So, I’m set to get from Glasgow, Scotland, over to a small airport called Pasco, in Washington. On paper it’s fine, but in practice, it’s a different kettle of fish.
[A note on the map: I want to keep it fairly local, so only the final stop airport will make it onto the map today. Else we’d have 3 countries in 2 continents, 3 states and 5 airports]
Throw in some storms, some extra charges, lots of snow and a diversion, and we have a very tired Brynley. So where should we begin. The beginning? Buckle up, this could take a while.
Well, that’s just throwing things into a suitcase? Right. Let’s move on.
The morning in question
Picture this. It was a stormy night, with high wind warnings in place over the west of Scotland. Storm Henry wasn’t having any fun. And nor was I. I had a taxi booked to pick me up and take me to the airport at 3:30am, and I was having trouble sleeping the night before. I was a real whole hot mess. I was unwell from all the food I’d been trying to eat to empty the fridge, I was stressed about the travel ahead, and what awaited me on the other side, I was emotional about leaving my partner half the world away for a third of a year, and I was tired, not being able to sleep because of the above reasons.
Anyway, eventually, 3:30 came. My flatmate woke up to see me off, and that meant a whole lot to me, and then I was in the taxi with 2 suitcases, a big ol’ backpack and a huge ball of nerves. No turning back now. It’s windy and wet, and I can feel the taxi shaking in the wind. I only thought of “what if…”. If the plane couldn’t leave.
So I get to the airport fine, and go to baggage check. This is just a routine thing, right. Put the bags behind the desk and go through to security, right? It only took me an hour, and approximately ten minutes of that was in queueing. First of all, alarm bells rang when the woman behind the edsk, upon seeing my passport, told me “We have a problem – your visa expires before your return flight.”. Oops. It’s all I can do to say “Excuse me? Are you sure? Can I see?”, and carry on. It turns out that in the excitement of counting out 120 days (the length of my visa) from February first, I had forgotten that 2016 was a leap year. So before anything else could be done, I had to rearrange my return journey. But at a charge of [REDACTED].
That was honestly my bad. So I get back in line to go to another desk where somebody can take a payment. We go through it all, and I’m told that I have to queue again to finish checking my bags. On to the 3rd counter of the morning.
This time, the attendant is a bit more chatty and reassuring. “Can we weigh your carry-on bag. Hmm, just under 12kg, that’s ok. Now, put your first bag onto the belt. Do you have any spare batteries in here?” Then I say, foolishly, “No, I have some in my carry-on though”. Suddenly, it’s like an interrogation but with very complicated rules. In my carry-on, I had 2 laptop computers, each containing one battery, plus one spare battery for my work computer. I explain this to the attendants, who are now conferring behind the desk about the various regulations. “You’re only allowed up to 2 spare batteries.” “Well, that’s ok, I only have one.” “But most people only travel with one laptop, so it’s sort of two” This idiocy went back and forth for five minutes before we (read: I) compromised and moved my one spare battery into another pocket, so that it wouldn’t short and spark somewhere.
Right. Then I said “I have to add another bag, I could only book one in online”. “Oh, you’ll have to talk to Melissa for that.” Melissa wasn’t her name, but it was somewhere between 4 and 5am at this point, and I was, at the very least, disgruntled. Melissa, the woman who had taken my charge for re-booking the flights was currently engaged with another customer, so this is where most of the queueing occurred. In the end, it was a simple process to book another item of luggage on, and it cost me a further £[REDACTED]. But this was planned and necessary.
So now, an hour after arriving at the baggage check, the bags go down the conveyor belt and I am free to go upstairs and into security.
Cue the random swabbing. I don’t know what they were looking for. Drugs, explosives, pathogens. They didn’t find anything, so off I trot into the departure lounge. A room for waiting made almost entirely of clocks. Anyway, time passes, yadda yadda and before I know it, I’m on my very empty flight with three seats to myself, off to Amsterdam.
Flight the first – Glasgow to Amsterdam
Nothing exciting happened. It was an hour and a half from 6am (UTC) to 8.30am (CET). I’ve spend lots of time in Schiphol before. I knew what to expect.
Whilst at Schiphol, I had a few hours to kill. So I found followed my boarding pass to my gate. Except it wasn’t a gate, it was pre-security. I had a nice light grilling from US immigration before being told that my real gate was a little way away. So I go to that gate, pull a laptop and get to wasting time! I had 2 or 3 hours of podcasts before I sprung for a coffee and a sandwich, then the flight to Minneapolis boarded. This was the big one. Lots of hours long, over that Atlantic, and I had requested an aisle seat (I’d been stung before by window seats on long flights. When boarding the plane, I’ve been pre-cleared for security, but OH! Cue random check number two! Another person, swabbing my hands, trousers, coat and jacket, putting into a machine only to tell me that I didn’t need swabbing. Hoozah.
After waiting for what felt like forever, onto the plane.
Flight the Second Amsterdam to Minneapolis
This was long. But fortunately, I had both a window seat and an aisle seat. Two whole seats to myself. Or rather, one for me, and one for the blanket/headphones/pillow/laptop/tablet. Entertainment was a must. On this flight, I knew that I had to get some sleep, but that it wouldn’t be possible without distraction from the endless hum of the engines.
Throughout this flight, I consumed:
and some in-flight service/meals including
- A hot towel
- Peanuts, pretzels
- Veggie lasagne, seeded roll, butter, cheese and crackers, salad, one glass of water
- Another glass of water
- Some biscuits
- A bottle of water
- Another hot towel
- Cheese and salami sandwich, chocolate icecream, and a coffee.
During this flight, I tried to nod off. I got maybe an hour, or 90 minutes of sleep total, in it was really shallow, interrupted, intermittent surface-sleep. Not ideal.
So for the majority of the flight, the main lights were out. Most of the blinds were down (except when the row opposite would open them and check every five minutes) So at least it wasn’t a strenuous journey. About half an hour before we were due to land (15:00 CET? Not sure of the time zone) is when we get our final meal, the lights come up, and I desperately want more time so that I can sit through the final episode of The Jinx. The pilot announces that Minneapolis is under snowy conditions, and we can’t land until it has been cleared off of the runway. This gets me enough time to finish my show, but I also know that it eats into my time at the airport. This is definitely a good thing. I was scheduled to spend 7 hours in Minneapolis. In the end, I didn’t even have 4.
At Minneapolis St. Paul
“Light snow” is how the weather was described over the tannoy in the plane. When we landed, it was at least a foot deep. So after we had all disembarked (or “deplaned”, apparently), we were herded through passport checks. This was a long queue. My backpack was heavy (12kg + a bottle of water I had bought earlier), I was tired, and I had nobody to chat with. When I’m grumpy, inane chat makes me feel better, somehow. So anyway, I’m queueing for maybe half an hour before I get called forward. I turn over the relevant documents, jam my fingers against the fingerprint scanner, and go onn through to the baggage claim.
Now, for customs, we have to claim our baggage here, then we can re-check it almost instantly. I had nothingg to declare at customs, so I just strolled on through, and took this opportunity to shuffle things about. I put some books and chargers from my backpack into one of these bags. That made the rest of the trip easier.
After that, there was a small security stand. I took off my boots, coat, jacket, bag, took out both laptops and walked through the detector. This time, there was no random security check. So I get dressed again, and see if I can find a departures board. I can, and whilst scanning for Pasco, my next and final stop, I find someone else headed that way. She’s a lovely woman, whose name eludes me. A social worker (or something) flying back from Berlin. So as we make our make our way towards the gate together, I switch on my phone for the first time today. It buzzes almost non-stop for five minutes as it inhales the notifications from people wishing me well, and checking in with me (shucks, guys). We get to our gate, having heard whispers of cancelled flights from all over. But I have other priorities. I find a restroom, find a coffee, and grab a chair at the gate, get out my laptop (to check my emails on the AWFUL WiFi at the airport (You should be ashamed, MSP, but your 3 letter code is the same as that of millisecond pulsars everywhere, so I’ll go easy on you.)
So I sit down with my coffee, my bad internet, and I call my man. Its late back in Swansea, and he’s tired, so we chat for a while. But then, after ten or fifteen minutes, the area is very quiet. It’s still snowing out. So I think to check the flight board.
Flight the Third Minneapolis to Pasco
“Sorry Joe, my flight’s been cancelled. I have to go do something.” I’m directed towards a service desk. I was not in a mood to fuck about. So I queue (again) to see what’s going on. The clerks are handing out leaflets for reduced price hotels in Minneapolis, so that we can stay if we have to catch a flight the next day.
I didn’t travel ALL DAY just to wait in the wrong city. Another queue opens up, so I join it early and get seen by one woman, who would soon get distracted by, I dunno, a fly or something. Thankfully the two who remained were much more hopeful. I think to myself “Now’s the time, B-dawg” (I’m B-dawg in my inner monologue, get over it). “You’ve seen the films. Lay on the charm and the British accent really thick. They’ll love it, you’ll enjoy the craic, it’ll be good.” And let me tell you, that brief interaction might have been the most fun I had all day. One woman was chatting about how she preferred rain over snow. “You’d hate the UK, you’d always be wet. From the rain.” Another complaining how the cheap phones made her ear sweat. The word “Sexy” doesn’t always warrant laughter, but I’m glad that it did. Between them, they managed to book me onto a flight out of Minneapolis into Salt Lake City, and from there onto Pasco, my final stop for the day.
But all this had taken up a lot of time, and by the time they were done, I was forced to run across an airport to the gate I was meant to be at. “At least” they said “the WiFi is better there”. Refer to the map above. I had to get from gate C23 to gate G13 in about fifteen minutes on foot, tired and disgruntled. But at least the WiFi was better there. And it was. From there, I called my supervisor and told him that I was not going to be where I was expected for collection.
Flight the Third Minneapolis to Salt Lake City
It was a short flight. I was sat next to a woman from Montana. She seemed nice enough. I had the window seat. The plane needed some prep before take-off. De-icing mostly. It was sprayed with what I can only assume to be antifreeze on the runway. We were in the air for about 2 hours. I slept through much of that. So I missed out on the free drink/snack. I did manage to get some podcasts in though.
At Salt Lake City
By this point, finding the departures board and running to the next gate was second nature. SLC is another big airport. Where Minneapolis was uniform white from the snow, SLC looked similar, but I could tell that it wasn’t. Being in Utah, I could only assume that it was sandy. By this point, I didn’t know or care what time it was. It must have been almost certainly midnight on Wednesday morning UTC.
So, find the gate, find the loo, check what time the flight arrives to Pasco. I sent a text to my supervisor, to check in that somebody would be there to pick me up. Then, I just had to wait for my plane to board. And it did.
[A note to the reader: You might notice the detail bleeding out as this post goes on. This is for a few reasons. First, as my day wore on, my awareness was reduced, so I missed much of the detail. Secondly, there was nothing of note for much of this. An airport is an airport. They all look like sterile blurs as you run through them. And third, you may notice that this is a long post. I would sort of like it to finish, but I have a duty to you, reader, to get to the end in a proper manner.]
Flight the Fourth Salt Lake City to Pasco
Snoozefest. It was a smaller plane than any I’ve been on before. We wee offered a choice of peanuts, pretzels or shortbread. So I chose shortbread. Naturally. Then I slept, I’m sure. I’m not sure what I listened to, but it might have been this.
Queue the map. I’ll add a legend for the colours soon.
So I landed in Pasco. At last. It must have been about 10pm local time, or 6am UTC. I know, because I was very tired. So I follow the crowds (read: Slightly more than 3 people) to the baggage claim, and wait. And wait. I realise that I have no idea who I am looking for. I haven’t seem any faces, and I know no names. And my baggage didn’t appear to be coming through the carousel. A man in a green jacket positions himself next to me and coyly asks me “Are you here for LIGO?”
I say yes, shake a hand, and return my gaze to the carousel. He introduced himself as Darkhan. Another man joins us, and introduces himself as Evan. (I had heard some about Evan before). We go in search of my luggage. Evan leads the way to Delta’s customer service desk, where a woman with long hair and a beanie awaits us. We explain the situation, hand over my luggage check number of the back of my boarding pass. She tells me that my bags made their way over to Seattle, and that they would be on the next flight into Pasco tomorrow, and then delivered to my home address. Nothing more to be done. All I have with me are my computers, one US-UK power adapter, a phone and a book. And some very, very stinky clothes that I have been sitting (read:stewing) in for more than 24 nervous hours.
Darkhan and Evan lead me to the car and ask me “Is there anything that you need?”.
So we drive a little way into a big store, called Winco, or something. I don’t know where it is, but I’ll try to find it for the map. This shop was more like a giant warehouse, stocked to the rafters with cardboard boxes full of cereal, bread, beverages, produce, cheese. I can take my pick! I only have limited funds for the time being though, and I only want to get the essentials.
- Butter (substitute, it tastes too buttery)
There was this whole discussion about trying new things. You see. When getting my coffee in Minneapolis, I had left milk, and the barista had said “There’s half-and-half over there.”, to which my response was “What’s half-and-half?”. She had no way to answer that, so I elected for 2-percent milk instead. But in this shop, I wanted to try the good brands, things that were popular here. So I did. After checking out, Evan drives us back. We live next door to each other, so that’s at least convenient. They drop me home, help me rescue the keys from the lockbox on the door, and show me around my apartment. It was lovely, but what I cared about most was that it had both a bathroom and a bed.
Aaaaaand we’re home.
I did enough to plug in my phone, get the WiFi code, and post to facebook, and I think I called Joe, back in the UK, all before conking out. The next day, I knew, I would have some errands to run about the town, but only after my luggage made it back to me. It was time to sort out the jet-lag
[Featured image link here]