Normally I write wonderful things about my trips. But this one has not started well and its a bit funny (if you like laughing at my predicaments) so listen to this:
I was grateful beyond belief when I scored a buddy pass on Delta to Europe from Tampa. The flight was set to leave at 6 am but I wanted to make sure I got the flight so I showed up at 3 am at Tampa airport for the 5 am flight. Sure enough, every person on the planet, including their dogs, cats and monkeys decided that was the day to fly to Atlanta. I was number 55 on the waiting list and didn't get on the 5 am flight. Things got worse as the morning went on and when I didn't get on the 6am, 7 am, 8 am or 9 am flight to Atlanta I reluctantly left the airport and started making calls to my Dutch friends telling them I wasn't coming.
But then Tammy said a wise thing," if you really want to go, just book a ticket on British Airways and go". It turns out that BA flies on Sundays to London and then on to Amsterdam in only 11 hours. So, I took out the visa card and made my reservation for the next day. Before you knew it the next afternoon came and I found myself at beautiful Tampa airport waiting to get on the British Air (BA) flight to London.
I'm always the last person to get on a plane and as I made my way to the back of the plane to my delight I found three empty seats in a row and plopped down in the middle of the three. A steward with a clipped British accent said, "You're a smart one, those are two empty seats next to you. That's better than first class". And sure enough, I found myself sitting with three seats to myself for the overnight flight to London. There was plenty of room to stretch and get a decent night's sleep. Life was good! Or so I thought.
London airport (Gatwick) is a madhouse of rats running in a maze with no one knowing what they are doing except that they are in a hurry to do it. Upon arrival I cleared another security check and was dumped into a giant mall filled with shops selling candy, British stuff and tourist items. You are supposed to wait there until they announce your flight over speakers that no one can understand. In fact, I didn't even think they were speaking English but someone told me they were.
There are a few chairs and even a restaurant or two on a second floor of the waiting area but not a water fountain in sight. I went up to a security guy and asked,"where can I get some water? Are there any water fountains in this airport?"
"Well you can drink water out of the sink in the washroom, but that's the only water in the terminal," he answered.
" Why is that?", I asked.
"They are afraid of people getting mad cow disease,"he answered quickly and then he was gone. Mad cow disease? From water fountains in London?
Later I asked someone else at a book store where to get a glass of water. "Well you can buy water," he volunteered. So I bought a bottle of water for what seemed like a million British pounds which translates into 1.75 million U.S. dollars. (well not exactly a million dollars, but it seemed like it).
I only had 40 more minutes until the flight to Amsterdam so I sat down and waited for my flight to pop on a screen where the flights are listed. Finally, the flight came up, "Cancelled"it said.
I couldn't believe it. One Brit said they don't fly if its raining in the region but I assumed he was kidding because plenty of planes were flying and it was pouring rain just as it has all summer in Britain this summer. I went to a ticket counter where a small mob of angry travelers was gathered around a hapless British girl with a BA outfit on. She just smiled a very week smile and said,"just wait and someone will be with you shortly. "
An hour later a girl with a walkie talkie led me and a group outside security and told us to fill out an immigration card, clear customs, get our bags, and then come back in an get a ticket for a flight at the British Air ticket counter upstairs. "Wait,"said one lady. "That's no way to run an airline. We want to know exactly when we are leaving for Holland."
"Well, I don't know exactly, but if you are in a hurry you might consider claiming your bags and taking a bus across town to Heathrow airport and try to catch a flight but you better hurry!" she was wanting to leave and do something else and I was getting nervous.
"When exactly is the next flight leaving from THIS airport for Amsterdam", I asked.
"Well, that would be in 8 hours at 3.15 p.m., "she said. And with that she did a fake and a bob and when I turned to talk to her again she was gone!!!!! I was on my own. I took one look at the mob scene at the customs line and turned back toward the terminal where I'd come from. Surely there was away to get to Amsterdam from this airport before the week was up!
I ended up at a BA "transfer desk" and plead my case. The lady behind the counter punched 1000 buttons on her computer and handed me boarding pass for the 3.15pm flight to Amsterdam while assuring me that my luggage would be put on the flight. "Don't worry sir, they put a "rapid transfer" ticket on your bag and it will be put on the same flight with you. "
"And for my trouble," I inquired, "can I get a voucher to get something to eat?"
"Of course, here's a voucher." she said. I felt a bit grateful because the person behind me she couldn't get on the 3.15 flight to Amsterdam. "Sorry sir," the 3.15 p.m. flight is full"
Yikes. But then when I went to a restaurant and saw that the cheapest meal was 20 pounds ($37), I was shocked to see that she had given me a voucher for 5 pounds! "What can I buy for 5 pound?" I asked.
"Well you can get a nice bottle of water or a hot dog," the waitress said,"which do you prefer".
"Can I get a hot dog and a glass of tap water"?", I asked.
"No, for that you have to go to the toilet and get water from the tap,"she smiled. And this is the place sponsoring the Olympics this summer? Jesus.
So I just sat there talking out loud to myself like a homeless person on the side of the street in Tampa when a nice guy from New Zealand and his two friends came up,"Look here, " he said, "I have a gold card that lets me into any first class lounge in the world. Why don't you join us for a drink there?"
So my luck changed and we sipped drinks and ate snacks for 7 hours in the BA first class lounge until 3 p.m. when I went to my flight. But there's more, the flight was an hour late and of course BA lost my luggage.
Today I'm finally in Amsterdam enjoying the sites and biking to all the cafe's while wearing the same clothes for the last three days.
Pictures and more story to follow after I go clothes shopping!