The Trip From Hell

Well the first problem is where do I start, and where do I end.  Indeed when do I end, since this trip from hell is far from over yet.   It’s just a whole comedy of errors and things going wrong, that will hopefully have you feeling along with me, having been in a similar situation yourself.  Hopefully laughing at the situation, maybe suffering from back ache in sympathy…

Ok, first some background I suppose for those of you who are not familiar with the whole story…

I lost my job 6 weeks ago, so since Debbie only gets 2 weeks off work (Easter school holidays in the UK) and the flights from the UK to Florida cost hundreds of dollars more than from Florida to the UK, we decided that I would go to see her for 3 weeks instead of her coming to see me.   Yes we miss the warm Florida weather, but we will be able to spend more time together, nice as we haven’t seen each other since the beginning of January, and also we should be able to live cheaply over there.

And so I set off from home Saturday morning.  The guy I rent with dropped me at the Tri-Rail station at 10:15am, it being cheaper to take the train ($4) to the airport than to drive and park.  My flight wasn’t until 2:10pm, and the train journey is only 30 minutes, but there is free internet at Fort Lauderdale Airport, so I wasn’t bothered about the long wait.

Well the train runs every 30 minutes during the week, but only every 2 hours at the weekend, and it was heaving.  It’s only 3 carriages long, and mine had 3 bicycles, a dozen people with bags and suitcases, and it was standing room only.   2/3rds of the way we stopped twice for long periods because of signal problems, so the journey took an hour.  It was extremely warm as the air conditioning wasn’t working properly, then the shuttle bus to the airport terminal took 10 minutes to arrive.   So by the time I got to the terminal I was soaked with sweat.   The bus stopped way past the terminal, so I had to lug my bags all the way back, the ticket counter at Fort Lauderdale is on the 2nd floor but the up escalator at the near end wasn’t working, so I had to walk all the way to the other end, and by the time I got to the check in desk I was dripping.  Of course the air conditioning in the terminal wasn’t working properly either, and all the staff were complaining.  I actually soaked my handkerchief wiping my head and neck.

Well I go to check in, and find much to my horror that my suitcase is 10lbs overweight, and they want to charge me $150.   Did I tell you about the bag?  No?  Ok this is where it gets more frustrating and in a way comical…

Debbie has been visiting me every 6-7 weeks for the past 18 months, and so she has been bringing more and more summer clothing over to save having to carry it in both directions, and it’s things she wouldn’t be using in England in the winter.   Well, since she isn’t going to be coming over in the summer, I am bringing a lot of her clothes home this time.  I already have a lot of my clothes at her house, so didn’t need to pack much for myself.   TEN POUNDS OVERWEIGHT! Shall I say that being unemployed I had a mild panic attack, but then realised that my carry on bag was mostly empty, so I opened my suitcase, took out all of her shoes and a couple of mine, a book and a fleece jacket, and with a sigh of relief found that the bag now weighs 11lbs less.  PHEW! Of course now my carry on is incredibly heavy, full to bursting, I have another thick binder of papers in my laptop bag, and by the time I got my boarding pass I was not so much soaked as melting.  I have been known to be drier when I come out of the shower!   Well I get to the gate, only to find that the agent didn’t give me back the printed copy of my itinery either, but at this point I no longer need it.  I did think to myself though “I hope nobody opens my suitcase – it could be embarrassing being full of women’s clothing…”

Well now the one thing that did go right happens, I find a seat in the terminal next to a nice couple, and it’s one of the few spots in the terminal where you have access to a power socket, so I was able to plug the laptop in and also MSN worked so I could have a chat with Debbie and watch NASA TV so see the shuttle land.  The weather wasn’t good so the shuttle landed an hour late.  My plane was also delayed 35 minutes because of bad weather in Atlanta when it left, so I finally left at 3pm instead of 2:10pm, and only 70 minutes between flights.

The pilot made up much of the time, but then 20 minutes from Atlanta, we were informed that the weather was awful, so we had to go past the weather and circle for ages.  It was also the bumpiest flight I have had in my 20 years of frequent flying, with being shaken from side to side.  Finally we land, 10 minutes after my plane was due to leave, and of course it had – on time 🙁

I joined a lot of other people in a long queue at a Delta ticket desk, where 2 women were slowly assisting 2 people.  Then they both assisted the same person.  For about 20 minutes nothing moved, and then one of the women upped and left, leaving just one and about 20 angry people.   Finally my turn came, and this woman said I had been reconfirmed on the same flight – TOMORROW!   That meant 24 hours in the airport!   She was so unhelpful, and they wouldn’t pay for a hotel, but I did manage to get some meal vouchers and then left to head to the terminal, which of course is the complete opposite end of the airport, a long train journey.

I get to the other terminal, and there is a Delta ticket desk, and also a later flight at 10:10pm.   So I join the long queue to see if I can get a standby or if there are any other options.  Meantime it’s now 7:30pm, I landed 2 hours ago, and I have been getting nowhere.   I finally get helped, and a friendly lady gave me a standby ticket for the 10:10pm flight.  Now this was also going to London Heathrow not Gatwick, which is a lot better for Debbie to pick me up, so I was hopeful that things might get better.

At this time another guy joins me.  He was also on my flight from Fort Lauderdale, and had waited back at the first desk, where another person had turned up and he already had a standby ticket for the flight, plus she gave him a hotel voucher and meal vouchers.   I think the other one was related to Hitler in some way… she was just so unhelpful – not exactly what you want when your journey has been disrupted.

The two of us decide to stick together, and head off for a bite to eat before going to the gate to register our standby requests.  We get there at 9pm, and at that time there are not a lot of people waiting for the 10:10pm flight.  We are somewhat hopeful.   But of course time marches on, more and more people arrive, then the gate attendant announces that the cleaning crew haven’t finished cleaning the plane, so they can’t begin boarding for another 30 minutes.   Time drags on, even more people arrive, more announcements to say that the cleaning crew are not yet done.   What on earth happened in there?  Did a toilet overflow?  With all that suction I would hope not!   Did 50 people end up throwing up because of turbulence?  That would be bad, but you know, I just wanted to get on that plane – I would have handled it.  It was the last flight of the night, so my only option for not spending the night at the airport.

Well further delays, the departure time is changed to 11:40pm, more people arrive, and about 11pm they begin to board.    Things don’t look good, but there are still two people not checked in.   They arrive about 5 minutes before the doors close, but there is 1 seat available, for the guy I am with.  It’s seat 1A, First Class too!   By this time it’s 11:15pm, over an hour after the flight was due to leave, and just as the attendant is about to put the ticket in his hands, up marches the final passenger, and of course it’s her seat.   No more room, about a dozen people are turned away.   The two of use were really disheartened, since 24 hours with nothing to do but kill time is no fun, I lose a day with Debbie, and he misses a day with his daughter, who works in London.

So back to the Delta ticket counter again, another 20 minute wait.  He already has his hotel voucher, and heads off to the shuttle.   I get to the desk, to find out that the voucher is only for a discounted price, and it would still cost me $49 for a room at the cheapest hotel.  Well add onto that taxes etc, and you are talking closer to $80, so I turned that down, and resigned myself to having to spend the night in the terminal.   By this time I am feeling a bit like Tom Hanks in the movie “The Terminal”, where he ends up not being able to fly home, and immigration won’t allow him into the country, so he spends months living in the airport.

As is usual in an airport, the seats have armrests and it’s almost impossible to lie down.  I asked one of the employees where the most comfortable spot might be, and he directed me to a section of gates where there are long seats plus others without backrests.  I was able to pull these together and made a fairly comfortable bed for the night.  Well not exaclty comfortable, but as good as could be expected for the night.   It is by this time midnight… and I am knackered…

I go to settle down, and this elderly man comes up, and offers me an airline blanket.  From a first glance I thought he was asking for money, but I later realised he was just already dressed ready to spend the night there himself.   I accepted the blanket, and in the end needed it, as the terminal got extremely cold during the night.  Not only that, the volume of the televisions in the area was very loud, as were the cleaners, who kept banging vacuums and polishers into the seating.   Also any movement by anyone caused a lot of vibration, so turning over woke the other up.

Well first this man decides he wants to talk.  I find out he is Russian and was married to a Mexican woman.  His English is not so good, so we end up speaking in a common language – Spanglish!   I can’t make out all he is saying since my Spanish is a bit rusty, and he was using words I didn’t know (Mexican has a few words of their own), but finally I get to sleep for a while, but mostly it’s tossing and turning and trying to stay warm for a couple of hours.   I was rather please by now that I had taken my fleece out of my suitcase, as I needed that, and I also had a cardigan in my hand baggage that I used as a pillow.  If not for those I would have had a really bad night.

At 3am Debbie called me, so I got up and had a chat with her, washed my face, and then tried to get back to sleep.

The Russian started getting up at 4:30am.  Seems his flight was soon after 5am, and he wanted to talk more.  At 5am he disappeared, and I managed some more broken sleep until 7am, when I cleaned up a bit, went to the food court and had a bite to eat, and called Debbie.  Cleaning up was frustrating too.  Of course you can’t carry your wash bag with you these days, and I already have everything I need in England.  I was able to get a bag from Delta, which had a thin overnight t-shirt in it, a toothbrush and squeeze out toothpaste that was more like a ketchup packet, so the toothpaste would only be good for one use.  It also had a disposable razor and an other shaving gel packet, that had about 1/4 of the amount needed, would not foam up, and the razor was so bad it was trying to tear my skin off while leaving the hairs behind, so I decided to give that a miss.  Better unshaven than badly shaven and incredibly sore.   Add to this trying to do this in the washrooms.  You know the ones where the taps only work when you move your hands just right?  Well it’s really hard to do this with a toothbrush or a razor.  Just take my word for it…  But at least I brushed my teeth, and they had a deodorant in the bag too.  Not a great one, but a deodorant nevertheless.

And this is where you catch me, now coming up to 10am, 7 hours of boredom left, sitting in the food court where I get free internet.   It’s hard to type as I am shaking a bit from the tiredness,  it’s not a good day for typing!   Hopefully the flight will be smooth tonight.  I have a feeling though that finding a free seat in either Business or First Class will be impossible.  As long as I get on the plane and it arrives on time I will be happy.

Of course the plane is now going to Gatwick as per the original plan, a longer journey for Debbie to make.  It’s now going to be on a Monday morning not Sunday morning, so the traffic will be horrible, and she is supposed to be working too.   I will by this time probably not be smelling too good either.  Delta wouldn’t give anyone their bags back, so I have nothing to change into.  I also won’t have shaved for 2 days.

Updates to follow when I get back online…

And here I am, Monday evening, at Debbie’s house, finally 🙂

The flight Sunday night left on time thankfully, and arrived almost an hour early.   No queues to go through passport control or customs, my bag came off quickly, and I was standing outside for about 5 minutes when Debbie turned up, so she didn’t have to pay to park, which costs a small fortune at airports in the UK.

It took about 2 hours to get home, since it was Monday Morning Rush Hour, but we made it.  I had a wonderful shower, it felt good to change clothes after 2 days wearing the same things, had a bite to eat, then upstairs for a nice long nap in a real bed 🙂

It feels so good to be home with Debbie at last.   Thanks for all the lovely comments everyone.

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