Friday, October 3, 2008

The journey of a lifetime, part III (June 22, 2007)

When we came home to my mothers house on that last day from our visit to Durbuy we had the radio on. And what did the news tell us? There was a strike of the security personel in Charleroi airport, so that no flights would be leaving that day, the next, or the day after. Aaaargh!!!! After nummerous phonecalls and being on hold on a helpline (why are they always so unhelpful) we got told not to rebook yet, because they still might fly the next day and then we would not get a refund. An hour or so later, we did get permission to find alternative transportation.

Luckily we found another plane to go to London the next day, even though it meant getting up at 5 am> The good news was that we could bring a bit more back to the US and that this plane was going directly to Heathrow and our hotel would be 'right across the street from Heathrow', so that meant less lugging with heavy suitcases. At least, that is what we thought! After an emotional goodbye and an uneventful flight, we flew off to London, to discover at the hotelkiosk there that the hotel that was 'right across the street' was actually unreachable on foot and that we had to take the special hotelbus, which costs 4 pounds each, one way. NOT a good start.
Our rooms were nice, the hotelstaff friendly, and there was a free bus close to the hotel that would drive us to the nearest tube station to visit London where we were going to meet up with my best friend. Wonderful.

Except when we found out once safely on the tube that there were works going on and that the tube was interrupted by overpacked replacement busses which took half an hour or more for the 5 minute drive that it usually is between tube stations. In London we did meet up with my friend, got soaked wet in the 15 minute walk that we spend walking around (no rain for the rest of the day), my feet swole up again to the size of a small cabage, and the mass we were trying to attend since we would have to miss it on sunday was an hour later than we had hoped for. During the journey back, the busses were packed even more full and for the first time no one even thought to give the six month pregnant lady their seat. We arrived at the hotel tired and glad to be going home the next day.

So... being a bit weary now and on our guard for impending disasters we arrive at Heathrow more than four hours early. We get jostled from one terminal to the other, then finally found the right check in counter where again we have some problems checking in by the computer due to our paper tickets. Note to self: never use paper tickets anymore. We have to stand in line for over an hour, before hearing that despite reserving for an aisle seat and a window seat on the same row, we are on oposite sides of the plane, both in a middle seat.
By now, my feet are swollen up again and I ask for a wheelchair, since I know we will be standing in line much longer for security.. While the lady at the British Airways counter says it can't be done, a few minutes later, some of the airport personel is much helpful and after some waiting, a wheelchair arrives, we are whisked quickly through security and nicely placed in a quiet spot where we can wait till they will bring us to the gate. Thank goodness!

And indeed, on the appointed time, we are brought to the gate, only to be informed about fifteen minutes later that ooops... there is a malfunction with the plane which is quite serious. There will be an update on when we can leave in an hour. The plane ends up leaving two and a half hours late, which... you can guess it already, causes us to miss our connecting flight in Chicago to Charlotte. Wonderful.... *sigh* Luckily British Airways takes it's responsability and we are put in a nice hotel and are booked on another flight by US airways tomorrow morning at ten thirty. We call off C., my husbands collegue who is kind enough to come pick us up at the airport (since we still don't have a car of course) and he offers to come for us the next day.

So the next day we rise early, go to the airport and at 8.30 am are in a new line for those unfortunate people with paper tickets to check in. We wait more than half an hour for the one person before us to finish his business, hand over our paper slip, our passport and wait smiling. Only to be told that... we are not booked. We're not in the computer system. Not for today, yesterday, or tomorrow. Something must have happened, B.A. must not have booked. Anyhow, the plane is full, nothing they can do, no, they can't even call Brittish Airways, we have to go see them ourselves, in the other terminal of course!

Exhausted and close to tears, we drag our suitcases to the other terminal and find that the B.A. terminal doesn't open till 1 pm. There is however a phonenumber. A helpline, God help us! After hanging on the phone for half an hour we find out that they unfortunatley can't do anything for us, as this must be solved at the local airport, so we have to wait till 1 pm. We call C. again with thousand apologies and tell him we will call again as soon as we know more, but we know for certain we will not be in the airport at the right time.

So... three hours later, the counter opens. We get a nice young man with a thousand apologies and no clue what could have gone wrong who immediately proceeds to try and book us to Charlotte. The only flight on which he can get us guaranteed tickets is at 9 pm, but he assures us we will be able to get an earlier standbye flight with the airline. United Airways this time.
So over to the United Airways counter, again in the other terminal. Yes, he can book us standbye in a plane that goes at 3.30 pm. WOnderful. Great. We check in, again I am singled out for special inspection (gosh, I must look more dangerous than I thought), but we arrive safely at the gate and sit there and wait. By now we are nearly out of cash and getting hungry, because British Airways aparently didn't find it necessary to give us even a mealcoupon for this extra day spend on the airport.

We call C. again to tell him that at 3.15 we will know when we will arrive. At 3.15 we find out that the plane is delayed. Then that the pilot is delayed. At 4.45 when finally the boarding would start a great thunderstorm lights over the airport. And finally at 5.15 our names are called and we hear we can board. Then there is the small altercation in which they claim that we don't have a certain document and they won't let us fly while we, with tears in my eyes now, tell them that we have given them every document given to us, which of course is not their problem. Luckily they find the document that they accidentily tore up because they hadn't seen it ont he back of another one, stapled it back together and let us on the plane.

We need to wait in line for five other planes to depart, and then they close all runways due to a technical failing. Luckily it is quickly solved and at about 6 pm, we are finally airborn.
Miracle of miracles our lugage arrives with us in Charlotte. C. is waiting for us, and at 9.45 pm in the evening, we are finally home after what most certainly was....
the journey of a lifetime.

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