Tag Archives: airports

Good News, Bad News

This title should read: Bad News, Good News, Bad News and More Bad News. We are alive and well so it wasn’t that that bad, however . . . .

After two weeks of trying and mostly failing to sever our relationships with credit card companies, the satellite TV, phone, internet and electric companies – for the most part these companies don’t accept that there is a functioning world outside of the U.S. – Jimmy tried to check in online for our transatlantic flight 24 hours before departure.

“I don’t believe this!”

“What?”

“They haven’t got our reservation!” With the stress of packing, planning, making lists and arguing with corporate America on the phone I was surprised his head hadn’t exploded.

My heart sank but I tried to exhibit calm in my voice. “Let me try.” I carefully typed in our reservation code – 6yk2E7i14clD5CK – easy, no? and I got:

We don’t recognize this reservation.

Our furniture was gone, truck shipped, apartment lease terminated, hire car returned and taxi to the airport booked. I tried not to think through the consequences of having booked flights with a company online we hadn’t previously used.

“Have you typed your name correctly?” I asked.

“Of course I have!” said like this: “&*  #&*%@*  #  &*$#!!!”

“What name did you book it in?” I asked patiently. He has two names, first and middle, like many of us, but uses them interchangeably, unlike many of us. They were both on the screen. “Try taking that space out.”

Up popped our flight reservations effectively putting the pin back in his primed grenade head.

We celebrated with one margarita too many at happy hour. So cheap! How could we not?

The taxi turned up early the next day and we arrived at the airport in good spirits.

After the lost reservation fright on the laptop at the hotel I was unable to check in online anyway as I am to become an alien once again in the UK and I needed to be scrutinized. As I am “special” we were escorted to the head of the long queue.

The check-in clerk was either surprised at our cheerfulness at that early hour or just liked the look of us because then something magical happened. She put “security cleared” labels on our carry-ons and even on my handbag.

“You’re TSA cleared,” Tracy declared.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“You go through the security cleared line. You keep your shoes on, you don’t have to take anything out of your bags and you aren’t x-rayed or searched.”

We swanned past dozens of sweaty, harassed-looking, bare-footed passengers and I felt like royalty. They looked at us with hate and envy.

No more Airport Gestapo for us. We had had an encounter with an airport angel.

That’s the end of the good news.

During our trans-country flight we were concerned that should our flight be late, our one and a half hour layover in New York would evaporate and we and/or our luggage would miss the connecting flight to London.

We landed in good time and rushed to the departures board to see . . . . . oh nooooo! . . . . . a four hour delay! It was our punishment for feeling smug at security in Phoenix.

Four hours turned into six hours as we waited on board for eight passengers with names the cabin steward struggled to pronounce. They never turned up. When we finally pushed back from the gate the captain assured us these eight passengers hadn’t checked any baggage but I fretted all across the Atlantic about the airline’s record keeping systems.

You will have gathered that we landed safely. Somewhere.

London, actually. Tired and stressed but all in one piece.

Jimmy drove the two hours to our accommodation through torrential rain alternating with bursts of sunshine. With the countryside looking so green after spending  140 days in the desert with no rain we were pleased to be nearing the end of this particular journey.

caravan/single-wide/park model
Our temporary home. For now. See storm clouds looming.

Our caravan/single-wide/park model/whatever-you-call-it was pristine, cozy and dry and we tumbled in with six pieces of luggage in the evening, 36 hours after our alarm had gone off one third of a world away.

Driving rain continued on and off the next day but viewed through the window from the comfort of a warm sofa and feeling slightly smug again as we watched campers dashing in and out of their tents, we didn’t care.

Until . . . . .

“Ewwwww! This carpet is wet!”

After I’d stepped in the soggy mess our eyes drifted up to the ceiling where crumpled wallpaper showed signs of water damage. We had just unpacked and put away the contents of six suitcases and one hundred pounds (Sterling, not weight) worth of groceries. Looking like Spiderman, my hands and arms outstretched, I hopped from spot to spot and patted all over the walls searching for more signs of damp.

I patted down all the recently filled cupboards and shelves. There was no sign of running water.

We waited and watched.

Somehow a small damp patch on the carpet you could feel but not see turned into a squashy obvious puddle.

We were demoralized. The campsite owners were alarmed. The maintenance men were less than sympathetic.

“You didn’t know a swimming pool was included in the price of your rental did you?!”

Oh ha.

“You should have popped down the shops and bought some wellington boots and charged them to the campsite!”

Ha bloody ha.

Long story short . . . oh wait, too late for that . . . we have to move.

Our caravan has been condemned.

It could only happen to us.

English bottoms
Remember the view from our balcony? This is our view now. What do you think of it?

Airport Gestapo – The Final Chapter

. . . . previously, I’d caused havoc, embarrassment and humiliation at Heathrow Airport and we were momentary illegal immigrants in Canada after having been awake for nearly 24 hours on our way to Seattle.

View of Calgary downtown from International Ai...
Imprisoned at Calgary Airport!  
View of Calgary downtown from International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zombified by tiredness we stepped out of an elevator at Calgary Airport and appeared to be behind the U.S. customs desks, tourists to-ing and fro-ing on the far side of them, shops and departure gates splayed out beyond. Treading very carefully after falling foul of Heathrow Gestapo security, we approached the first human we could find.

“Excuse me,” I said in a little girl’s voice. Not intentionally, mind you. He just looked so very big and I was feeling like Alice.

“Can I help you?” he asked. Oh, yes please. Give me a fireman’s lift to the first aid room, find a cot for me to lie down on and put a cold compress on my forehead.

I lost track of the people we asked for directions, the forms we handed over, the snaking empty mazes we trudged along, eventually passing go, saying goodbye to our suitcases again and, oh goody gosh, going through security.

Thankfully they didn’t seem to be expecting me. Our boarding cards and passports were inspected for the 43rd time and we were directed to a security queue. It was the same drill as at Heathrow except everyone was taking their shoes off so I meekly followed suit.

As our boarding cards were scrutinized for the 44th time the proceedings came to a halt.

A young blond Aryan looked at our boarding cards, looked at us, looked at the boarding cards again and squinted, showed them to her colleague, who looked at us then called two other colleagues over who all peered at us while pointing at our boarding cards.

I wanted to cry.

If it would have made them happy I would have laid down on the conveyor belt and gone through the luggage x-ray machine myself.

“I’m sorry,” blondie said, “you’ll have to go to that other line.”

“What?” I had heard the actual words she said. I just hoped she’d change her mind. Jimmy was putting his shoes back on without further questions.

“That other line,” and she pointed.

“Where?” My poor brain was shutting down and I wanted to be really, really certain she meant what she said.

“Over there by the wall,” she enunciated very carefully. My jacket, handbag, computer and shoes, all neatly laid out, taunted me from their trays. Jimmy wouldn’t look at me and was wheeling away.

With a last punch of stamina, I put myself back together, walked to the other line, unloaded into the trays and watched it all whiz away on the conveyor. Good riddance.

Our boarding cards had taken a little side trip, courtesy of the security staff, who perhaps didn’t have enough to do as they outnumbered the passengers. The boarding cards were walked round the whole area by various staff and admired by all and sundry as though they were showing off a cute puppy.

In my socks I stepped through the security scanner, where I was stopped yet again. “You’ve been chosen for security screening through our airport. It’s on your boarding card.” I’d already forgotten about the boarding cards. They were still being passed around for the staff to marvel at. “It has four S’s on it. Would you like me to search you or do you want to go through there?” She pointed to Jimmy, who in my dazed and weary state I’d also forgotten the existence of, standing in a round glass case in a familiar Hands up! stance. The virtual strip search.

English: Body image scanner cartoon avatar, ge...
English: Body image scanner cartoon avatar, generated by software in lieu of actual body image, proposed for use in U.S. as airport screening method. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I looked at him. I looked at her. “Ma’am?” she asked.

She looked at me.

“I have no idea.” I was so worn down by officialdom I was completely unable to make a simple decision.

“Why don’t you step through there?” she said kindly.

“Okay.” She could have been sending me to a firing squad for all I knew. Or cared.

After asking the way out of security, being misdirected and taking only two more wrong turns, we found our departure gate for Seattle and sat down.

“Can I see our boarding cards?” I asked Jimmy.

I held them up side by side. “Yours has the four S’s on it. Not mine.”

“I know.”

“You were the one security was tracking this time.”

“I know.”

“They picked you out to track through Calgary when we checked in at Heathrow and marked your boarding card, long before my snit in security.”

“I know,” he said, smirking.

“It was nothing to do with me not taking my shoes off.”

“Nope.”

“Let me see the boarding cards for the London/Calgary leg.”

“I threw them away.”

“Why?” I asked on a note of rising mania.

“They’re no good now.”

“I know that but I’d still like to see them.”

“Well you can’t.”

“I’ll bet mine for Heathrow has the four S’s on it.”

“Possibly.”

“Choosing me for a security search and tracking was completely random.”

“Probably.”

“You let me think it was my fault that we were screened.”

“Yes.”

I was too tired to give him a piece of my mind. I’m not sure there was a piece of it left to give him.

The flight to Seattle must have been uneventful as I didn’t feel inspired to write about it. That or we took a taxi from Calgary. I don’t remember now.

English: Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma...
Do you see what that sign says? Tiny print, right side of picture – Wrong Way. You betcha! I’m never going through security again. Ever. Until the next time. English: Security checkpoint at Seattle Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Airport Gestapo #4

 . . . . . . previously, I’d behaved testily during the security search at Heathrow Airport, had a digital strip search (digital as in x-ray body scan, not what you were thinking) and been released back into the public domain of the airport lounge.

Two coffees, several visits to the loo (nervous bladder?), a few raids on the departure lounge shops, a long walk and two and a half hours later, we were seated at the gate, ready to board our flight.

Don’t take me there! Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

My security breach had been put behind me and I was just opening my novel when I heard, “Excuse me madam, do you mind if I ask you a few questions? I’m with Heathrow Security.”

Looking up in alarm, I slammed my book shut reflexively, as though hiding my guilty secrets. She wore the crisp white blouse, black skirt and slick grooming of the previously encountered Gestapo. I wore an oh-no-not-again expression.

“Just some routine questions.” Another foreign accent. Ulla was the name on her badge. The secret police had tracked me through the airport! I was toying with the idea of saying Yes, I do mind, but she launched into her patter before I could muster up the bravado to give an unbidden answer to her rhetorical question.

“What is your destination?”

The same as everyone else held captive at this gate. “Calgary.”

“What is your final destination?”

“Seattle.”

“Where have you traveled from today?”

I muttered, “’pswich.” Alright, Ulla, spell that! With a quick and precise script she wrote Ipswich. Oh.

“What council district?”

Are you kidding me? “I don’t know.”

“Post code?”

“I don’t know.” Oh, that just makes me sound stupid. “Um, no, I . . don’t know,” I offered feebly, bumptiousness fizzling.

“Okay. How have you traveled here today?” she asked with the tolerance of a well trained interrogator.

“Hire car.” She flipped a pad looking for a chart to find a special code to put in a box on her form and hire car wasn’t listed. With English as her second language, she was unable to translate. In hyper helpful mode and now anxious to just leave the country, I looked over her shoulder and picked from the chart “rental car” for her.

“How would you rate your experience in security today?” and she read off a list:

“Well above my expectations.

Above my expectations.

Neither above nor below my expectations.

Below my expectations.

Bloody awful.”

No, she didn’t say that last one on the list. Perusing the list I couldn’t see a suitable expression for my security experience so dithered for a bit then chose the middle, non-committal answer.

“Why have you chosen that answer?” Ah, here we go.

“I felt rushed when my belongings came through security and there wasn’t enough space to put my things away and the security person wasn’t very helpful well quite rude actually and I felt intimidated and harassed and I just, well, I . . . . ” and I ran out of steam as she ran out of space to write in her little box.

There. Had I vindicated myself? The “strip search” room went unmentioned. By her and by me. And by Jimmy. He was oh so engrossed in his book. And pretending once again that he was nothing to do with me.

Shortly afterwards, we boarded our Air Canada flight for Calgary. Having left behind Heathrow Airport and its terrifying team of search and interrogation, we looked forward to the warmth and friendliness of the Canadians. They were friendly, but . . . . . .

. . . . . to be continued . . . . . in Calgary.

That’s where I should have gone! Photo credit: Flickr.com

 

Airport Gestapo #3

 . . . . previously I had apparently managed to annoy a member of Heathrow airport security sufficiently to put me on their radar.

OK! I’m coming. I’m coming. Don’t you think you’re being a little heavy-handed? Photo credit: Wikipedia

Another Gestapo-type, though smiling this time, faced me. These women are so tall – the better to look down on me I suppose. She was accompanied by her one man hit squad. He was head and shoulders above Jimmy and smiling too, a smile at odds with his shaven head and biceps straining the short sleeves of his shirt. A radio the size of a brick looked as lethal as one the way he held it up at shoulder height.

“Just step this way.” My feet were rooted to the ground. “Please follow me,” Ms. Gestapo encouraged and I reluctantly obeyed. “Just step in here if you would,” she insisted and reached for a door marked in large letters DO NOT ENTER, SECURITY PERSONNEL ONLY. “Please,” and she gestured into the room. My feet, mired in a thick soup of reticence, moved very slowly towards the door.

“Are you together?” the eerily smiling hit man asked Jimmy who was standing back a pace watching me be led away to my doom.

“Yes.” Jimmy is mostly given to telling the truth but in this instance didn’t have sufficient time to think of an alternative before he was coerced to join me in the little cell.

“Can you step in please?” the hit man said persuasively as though he were the patient parent of recalcitrant children being told to go sit in the corner. We were both verbally dragged the last few feet into a tiny room with only one chair.

The pair of secret police had foreign accents but they spoke so few words so succinctly their accent was difficult to place – some country in Eastern Europe? I’m well past the age for human trafficking surely. And what will they do with Jimmy? There had been two very pretty young girls behind me in the security queue – one blond, one brunette. And plenty of fit young men. Why us?

“Please sit.” As we hadn’t the faintest idea what was going on or who at this point was being asked to sit we both remained standing, mute and bewildered.

“Wait here, sir,” and the hit man gestured at the wall just inside the door after he’d made a production of closing it firmly, a creepy sycophantic grin plastered on his face.

So it was me they were asking to sit. There didn’t appear to be any restraints on the chair or electrical leads dangling from it so was just aiming my bottom at the seat when I was told, “Leave your bag over there,” with a gesture to the opposite wall.

Damn the bag! I blame the bag. I wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for the bag.

Then with no wasted pleasantries I was told, “Stand over here in this circle and hold your arms up like this,” and Ms. Gestapo demonstrated the classic Hands up! posture.

Oh God, they’re going to shoot me. Why would they want to shoot me for peevish behavior? Isn’t that a little extreme for 21st century Britain or have we walked through a door into the dark ages?

“Now turn around slowly.” Shoot me in the back? Ms. G. pointed to arrows in a circle on a mat on the floor where I stood. As I turned on the spot with Hands up! she operated a computer terminal while the hit man stood braced against the door preventing our escape. I completed my captive’s pirouette as she concentrated on the computer screen.

“Thank you. All done. You may take your bag,” and we were escorted from the room.

I smiled sheepishly at Jimmy, completely at a loss for a witticism to lighten the mood and slow my palpitations. He said not a word, but he didn’t need to. His expression said it all.

Five minutes later over coffees and a bit giggly with relief, I said to Jimmy, “You know what just happened, don’t you? I’ve had a virtual strip search.”

“Well it serves you right.” I don’t know how he’d resisted saying it until now.

If you think that was enough of an ordeal for one journey you’d be wrong.

. . . . . to be continued.

Airport Gestapo

 

It says, “Heathrow. Making every journey better.” See what you think.

You may find it hard to believe the following story isn’t fiction. And even harder to believe that all these terrifying things happened over the course of just one flight. But it’s true. Not mostly true. All true.

“Look. She hasn’t taken off her shoes.”

“I thought you had to.”

“So did I. He hasn’t either.”

A jeans and trainer clad couple tramped through the security scanner at Heathrow Airport without so much as a Hey you! “Well, I’m not taking my shoes off. I don’t see why I should get my socks grubby,” I said prissily.

Jimmy proceeded to the conveyor belt where one takes a tray, deposits jacket, keys, watch, belt and in Jimmy’s case – “Should I put my shoes in here?” “Yes” – his shoes.

I asked no questions as I heaped up jacket, handbag and laptop, then crashed my overweight carry-on on to the rollers leading up to the conveyor.

We’d already run the gamut of check-in, treating our carry-ons as featherweights, certain they were over the weight allowance, trying not to go red in the face, tremble or grunt when lifting them in the proximity of the check-in staff. That pretense was no longer necessary at security.

Or was it?

Poised and ready, I held back my carry-on and trays on the conveyor, and timed my dash through the scanner so I could scoop up my loot from the other side of the x-ray machine before anyone else could get their hands on it.

My trays and bag whooshed off and I sneaked through the scanner feeling triumphant not only for keeping on my shoes but for avoiding the pat-down search I could see on my left.

Things were going quite well until my heavy case and two trays shot out the other side of the x-ray machine and hurtled down the rollers to the buffers. I’d already breathed a sigh of relief when I was startled to hear “Is this your case?” I looked to see it wasn’t my case so relaxed again.  Prematurely as it happens.

The five zippers and four handles on my roll-along carry-on have always been a mystery to me and I turn it round and round, unzipping and zipping up, sometimes the same wrong zip three times trying to open it, not expand it. The large-as-possible carry-on, purchased to circumvent airline luggage allowances, was stuffed so full it would detonate with one wrong move.

I’d eased the laptop out for the security check with the delicacy of a bomb disposal technician and it was languishing in a tray. The rest of the contents – empty plastic containers, a Daytona 500 baseball cap, plastic zip bags, dirty clothes, a few clothes pins, Jimmy’s slippers, two pot holders, six hangers, pajamas, a book, a magazine and a ball of string – were packed with the precision of a 3-D puzzle.

To open the zip fully would be like pulling the pin on a grenade. If it all flew out, it would never go back in and I would have to don some of the dirty clothes for the flight.

I just needed to unzip my carry-on a few inches, slip the laptop back in amongst the dirty pants and socks, zip up, grab jacket and handbag and go. Jimmy was already shod and jacketed and backing away from the chaos.

So, is it this zip? Zip, zip. No. This one? Zip, zip. No.

Bags and trays and people were piling up behind me. This one? Zip, zip. No. Needing to do my zip, zip thing not under the glare of harried travelers, I heaved my bag from the downhill rollers and thumped it onto an adjacent table.

Just as I nudged the bag away from the edge of the table, a lofty sour-faced mein führer pushed it back at me and banged her prey’s suitcase onto the middle of the table.

“Excuse me madam. This is my security search table.”

And then the trouble started.

. . . . . . to be continued.