I had thought at Heathrow on Thursday afternoon… that it would be a routine flight. The Mrs. was on a business trip to Chicago with a colleague for a few weeks. We decided I would visit my dad and go up to the Catskills with him. I would also see to some works our house needs and prep it for winter… and maybe entirely finish off a little, uh, something, I have been writing.
It turned out to be anything but a routine flight. They were just about to serve dinner at 40,000 feet when, over Ireland, our British Airways plane banked left and the captain came on. For a moment you think, Holy Sh-t. Nothing to be concerned about quickly he said. He was so sorry and really embarrassed. He had had a root canal a week before, had been cleared to fly and had felt fine, but he was now in unexpected pain that was worsening and he could not naturally take painkillers and the first officer could not fly to Newark himself. We were returning to London…
As we stepped off the aircraft, as required by law British Airways had waiting for everyone vouchers (coupons) for free hotel rooms, vouchers (coupons) for dinner and breakfast, and vouchers (coupons) for free coaches from and back to Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
Those in hand, I prepared to re-enter Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. At passport control (didn’t I just leave here?) for some reason my passport wouldn’t work in the e-gates. So I went to a Border Officer desk.
“I was on that BA flight, the pilot with the root canal pain,” I said as I gave him my permanent visa and waved my vouchers (coupons) at him and BA’s apology letter.
The border officer smiled back as he took my passport and said, “Oh, we’ve heard about that one.”
That’s not my handwriting on the BA letter we were handed while disembarking. (I hate the invented and dopey word “deplaneing” and refuse to use it.) It is one of BA’s ground staff telling me where to go. (Uh, that sentence there didn’t come out sounding quite right, but you get my point I’m sure.)
At the baggage carrousel downstairs, I rang the limo driver who was due to meet me at Newark. I said I would come back to him once BA finally told me what I was doing. Hanging up, I opened my email and BA had already booked another flight for me: it was going to Charlotte, North Carolina, on American Airlines, with a change at Charlotte that would get me to Newark by 1830 on Friday – about 22 hours later. I snapped it up and rang the limo company back. They were understanding and rebooked me for Friday evening.
Bag retrieved, I headed off for the coach. At the bus stop, there was a bit of chaos among the BA “refugees” as to which coach was going to which hotel. Several of us finally figured out which was ours.
Awakening Friday morning, I braced myself. When you have some bad travel luck, you suddenly think you will always have bad luck. But my luck had changed: walking downstairs in the hotel… WHAM – the coach to Terminal 5 was waiting outside.
One thing I also forget is when you travel alone, people are more likely to talk to you than if you are with a partner or in a group. And sometimes people you wouldn’t expect talk to you. A BA flight attendant, by herself, and who got on the coach at the second hotel stop, sat down next to me and greeted me: “Good morning.”
“Uh, good morning,” stunned (Why the heck is she talking to me? I thought), I replied.
At Heathrow, I had to get to Terminal 3. I headed off for the Heathrow Express – it’s downstairs at Terminal 5 (alongside the underground station), and is a free train between the terminals. There had been little information from BA and obviously BA was now done with us as we were all re-booked on other flights. A couple of disoriented travelers from our coach – an American older couple – asked me how to get to Terminal 3. I decided the easiest thing to do was to lead the way.
I had never used the Heathrow Express before. It is immaculate inside. Reaching Terminal 3, at the bag drop I parted ways with the two Americans who went for a different AA flight.
I also hadn’t been to Terminal 3 in years, and it has been much upgraded. Lots of seating. Lots of shops and eateries. Lots of ways to kill time. At the flight’s gate, I also saw a family – a mum and two teens – from the BA Newark flight were on this same one with me too. (I overheard them speaking what sounded like an Eastern European language.) They were obviously traveling the way I was.
This American flight was on an A330; it had lots of leg room. Even in economy, it also had power at every seat. I was able to listen to my own music without wiping out my phone battery and even further make revisions to, uh, THAT manuscript.
The only downer was the American plane wasn’t on a jet way. It required a coach ride – at least 8 mins – back to (I kid you not) outside of Terminal 5 to board it. Nonetheless, my flying life may have changed.
That BA captain’s root canal may not have been good for BA from my perspective. I had not been on AA internationally for at least 20 years. Everyone I met was pleasant. Indeed the perpetually smiling cabin crew all seemed named “Ashley” or “Brett” and sounded like they were from South Carolina. I know American is like any other airline and there are the typical problems, but after yesterday I would have no qualms about flying them or using Terminal 3 in the future. The flight was – YAY! – also about half empty, so I was able to steal a window seat after the flight attendants said we could sit wherever we wanted.
Reaching Charlotte a little late, the connection to Newark required me to sprint across the airport – mostly because I had never been to Charlotte airport before and I didn’t know how far the Newark domestic flight’s gate actually was. In fact, I made it with a bit of time to spare.
Aboard, I ended up sitting next to a “Jersey girl” in her window seat who was just returning from Kentucky working for a major department store and she hated Newark and hated New Jersey and had loved Kentucky and and and…
After we landed at Newark and I turned my phone on, immediately messages from my rebooked car service came flying at me. A family local business, they deserve a mention here on the internet. The driver was the son and was so friendly and helpful. I would book them again in an instant, so I will mention his company’s name here: If you need an airport lift, or similar, in Orange County, New York, and northern New Jersey, Crown Vicky Limousine is excellent. After all of that time traveling it was GREAT not to have drive myself to my father’s house – an hour and a half away (on a Friday evening, and in the pouring rain too) from Newark Airport.
So I am now here in Dad’s in Pennsylvania. It is rather tranquil here – and that is a relief.
And you wonder from where writers get future material? 😉
Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂