were closing phone lines and asking you to wait until you received an email which of course is never quickly received. We were nervous wrecks watching the flight apps and emails multiple times a day. As the hotel was on the final approach to the airport, the highlight of each day for all guests was watching their own airline arrive and know they were still coming in. It was accompanied by that silent prayer of please come back for me and a rum punch for calmness.

The hotel had lost its atmosphere, guests emptied by the day, no new ones replaced them and it was hard to take. The staff were miserable, their schools had been shut and they didn’t know what would be next, tourism is their life. They did their best to rally round in extremely difficult circumstances.

We thought about asking to transfer to an earlier flight but transfer fees were around £750 each but we were wary of them cancelling less busy flights and we thought we had the best chance on our original Saturday night flight which we knew was full. At check-in we were asked if we wanted to offload – ‘ABSOLUTELY NOT’ I almost shouted it.

The transfer to the airport was littered with sirens as police escorted coaches of cruise passengers from their ship directly onto specially drafted in planes.


The airport was chaos, the baggage belt was broken, and cases were everywhere – it looked like the biggest security breach in history. I left the bags with the desk and thought ‘I don’t care if we don’t see them again as long as we got on that plane’.

Sitting in the Virgin Atlantic lounge at Bridgetown airport restored a little bit of peace to my very busy mind, we watched the BA flight arrive and we watched the other BA flight leave, the earlier Virgin Atlantic to Gatwick left, the Virgin Atlantic to Manchester left – you started to wish you were on one of those flights.

Silver Lining

Our flight had arrived in with a handful of passengers on and we were finally called for boarding. Even on board, I couldn’t relax until we were in the air but then we found out that New York had just shut its airspace, which covered our route home. They had multiple air traffic controllers with the virus and sent the rest of the team home. Our flight service manager said that some of the airports in the US were manually landing by handing over captain to captain as they put themselves into a landing circle – a scary thought but hats off to those pilots.

Brilliant people

Our route home was closed and our captain was manually trying to work a route around New York. I had visions of us all being off-loaded again, we took on more fuel and the flight was going to be two hours longer as we had to go south, then towards Africa and up the coast of Portugal. Finally, the door was shut and we taxied.

In the two hours of awful turbulence that followed I struggled to be grateful, the flight was thrown around all over the place, I had to admire the crew for battling through, I was kept topped up with whiskey and coke by our cabin manager and eventually I fell asleep.

It should have been a celebration of my husband’s 60th and I was really disappointed for him but despite being burnt out and exhausted we are more than grateful to be home.

What never ceases to amaze me is the number of brilliant people in the world, calm and kind in the most difficult of times. Thank you Virgin Atlantic for getting us home against all the odds, please go back for those still waiting…