My bags were packed and deposited in Dana's car a little after six on Tuesday morning. He headed off to the office, and I finished packing my 'carry-ons'. At a few minutes before 8am, Edward and the dog arrived to pick me up and take me to the office. They had dropped Samantha at the airport, as her flight was at around 8:45am, and she was travelling to England via Chicago. Everyone was a little more concerned about her arrival, due to possible wintry conditions at O'Hare International, but the delay was very minimal, and due to things other than weather. My morning at work was busy. My concentration level and mental agility equalled that of a banana, and the fact that I had to make a trip to the post office reduced the already incapacitated faculties. It was upon my return from the said post office that I checked my emails, and the panic took a turn towards the 'red' on the temperature scale. My flight out of Austin had been delayed by fifteen minutes. This was not, as yet, a critical delay, as my connection time would still be an hour, and as the first flight was due to 'dock' immediately next to the gate where my 'big' flight would leave, I felt slightly less concerned than when the second email arrived. My Austin flight had been delayed by another fifteen minutes, and the departure gate of the 'big' flight, was subject to change. I called the airline. Naturally, I do not qualify for the 'no-fly' list, just the 'don't talk to her' list. Patience is a quality that I admire in the telephonic assistants. They let me ramble, and then speak to me as if they were a psychiatrist. Kind, but firm! Provided the flight was not to be delayed a third time, there should be no problem. I continued with my work, during the slight panic attack that was emerging through my pores, and cleared my desk, ready for departure.
Having said all my farewells, I transferred my rather enormous suit cases into Jerry's practical, larger vehicle, and we headed out west. As I manoeuvred my way into the terminal, a young lady jumped out of her car, and shouted to all the able men around, that they needed to lend a hand. Thanking her, profusely, I let her know that I was a 'dab hand' at this, and with pushing two and pulling one, I approached the desk. I pressed the appropriate buttons on the screen, and was quite surprised when I heard my name being called. Everything was in order, and I heaved the cases on to the scales. I was thankful that my cases were within the allowed excess baggage weight, despite my own clothes and things would have fitted comfortably into my 'carry on'. I walked through security, and after purchasing a couple of Austin souvenirs, went to the lounge. After making myself a cup of tea, and setting up my computer, I called Samantha who was just about to board her 'big' flight. The weather in Chicago was perfect. As I spoke to her, I accessed my emails. At the top of the list was one from the airline. My flight had been delayed and was not landing until twenty minutes before the next one was to take off. I called the airline. Perhaps the order of the day was goodwill to all men, because the telephonic assistant was very patient, and very obliging. Not quite telling me to lie down on the couch, she used a subdued tone, as she checked the schedule and reserved me a seat on the later flight. Very casually, she said that if I managed to catch the earlier one, I should let the gate attendant know, and they could cancel the extra reservation. I was 'discharged', and thanked her profusely, all the time keeping one eye on the 'departure' board, and one on my emails. When the email arrived to say that I would be landing five minutes after my 'big' flight was due to depart, I called the airline. My seat on the original 'big' flight was cancelled, and a new one booked on the later one. A problem arose as I had 'upgated' using my air miles, and there were no seats available for 'miles upgrade' on the later flight. Perhaps they were being kind to me, but I am more convinced that they had tremendous sympathy for the personnel in the lounge, (the telephonic assistant could hear my heavy breathing and knew it was not an 'inapproriate' phone call,) as I was told that they would honour my upgrade, "this time".
I did not see that this was recorded anywhere, but everyone around me appeared to breathe a sigh of relief when I announced my gratitude. I wasn't actually in the foetus position on the floor, but I was not far short! My new boarding passes had been electronically sent to me. Deciding not to let her know, 'I don't do electronic ticketing', I continued to the next airline email. Upon review, I saw that I had been given a middle seat. Horror! I chastised myself at my selfishness, and decided not to call again. Instead I went into the airline website, and managed to change my seat to one next to a window.
Having been very composed, and altered my plans with only a partial meltdown, I then had to arrange for someone to collect me from the airport. The original plan was for Samantha to be collected by her father, and as we had a couple of hours between our arrival, she was going to wait at the coffee shop, until I landed, and then her father was going to take us both back to my mother. However, waiting at the airport for two or so hours, although not a first choice, was acceptable, and an idea promoted by Samantha. Waiting for six hours was a little too long. I sent Richard a message to tell his father that Samantha would need to be collected when she landed, and also to let my mother know I would be late. Additionally, I needed a ride from the airport, so would it be possible for him to arrange for a cab to come and get me. Everything was finalised, and quite satisfied, I took out a partly knitted top, and started to unravel it, so that I could use the wool to finish yet another scarf. It was very good therapy.
As nice as the personnel were on the telephone, the staff at the desk were less obliging. It was obvious that the delay had caused a little friction around the area, and it was not being handled particularly well. A young man approached the desk and stated his predicament. He had to be in Florida by Christmas, and if he missed his connection, he would not be able to achieve the objective. The lady at the desk told him to take a seat. This was not really an answer to his question, "Can you tell me what will happen if I miss my connection?" so he tried again. She assured him that he would have plenty of time to catch his connection, which was taking off at 6:15pm, the same time as my original flight, "...As long as everyone gets on the plane quickly. Now, go and take a seat". The young man was not, as I was not, convinced that this would be the case, but the woman at the desk, (a lady she was not,) would not give any further information, and continued to tell everyone that she was having a 'very difficult day!'
The Austin flight was finally boarding, and I lugged my carry on down the tunnel and left it to be stowed. A lady in the queue was reluctant to hand over her bag, as she exclaimed that it held 'the brisket' for Christmas Day lunch. She was hoping that her connection was still 'in tact' or there would be no 'main course'. I told her that my bags held a variety of Christmas presents, and I too would be faced with some disappointed relatives! I sat down and accepted a tonic water from the stewardess,then continued with my therapy of unravelling my knitting. I was almost on my way! The second stewardess walked along the aisle to complete the 'pre-flight' checks, and remarked "that is so cute!", when she espied my jumble of bobbled wool. I looked around before smiling, as the mess that was on my lap could hardly constitute "cute". However, I was gracious, and thanked her very much.
The flight was delayed slightly longer, as we waited for a spot on the runway, and the time in the air was slightly longer than usual, due to a change in route, which in turn was due to the tremendous turbulence. Thankfully we were diverted to this new route, because if the turbulence was worse on the original path, the plane would have capsized. I held on for dear life, as the plane rocked from side to side, and prayed that my bags would be safe, as I was sure the undercarriage was about to give way! However, if the Christmas presents were to fall somewhere in the region of the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory, hopefully the employees would use the windfall wisely! We landed in Houston at ten minutes to seven, with the undercarriage in tact! The poor lad who wanted to go to Florida exited the plane with an expression that mixed between wanting to burst into tears, and immense anger. I collected my bag, and went up the escalators to get the shuttle. The original flight that was due to take off from the 'next door' gate, had been 'moved', but this was now not a problem as I had a new seat, and it was in the air!
The train arrived at Terminal E, and I walked quickly to the 'Customer Service' center as I needed to obtain a boarding pass, so that I could buy some duty free, and also enter the lounge. The queue was rather long, although the 'premier' line was non-existent. Feeling a little sheepish about taking advantage of my upgrade, as there were so many people who had obviously missed their flights, I was delighted to see a machine at the side of the cubicle. Inserting my details, I printed a boarding pass without having to queue or, indeed, jump the queue. Feeling much better, having a confirmed seat in the palm of my hand, I walked to the gate, to see if I could have my pre-boarding check completed, but it was too early for anyone to be manning the station! I bought my duty free, which was also not for me, and made my way to the lounge. After setting up my computer, I made myself another cup of tea, updated everyone that I could on social network, and waited for my flight to be called.
I boarded the plane and was helped with my 'carry on' bag by the pleasant gentleman who was occupying the seat next to mine. We exchanged the courteous smiles, and greetings, and then sat and watched our TV screens after making farewell phone calls.
Before dinner was served, I made a trip to the 'restroom'. I did not mean to break the door off its hinges, and was very thankful to the English crew member who very graciously told me, in a broad cockney accent, "Don't worry, darlin', fings like that 'appen all the time wiv me". My heart lifted, and I thanked her very much.
Dinner was served and I went through all the courses on the menu. The kind gentleman next to me showed a little more restraint and denied himself the cheese and the ice cream. After drinking a cup of tea, I pressed the button to 'flatten' the bed, and went off to sleep. I awoke as we flew over Greenland, but the northern lights were not to be seen, so I laid back down and slept for another hour or so. Breakfast was served ninety minutes before landing, and as we touched down at Heathrow, the tears involuntarily began to flow. England's green and pleasant land!
The walk to the immigration hall was very long. I strolled along in my usual marching manner, and was joined by another gentleman. "Long walk", he said. I smiled and made some comment about how that with so many gates, "someone has to walk a long way. He then volunteered the information that he works for the company that designed the new Terminal 2 building. I nodded, and made the appropriate noises at the appropriate times, and then saw the queue to show passports. Although I would rather be 'inspected' by a human being, I just wanted to get to the luggage hall, and claim my cases, which I hoped made the flight! They did! As soon as the first one came onto the conveyor belt, I felt sure that the second one must be nearby. It was not, but it did emerge a few minutes later! I walked through the customs area, saw those who had been stopped, and strolled through with my bulging cases. My bags did not contain anything that would be considered contraband, and I have no desire to go through the experience, but I wonder at the reaction of the officials should I ever have to show my wares. Cereal, pop-tarts, butt paste (for the baby of course) and bags, and bags of candy!
Richard replied to my message, when I texted to confirm that he had arranged a taxi for me. Samantha had begged him not to reply, as she knew I would guess who was actually coming to get me. Half expecting to see my son at the airport, I emerged out of the customs area, and perused the crowd. I did not recognise anyone, and no one was holding a placard showing my name. Standing over to the side, I texted again, asking how much I should be expecting to pay for the cab. It was when he replied, "It's been sorted", was I convinced that I would see him. "Excuse me", said a gentleman as I stood with my trolley. I apologised, and wondered why this person wanted me to move, as I had positioned myself in a space that was in the way of no one. As I moved, I looked up, then down, then saw a small person in a car seat, and to the right of the gentleman was my daughter. Letting out a shriek, I hugged my son, and then spoke complete gibberish to my grandson, before hugging my daughter. It was a wonderful surprise, despite the fact that I was somewhat expectant.
The drive home was uneventful, and I was very pleased to reach my mother's house. My sister's car was outside, and I was unsure as to whether she was more pleased to see me, my suitcases, or if the joy was split between the two! I am sure I would feel the same! After a cup of coffee, I unpacked my cases, made several piles, and put everything that was not a 'surprise' out in the hallway for collection! Samantha left with Richard and I stayed with mum for the evening. We enjoyed our usual repast of sausages, mash and baked beans, and after getting the Internet connected, I sent the appropriate, 'I have landed' messages, and dozed in front of the television.
Christmas morning came around all too quickly. I arose early and the preparations began. I did spare a thought for those on my flight from Austin, but was sure, as we were travelling on the anti-penultimate day, there would have been time to arrange alternative flights, and most would have arrived in the continental United States on the day before Christmas, if not before. Flights from Houston to Florida must have had one open seat, and I am convinced 'brisket' was served wherever it was meant to be served. I was thankful for my re booked flight, and very happy that I was with my family, despite missing Dana very much!
There was lots to be done, and my week ahead, post Christmas day, was laid out before me. Although I was expecting the normal routine, this did not happen. However, if I were to explain now, it would probably feel like it needed to be in ............ another story.