Sunday, September 14, 2008

A longwinded account of a very long day...

I am officially in Glasgow.

It was a very crazy 18 (yes, 18) hours of travel to get here, but I'm here. Sadly, despite having 18 hours of travel, none of those were very conducive to opening up the Macbook, so this is going to be one mammoth entry.

Part 1: Baltimore-Washington International Airport

Originally, my flight itinerary was BWI - Philly, Philly - Glasgow. On US Air. The only, only reason I flew US Air was because of the direct flight into Glasgow, otherwise I wouldn't have touched the airline with a ten-foot pole, even though it was cheap, cheap, cheap. I wanted to fly Virgin, but was so not looking forward to connecting in Heathrow that I sucked it up and bought the US Air ticket.

But BWI.

When I finally had face-to-face contact with a US Air counter employee to drop off my checked bags (after standing at the self-service check-in counter for twenty minutes after checking myself in, which defeats the purpose of self-service if you still have to wait twenty minutes for a human), the guy at the US Air counter told me that my flight was delayed and that I wasn't making my connection to Glasgow. He told me to drive to Philly. Or take a taxi to Philly. According to him and US Air, these were my options (neither of which US Air would reimburse me for). Seriously. I then informed him (which isn't it supposed to be his job to tell me?) that there was a later flight that connected through Heathrow, and could I get on that? Instead of driving to Philly, which at that point with heavy rain wasn't even a guarantee that I'd make the flight? So he put me on the Heathrow flight, which wasn't leaving Philly till 10:45pm and that he guaranteed me to make. Now I'm three flights to get there and also not getting in until 2:35pm, when I was supposed to be in Glasgow by 9am.

My dad and I decide to grab a drink to pass the time during the delay, except on the departures board, my flight is still listed as on-time. Which made me nervous. So we skipped the drink and I headed through security. It was at this point that I realized how mistaken I was in bringing not one, but two heavy carry-ons.

I get to the gate, and surprise! It's an on-time departure. Maybe. They don't know. The gate agent's direct words were, "We might leave on time. But we might not. So just stay at the gate." At which point I'm wondering why the hell would I stop in London if we're making it to Philly on time? So I go to the gate agent and explain to her that if we get to Philly on time, I'd still really like to get on the original flight to Glasgow. She tells me that they never should have erased my original ticket, re-books me on the Glasgow flight, leaves me open on the Heathrow flight, but tells me no matter what, my bags are going through Heathrow.

We board only 30 minutes late and I'm pretty optimistic that I'll be on that 9pm flight to Glasgow. Except we're sitting there at the gate, doors open, not getting ready to leave. 30 minutes later, the captain comes on and tells us that: there's been an emergency landing in Philly, all runways were shut down, then they made all the planes use the western-bound runway instead of the east, and are now only accepting 30 flights in an hour. He tells us our wheels-up time in Baltimore is now 9:40pm, if at all. And they de-plane us and tell us to queue up to make alternate reservations with the gate agent. Two gate agents having to re-book a plane of 200 people. I call my dad and tell him to come pick me up, because clearly, I am not getting to the UK that night. They tell us that while we're in line, to call the 800 number and try to get re-booked over the phone. After 20 minutes on hold, the US Air guy tells me that because US Air still shows our flight as being on time (even though we were supposed to be in-flight while I was talking to him), he can't do very much to help me, and that the earliest he can get me out to Scotland is Monday. Today is Friday. That's not going to work. US Air also won't put people up in hotels if it's not their fault, so the family I was speaking to who were also trying to make the Heathrow connection are going to have to sleep on the floor of the airport, because they're out of American money.

And then suddenly at 8:45pm, they tell us that we might be taking off soon. And not 9:40. So there's a chance we'll make the Heathrow flight. They re-board us, and by 9pm, we take off. It's less than an hour to Philly, so even though we have to change terminals, it's looking good that we'll make the 10pm boarding time for the Heathrow flight. Except as we're getting ready to descend into Philly (during just a horribly turbulent flight), the captain comes on and tells us that there's been another emergency landing in Philly, that we have to circle for 20 minutes. Which means we'll miss the Heathrow flight. Five minutes later, he pulls a "Just kidding" and we get ready to land. But by this point, it's after 10pm, and I know it's going to be tight for making the Heathrow flight.

Also, it's been hours since I've done any of the following: peed, eaten, filled up my water bottle.

Part 2: Philly to Heathrow

We land in Philly and a group of us (all on the Heathrow flight) start speedwalking through the terminal. We're in B and have to get to A. My bags are so heavy they're weighing me down. It's a solid 15 minute walk and it's looking doubtful that we're going to make it. Somehow we get to the gate as they're finishing boarding, with just enough time for me to use the bathroom and fill up my water (but not grab food, and tauntingly, there's a Chickie and Pete's next to the gate. CRAB FRIES). I am dripping, dripping in sweat and strip down to a t-shirt. I am one of the last people to board the flight. But I board the flight to Heathrow.

Except, no. Because as they're telling us that it's a completely full flight, I come to find that they didn't double book my seat. They triple booked it. Three of us, all bumped from other flights during the day, are all seated in 22H. The one stewardess looks at me and tells me that it's "my fault" because they had me open on two tickets and that if anyone gives up their seat, it'll be me. I realize at this point that I have a pounding, pounding headache, and for the first time in my life, have no Aleve. Just an empty bottle. But it turns out a lot of people missed this flight, they find me a seat in the middle row, where it turns out to me just me and a guy (headed to Europe for a Master's program too) in the four seats, so we get to stretch out.

By the time the bring the food around, it's midnight to my body. My head is pounding, I'm starving, and I realized that I feel nauseated from looking sideways to talk to my row-mate. The "chicken and risotto" (mystery meat and cream of wheat with peas and velveeta) smelled so badly that I couldn't eat it, and I suddenly am hit with the feeling I'm going to throw up. Orange juice for the blood sugar only does so much. I try to sleep, but don't do it very well, and eventually give up in lieu of Ugly Betty and Made of Honor on the seat-back TV. When they bring around coffee and danish in the morning, it helps, but only slightly. It's been a really smooth flight, but I'm bummed about not having a window seat on the right of the plane, which is the entire purpose of landing in Heathrow -- the view.

Part 3: London to Glasgow

We land early, but not in Terminal 3. We're in Terminal 1, unfamiliar to me. Customs is a breeze. I find a clean bathroom in which to wash up. I pop into a WHSmith for Excedrin (or the Brit version) and a Diet Coke and an apple. I sort out my connecting flight to Glasgow (on BMI). I pay for internet for a few minutes. And then it's go-time.

BMI puts US Air to shame. The cabins are clean, the seats are comfortable, the staff are pleasant and professional. I get to my seat (a window) and do what I was unable to do on the flight to Heathrow: pass out. Not slightly, not drifting, but out. Most likely snoring and drooling. Completely a deep sleep. I wake up upon take-off before falling asleep again. I wake up somewhere between Leeds and Manchester. The weather is gorgeous and clear. As we descend into Glasgow, it's thick fog and driving rain. Welcome to Scotland.

Part 4: GLASGOW!

We land and I get a little choked up, largely because I'm so tired that I'm overemotional, but also because I can't believe I'm here. In Scotland. Finally. After months of waiting and the travel day from hell. The airport is small but functional. I want to kiss the Brit who decided trolleys are a right, not a privilege. I find the Glasgow students welcome group for free minibus service to campus. And off we go.

It's strange being in an airport that only recently was the site of a terrorist action last summer. There are lots of roadblocks in place and they haven't seemed to quite finished repairs. I forgot it even happened until I was leaving the airport.

As we drive to campus, I can't get over how gray and rainy it is. Or how I came 5,000 miles to hear Pussycat Dolls and Katy Perry on the radio. We get to the city, and I instantly kind of like it. We get to campus, and I am in love. Or rather, Hogwarts. They drop us off at the main gate to get our keys, and then another minibus loads us up to take us to accommodation. The driver looks at all my bags and says, "Are you American?" I say, "Why, do all the Americans have this many bags?" He says, "Yes." I feel shame.

(The picture is stock, it's temperate and rainy here, no snow to speak of!)

I get to my flat and while it's studenty, it's clean and big enough. Way more closet space than I was expecting. And big thick curtains to keep out the light. I meet one flatmate, who's Russian, and meet an American downstairs and we head out into the city to wander around, hitting up Tesco, campus, and finally, our local pub, which features all organic/veggie food. After a veggie burger and a Strongbow, I head back to my flat to try to unpack, but eighteen hours of traveling gets the better of me and I pass out for the night.

But I have to say, after standing on the hill on campus at dusk, with the main campus building behind me, hills rising in the distance, and a chill settling in over the city, I fell in love with Glasgow. I've seen only five or six square blocks of it, but I felt like I just kind of knew.

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Part 5: The Morning After

I woke up twelve hours later -- which I desperately needed -- feeling like I beat jet lag. The tea kettle we're supposed to have (I snagged instant coffee at the Tesco) is missing, so I had to microwave water. Chatted with Russian roomie more, met Indian roomie and American roomie. I like them all. My room is still a disaster area, but I feel the urge to head out and not stay in today.

Or at least shower. Since it was two calendar days ago that I last did it. So that is the order of the morning. A shower.



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