Monday, August 28, 2006

Our lucky day

The 10th of August - that was the day our family holiday to the West Coast of the USA was due to begin. We had been looking forward to it for months. We were all packed and prepared. We woke on the said morning to find out that, due to the discovery of a terrorist plot, our day was not going to be quite as planned.

We turned on the news, after prompting by relatives, to see scenes of chaos at Heathrow. Spokespeople were saying that travellers shouldn't come to the airport, as it was basically full of people going nowhere - all of the incoming flights had been cancelled, apart from ones in the air, and consequently there were no planes to take them away.

We decided pretty early on that there was a fair chance that our flight would go - after all, the incoming one was already on its way, and couldn't be turned back. We checked the available sources but decided against ringing the airline as we thought we wouldn't get through. So the next thing to do was to get round the fact that all we were allowed to take on the plane itself was a clear plastic bag with travel documents - everything else had to be checked in.

Once we had done this we set off for the airport at about 10am, and found to our surprise that the roads around Heathrow were completely deserted. It seems all the warnings had paid off - people, apart from us, weren't travelling. We arrived at an equally deserted long term car park, where the staff were equally incredulous that we were going to be leaving the country. We carried on, and eventually reached Terminal One.

We tried to get inside the building, but we were met with a tide of humanity. The were queues of people snaking round the entire space. Every available inch of floorspace was covered with people. It didn't look good - we found a BAA person, who gave us a piece of paper with a number to call, and he told us to go home as there were no flights leaving until at least 3pm - ours was supposed to leave at around 2pm. We went outside and were about to call the number when we spotted a BA employee. We asked him, and he said to our relief that our flight to San Francisco was OK and that we should go to check in desks further along the terminal.

The rollercoaster of emotion was now back on its upswing, and we headed toward a queue of people, but were intercepted by another BA person, who saw that we had children with us, and asked us to follow him to a different desk. So we were fairly quickly checked in, and armed with our two small clear plastic bags we went through passport control and an understandably rigorous security check - shoes, belts, jackets and the clear wallets went through the scanner and we were all subjected to body searches.

We were through - and were met with an incredibly strange site. The departure lounge was almost empty - it was a complete contrast to the check in side. The information board held the key - nearly all flights were cancelled apart from one to Tokyo, and our one to San Francisco.

When the time came to board, which was delayed a bit, we were subjected to another search and were bussed to a remote stand where the aircraft was parked. Because of this it took about an hour to board everyone, but it soon became clear that the flight was half empty - a lot of people hadn't made it either because of the dire warnings or the lack of connecting flights. The next piece of news wasn't great - the pilot said that the usual passenger roster check with the USA immigration authorities had to take place before we took off, and that these checks usually took about a couple of hours.

He moved the plane off the stand and parked somewhere else. He started the inflight entertainment, and there we waited for about the time predicted. When we finally moved to take off, this was greeted with a round of applause. We were on our way with our eleven hour flight extended by the three hours sitting in the plane on the apron. All of this without the benefit of the Ipod and other entertainment that I had hoped to take with me. We had at least been able to buy more books in the departure lounge shops - the original ones had had to be packed.

So, finally we arrived in San Francisco, about three hours late, but the immigration procedure was dealt with swiftly and we were soon in the taxi to our hotel. We were tired, but we were there and we couldn't believe our luck. We went to bed, ready to start the adventure.

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