Hello! I’m quite excited about this week’s post. As promised, here is an extract from my book that I’m writing – “Florida, A Delayed Discovery”. A few years ago I went to Florida to watch the last shuttle launch of the Discovery. It was my first time to the states and also my first experience of leaving Europe. I had a great time!
Anyway, sometimes the journey is just as memorable as the holiday, so with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my journey to America, complete with missed flights and American border control…
I got on the plane, watched some films, ate some airplane food and was full of excitement! I even filled out that green form they give you to confirm that you’re not a terrorist and that you were not affiliated in any way, shape or form with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. I was given two, presumably in case I had a change of heart mid-flight and wanted to confess to any unlawful ways. It’s good to know this level of security vetting exists; it made me feel much safer on my flight knowing that even at this stage of proceedings they were still attempting to weed out anyone who shouldn’t be allowed to fly. I wondered how many unscrupulous people they caught using this method. Did you get ejected from the plane if you answered yes? Visions of a Monty Python sketch came to mind: “yes, er, I mean noooooooo!” as you get flung to your doom. Anyway, it didn’t matter, I was off to America! However, when I got to Philadelphia, I got my first taste of long-haul travel problems.
I’d given myself two whole hours between connections so I wouldn’t have to run around like a headless chicken looking for boarding gates and all that nonsense when I arrived. What I hadn’t anticipated was that at the time Philadelphia airport was undergoing a major refurbishment and it took me an hour and a half to get through customs and immigration. The place was rammed, several international flights had landed at once (separate runways obviously) and all had to go through border control.
When I finally got to a desk, I was met by a security official who was about my age with a short, sensible haircut and a no-nonsense but light-hearted attitude. I handed him my passport and my green form.
“Where are you visiting?” he asked without looking up.
“I’m off to Florida to watch the shuttle launch.”
“How long are you over for?”
“Are you meeting up with friends or relatives whilst you’re over here?” he asked, still fixed on my passport.
“No,” I said, “just going to travel around Florida by myself.”
He paused and looked up from my passport and raised an eyebrow. “By yourself?”
“Yes” and I nodded just to make sure he was aware of my affirmation. He stared at me for a moment longer than was comfortable. Did he think I was up to no good coming here alone with no-one to meet? I wanted to point out to him that I wasn’t crazy or a terrorist and that if he had any doubts about it he should consult the green form I’d given him.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a metallurgist” I answered. He raised another eyebrow so I went on to explain what being a metallurgist entails.
“Oh, a metal-urgist, that sounds interesting.” He continued to pour over my passport. “Say, you’re from Nottingham? My Grandma lives in Nottingham!” I smiled, half expecting to be asked if I knew her. “I heard that the most popular name in England is Mohammad at the minute, what’s that all about?”
“I have no idea” I responded, thinking to myself that that can’t be true and I should look it up as soon as I got home – which reminds me, I need to look that up.
“Well, welcome to America” he said with a smile, stamped my passport and handed it back. I thanked him. “Go visit Disney Land while you’re in Florida, and have a nice day.”
And with that I left, pretty sharpish, as I had a plane to catch.
This was my first experience of trying to catch a connecting flight. My next leg was to Washington and then off to Orlando. I got to the boarding gate with, amazingly after such a long wait at border control, twenty minutes to spare. A small propeller plane was at the gate, its engines were idle but all doors were closed. Two gentlemen at the gate desk looked at me. “Can I help you, sir?” one of them asked.
“Yes” I said, “I’m a little bit late but I’m supposed to be catching this flight – border control took forever.”
“I’m sorry sir, the flight’s full” he said.
“What do you mean? I have a ticket” which I then waved to prove I wasn’t making it up “and I have a seat number!”
“I’m sorry sir, but the flight’s full. I cannot let you board the plane.”
“But I booked a seat, how can the plane be full?” I found this very confusing, how can a flight be full if I had a seat booked and I wasn’t on the plane? It should have been obvious that I wasn’t in my seat filling the plane, as I was stood in front of them. The gentleman had a look at my ticket and showed it to his colleague. They nodded and handed it back.
“I’m sorry sir, but this flight has been overbooked.” Before I could ask how a flight gets overbooked he went on to say “If you visit our desk, they should be able to sort you out.”
“Right, ok. Thank you” I said, but I wasn’t very convinced they could. “What about my luggage?”
“The people at the desk will sort that out for you.” They then went about shuffling some papers at their desk, signalling that they had done all they could for me.
I found the desk and explained what had happened. They looked at the ticket. “We can put you on a flight to Orlando; it leaves in six hours’ time.”
“That’s brilliant” I said, “what about my luggage?”
“Your luggage will be waiting for you in Orlando, sir.”
Excellent. I spent the few hours wondering around Philadelphia airport. It was pretty big with lots of shops. I refrained from buying one of the Liberty Bell fridge magnets which were strewn everywhere; I felt I should at least see the thing if I was to get one. After some food and a pit-stop, I found the gate and got out my book. I was three hours early.
Just before the flight was ready to board, a check-in lady announced that the flight was overbooked by six places. “If anyone would like to give up their seat, we will put you up in a hotel overnight and put you on the first flight to Orlando in the morning.” I was starting to see a pattern with this airline’s booking procedures. No-one volunteered so she went on to add “We will give you $250 worth of our airline vouchers. If no-one comes forward we will have to randomly select people.”
Now, I was a little bit tempted by this, but I already had accommodation and a hire car waiting for me in Orlando. If I had known this was the deal six hours ago I would have taken it – half a day in Philadelphia would have been a pleasant bonus. I was surprised that the people on the help-desk didn’t offer me this when I had to get my flights changed. Maybe they didn’t know that this flight was overbooked too.
In the end, a few people took up the offer. Not me though, I had a ticket with a seat number on and that seat was mine. I boarded the plane and felt a sense of relief. I was finally going to Orlando. An uneventful flight ensued and I got to Orlando only two hours later than I had planned.
I approached the baggage collection area without any expectation of seeing my bag there, but lo and behold, it was the first one off! I grabbed it and went in search of my hire car…