Today’s post has to do with the continuing saga of being an international travel; specifically, being an international tour director. Again, it’s my way to keep myself afloat while I write the memoir, work on a female empowerment conference in order to help other women do their one big thing and, hopefully, put up some more votes. Plan B is to win the Mega Millions, in which case, I’ll put up some great votes and give my house away to someone who is struggling. (How fun would that be?!) So, back to the saga which is actually less about tour directing and more about the travel in between.
After completing an eight-day tour called In the Wake of the Vikings (note; Vikings are grumpy when you wake them) which takes us by boat from Scotland to Norway to Copenhagen, I have a week’s vacation scheduled visiting my friend Jenni in Hull, England.
Our group transfer from the to the Copenhagen airport drops us outside Terminal 2 where I throw my myriad of bags onto a cart and hoof it over to Terminal 3 to check in for my British Airways flight. As I step up to the desk and present my ID, I’m told that, while my flight from Copenhagen to London is doing just fine, my flight from London to Leeds has been canceled. Oh, and there are no other flights today. Crap!
“So, what are my options?” I ask.
“You need to go to Terminal 2 and speak to SAS as that flight is theirs.”
“What? It says on my confirmation it’s BA?”
“It’s operated by SAS so you need to go speak to them,” she reiterates.
We go back and forth for a few minutes and, as she’s unwilling to yield, I ask to speak with a supervisor who gives the same answer, nearly word-for-word (is this from a script? I wonder). Neither are very nice and really just seem to want me to leave.
In a huff, I grab my cart and push my way back to Terminal 2. On the way, I look at my phone and notice an E-mail from British Airways. I’ve been leading this tour on a ship which has had limited access to Wi-Fi. (The Shetland Islands have fancy ponies but not-so-fancy Wi-Fi.) There’s a customer service phone number in the body of the E-mail so I click on “call” caring less about the expense of using my U.S. phone in a foreign land and more about how the hell I can get to another foreign land. I explain my situation to which the lady on the other end responds, “What? Why would they tell you it’s an SAS flight? They have nothing to do with this flight. It’s ours.”
“That’s what I thought,” I respond feeling warm and fuzzy that she agrees with me. I’ve now arrived at the SAS counter understanding that, should I approach with my problem, I’ll be greeted with a blank stare of bewilderment. I turn around while allowing the nice lady on the phone to explain that, when I arrive in London, I need only to go to the BA customer service counter and they’ll have a new flight for me for tomorrow as well as a hotel reservation and some food coupons. I accept the fact that I won’t be seeing Jenni tonight and, well, there are worse things than spending the night in London.
I catch my flight to London along with many others who also seem to be having some difficulty getting to their planned destinations as BA is having a problem with a shortage of equipment. As someone who works in tourism, I understand that, although the flight attendants on my plane have absolutely nothing to do with the challenges most are having, they’re probably on the receiving end of some crankiness. Knowing this, I make friendly chatter with them. In turn, they understand that my day could be better and that my night might be a bit better if enhanced with alcohol. Thanks to these angels of mercy, I arrive in London, two hours later, with a goody bag filled with tiny bottles of scotch and wine.
After collecting my bags and presenting myself to immigration and customs, I head to the BA counter. Noting the time on my watch I’m miraculously calm when, exactly ninety-minutes later, I arrive at the front of the line.
While waiting, Jenni and I have texted. “Why don’t you take the train to Hull?” she suggests. “There are a lot of them and you could be here tonight.”
I’ve already considered this option and, between my exhaustion from leading a tour and taking care of a couple-hundred people, an abundance of luggage to carry (I’m now traveling with all of my continuous travel clothing as well as work clothes) and simple traveler’s fatigue, I’ve decided I can wait one night to sleep on an air mattress at my friend’s place. “Great idea Jen but I think I’ll just let BA put me up in a hotel and start all over tomorrow. Sometimes you gotta know when enough’s enough.”
Finally, I’m called up to the counter. I slap on a smile, understanding that my current situation is not the fault of the nice man in front of me and, to be truthful, he’s probably having as bad of a day as I am. I explain what I’ve been told and he confirms that there are no more flights to Leeds today. He hands me a variety of papers which I can exchange for dinner, breakfast, a hotel room, a shuttle to the hotel, and a flight for tomorrow. I’m instructed to head out the door and wait for the Renaissance Hotel shuttle. I’d considered trying to get into the city to catch a show but, as it’s now 5:00 and I haven’t yet gotten to my hotel, my chances aren’t looking so good.
I drag my bags to the curb and gather with forty other stranded travelers; some are grumpy, some are trying to hold it together, and two young guys, who are just trying to get to California for a vacation, have a surprisingly good attitude. We chat about how grumpiness just won’t help the situation so we’ve chosen to accept the situation with a positive attitude.
After nearly an hour, the bus arrives (oh, they’re testing our positive attitude), we lug our bags onto the bus and cram inside as if it were a New York subway at rush-hour (it smells eerily similar). The driver, understanding that he’s collected a bunch of frustrated passengers, chooses the correct tactic by joking with us. Never one to miss a fun exchange, I joke back with him. At some point he asks the question, “Well, how adventurous are you?” Clearly he doesn’t know me.
Somewhere around the seventh stop (I’ve lost count) we arrive at the Renaissance Hotel where most of us debus (yup, made up a word) and race inside while smiling at each other while jockeying for position in line. The hotel is expecting us and has set up a satellite check in desk where they quickly check us in and, before you know it, I’m handed a key and told “Your room is on the ground floor. Just go through the double doors.”
I grab my bags and, as I walk through the double doors, I see a staircase and a sign with an arrow pointing up the ten steps and the words “Ground Floor.” Puzzled how I can enter the hotel from the street and still have to climb up to get to the ground floor, I look back at my load and breathe a sigh. I simply have no energy left to drag these up even a minimal amount of stairs. It’s then that, next to the stairs, I spot an
elevator. . . wait, I’m in England. . . next to the stairs I spot a lift. It’s one of those small, glass ones, just meant to take you up a very short distance. I load my bags inside and, as the sign says, hold down the “2” button for the entire ride. Unfortunately, the entire ride seems to only be halfway up to 2. At the exact halfway point, the lift grinds to a halt. I lift my finger and press the button again. Nothing. What’s behind door Number 1? I wonder, and press that button. I stay as still as a street busker painted bronze and imitating the statue of liberty. Finally, I press the alarm button. Nothing. I press again; this time holding it for a good ten seconds. I remain alone. Becoming more and more agitated, my positive attitude waning, I lean on the alarm button for a full minute. The only other sound is myself, swearing up a storm which would embarrass a Hell’s Angel. Realizing that nobody is coming, I collapse into a heap on the floor and grab both my phone and my goody-bag-of-booze™.
After opening the scotch and taking a swig, I thank God that I’m in a glass elevator which allows me to receive cellphone reception (even if it is costly at international rates) and I Google the Renaissance Hotel Heathrow click on the phone number and when an operator answers, I calmly explain my problem. (Note, “calmly” is up for interpretation.) I explain where I am as it isn’t at the main elevators because they’ve put us all in an extension of the hotel which was clearly not part of the original plan and requires a walk halfway back to Copenhagen. I’m assured that someone is on their way and I sit pitifully on the floor of the glass elevator, drinking my scotch.
After another ten minutes, nobody has arrived. I’d begun writing about my sad situation on Facebook and Jenni writes back asking if she should call the hotel to try to get me out. I thank her but refuse on principal. I’ve rung the alarm countless times and called the hotel to tell them I’m stuck. THEY SHOULD COME RESCUE ME! Where, oh where is my knight in shining armor? This is England for god-sakes. Isn’t this where those knights base themselves?
Eventually, I make the international call from my elevator once again. This time I admit to raising my voice. “Ma’am, we’re trying to find you,” she says.
What? It’s not like I’m moving around playing hide-and-seek. I’m ever-so-stationary.
A few minutes later, two hotel workers come through the door and stare at me. Feeling like a fish in an aquarium, I look at them with disdain, through tears of anger and exhaustion. One is an engineer who does something mechanical and lowers the elevator to sub-ground level again. Before I can step out, he climbs in and pushes the 2 button. He looks at me accusingly while saying that I must have pushed the emergency stop button which messed the whole thing up. I assure him that I had my hand on the 2 button the entire time I was moving and even after I stopped moving. He looks at me in disbelief. I hightail it out of there before I punch Mr. Engineer in the nose.
I finally arrive in my room at 7:00pm, my positive attitude gone, as well as one mini-bottle of scotch.