Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A Journey, Leading to a Once in a Lifetime Event part 1

Four o'clock in the morning and the alarm had gone off, it was time to get up. We had packed our suitcases the night before and gone to bed early to try to get as much sleep as possible before the grizzly hour we had to wake. Two zombies staggered around the house getting ready and promptly and on time the taxi arrived and we were off to Heathrow. High in the dawn sky Venus was a startlingly bright star and visible all the way to the airport even as the sky lightened to full daylight.

Because you are supposed to allow three hours to check in and go through security, we had needed to leave the house by half past five. Soon we arrived at Heathrow and our taxi driver helped us find a baggage cart and pile on the three huge suitcases and carry-on bags and we headed for the check in.

If all had gone well, we would have already been on our way at a reasonable hour the day before, but a strike by the air crew of the ‘wonderful’ airline we had booked with caused our flight to be a day late and very early.  Not naming any names, this airline's name starts with a B and an A. Not all bad though, our substitute flight had us booked onto an American Airlines Dreamliner, which proved to be much more comfortable than the BA aircraft we returned on.

 After checking in the three large suit cases we went through to the security area where I managed to set off the metal detector twice. First I had my mobile still in my pocket and then because my wallet has metal plates to stop my contactless credit cards being read by people with whom I do not wish to share my bank account. Inside the departure area, we found somewhere to get breakfast and having eaten we wait. Although we were requested to arrive three hours before take-off, we always seem to have a long wait in the departures lounge and so we sit and people watch and wait for the flight to be announced, watching the information screens to see which gate we will be departing from. Eventually it is time to board the aircraft and this is done excruciatingly slowly by ticket numbers. We shuffle forward down the long corridor and eventually board our flight for Chicago. After a lot of struggling to get our carry-ons into the overhead bins and the smaller ones under the seat, we are on our way. Well, we are trundling along what seems to be an endless runway and about the time I start to believe that we are going to drive all the way on the ground, the aircraft starts to accelerate and we are off the ground.
 This is the bit that I love and TBH hates, I like to look out of the window and see how much I can recognise from the air and since Heathrow leaves from London I can often identify more or less where we are until we get above the clouds. Once over the clouds there is nothing to see, so I usually turn on the map and watch the flight slowly crawl across the country to the coast over Ireland then on to the Atlantic.

 Hours of tedium pass, neither of us have ever been able to sleep on any aircraft and after hours of playing stupid games on my iPad and watching Guardians of the Galaxy vol II and Hidden figures from the list of in-flight movies, I realise we are approaching Lake Michigan and starting to descend. Our ears then start to pop and block alternately as the air pressure changes and eventually we are bumping along the runway with the engines in full reverse thrust and slowly we slow down to taxiing speed and we eventually arrive at the terminal.

From the aircraft window, you can see the Sears Tower in the distance.  We have definitely arrived in Chicago.
The introduction of the ESTA, which you have to fill in to visit the USA, and an electronic passport has improved our entry no end.  Because we have used ESTAs since 2008, all our details were on record and all we had to do at passport control was offer our passports to a scanner, stand in front of a camera and the gate opened and let us in.  Very little queuing and easy as pie, a big improvement on what we had to go through before, where a very stern looking individual would gaze at us suspiciously and after a long rigmarole with our passport and other papers, reluctantly let us through.

The next piece of tedium is waiting for our checked in baggage to emerge from the depth of the baggage handling conveyors and after we watch an an endless row of other people’s suitcases pass by, ours eventually emerge one by one and I was able to pull them off the carousel as they got near enough to reach. Loading them onto another baggage cart, we can then check them in again for the internal flight.
 From the International terminal at Chicago, to join our connecting flight, we have to take the airport’s train to terminal 3 and go through the security once more. After another struggle to get all our bits into the trays for scanning and checking and then get them all out again and packed back into our hand luggage we can sit down and wait for the connecting flight to Kansas City.
The connecting flight is not for another two hours or so and so we wait once more sitting it out. Waiting, I must add, is better than having to rush. From time to time we have been hard pressed to get to the connecting flight and running through a large airport carrying your hand baggage and arriving completely out of breath just as the gate is closing is not too much fun, so a long wait is quite acceptable, only requiring patience rather than physical stamina.
Eventually we able to board the flight and we were crammed into the much smaller aircraft with less space for hand luggage, so one of our bags has to go in the hold. Finally we were off, trundling down runway after runway. Chicago airport is big and has a maze of runways which criss-cross each other. The surrounding runways are full of other aircraft waiting to take off or arrivals taxing to their terminal. so often you have to wait at a crossroads whilst another aircraft crosses in front of your aircraft.

 This bit is always the longest part of the trip subjectively because we know it is only a short flight to Kansas City compared to the twelve hours and two movie flight across the Atlantic.
Finally we take off and we are on the last leg of the flight.

At first it is cloudy and I cannot see the ground.
Soon the clouds start to break up and I can see the Missouri River snaking its muddy way through the Illinois countryside 
Coming into Kansas City we pass over the Missouri River again and we know we are about to land when we can see the junction where the Kansas River joins it and the tall buildings of Kansas City skyline just behind.

 Soon we are down and making our way along the runway to the terminal.

The KCI terminal
After a short wait, we get off the plane, passing through security and there are the family waiting for us. We have finally made it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking us on the journey with you both, snafu. I must say that, for me, it is more exciting to read about the journey than to actually make it....though it does stir up in me some longings to travel again. I have always loved to travel and have done lots of it, but I'm afraid that these days, the older I get, the less I like it. So glad yours was relatively uneventful and that you arrived safely. Looking forward to the rest of your trip! I must email you some photos of our view of the eclipse with 'the girls'.