“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” – Fitzhugh Mullan
I’m hoping we have gotten the daventure part out of the way up front – When Yvonne visited us, she ended up having an 8 hour layover in Chicago. None of that for me! I vowed. When I booked for tickets for this trip I put a lot of emphasis on finding a route with the least time traveled. As I wrote to Yvonne just before we left – We won’t have grass growing under our feet for this flight! Or so I thought…. Our route was GR to Chicago. 1 hour layover. Chicago to Manchester, England (yay, I thought…no London!) 2 hour layover. Then a hop, skip and a jump from Manchester to Cork, Ireland, arriving early enough in the day to do a little sightseeing on the way to Yvonne’s home. GR to Chicago was a cinch. In Chicago, the first sign of trouble was when they didn’t seem to be boarding on time. Yep, a mechanical delay. The buttons for calling the flight attendants weren’t working -because so many people use those on an overnight flight….(sarcasm)… We finally boarded and I was already worried about the delay cutting into our gate transfer time in Manchester. Then, we sat there for what seemed like forever and the captain came on the intercom and said they were finishing up their paperwork. Mike said – What were they doing during the big delay? Then, the long taxi line for take-off. By the time we took off, I was pretty sure we were going to have trouble making our Cork flight…but wait.. hope!…the pilots said they were going to try to make up the time in the air as much as possible. I settled in and decided not to worry….zzzzzzzz… and 6 or 7 hours later as we approached Manchester, the pilot said they’d made up about an hour of the two hour delay. Hope! Moments later he announced that Manchester had put them in a holding pattern due to traffic at the airport…Dashed! Hope was becoming more slippery than a greased pig at the county fair. By the time we landed, we had maybe 35 minutes to make our flight. You can’t keep an inveterate hoper down… I actually thought we had a chance. Oh…how the fates were laughing at me. When you transit an airport in Europe it seems they all have these bus systems between terminals. So first you have to get off the plane and then rush to a transfer station and wait for a bus to show up. The bus took us from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 where there was a special area for passengers arriving from points outside of the UK and trying to make a connecting flight. This was a very small area, but there was a security line. We got in line…not terribly long…and a guy behind us asked if we’d let him move ahead because he was going to miss his flight. I said, Us too! The people ahead of us heard this and let us all get to the head of the line (Hope! Maybe we’ll make it?) This is where things went sideways. I travel…you know I do! I’ve been through security a million times… and I totally went brain dead this time. I pulled the laptop out of my carry-on bag and threw it and the bag on the belt and walked through the gate – ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. What the heck? I always dress for this point in the travel process and never ever wear anything that needs to be managed -such as clothes with metal details, belts or big jewelry or hair clips/barrettes… nothing in the pockets…etc. So, once that happened, they asked me to step into the other big X-ray machine and when I came out of that I still had to go through the entire pat down/strip search (just kidding) and take my shoes off (they weren’t requiring everyone to take shoes off) -which then had to be returned to the X-ray belt for further examination. They happen to be new running shoes, but I didn’t feel we had the time for security to admire them so much… Then I turned around to realize that they were now pawing through my carry-on. I forgot that I’d purchased a bottle of water in Grand Rapids …100 hours ago… so that’s on me. Then the guy was saying ..oh you didn’t take out your baggie!
…and oh, your iPad and Kindle should have been out like the laptop (the sign before the X-ray stuff said laptops, in my rush I hadn’t noticed if it said iPads and kindles)…so now he takes all of that stuff out and and puts it, plus the carry-on through the Xray scanner again. I’m saying – We’re going to miss our flight!… and he’s being quite nice and saying… Oh, be optimistic! Yeah…it makes me really optimistic to have 30 minutes to catch a flight and my one small carry-on is being examined down to the seams and traced back to the year/date/model/time of manufacture. I realized at that point that when I had passed through the security gate the first time, I’d left my watch on. So I thought… OK rookie mistake and look what happened! I said something to Mike and it turns out he’d left his watch on too and kept his mini Pad in his bag… and he’s good to go! I can’t figure out what set the machines off on me. I was wearing the exact same thing (other than the watch) that I wore in Grand Rapids when I went through security with flying colors. In the meantime while I’m doing the security area floor show and entertaining the troops, Mike is getting in the line for the immigration desk and a representative from American Airlines talks to him and tells him that we’re not going to make the flight. The immigration desk is another whole story. There’s people already ahead of us with problems (like they don’t speak English) and it’s not a matter of passport please…stamp…stamp…have a nice day. We probably weren’t more than 3-4 people back in line but it might as well have been 1,000. It’s a good thing we already knew we wouldn’t be making the flight or the security line drama would have been my total undoing! (cue M E L T D O W N) So FINALLY it is our turn and the official says…”You need to fill out these immigration forms fully. You need to list who you’re visiting and where you’re staying in the UK”. I, who by now have simply and completely lost the plot, say -“but we’re going to Cork, Ireland!” Ireland is in the UK ma’am, he answers. “I’ll be right back”, I say. “I think I lost my brains in the 2nd X-ray machine”. So we had to step to the side and correct our forms and when we’re ready to step up again -ALL of the people who’d just been ahead of us causing a backup with immigration and who also had had to step aside for various reasons had just gotten back in line AGAIN seconds ahead of us. So there we were – 3-4 people back in the line again… deja vu! And it took just as long the second time. (As an aside…for the next day or so, I was really mad at myself for not knowing Ireland is part of the UK…I mean…I consider myself a trivia savant and my special interest is geography…which I pride myself on… so HOW COULD I NOT KNOW THAT??? I had been sure that when we arrived in Manchester we’d do some sort of transit immigration in the UK and do the real passport stamping….where are you staying?…immigration stuff in Cork. Then, I told this story to Yvonne and she said… “WHAT? Ireland is NOT part of the UK… !!!!!!! I don’t know what that guy was talking about.” Boy did I feel better! I think the misunderstanding came from the fact that the UK handles visitors to Ireland as if they’re staying in the UK because of some sort of agreement between the governments. In the middle of all of this -the staff at the transit desk in the same area went to work rebooking us (without us even asking about it yet …and without asking what our preferences might be) and while we were still in the immigration line they called out to us and handed us our new tickets. Instead of leaving Manchester at 9:05 AM and arriving in Cork at 10:30 AM – we were now flying to London at 11:55 AM (sigh), where we would stay for about 5 hours (sigh) and then fly to Cork, arriving at 7:30 PM. What a fun day! (That’s not really how we were feeling…which I’m sure I don’t have to tell you.) Thanks American Airlines! 🙁 To add insult to injury – I’m saying this trip is to celebrate our 35th anniversary (coming up in August) and the flight crew out of Chicago gave us a bottle of Champagne right before we landed. Jolly old England took it away at the security point. SIGH… So, in retrospect I’ve decided that somehow I was simply cursed on July 31, 2015. What else could explain the whole crazy day? As we left the immigration area in Manchester with only a piece of paper saying we were booked on the London flight…we came upon a new experience: The bio-metric checkpoint. Before we could enter the terminal, we had to have our picture taken at a kiosk and we received a piece of paper with a bar code on it. We were told not to lose it. So, we got through that and found a British Air desk and they said…Oh, we can’t give you a boarding pass -you’ll get it at the gate. Airports in Europe don’t like to announce the gate until what seems like the last minute to us. They want you to stay in a general waiting area near the shops and restaurants and then about an hour (or less) before the flight they’ll post a gate and then you rush like crazy to get to it …they’re usually boarding by the time you get there… it’s stressful! So, we find out the gate and it turns out that it is back on the other side of the bio-metric checkpoint…sigh… so we go to the checkpoint and Mike accidentally hands me his form…so I scan it and the screen shows his picture and my face both… NOT A MATCH. We figure that out and switch forms and the camera still doesn’t like me…so this guy comes out from the desk and says…make sure your feet are on the feet (painted on the floor)…they are. NOT A MATCH… Then he says…square up to the camera and scans it again for me… NOT A MATCH! …he exhales really loudly and goes… It’s your hair! I said… I’ve never been able to do a thing with it! He does something manually and lets me though. When we got to the boarding area for the London flight the person working the desk said…We can’t give you a boarding pass. Why? No reason that we could understand. She did assign us some seats and said we’d get on… just no pass. We thought that was weird. When we’d realized earlier how much longer the day was going to be, Mike said… “I’m going to be having a melt-down at some point today -like a 2 year old- just so you know”. (He’s not the best traveler.) We finally boarded the London flight and we were seated in different rows. I was directly behind him. We both had aisle seats. Before the flight could depart there was a family just ahead of Mike that had two young kids and for some reason the little boy was pitching one of the biggest fits I’ve ever witnessed on a plane. I guess he didn’t want to sit in his own seat and be belted in. I’m talking MAJOR meltdown. They finally got that sorted and we got into the air and a little while later, Mike tapped me on the knee and leaned back and said… “That wasn’t me having a meltdown awhile back…it was a real baby!” Upon landing in London… second verse same as the first. We had to take a bus to the next terminal we needed and …yep… there was another security line. You can be sure that my watch was off and stowed… and my computer, iPad and Kindle were all out of the carry-on. I walked through the X-ray machine …yay..! no trouble. Turned to wait for my carry-on and just as it emerged from the X-ray tunnel an automated bar popped up and pushed it off to a side set of rollers … Yep…security wanted to dig through my bag AGAIN! I told that guy.. “You guys are just after my candy!” It was OK…we had 5 hours this time. Next we had to go through another immigration line. Can we see your boarding pass please? We don’t have any! (Always a popular answer at immigration)… We explained. Then they asked for our immigration cards. We said, “We just did immigration in Manchester.” (and don’t tell me Manchester isn’t in England!) Somehow we talked our way out of there. Whew! I don’t know why we ended up having so many security checks and immigration issues. I’ve just recently gotten a new credit card and one of the perks is membership in a group of airport lounges. I suggested to Mike that it was the moment to give that a try out. I looked up where there was one at Heathrow and it was mere steps from where we officially entered the terminal we needed to be in. What a treat! It was quiet. We had free drinks and some snacky food choices. Free Wi-fi ! There were other perks that we didn’t bother with -such as showers and even rooms to lay down and sleep. We spent about three hours in there and that really went a long way toward making our crappy day just a bit more bearable. It felt like we were dreaming when we finally got on the flight to Cork. Upon arrival we waited at the baggage carousel with a glimmer of hope -but feeling really sure our bags weren’t with us. Nor were they sitting in the unclaimed baggage area. So once we confirmed we had no bags, we made the report and left the airport. Yvonne was waiting patiently and had already figured out we had a baggage problem since we, the baggage agent and Yvonne seemed to be the only people left in the airport. We had a quick dinner in Cork before our disorienting drive through the countryside to Yvonne’s. The roads here are very narrow, curvy and with no shoulders. The tall brush is seemingly only cut back by the effort of passing cars. On many stretches it was like driving through a continuous green tunnel. The fun came when there was an oncoming car. Yvonne says her car carries the scars of previous journeys! It was about an hour and 1/2 before we were at her house and wearily climbing into bed for a well-earned night of sleep. We were both pretty tired!