I'm Sure There Must Be Some Very Interesting Driving Holidays I Could Take

I'm never flying again. No, really, never. Well, apart from three weeks from now when I go back to Singapore for Christmas, and then 10 days after that when I go to Vietnam with my mother and brother, but after that, I'm never flying again.

My poor grandma, I made her take me to the wrong airport. We were almost at Gatwick on Sunday morning, five minutes away from arriving just the wrong side of two hours early, when she said "thank goodness you don't have to go to Heathrow!" At first, I laughed. "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" I said. "Thank goodness!" And then gradually a strange creeping dread came over me. "Uh, let me just check my tickets again," I said nervously. And there it was, plain as day: DEPARTING FROM HEATHROW.

Don't let anyone tell you that 80-year-old women can't drive. "I'm going 90 miles an hour!" chortled my grandma---and there really is no other word for it than "chortled"---as we sped down the motorway towards Heathrow, a move that would tack another 30 minutes onto our drive, meaning that I would, eventually, arrive way on the wrong side of two hours early.

I made it, but only because my 10:15am flight had been cancelled (thank you, Chicago snowstorm!) and I'd been placed on the 11am flight instead. Sadly, the 11am flight ended up not leaving until 12:30pm, which meant it arrived in Chicago at 3:15pm. My connecting flight from Chicago to San Francisco? It left at 3:30pm. And that left me sitting in the Chicago airport for five hours until the 6:45pm flight, which really left at 8:30pm, arriving in San Francisco at 11:15pm, putting me walking through the front door of my apartment just after midnight. This meant that I had been wearing the same clothes for around 25 hours. The first thing I did when I got home was get into the shower. The second thing I did was get into bed.

But wait, let's back up. Did you know you're only allowed to take one piece of hand luggage when you fly out of England, no matter which airline you're flying with? Because I, uh, didn't. And even though my aunt had tried to tell me about it on the phone the night before, I'd dismissed her with "oh, it's okay, I'm flying on an American airline; you're allowed to take two bags with them, I know you are."

Well, guess what? You're not. You will end up having to stuff the contents of one of your purses into the duffel bag containing everything that wouldn't fit into your suitcase. And then carrying this ten-ton monstrosity---which includes, among many other things, two laptops---through three different airports, all of them equipped with very long corridors and very slow-moving travelators and very passive-aggressive passengers. Listen to your aunt next time, you hear me? And for heaven's sake, there's no way you need two laptops.

Speaking of my suitcase, it was too heavy. It was two kilograms too heavy, in fact, and the woman at the check-in desk would not be dissuaded. "That's fifty dollars," she told me. I gasped. "Or thirty pounds, if you'd prefer," she said. I told her that I hadn't been charged for extra weight on my way over and that I'd only bought one pair of shoes---one super cheap, super light, super innocuous pair of shoes---while in England, and how could that suddenly make my bag two kilos overweight? "Fifty dollars, please," she said, grimly, arms folded. "I can't let your bag onto this plane without you paying, okay?"

I couldn't help it. I burst into tears. Or rather, I dissolved into tears. And not just any tears, but those shuddering, shoulder-shaking, utterly humiliating sort of tears. "I've had the most awful morning!" I wailed between sobs. "I went to the wrong airport! I'm carrying two laptops in one bag and I think I'm giving myself some sort of back injury! I don't have fifty dollars! Or thirty pounds!"

And this woman, bless her, her whole tough-guy demeanor changed. Her shoulders relaxed. Her jaw unclenched. Her face softened. She stepped out from behind her little desk, came around to where I was standing, and put her hands on my shoulders. "Calm down," she said, "you're breaking my heart."

I struggled to regain my composure, but ended up just doing that really awful choking thing where you try to stop crying but you can't catch your breath. "Come on, give me a hug," said this woman, who not five seconds before had been imperiously demanding fifty bucks from me for my slightly overweight bag and sharply refusing my request for an aisle seat. She put her arms around me and rubbed my back. "Calm down, just breathe, come on, you'll never make your flight if you're in such a state," she said. Gradually, my breathing returned to normal. It was slightly embarrassing, given that a good thirty people were waiting to check in behind me, but I managed to regain my composure. I took deep shuddering breaths. "I'm fine," I said, "I'm so sorry, I'm fine." I wiped my eyes and reached for my wallet, resigned to handing over a credit card for my overweight bag. "No need," she said, smiling at me conspiratorially. "I've got a really bad memory, see. Sometimes I just forget which bags I've said were too heavy. Yours is fine."

Do you believe in random acts of kindness? I believe in random acts of kindness. I thought about that woman all day, how she started off with such a hardened bad-cop attitude, steeling herself to have to deal with assholes angry about the cancelled flight, and then suddenly let her real self show---her compassionate, empathetic, human self---with very little prompting. Poor woman, she must go through each day faced with people who are angry at her, who take out their rage and frustration on her, who step up to her check-in desk just readying themselves for a fight. I'd broken her heart, she said. I hadn't even meant to.

Dec 04, 2007

Oh, I've been there. I learned the hard way that I could only have ONE carry on when I left London for California. I ended up paying, I believe it was....SIXTY pounds to check in my second bag. Dear God, I can't believe I wasn't reduced to tears the second I was told that. I managed to hold it in till I was finally in my seat. I love traveling, but such instances, like the one you've been through, make me question it all. Anyway, I'm sure you'll survive it all and the good times will outweigh the awful hours and money spent in the airports.

Dec 04, 2007

Wow. You win the prize for worst flight(s). And, coincidentally, the luggage gatekeeper wins "most improved persona" of all airline employees.


Dec 04, 2007

What a lovely woman, that's so sweet of her. Sounds like an awful haul back home, but glad you made it safely.

Carol Snider
Dec 04, 2007

Isn't it weird how we can love to travel and hate to travel, both at the same time? Know what Elisabeth does when her bag is too heavy (and I swear, she KNOWS it)? She goes to the line with the cutest, youngest guy and flirts up a storm when she first comes to his counter. Then, when he says, "Oh dear, your bags too heavy..." she just LAYS it on, and lo and behold... she doesn't have to pay.

"This time."

Or next time. Or the time after that.

And hey, you're at LEAST as cute as my daughter (and only a year or so older), so go ahead and try it! Works every time for you young, cute, flirtatious thangs. USED to work for me too, but alas... I think even my husband would charge me the $50 these days! Sigh, sigh and double-sigh!

Glad you're home all safe and sound. I was supposed to hear to SF this weekend, but had to cancel (a dear aunt-like-friend died suddenly... so sad!) and just look at the treats I stayed home for at home:http://northwestladybug.blogspot.com/2007/12/more-photos-of-seattle-flooding.html


Dec 04, 2007

Carol's so right with the "love to fly and hate to fly" at the same time - that's so me.

Anyway, sorry for your craptastic flights, but wow. Good on that woman at Heathrow. Good on her.

And glad to have you back on this side of the pond!

Dec 04, 2007

Running into kind people while traveling is akin to winning the lottery. It's rare yes, but you reap the good feelings and rewards for years to come.

I don't know what that means, but I just had a great experience with a flight attendant, and I think I'll never forget her.

factory girl
Dec 04, 2007

Every single time I went back from England to Germany I had to pay 25 GBP or something because my suitcase was too heavy. What are you to do when you try to get all your posessions back home after a semester at uni? I soooo should have cried too... will try next time!

Sorry about the long journey!

Nilsa S.
Dec 04, 2007

Ah yes, Chicago O'Hare. Sorry you had to spend so many hours in my hometown airport. At least you weren't carrying those extra 2 kilos in your already stuffed single carry-on. And like you, my dad has sworn off all travel because a two hour flight is never just that. It's an all-day affair.

Dec 04, 2007

Frankly I'm still astonished at your claim that you were able to get up to 90mph on a motorway anywhere near Heathrow!

Dec 04, 2007

Well, I just found your blog about a month ago and I find you absolutely lovely. Seeing you in tears would break my cold black heart too.

And GRANDMA! Amazing!

Dec 04, 2007

Oh my goodness, what a lovely lady. I wish her great karma for the rest of her life.

And your grandmother sounds completely awesome.

Dec 04, 2007

It was awfully nice of that lady to let you go. My husband flew out to Las Vegas earlier this week. His bag was 5lbs over the weight limit, so they charged him $50. And he actually paid it. I'll be sure to tell him to try crying next time!

Dec 04, 2007

i love stories like this. when 'machines' remember their human parts.

Dec 04, 2007

ouch, rough. but you're home now. :)

i would love to have seen your granny flying down the motorway!

Dec 04, 2007

The second half of the story, about the woman at the airport who soothed you, actually made me cry! Dangit! I could totally picture you, poor girl. Alone at the airport, no Sean to take charge or at least to be a shoulder to cry on. :( It just makes my eyes well up! Poor thing. Sounds like you have been running yourself into the ground a bit too much, burning the candle at both ends. And two more flights in the next coming couple of weeks?!? Girl, you are a trooper. My mom would tell me to "Buck up!" (I hate it when she does that, as if she's completely disregarding my tender side with her staunch iron Swede genes.)

Hang in there, it will pass. And before you know it, you'll be itching to go somewhere, to use your discount coupons, and experience something new. I know you will.

Love ya! (In a Blogging Buddy kind of way!)

Dec 04, 2007

Somehow, you always take me right with you.... this actually brought the burning tears to my eyes and put a little lump in my throat.
I have not flown in quite a while.... am not an expert by any means and am now very nervous about my plans to fly for Christmas!

jive turkey
Dec 04, 2007

It's so nice to see that the woman at the counter hadn't let the floods of jerks she must deal with stop her from comforting you when you needed it most! Great story.

I know the embarrassment of crying in the airport (especially with a line of impatient people behind you). Sometimes you just don't realize how stressful traveling can be until something goes wrong & the floodgates open...

Dec 04, 2007

ugh chicago! at least it's a large airport. the weather is crazy right now.

this is proof that crying often works on people - it forces them to be more of a human toward you!

glad you made it back okay!

Dec 04, 2007

I came across your blog from Sweet Juniper's. I love stories like that, where the humanity shines through. That happened to me when I found out my dad hadn't paid my tution and all my classes were dropped, two days before they were to start. Some financial aid ladies found me sobbing in the hallway and made it magically appear as though I had financial aid to cover it all until I could get it paid. I sent them flowers for that. I'm glad she helped you out.
I'm headed to Germany in January and based on the way I'm planning to pack I should factor in such a cost.

Dec 04, 2007

The whole 50 pound thing is why I'm forever dragging around TWO suitcases. I nearly always pass my limit with just one. Blah!

And reading that story made me want to cry - that's always my response when I am just so completely frustrated with everything that I can't take one more thing.

Dec 04, 2007

Hey Holly, it's Sarah from SmarterTravel. As someone working in travel, do you find it even more frustrating when these situations happen? I do! Whenever I have a similar experience, I find myself beating myself up even more than I should because, as a consumer travel expert, I'm supposed to be savvy about these things, right? So frustrating...I guess sometimes the stars align to make even seasoned travelers like us reach the end of our wits. Here's hoping your holiday travels go a bit more smoothly.

Dec 04, 2007

The carry-on thing took me by surprise too, but I was (luckily) carrying my two items onto a 1/2 full flight, so no one cared.

On the way back, I was carrying framed art so that the glass wouldn't break when it was tossed around by the luggage-folk, so I took my book, iPod, and chapstick in my coat pocket.

I will never carry a carry-on again. Turns out, I never need all that stuff.

Glad you had a nice time - next time we're in England at the same time, we should get a coffee together.


Heather B.
Dec 04, 2007

I am a firm believer in random acts of kindness. I also believe and hope that if I commit to one someone else will do one for me. Thus far this seemingly asinine line of thinking has worked out.

Dec 04, 2007

I generally get hugs from strangers when I have breakdowns in airports. Especially when I have my two kids in tow, I usually get a ride to the gate, someone to play with my kids AND carry my luggage for no charge. Seriously. Good job! (I always have to take a shower immediately after flying)

Dec 04, 2007

Good karma for the check-in lady. I recently got to (tiny tiny) Salzburg airport after check-in had closed for my flight, but fortunately looking doe-eyed and lost, with only hand baggage in tow was enough to persuade Frau Check-In to let me on. So I was able to put aside Plan B of bursting into tears.
I hope the rest of your day quickly improved!

Dec 04, 2007

i travel occasionally for work...and it sucks. delays everywhere...when i've got somewhere i need to be...

and LMAO at "chortled." that is a word NOT used often enough.

Dec 05, 2007

Grr. I learned the "only one handbag" rule the hard way too. I had my purse and my backpack, neither of which would comfortably fit into the either, as I was going through security at Heathrow earlier this year and they made me stuff one into the other. I glared at the people and took my hulking SLR of a camera out and dared them to make me stuff it back in - I put it around my neck - and stuffed my purse into my backpack. Then I, one of those really annoying passive aggressive travelers, made the comment of, "I'm JUST GOING TO UNPACK IT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF SECURITY!" And I did. Making sure the initial security guy saw me do it.

What's even better though is that there was a little girl, not more than 2 or 3 in front of me who was carrying her teddy bear. The security woman wanted to squeeze it to make sure it didn't have anything inside. The little girl would have nothing of this and kept screaming, "NO!" at the woman. Finally, the security lady grabbed the bear, squeezed it a couple of times and quickly handed it back. The little girl snatched the bear back and proceeded to throw it down the concourse, again shouting, "NO! NO! NO!" I was internally cheering her on because really? I wanted to throw that tantrum too.

Glad you made it home safe and sound.

Dec 05, 2007

I once worked as a check-in agent for an airline overseas. It was the only job that would sponsor a visa for me and I desperately wanted to stay where I was to live with my then-boyfriend (now-husband!). It was the most stressful job I've had thus far for many, many reasons. I try to keep those days in mind when I travel, but it's hard not to get frustrated now and then.

Dec 05, 2007

The first thing I thought of when you said you would be running late to Heathrow is "oh no!, she's going to miss all that awesome duty-free shopping and free booze!"...prorities.
Glad you're home safe...I'm going to try that "bursting into tears" thing next time I'm at the DMV...and the movies...and at See's Candy.

Dec 05, 2007

I saved your blog name from Blogher this year and this post just moved you from my woefully overlooked "blogher contacts" folder to my "must read" folder in my RSS reader. :)

Your Grandma rocks and I'm glad you made it home safe and sound if a bit delayed and worn out. I admit to making the "aww" noise while reading about your hard time at the check-in counter, so you probably would have broken my heart too.

Dec 05, 2007

That exact same thing happened to me at the Detroit airport. Mean lady--"Your bag is overweight Pay $50." Me: burst into tears. Now-Not-So-Mean lady: "Perhaps we can overlook this..." and let me go. Travel stress always makes me cry.

Dec 05, 2007

People are good.... I still remember arriving in New York from Paris, having to make the transfer from JFK to La Guardia, and when I got to LG after an hour bus ride through scary NYC, I had no American cash. The curbside check-in guy offered to check my bags, and I wanted to get rid of those heavy f*ers so bad, and I burst into tears and said "I have no money to tip you!" I was weeping copiously in seconds, and he patted my arm, and said "Don't worry about it, hon," grabbed my bags, handed me some paperwork, and sent me off with a last little squeeze on the shoulder. By the time I made it inside, I was crying with gratitude. Still haven't forgotten that guy, and it's been more than fifteen years. God bless 'im.

Dec 05, 2007

Wow, how nice of her.

I tried the same thing with the Hertz people when my sis was dying and they refused to charge me anything less than $72 a day for their cheapest rental.

Dec 05, 2007

Wow...I can relate to all your travel woes EXCEPT to the suddenly nice airline person. That must have been England. I've got to start flying through Heathrow.
Our last time in Casablanca, the "very nice" (read passive-aggressive) man confiscated my son's two-inch dull plastic Lego swords with the words, "Sorry, but it's YOUR government that makes us do this." He wasn't moved by a little kid dissolving into tears.
Then at JFK, they insisted on my daughter getting her boots off quickly--and broke the zip of her fav boots. Another kid in tears.
And yet, I keep traveling. Why? Secret SM tendencies? That's all I can come up with.

Dec 05, 2007

That is my biggest fear when flying. That my bag will be too heavy. I religiously weigh it up until I need to leave for the airport and as it's rolling along behind me, my thoughts are on what will happen when I get to the counter. I hope my check in people will be as nice as she was.

Dec 05, 2007

Thank goodness for the kindness of people.

Dec 05, 2007

That is an excellent story! I've dissolved into tears in various sections of various airports many, many times. Probably the worse time was when I was flying from Charleston to Milwaukee for my MOTHER'S WEDDING, and my plane was stuck in New Jersey overnight - of course, my mother was getting married at 11am the next morning, as luck would have it. The airline wasn't supposed to help, as the flight was grounded because of weather, but after I (yes) dissolved into tears, they at least gave me a free meal voucher. And strangely, 5 coupons for free in-flight alcoholic beverages.

She Likes Purple
Dec 05, 2007

It shows a lot about you that you realized she's probably a very kind person dealing with very ungrateful people all day. Good thing she encountered you and vice versa.

Dec 12, 2007

Regarding your temper-tantrum and, specifically, your outburst of "I’ve had the most awful morning! I went to the wrong airport! I’m carrying two laptops in one bag and I think I’m giving myself some sort of back injury!": Your apparent lack of perspective causes me to wonder if you deserved that woman's patience and kindness.