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The Anglo File

Posted By on April 1, 2017

by Teri Ong

My husband and I have made frequent trips to England since our first one together in 1999. But every first time experience is especially memorable, and our trip in ‘99 was no exception.

In his masterful tale, At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, Alexander McCall Smith through his character Moritz Maria Von Igelfeld, observes, “Why is that everyone expects that one has had a good journey, when traveling is notorious for hardships. One is often forced to see things one doesn’t want to see, smell things one doesn’t want smell, sleep places one doesn’t want to sleep…” And we would have to agree. On a long journey there are inevitable hardships that we travelers hope will be offset by the pleasures of the adventure.

Fortunately, very few of our handful of hardships in going to England have been repeated on any successive trip. But out first journey was a doozey!

We left Denver at about 8:00 p.m. on January 1, 1999. There was only one non-stop flight to London out of Denver at the time– a British Airways flight that promised to give us a little foretaste of the mother country before we ever left the ground. But right away there were sights we didn’t want to see and smells we didn’t want to smell in the seat back pocket. Then there were sights we wanted to see, but couldn’t, because of the broken media player in our row of seats.

Oh, well! We were to be traveling at night. We would probably sleep through our boredom anyway. One of the media players was working– my husband’s– and he was fascinated with the trip map and flight information. A couple hours into the flight he noticed that the flight path had changed. Instead of showing a line “up and over” towards England, the line was now due east toward New York City.

We watched our progress along the new line for at least an hour before a member of the flight crew announced that there was a problem with one of the plane’s fuel sensors. We were indeed going to land at JFK in New York, but not until we had dumped fuel in Lake Erie. None of this information led to a sense of peace and well-being among the passengers. We had already gotten a late start because of having to de-ice in Denver– twice– because we were held on the ground too long after the first time. Now we would be delayed even more.

We landed in New York about 2:00 a.m. local time. It was now Saturday, January 2. For awhile, the hospitality crew came through the cabin on a regular basis offering us water or juice. But then they all seemed to disappear.

We had been on the ground for over an hour, and no one was forth-coming with any information at all. Nor did there seem to be any activity at the airport at all. Could this really be New York City? Could this really be JFK?
After another hour there was some movement of people at the front of the plane. There were over 400 people on the flight and we were way in the back, so we were always the last to know anything. Someone came on the PA system and informed us that we were going to be taken to a hotel for the night (what was left of it) and that we would be flying out at the earliest possible time later that day. All of our baggage was going to be kept secured until we flew out later.

The natives were getting very restless. Some people from the back were trying to jockey for positions closer to the main exit, but to little benefit. Mothers with babies were being de-planed first and loaded directly onto one of the two buses that were being used to shuttle us to hotels. We started calculating how many trips those buses would have to make to get us all delivered.

We finally got to our hotel at 4:00 a.m., only to have to stand in line with about 200 other people needing to be checked into rooms. At least we didn’t have the worst of it. Some mothers and babies ended up at one hotel while the dads and diaper bags ended up at another!

We were a little uneasy about what “earliest possible flight” meant. Were we going to be checked in, get to a room, flop on the bed for half an hour and then be loaded back onto the bus to the airport? No one knew, or at least no one was saying.

Our room was very cold, and the heating system was out of order. We turned on the hot water in the shower to warm things up a little. We crawled into bed in our clothes– our PJ’s were “secured” at the airport– and we threw our coats over the bedspread to retain a little extra warmth.

After a short and fitful sleep, we went down to the desk to find out when we would be leaving New York. The plane had been fixed, but there was no fresh crew available to fly it. We would have to wait until the crew had had their mandatory rest. We would be leaving about 7:00 p.m. We had a couple meals at the airline’s expense, but thought more about the concert we were missing in London and about how we were going to miss going to the Metropolitan Tabernacle for church on Sunday morning. We could not even take a good nap since we had to check out of the hotel long before we were scheduled to go to the airport.

It was nearly dark before we boarded the shuttle bus. We were sitting just behind the driver who had a terrible cough. He kept swigging from a paper cup that sat on a shelf at his left elbow. I wished he would pay more attention to the road and less attention to his drink. He was going too fast around some of the curves and nearly sideswiped a couple motorists.

“This cough is just terrible! If it wasn’t for my home remedy here, I’d be home in bed. It’s cognac and Ni-quill. Great stuff!”

All I could think was, “I’m going to die before I ever get off the ground!”

We finally made it to the airport and to our gate. We were checked in again based on our old ticket information, which meant we were in the same row in the back with the same sights we didn’t want to see and smells we didn’t want to smell. We hoped the fuel sensor had gotten more attention in the past 24 hours than the econo-cabin had gotten. We also hoped there would be no more delays since word came down that a blizzard was on its way east and Chicago O’Hare was already closed because of it.

The next 12 days in England and Scotland were wonderful in the main. Seventeen years later I can still recount the details of our itinerary, including the good, the bad, and the bumpy. When we got home, we decided to let British Airways know that when people would ask, “So you had a good flight?”, we would have to say, “Well, actually…”

I suggested that we ask for a credit voucher to cover our losses in London. The airline very generously gave us refunds and vouchers so that the next year we were able to fly across the pond for a mere $75.00. It was the beginning of a decades long adventure full of exciting places and wonderful people. Yes, we have had a good journey.


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