I wanted to shake up my life and go sailing (or learn on the job, so-to-speak) so headed to Florida to crew on a catamaran. This is about how it went or, rather, didn't - and my life since. Hopefully it will lead to a catamaran on the clear aqua blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, watching the sunset, a coconut rum and coke in hand. You must START AT THE BEGINNING of the blog, April 2009, to get the whole story...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


With less than five weeks to go before I leave for my trip, my mind is on travel and I have been thinking back to past trips. One day that sticks out in my mind for it's total absurdity is the day my daughter Ashleigh and I flew to Paris from London. I was treating my daughter, who was living in London, to a three day jaunt to 'The City of Lights' for New Years and to visit the Louvre and take in whatever else we could in that short time.

It was a grey rainy December day, the 29th to be exact, and it was very cold out. We were a little late leaving Notting Hill for Heathrow and I told the cab driver that if he got us there by noon, I would give him a handsome tip. He got us there one minute to twelve. Our flight was on British Airways so we were dropped off with our bags at terminal four. We had the requisite four hours until our flight left. When we attempted to enter the terminal, our way was blocked by a burly fellow in a reflective vest telling us that we could not go inside as there was an 'incident' occurring. We were to wait in the huge white tents that had been erected the previous week at the curb to house passengers who were stranded due to heavy fog. (I had just missed that fog when I flew into London from B.C., my flight had been delayed four hours because of it). He told us that we would be summoned for our flight well before it was due to leave.

We headed into one of the half dozen or so tents where, once inside, we were just two amongst about 300 other passengers. There was nowhere to sit so we stood and waited and discussed what the incident might be; maybe a terrorist attack? Or perhaps a passenger had a heart attack in the lineup? Or more likely, someone had gone mad with the usual Heathrow BS and was now waving a pistol about. Whatever it was, we hoped it would be over soon so we could get on with checking in for our flight.

We met a young girl from New Jersey who was flying home after spending Christmas with her boyfriend. She was very anxious to get on her flight and was as stymied as we were about why we couldn't get into the terminal. Even though we were shielded from the wind inside the tent, it was still very cold. As the minutes dragged on, the only passengers called out were for KLM flights, which I found disconcerting. Two hours into what I was now considering an ordeal, our hands and feet frozen, I'd had enough. The girl we had met was frantic as her flight was due to leave at two, which was moments away. I told my daughter to stay put and I would go see what I could find out. I went up to the door and the same man told me I couldn't enter. I told him I had been in the tent for two hours and needed to use a restroom. He let me in.

I walked straight up to the check-in counter for British Airways but it was clogged with people. An agent was standing guard at the back of the line so I approached him. I explained what our situation was and he told me what the 'incident' was. The luggage belts that take the bags from the check out to the back were down. No luggage could be moved. He then pointed to an enormous stack of luggage the size of a small house, and said that those bags belonged to passengers that had chosen to leave without their bags and if I wished to do the same, we could make our flight. I had no desire to travel to Paris without our bags so walked away.

I checked the flight status of the girl we had met and her flight had departed. I went back outside and broke the bad news. She was livid and marched off with her bags to find out more. My daughter and I continued to wait for another hour as I puzzled as to what to do. Finally, I decided to take some action.

We left the tent and, because they wouldn't let us inside with our luggage, I left poor Ashleigh outside in the freezing cold, her hood drawn tight around her face in an attempt to ward off the biting wind. I used the bathroom excuse again at a different door and headed straight for British Airways' ticket counter. There was one person ahead of me. When I got to the lady behind the counter I explained that we were about to miss our flight, the monitors were now reading that it was boarding, and I needed some help. She asked me what the problem was; that she had noticed a lot of goings-on at the other end of the terminal but had no idea what it was all about. I was shocked. How on earth could British Airways not be communicating with their own staff about an issue that was causing such massive problems for literally hundreds of passengers?!  I explained and her eyes widened in surprise. "Oh my. Let me see what I can do for you." she said, and quickly set about typing furiously on her computer, eventually finding two available seats on an Air France flight that was departing soon. As she handed the tickets to me she said that we had just forty-five minutes to make the flight, which was in terminal one and we would need to catch the train there. She pointed to a set of elevator doors 30 feet away that would take us down to the train platform. I thanked her profusely, and as I turned to leave, got a huge shock. There now was a line behind me that stretched the entire length of the terminal. I surmised that the guards at the door had decided to let everyone in and they had all fallen in behind me at the British Airways ticket counter. There had to be two thousand people in the line. I had made my move just in the nick of time.

I ran through the crowd to the door at the other end of the long terminal where Ashleigh was waiting, and yelled through the wind for her to come inside. The guard at the door did not want to let her in with the luggage (and it just occurred to me now how strange that was seeing how they had just let so many in with their bags) but I told him we had flights on Air France so he let her in. I told Ashleigh to stay close behind me as we now had to run back through the entire length of the terminal to get to the elevator that would take us down to the trains. I grabbed the handle of my wheeled luggage and started to dodge and weave as I ran back through the crowd. We made it to the elevator out of breath and after a quick ride down a few floors, we stepped out onto the train platform just in time to see the tail lights of the train we needed disappear down the tracks. The sign over the platform flashed that the next one wouldn't be for sixteen minutes. We now had less than half an hour to make our flight.

When we finally caught our train and stepped off at terminal one, we ran to find the Air France desk. When we spotted it, there was a line up 5 or so deep with just one agent to help them so I decided that using the kiosk to check-in would be quicker. I inserted Ashleigh's ticket into the kiosk and waited for the screen to come alive. Nothing happened and nothing I did, which basically consisted of frantically pushing buttons and hitting it, worked. The kiosk had 'eaten' her ticket. I ran over to an Air France employee who was behind a small pulpit-like desk at the entrance to the line up. "Hi, I am in a dreadful hurry to make a flight and your kiosk just ate one of our tickets." He looked at me and then over to the kiosk then back at me, and in a heavy French accent replied, "Ah, no problem madame. I have zee key." and proceeded to search through a small drawer in his desk. As he rifled through papers and various stationary items, his brow furrowed. He finally looked up at me. "Zee key, eet ees missing." Great. He felt all his pockets. No key. Then his face lit up. "Ahh, I know. Collette, she has zee key." "And where is Collette?" I asked. "She ees on a break." Even better. "We really need to get that flight. Do you know where she is? Can you find her?" "Yes. I sink I know where she ees. I will go find her." And off he went.

I looked over at the check-in counter and the lineup was gone. I went over to the female agent and explained our dilemma. I asked her if she could check me in and get our luggage tagged while we waited for the key to get my daughters ticket. She looked at me with total disdain on her face and with a heavy French accent said, "Do you wish to travel to Pari wizout your daugh-tear?" "No." "Zen I not check you in until you have zee ticket."

My panic was mounting as we waited what felt like forever for the man to return with the key. In what was probably more like ten minutes, he returned triumphantly, holding the key aloft. "I have zee key. I will get your ticket out, no problem." He went to the kiosk and the crabby female ticket agent came from behind the counter to help. They got the machine open and bent down to fiddle around with the guts of the thing for a bit. "Ah! Zere ees zee ticket." one of them exclaimed. They both stood up and he closed the door and locked it, extracting the key. I looked from his hands to hers; no ticket. "Where's the ticket?" I asked. They looked at each other, puzzled. "Did you get zee ticket?" "No! I thought you got zee ticket." Uhh - WHAT?!? I looked at Ashleigh and she mirrored my disbelief. The two of them were still standing there, somewhat dumbfounded. I snapped them out of it with my sharp, "Will one of you PLEASE get the ticket out of there?!?" They jumped and the fellow opened the kiosk back up and extracted the ticket. He handed it to the woman. She looked at it and then at me, "Zis ees a British Airways ticket zat has a sticker on eet changing eet to Air France. Zat is why zee machine did not accept eet." and then stalked off to the check in counter. We followed with our bags and put them, one at a time, on the scale. Mine was overweight. Fabulous. "Zat will cost you fifty pounds." she snapped. I didn't care. I just wanted to be on that flight. I pulled out my wallet and handed her three twenties. She took them with, "I don't have change. I will have to go get you change." as she handed us our boarding passes. "I don't want the change. We have to go." She looked at me, horrified. "No! You wait here. I must give you zee change." She snatched the boarding passes back out of my hand and walked off across the terminal. I don't know how she knew I wasn't about to wait for her to come back, but now she had our passes we had no choice.

After about five very anxious minutes she returned. She was holding the sixty pounds out at me. I didn't understand. "I forgot. You were booked on British Airways and we honor zeir baggage limits. You were not overweight for zeir flight." At that point the fact that I just saved fifty pounds did not factor into my reaction, I was just stunned that we wasted five precious minutes for nothing. As she handed me our boarding passes, I was still trying to process what just happened so hesitated a little. "RUN!" she yelled into my face. "What?" I rather dumbfoundedly replied. "RUN!!" she yelled again, "You have sixteen minutes to make zee flight. RUN!" As I fumbled to get the cash back into my wallet, the fellow from the earlier debacle helped by grabbing Ashleigh's backpack off of the floor and escorting us over to security. He got us to the head of the line where we were quickly processed. We were pointed to a set of stairs and told to run up them and that our gate was at the top.

My knee was very sore from days of walking around London's unevenly paved sidewalks and not having sat down for the past four or five hours so there was no way I could run anymore today. I told Ashleigh to go ahead and hold the plane and I would be behind her as fast as I could manage. She took off like a shot and I hobbled as fast as I could up the long flight of stairs. When I got to the top, there was no boarding gate, just a long hall that stretched both to the left and the right of me with no signage that I could see pointing the way. And there was no sight of Ashleigh. Utterly frustrated, I nearly lost it. I was very close to tears. I squinted as I tried to see down to the end of the long hall to my left where there seemed to be some signage, and I managed to make out our gate number. I took of at a rapid hobble and made it to the gate to find Ashleigh waiting for me and two attendants who were holding the flight for us.

As we collapsed into our seats, me on one side of the aisle and Ashleigh on the other right across from me, I looked over at her, "Paris better be worth what we've been through today." I said. She heartily agreed with me. As the flight took off and leveled, I realized how hungry and thirsty I was. It had been more than 7 hours since we'd had anything to eat or drink. I noticed that the attendants were starting to serve drinks and Ashleigh was as anxious as I to get our hands on something - anything - to drink. They started on the row right behind us, which I thought was very odd as we were just six or seven rows from the front of the plane; why wouldn't they have started there?

As I heard the familiar 'pshhht' of the fellow behind Ashleigh opening his can of soda, I looked back at him with longing and continued to watch as he opened a little bag of crackers. Oh how I envied him. I tore my eyes away to turn back just as the attendant was drawing a curtain between him and me. When I turned completely back, it was to find a literal spread before my eyes. On my tray had been placed a bottle of Perrier, a bottle of red wine, and a plate of cheeses, meats, veggie sticks, bread and crackers, and a truffle. What? How??? Then it dawned on me - the curtain, the food - we were in FIRST CLASS!! I looked over at Ashleigh, where she was staring down, wide eyed, at the same spread I had, and whispered "We're in first class!" She looked over at me and we both grinned from ear to ear. This was much better than a can of pop and a tiny bag of crackers!!

Perhaps the torturous day would be worth it after all!!
All photographs are mine and not to be copied without express permission from me (click on them to see the large version).
Some names have been changed to protect my butt.

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