Saturday, 16 September 2017

How many ways can one journey go wrong?!?!

I dont know what deity I pissed off recently to deserve a day like today!

My day started smoothly, I woke in the Park Inn hotel near Heathrow where I'd checked in last night, the room was an upgrade to the one of reserved (yay) but seemed to have the remnants of someone's coffee in it (boo). Still I'd had food (at the bar as the restaurant had a 45min wait for a table for one!) and had a lovely bath before painting my nails the Sarries colours and finalising what was in suitcase or hand luggage.

I'd missed a hotel hoppa bus by a minute due to the check out desk being busy but I thought with over 2 hours to departure I would be fine.

I'd tried the night before to check in using the Virgin Atlantic app on my phone but had failed so I needed to check in at the main desks, this didn't really bother me until the kiosk rejected my check in and told me to speak to someone.

That someone then typed in my details, got a confused look and took me over to the customer service helpdesk where things got, uh, difficult.

It's turns out that despite lengthy conversations with Virgin Atlantic over the past 4 months (since I changed my flight from an L.A. holiday to this trip to Philly) including one as recently as this week via their websites 'chat' function about using my airmiles to fly home premium economy (they told me there was no availability) no-one mentioned that there was an outstanding balance to pay still!!

Now, bare in mind that I had booked these flights by phone in May, at the time I called to change my reservations I distinctly remember being told a figure (the different in flight prices plus and admin fee) and giving the person my card details!!

And yet I'm standing in Heathrow with my flight leaving in less than 2hours being told my ticket won't print as I haven't paid for all of it!!

I was not happy. In fact I very nearly tumbled straight into a panic induced meltdown on the spot!

I stammered about having paid at the time but in the end just handed over my card knowing that the only way I was getting to America today was to pay and argue for a refund later when I can get a May bank statement.

Of course this brought the usual panic around whether my card would go through! Even knowing I had enough in the account I still really sorry with large amounts and get super nervous that it will reject if my bank thinks it's fraud!

So, card handed over should be end of story right?


The lady on the desk was coordinating the problem with another member of the Virgin team off site somewhere (their HQ I think) and was being put on hold constantly, told to cancel things she had done until they'd done something, I got very confused and distressed at this point so don't remember clearly.

What I do remember is looking at the clock constantly with the lovely first lady reassuring me that there was plenty of time. By 7.55am I could see she was starting to worry about making my 9.05 flight though. She very helpfully went to get me a glass of water to take a painkiller with as I'd ditched my liquids already!

Bag drop was due to close at 8.10am. The clock kept ticking as this hold music played . . .

Eventually the person on the line gave the go ahead for me tickets to be printed and the lovely desk lady did them as quickly as possible for me, printing at 8.12!

A dash to bag drop then with the first lady, she'd called over to a colleague to not close my flight for me! I then left my suitcase sat next to a check in desk with 2 others and some Heathrow staff who were to take them to my flight as late arrivals authorised to go on.

I was then hurried through to the First Class security where I said goodbye to the wonderful woman who'd been with me for almost an hour at this point, having got me through security in less than 5 minutes!

A quick march to the already open gate with no time to stop to have breakfast, use the ladies or even buy a bottle of water and I was in a queue to board!!

The staff on the flight could not have been nicer to me! They spotted my obvious distress (I'd been crying for close to 45 minutes on and off) and when I told them I'm autistic they just asked what I needed - I replied a drink to which they asked what I wanted!

After that the main staff member for my section in economy (a lady called Jemma) came over to say hi and have a chat before take-off. We discussed the mornings events and how I was still fairly shaky at this point but that I loved flying so was hoping to be okay soon.

By this point boarding had finished and the doors were locked . . . No-one was sat next to me!!! The day is looking up!!

The flight itself was lovely, the first staff member I spoke to brought me my vodka cranberry almost immediately and I started to settle down.

6 hours of in-flight wi-fi goodness later and I was starting to get nervous again though.

I had to change to a connecting flight at JFK, something I'd never done before, as Virgin don't fly to Philadelphia direct. Jemma again was brilliant in reassuring me and talking through what I would have to do once off the plane, she even offered to get some of the ground staff to meet me and guide me through.

Getting off the plane (and leaving my iPad in the seat pocket as I would realise hours later!) I was a bit nervous, being at the back of the plane is great for my wing watching habit but not so good for a speedy exit on disembarking!!

Eventually I got off the plane but discovered that the ground staff were not nearly as helpful as Jemma was, she tried to get the "assist" staff to help me but was told they "only do wheelchairs" and wouldn't help me. After a few minutes I decided to just give up and thanked Jemma for her efforts saying I was going to give it a go by myself.

Well, Jemma had said to follow certain signs as I had a connecting flight in under 2 hours but when I got to the C&I hall is was utter chaos!

I tried to ask staff members for help but they were so ridiculously unhelpful! On man I asked for help just told me to "go elsewhere"!

Eventually I figured out the machines system and then had to join a long snaking queue that was merging with queues of people trying to use the machines! I end up stood for ages near a family with a toddler and a baby, both of whom were being rather grizzly.

As we slowly shuffled about I got to a point where I could see a staff member manning the queue. I tried to speak to him to ask the estimated time to get through but ended up catching the attention if a female staff member instead.

By this point I was very stress and on the verge of tears and close to losing my words completely.

I tried to ask her what the chances of me making my flight we're, holding my boarding pass to display the boarding/departure times as I was getting so flustered.

I was met with a distinctly snide "ma'am if you want me to help you jump the queue then get that boarding pass outta my face"

I tried to say I wasn't asking to jump just for a time approximation and that I was autistic. She turned her back on me, opened the tape and pointed me to a queue at  customs kiosk saying "go"

So I joined that queue, now with tears trickling and my stress scratching moving from my arms to my upper chest/neck.

I was then joined almost immediately by the bloody family with the young kids who stood behind me talking in their language (one of the Slavic languages I think) while the baby did that half-whimper, half-cry thing.

I was sensory flinching every few minutes at this point and whispering to myself to stay calm and not react but it was getting harder and harder.

Over an hour after getting off the plane and having skipped huge chunks of queues, I was next in line for the customs officer. The lady at the desk completed her business and moved through but the officer was typing on his computer so I didn't move. I felt a nudge in my back. I didn't move. I've been shouted at by American officers before for moving forward before called! The officer then looked up and beckoned me forward so I went.

At his desk he was fairly sunny and pleasant but he made the mistake of asking me if I was okay and the flood gates opened then and soon I was crying nearly uncontrollably as I explained my flight was already boarding!

He got me to redo the fingerprints and photo as the machine I used hadn't registered them properly so my C&I official entry to the country photo has tears rolling down my cheeks!!

He quickly processed me and told me where to go to collect my baggage. In the USA all baggage must be collected at your first entry point and re-checked for the connecting flight which to me seems insane, my ticket is for the whole journey so why doesn't my luggage just go the whole way before I get it back?!?!

So I went to the conveyor belt my flight was coming out of, there was huge amounts of baggage everywhere, stacks of it on the floors between the belts and the one I was at had two flights on it, mine and another.

After close to 15 minutes of waiting and watching the luggage come down and join the belt I asked a staff member who was pulling bags off the belt to stack on the floor. He told me that all the Heathrow bags were off the belt now and on the floor the other side - between 5 and 6, not 6 and 7 where I'd been checking!!

Going round I scanned the bags left. No bag. I check with another staff member, that's all of them she said, if it's not there then it wasn't on the plane.

Great. I now had to run to my next flight with no suitcase!

Getting to the Delta desk to check in for my next flight I was told to hurry as it was boarding and wouldn't wait.

Struggling to rush after 7 hours on a flight and with my dodgy back I walked as briskly as I could to security where luckily (as I asked a staff member there about my chances of making the flight) I was queue skipped again right to the x-ray machines/body scanner.

Of course I'd had no time to sort my hand luggage again so it was a scramble to get my liquids back into a bag and separated from my hand luggage bag before I joined the metal detector queue.

I was then told to take my flip flops off. Now London and most Europe airports have for a long time now said you only have to remove shoes at security if they are closed shoes (trainers/boots/loafers etc) not flip flops. But not JFK. No so I had to go back, grab another tray and throw my flip flops in and then join a queue again that was being held up by a deeply stupid/confused old man who kept setting off the metal detector as he had all sorts of crap still in his pockets!

Finally through and reunited with my things (in such a rush I wasn't registering there was no iPad anywhere) I shoved my feet back into the flipflops and set off as quickly as I could go to gate B42. Of course, as at Heathrow it was a gate pretty much as far from security as possible!!

I tried to go fast but a lower back spasm and shin splints slowed me down so much. I walked as quickly as possible and literally made it to the gate as the staff member was announcing "final call for passenger Ellis"!

On to the plane I had a bit of a shock - it was tiny!! I'd just come off a huge transatlantic flight to to get on to a plane that had 75 seats max was a bit 'woah!'

I changed my seat as I was due to sit next to someone but didn't see the point of making them move to let me in when there were so many free rows as the plane was 1/3rd full!

Well, I knew it would be a short flight but we were in the air less than 40 minutes by my estimation!!

The attendant actually said she thinks we were taxi-ing longer than we were flying!!

Finally at my destination I was united with the lovely Feasey family and got to spill my story and tears on to Sue's shoulder!

A trip to the Delta baggage collection desk followed with an explanation of the situation. Apparently my suitcase was still in London!

Now armed with the information that it would be delivered to my hotel the next day around lunchtime, we received a pack of 'essentials' and departed for the car, where Paul drove us to Wal-Mart for me to buy some clothes!!

I'm a pragmatic hand-luggage packer so had put my match outfit in my hand-luggage with 2 sets of contact lenses so I had all of that with me thankfully, but I was missing essentials like pyjamas and something to wear to go to dinner in that evening as I did not want to spend another minute in my flight outfit!

A $90 credit card payment later and I had a selection of clothes and toiletries to sort me out. The Delta essentials kit was nice but only had the basics - a razor, toothbrush and paste, a folding comb, stick deodorant and a thin white tshirt. I needed face wipes, a roll-on (I hate stick deodorant), some eye liner (all my make up was in my suitcase bar my sun cream stick and perfume) and a proper hairbrush!

Finally to the hotel I could have a shower and put on clean (new) clothes to go out to dinner, having first drunk nearly my body weight in water as I was so dehydrated and hungry! No time at either airport post security meant I hadn't been able to pick up snacks or bottled water anywhere and was only surviving because the transatlantic flight gave out drinks all through the flight!

It was a bit of a horrific day all told and I have lots of complaints and lost property procedures to follow now but I'm finally in Philadelphia!!!


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