Travel Travails

In my last post, I alluded to some airport turmoil we experienced this summer.  I have to preface this by saying all’s well that ends well, and in the end nothing was really traumatic (see the happy family photo above???) but I am happy not to have to go to an airport any time soon.The summer of airport woes really began way back in Vietnam.  To give you some background information, I realise that I am kind of an annoying person to travel with airport-wise.  I am not scared of flying at all, but something about the whole process of checking in, getting to the airport and waiting around does not bring out the best in me.  I am going to go back and blame this on my trip to O’Hare airport when I was leaving to move to Paraguay.  I was told by the school that my ticket had a notice on it that said I was allowed to bring as many bags as I wanted (because I was moving and I guess it was cheaper than a shipment).  So I brought 4 or 5 GIANT army surplus bags to O’Hare airport with my whole family (this was pre 9/11 so they could all come wait at the departure gate with me) and dutifully got in the American Airlines line to check in for by flight.  When I got to the front, the lady at the desk told me that I could only take 2 bags and I protested that I was told I could take as much as I wanted.  There was a lot of back and forth and finally I said OK, but I was going to have to unpack all 4 or 5 bags right there at the counter and re-pack what I really needed.  There was a massive line behind me and that was enough to send the check in lady back to get permission for me to check everything.  I was probably severely sweating and possibly crying at this point and it has stuck with me ever since.  (I do realise that now it would not matter what kind of fit I pitched, no one is ever going to let me take luggage for free, but it was a simpler, more beautiful time in the year 2000.)  Now, when prepping for a flight I want to get there more that two hours early and also I am nervous about the logistics the entire time.  Gav hates this and thinks I am super mean when we are about to fly and he is right.

So, now you have all this background information.  We were in Vietnam, hanging out in Hanoi (trip there uneventful).  We had a flight at about 11am out to Da Nang.  As this was a domestic flight, I told myself not to be a basket case, if we got to the airport an hour early that would be fine.  So we got in a cab and sped off to the airport.  Our first hurdle came when the cabbie took us to the international terminal despite me saying “No, domestic”) but anyway we ended up at the terminal more than an hour in advance.  And inside that domestic terminal, it was CHAOS.  The line was a million people long and everyone had about 40 suitcases.  The airline staff were trying to make people line up for specific flights, but people were sneaking into different queues left right and center and I was beginning to panic as we (the law abiding liner-uppers) were not moving forward.  And I could see the security situation was equally terrible and now in my mind we were certainly missing our flight.  I whined to Gavin to much that someone in front of us actually said “Ma’am, please go in front of me.”  and when I protested he said “seriously, go in front.”  Finally we got checked in, raced to security (sneaking into the official cabin crew line, which no one cared that we were in) and the front desk check in lady came and pulled us out of line due to a “battery” in our suitcase.  I had to go back to the bag security area and watch them search my bag (not a battery, a can of hairspray) and then run back to my illegal line.  We got through security only to find that…the flight was delayed.  Of course.  Because half the travellers where still trying to check in.  We eventually got to Da Nang.  My blood pressure was very high.

Then we got back to Yangon and also London with very little incident.  But then came our flight to Denver.  We had booked a flight that would get us into Denver at around 5pm, in time to take a 6pm shuttle to my sister’s house in Fort Collins.  We got to Heathrow just fine and settled ourselves into Terminal 3.  The worst terminal at Heathrow.  I hope there are plans to upgrade that sucker because it is a small, dingy, no seating available place to wait for your plane.  When our gate was displayed, we went off and got herded into one of those gates where you can’t leave and there are no bathrooms. Almost immediately the board information said “boarding” but we could see no actual boarding occurring.  For an hour we sat there with the sign still saying boarding, but nothing happening.  I could see the airplane at the gate, so finally asked the desk what was delaying us-she blamed it on the catering company needing to finish up.  30 more minutes and now my flight app is saying that we are delayed 4 HOURS but the sign in the gate still saying boarding.  People are needed to leave to use the bathroom and there is a very not secure system of leaving your boarding pass in a giant pile and then digging through to find it again when you returned.  Finally someone gets on the tannoy and admits that there is a technical fault and we are delayed indefinitely, please leave the gate.  The only problem is that the gate information STILL SAYS BOARDING so people are reluctant to leave and then miss the flight.  Also no one has offered any food or vouchers, so I asked about that.  And they brought a giant rolling cart of cheese and onion flavoured crisps.  Ew.

We left the gate and found a spot at the one bar in T3.  For 2 hours the display panels kept telling us that our flight was boarding.  Then it changed to say that the gate would be displayed at 6:30 pm and the flight would leave at 5:30 pm.  What? Finally it decided that we would be leaving at 7:30, with the gate indeed displayed at 6:30.  During this time my poor family called the shuttle service a bunch of times and finally booked us on a shuttle leaving at 11:50 pm to Fort Collins.  We moseyed to the gate and the appointed hour to find it completely rammed with people because it was much too small for the number of people flying.  Someone got on the tannoy and told us that we were getting a new plane that had been sitting disused at another terminal and that the new crew was on their way, also from another terminal.  Many, many minutes later (way past 7:30) finally pre-boarding began.  And then nothing.  For 40 minutes we all sat there, wondering what was happening.  Finally we boarded and I watched, happily, as the little ramp to the terminal broke away from the plane and moved off.  But what’s this?  The ramp is coming back!!! NOOOOOOOO!  The pilot got on the tannoy to say “you aren’t going to want to hear this, but there has been a medical emergency.   First responders are on their way to the plane.”  I would really think that in this case, the sick person would want to be taken off the plane but apparently it doesn’t work like that.  I don’t know what happened then, but after a while the jet bridge retracted again and we were on our way.  Over 7 hours late.

By the time we landed in Denver, it was becoming clear that we were not going to catch the 11:50 shuttle and our only hope was to wait for the last shuttle of the night, at 1:20 am, to see if they had room to take us to Katie’s house.  Luckily they did, and at 3am Gav and I snuck into the house, past the world’s least effective guard dog Marley (had to wake him up to say hello) and crawled into bed.  To wake up at 5:15 due to the time change.

The trip was great (see Gav’s entries) and even our trip back to London was uneventful.  Then came the time to make the big trek back to Yangon.  We had 4 suitcases to take with us, 3 we were going to check and 1 to carry on.  They were jammed to the gills with stuff we can’t get in Yangon, including 11 bottles of 50% Deet bug spray and about 15 bottles of the shampoo Gav likes, because he can’t bring himself to try something new.  This magical shampoo that he loves so much? Pantene.  He is mad that he can’t get 2 in 1 here and is being a total princess about it.  Our bags were heavy.  So heavy.  Thai airways allows 30 kgs of luggage per person, so we were crossing our fingers that they would let us pool the allowance and just hoped we were under 60 kgs.  Our carry-on had all the heavy stuff in it and we hoped they wouldn’t weigh that baby.

At Heathrow (thankfully not T3) we found ourselves in a giant snaking line of people checking in to all of the non-European airlines.  In our queue were people checking in for Air Canada, Turkish Airways, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, you name it.  They had some system where you use a kiosk to print your bag tags and then get in line to drop the bags.  The line was so long there were people manning passing points to keep people from budging in front.  We finally got our overloaded trolley to the front and handed the woman at the desk our 3 bag tags.  She told us to put the first bag on the little conveyer belt thing and then was fussing around looking for our visas in our passports.  She then pushed a button and….off went to bag, down the conveyor belt, behind a door as Gav is shouting “there are no tags on that bag!!!”  The lady said “why not?” and we pointed out that she was still holding them. She kind of got all mad at US for a moment, then called a number and did a lot of “uh huh” and “hmmm” and other passive things on the phone.  She then said “oh, just go to the gate when they announce it and someone will be there to show you the bag and you can tag it there.”  Right.  Somehow I don’t think it is that simple to get a bag back from the bowels of Heathrow.  But she scurried us on out of there and out of her hair.  We did notice that all of out baggage added up to about 64 kilos so we should have paid an excess fee, but the woman was too kerflufled to do anything about it.

As we waited for the gate to be displayed, Gav was saying how lucky it was we didn’t have to pay for extra weight!  Yes, lucky if we even see that bag again.  Note, this was the bag with the bug spray, not his shampoo.  When the gate was announced, we turned up and they told us that they think that have found the bag, but they are not sure anyone is actually going to bring it.  I asked what the worst case scenario was and she said that the bag would get to our hotel, eventually.  I explained that we were going to Yangon, and not to a hotel so it might be a bit more difficult and all of a sudden someone was actually going to go get it for us!  A while later, our bag appeared, apparently having taking an unauthorised trip to TI and we identified it and they tagged it for us.  One of the bag guys said “I can’t believe they found your bag!  These things never get found.”  Fabulous.

And so, one week ago we landed back in Yangon and lo and behold all of our luggage made it back with us.  Gav’s hair is shiny and bouncy and I am much less likely to get Dengue again.  I am not eager to get back on a plane anytime soon though!IMG_7436

Gav triumphantly collecting all the bags


3 thoughts on “Travel Travails

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  1. I could get Pantene in Morocco 27 years ago! I can’t BELIEVE it hasn’t made it to Yangon yet. Your travel drama sounds, well, ghastly. I am the same about getting to airports — I’m always there way early and I get super-tense too, so I can sympathize. Dave and I have only argued a few times, and it’s been when we’re trying to catch planes!


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