Wednesday, July 11, 2012

British Airways, I got no love for ya

On our way home via Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, we were delayed on takeoff.  For at least half an hour, we were told that they had lost power / had "computer issues" at the air traffic control tower, and all flights were grounded.

Nice.  Well done indeed.  (Yes, "Praetorians?" did go through my mind, with a snicker.  I think I tempted fate by laughing.)

When we finally took off, we were sure we would make it to our connecting flight by the skin of our teeth.  Nearly every person on board the plane was feeling this anxiety.

When we landed at London's Heathrow airport, they told us that disembarking was going to take a while, because they had had "computer issues" too.  In this case, someone stole the stairs our plane was assigned to let the passengers off.

We finally got to the terminal to be told at the gate that we weren't going to make it to our connecting flight (even though time wasn't up and they knew we were coming) because the distance was too great to make it to the other terminal quickly.  I think we were originally told that they were going to take us via bus directly to our departure terminal.

What really happened was that they took our checked luggage off the plane before we ever found out about the stairs issue, just assuming we were going to miss the flight.  Therefore they forced us to miss the flight, when there was still a chance we could have made it if they had stuck to the busing plan.

When we got upstairs to the Customer Service desk, we were in line for close to 4 hours, trying to get the 8 people in our group home.

My legs and back were on fire and hurting to boot, so I tried to stay out of it.  I wasn't the group leader, and we already had two of those deftly handling the situation.  I spent a lot of time collapsed gracelessly and immaturely on the cold tile floor right where we were. (This was the second most physically painful day of my adult life, as it turns out.)  I didn't trust myself to keep a mature attitude or even just avoid whining, and I think I had done a great job of it up to that point, so I didn't want to spoil my streak just because I justifiably felt victimized.  My input wouldn't have helped, so I backed off.

They told us we couldn't have our checked luggage back, because they wanted to be sure it made it onto the right flight the next day, as if WE were the incompetent fools who couldn't handle checking baggage ourselves!

I couldn't go touring through the airport to find any medication for my now full-blown sinus infection, so I checked the bathroom...  Nope, just breath mints, aspirin, pads, and condoms in the machine.  Gee, I guess they had ONE activity covered.

I paid for a day of Boingo internet access and discovered that once you've paid for the day, it really doesn't work.  You can go to the Heathrow Airport site and that's about it.

We eventually got put on flights separating the 8 of us into 3 different destinations on a completely different airline...

The next day.  Imagine the frustration of being told at a major international airport that there were no more flights leaving that day... and it was only 5 pm local time.  Would you believe them?  I didn't.  I hate being lied to when the truth is so obvious.  They could have just said, gee, with all the screw-ups in Rome AND here today, there aren't any seats available on any of the hundreds of flights yet to leave for the US tonight.

This was prime time for several someones (me included) to have a hot-tempered total flipout meltdown at the  airport.

And nobody did.  It would have been perfectly justified but every single one of us kept tempers in check.  We go through customs and fill out residence cards for one night.  Dang, the British gov is tight about immigrants trying to sneak in and freeload!  Or even legitimately work... Why is the US so easy about that??

We were finally sent to the Renaissance Heathrow for the night.  On the way out of the airport, I scoped out a duty free shop close to the shuttle exit, and saw that while they had tons of liquor, there was nothing for sale for pain relief of any kind.  I thought seriously about buying a bottle of whiskey to knock myself out for the night, but!!!    I'd have had to check the rest of the bottle the next day... in the checked luggage British Airways wouldn't let me have!!!

So I only semi-joked about buying a shot of whiskey at the hotel if the gift shop had nothing to help me.  Well, the gift shop was closed at 10:00 at night, naturally.  I did order the whiskey, but because of confusion about where we were supposed to have our included dinner, I didn't get it.  (I intended to pay for it...) I'm not a drinker, so one shot at that stage of exhaustion and illness would have knocked me out.

Waiting over half an hour outside for a shuttle bus to take us to the hotel, I was shivering.  Hey, I thought I was experiencing that frustrating English summer that makes people freeze to death.  I'm sure it wasn't more than 50 degrees out there that night.  My head was pounding, I was hurting all over, I couldn't hear, and I had chattering teeth as I stood there in shorts and a t-shirt.

As soon as we got to our hotel room (check-in took what, half an hour??), we traversed the corridors of what looked like the Overlook Hotel from the original movie of The Shining.  It was like a maze and I was expecting to see those little girls covered in blood at the end of one hallway.  (I was becoming a bit delirious, I'll admit.)  I finally got into a lovely feather comforter-covered king-sized bed, pulled the robe over that as a blanket, and packed some extra pillows around me to keep me warm, and I passed out, still shivering.  Perhaps I should have taken advantage of the tea service before I went to sleep, but I was barely hanging on as it was.

At 3 am sharp, I woke up sweating with a fever, desperate to get all those freaking pillows away from me!  LOL   So that explains why the pain I felt was so intense -- I was all-over sick by this time.  Hey, allergies do that to me if they get a tiny little toe-hold on me.  I can't be the only one who suffers fever with mine.

Lovely breakfast I was actually familiar with, the next morning - eggs, hash browns, sausages, (skipped the freaky beans) coffee, juice (why don't the Italians eat a normal breakfast like this??), a trip to the gift shop to buy some Sudafed, and finally on to the airport again, where I was told that British Airways never got our luggage loaded on the Delta flight, and that it was already "lost".  All of this told in such a kind, humble, and sorrowful tone by the Delta gate agent, who actually did do some extra checking to verify this fact.   Nice fellow.  :)  His attitude was like a hug.  His accent was pure New Zealand.

(I should mention that when we got to the airport, we bumped into a British EF Tours guide named Adam, who kindly offered whatever services he could help us with, while he waited on his own group members to arrive.  He had seen our EF Tours backpacks and introduced himself, just in case.  Nice chap.)

Oh, that's not all I bought at the gift shop.  Sudafed, two packs of Halls cough drops we don't seem to have here in the states, a Pepsi, and an Oxford University hoodie in proper Oxford blue. I'm sure I overpaid for the hoodie, but I deserved something for my troubles and I figured it would be cold on the plane after all that.    I bought an Olympics t-shirt at the airport too.  And some chocolate.  And a book, because I knew my phone would die without a converter to charge my iPhone or the backup batteries I carried with me.  I had a converter -- in my checked luggage.  But I hadn't ever planned on being trapped in London, so I didn't bring the tip for England's plugs.

Anyway....  for my group's flights, they put us in seats that Seat Guru shows as the worst seats on the plane -- the seats in red, in the middle section.  Limited overhead space, right next to the galley and lavatory, and no ability to recline the seats whatsoever.  I was sincerely dreading the flight.

And you know what?  I liked my seat.  :)  We were on an Airbus 320 that was actually new enough to have individual screens for every seat.  I watched 4 in-flight movies and they were all complimentary and NEW.  The Hunger Games, The Immortals, Wrath of the Titans, and Thor.  They kept coming through and feeding us.  Peanuts, a nice chicken dinner, pretzels, and then calzones and ice cream.  LOL  I had an aisle seat closest to the bathroom and I was able to go whenever I felt like it without worrying about disturbing anyone or waiting in line.  :D  I never smelled anything, perhaps because I was all stuffed up anyway.

The flight was quite a bit bumpier than I was used to, being in the tail section, but on an afternoon flight it was a bad idea for me to sleep anyway.  They even gave us all blankets and pillows, and it was a bit chilly on that flight, unlike the Iberia flight on the way over when I thought I was going to sweat to death.  I can't sleep when I'm hot.   :(  (PS - Iberia lost our group's luggage for 5 days.  I hate Iberia.)

By the time we landed in Atlanta, we learned that we would have to collect our checked baggage and take it through customs ourselves.  Well, our luggage wasn't on the carousel.  So when I walked up to the Dept. of Agriculture customs agent, he gave me a confused yet suspicious look and asked, "Where is your luggage??"  Brief explanation about the snafu, and he sent us on our trek to the departure terminal, where it was so cold I had to don my hoodie, but I was able to charge my phone fully.  :)

I slept on the flight to Memphis, and I slept in the car almost all the way home. My house was cool and comfortable when I got inside and I found several doses of Aleve D Cold and Sinus right next to my bed.  It seems to be the only over-the-counter medicine that works for my allergies these days.

Of course our luggage didn't make it to Memphis.  But the Delta baggage claim guy got all the details of our travails and managed to trace our bags, despite the involvement of British Airways.  We got our stuff back, intact, by special delivery 2 days later.

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