Behold, our marvelous schedule:
7:10 am TLV —> LHR (1 hr 45 min layover)
12:15 pm LHR —> CLT (3 hr 10 min layover)
7:15 pm CLT —> SLC (arrive at 9:29 PM MDT)
I started the day a little nervous about the 1 hr 45 min layover in London Heathrow, but I figured, we booked this all at once, and they wouldn’t book an impossible connection, right? Right?
We wanted to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv three hours before our flight, so with a ~7am liftoff, we should arrive at the airport by 4am. It takes about 35 minutes to get from our house to the airport, but we have to return the rental van…so we decided to leave by 2am.
We were glad we left that much time, because although we were able to get to the rental car return place easily, we ended up waiting quite a while for the shuttle to arrive to take us to the airport itself. I think, all told, it took 40 minutes to get from the airport car return to the terminal.
Everything is quite and sleepy on the streets around the airport. Then you enter the terminal, and BAM! Crowded, noisy, crazy. I guess a lot of us were leaving early that morning. Gee, Eva, and I were peeled off at the very beginning–I had to run back for our individual luggage, because we all just grabbed whatever we could–and then had to make sure I gave everyone their own passports. It was more stressful being separated, even if we were allowed to go through a faster handicap line.
Gee and I got a little more focused security screening, because of their wheelchair. Was this Gee’s personal wheelchair? How long had we had it? Did we ever allow someone else to use it? Did we have control of it the entire time we were in Israel? etc. Satisfied that we weren’t accidentally toting explosives, they allowed us through Border Control. And they never even asked if I had rocks or sand in my luggage. 🙂
Going through security took almost 70 minutes, so we were really glad that we gave ourselves time. I settled Eva and Gee at the gate, and went back to wait for the others to make it through. By the time all of us got to the gate, we only had to wait about 30 minutes till boarding.
We got to ride in the same type of plane as from LHR to TLV last time, and even got to be in the same back seats (some of us, at least!). Gee and I had a lovely place in the back with just two seats, like Em and I did on the way in. I really like these airplanes–they feel very plush and new and slightly more comfortable with leg room and space, which seems impossible but could be true. And the breakfast was delicious. Yay British Airlines!
Heathrow is an…interesting airport. Not only do you have to go through security even when you have a connecting flight, but you have to go through security just going between terminals. And their terminals are NOT close together. We were supposed to land in Terminal 3, which was the same terminal as our connecting flight. Now we were in Terminal 5, and needed to get to Terminal 3, but first we had to wait for Gee’s wheelchair to be brought back to us. And then we needed to get on the tram, which takes you to the main terminal, and then you wait for a bus (we waited 12 minutes) to drive us to Terminal 3. Which is a 20 minute drive.
By the time we got to security, we were feeling a little stressed, but still had 40 minutes till departure. Gee and I got peeled off again, and made it to the security entrance. There was ONE security entrance gate open, and a line that went on and on. The agent at the gate was like “Why am I the only one doing this?” and another agent walking by was like “Why are you the only one open?” and all of us passengers are like “Why is this happening?” The rest of my family couldn’t even be seen, they were so far back.
And the agent won’t let us through. “I’m sorry” says she. “The departure time is less than 45 minutes, and we can’t let you through security because you won’t make it to your plane. You need to go back to the counters and get an agent to bring you through if they think you will make it.”
So, Gee and I head back to counters, past our family–explaining as we rush past. They chose to stay in line, hoping we get it figured out by the time they reach the front.
We aren’t the only ones in this situation, from various other flights, so there are several others in front of me to talk to the American Airlines. The clock keeps ticking down. I keep reminding myself that all is well, even if we miss this flight. Maybe we can have an overnight layover in London, paid for by the airlines, and go to the Tower of London and see the jewels! Right?
While I wait, more gates open into the security, and the family decides to give it a try. The security gate agents allow them through security, but warn them that it isn’t likely they will make the flight.
Finally, after about 15 minutes, I get to talk to an agent. She calls around and fiddles with her computer, but eventually tells me that we are already struck off the manifest, and there is no way for us to board. Any of us. I’m a little frustrated, but ask, “Okay, what’s the next step?”
The next step is to go over to British Airlines, because it is apparently it is their fault we missed the AA flight. So I transfer over to the other end of the counter, wait, and start working with the world’s BEST agent ever, Sanita. Meanwhile…
After Sanita spends about 20 minutes trying to figure stuff out, she tells me her supervisor says that we have to go back to AA, because it was their flight we missed. I almost cried, but kept it together, and let her know that AA sent me to her. She stopped, looked down the counter, sighed a little, and said, “Don’t worry. I will be back.”
While Gee and I are awaiting, a line starts to form behind us–there were only three BA agents at this point, and one was helping another to help one customer. Apparently, when one flight got off in Terminal 5, there was a BA agent at the gate directing a bunch of people to go to Terminal 3 for their connection. When they got to Terminal 3, and tried to go through security, they got told they were supposed to be in Terminal 5. By now, of course, they aren’t going to make their connection to Seattle. There were about 16 of them, not travelling together, but in three or four family groups. And they were ANGRY. Not necessarily at the counter agents, but furious at the airline and whoever that employee was that misdirected them. Lots of swearing (again, not AT the agents, but just in general), lots of slightly raised voices, and so on.
I felt really bad for them, but I also wanted to shake them a little. It’s super frustrating–I get it! I’m in a similar situation–but their anxiety was ramping MY anxiety up. I had to really concentrate on my situation and try to ignore them. We called the family back to be together as we figure things out.
Eventually–probably an hour, but I’m not sure–Sanita figures things out for us. She gets us all on a flight to…Seattle, of all places, and then a connecting flight with Alaska Airlines to SLC. We will get in around midnight, so three hours later, but our actual in-flight-time is almost exactly the same as if we had flown to Charlotte and then to SLC. Globes are awesome that way! (Seriously, google “great circle” if you have no idea how this works. It’s amazing.) She finds us ways to have at least three pairs of seats together, which was more than I was expecting, and then hands me 17 food-and-drink vouchers!!! Each one is worth 10 pounds, and can only be used today in this airport. But wow, that is so incredibly generous of her. She even worked past her shift end to help us, and left as soon as we did. Thank you so much!!
(And, I noticed that the other groups didn’t get any vouchers. More flies with honey, confirmed.)
We (naturally) have to go BACK to Terminal 5, and there is only about 2.5 hours till our flight leaves. Plenty of time, right? HA! We don’t trust Heathrow anymore, and decide to not dawdle, but go as fast as possible. Back to the bus, wait, get on the bus, drive, get to the main terminal, walk, wait for the tram, get on the tram, GO THROUGH THE STUPID SECURITY AGAIN, walk and walk and walk to our gate. We now have only 40 minutes till boarding.
Everyone hit the bathrooms, and then I went in search of food. I mean, I had 170 pounds to spend in 40 minutes, right? In our terminal, there are exactly four open stores–a Starbucks, a duty-free liquor store, a convenience type store, and a bar. Lucky for us, Starbucks makes panini sandwiches! The Starbucks employees were hilarious–our total was something like 31 pounds, so I handed them 4 vouchers, and they were like, Grab another water! Another muffin! These two bananas! Another water bottle! Now we are close to 40 pounds.
The convenience store did the same thing–not close enough, grab some more candy! Another orange juice! Two more Sprites! There we go! The convenience store worker was so nice–she knew we were almost boarding, so she was throwing things into bags and hurrying and helping. A+ experience in Terminal 5. And I still didn’t use seven of the vouchers–so sad!
Now we are flying across the ocean with BA, in the super nice little planes! And we have three of the six two-seat places with the extra room on the side! Hebs and Gee are in one, Yummy and I are in one, and Zee is all by himself in the other. LaDonna had an aisle seat, with Em next to her in the middle. Eva had another of the two-seat groups with a lovely seatmate–they enjoyed chatting for several hours!–and Bradley had an aisle seat with no one next to him! We had MUCH better seats than we would have on our missed flight. AND in a much nicer plane.
Of course, this place was experiencing weird on-ground electrical problems. So we were boarded almost an hour early, and then spent at least another hour past our departure time while they trouble-shot the problem. Without air conditioning. Even sweaty and hot, I was SO grateful to be on a flight, I didn’t actually care. Yummy wasn’t sure she wanted to fly on a plane with electrical problems, but the trouble was just while we were on the ground–once the motors were running, there was no trouble at all.
We made it to Seattle, and filled out the customs paperwork–not as fun as I remember when you actually bought stuff with value. (We didn’t have to pay duties, anyway, because it was divided between seven people in our family.) To our GREAT surprise, our luggage followed us to Seattle, and wasn’t flown to Charlotte! None of our luggage was chosen for examination at Border Control, whew. Back through security–again–and then to our gate.
And while we’re talking about water bottle fillers–Heathrow, yours are the slowest ever. It took a full minute to fill one 32 oz bottle. Might want to look into that, since you make us dump our water every time you switch terminals.
Our flight to SLC was on a little Alaska Airlines plane–what a cool way to end our trip of all trips. We got to walk out on the tarmac and everything! I felt like a 70s movie extra.
Our trip decided to give one last gift to us–to me in particular. We flew, at sunset, RIGHT NEXT to Mount Rainier, considered the most hazardous volcano in the lower 48 states. (Because it’s right next to a major metropolitan center, Seattle.)
IT. WAS. MAGICAL.
Traveling through the air on the Fourth of July is unexpectedly cool. You really can see the aerial fireworks as little tiny bursts of color as you fly over the cities, especially as you descend for the landing. This was a very easy flight–short and sweet, we were preparing for landing before I knew it.
We ran into one more small problem–when we went for our luggage, my mother’s large checked bag wasn’t there. Naturally, this is the one with all the nice souvenirs. Of course it is. The luggage agents–bless their hearts, working at midnight-thirty–found it still at Seattle Airport. They promise us it will be delivered to our house by tomorrow night. (They were sort of right: it arrived in SLC by the next afternoon, but they made us come up to fetch it ourselves. Whatever–by that point, we didn’t care. We got the luggage, that’s what counts.)
Eva, who lives in South Jordan, was picked up from the airport by Bradley’s marvelous sister Kim, who lives nearby. My sweet and wonderful brother David and his equally lovely wife Autumn brought both their cars and shuttled us all the way, and then drove all the way back up to West Valley City, all at 1am. They were lifesavers!
And we are home! There are still posts I want to write–about souvenirs, about flowers, about public transit, about the conclusion of our AirBnB drama (ugh)–and of course Bradley’s awesome 360 videos. So this isn’t the end! But I’m glad I got the journaling part done!