[Once again, you’ll note that this was actually written a couple of months ago. Whoops].
Liberty International Airport, NJ. I’ve been on the road, so to speak, for 11 hours. Not too bad, compared with my last few trips over here! Dad not only paid for expensive Christmas flights to Ohio for me, he paid extra to get a two-flight journey instead of the usual three. What a treat! Every time I take that route from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, then back over the UK to get to America, my soul weeps a little. So it’s a huge relief and a huge time-saver, just going direct from Edinburgh to Newark and then on to Columbus. Not only this, but I made it out of the U.K. in the nick of time! As I was waiting to board my first flight, I glanced at the TV in the departure lounge which was scrolling through headline after headline of disruptions caused by snow. It hit northern Scotland last night and apparently some other parts of the UK today, and the next wave of weather warnings was rolling in just as my flight was taking off. I also checked the departures board – pretty much every flight after 10am was displaying either “Cancelled due to weather” or “Contact Airline”. Guess which message appeared next to the Amsterdam flight I would have taken if it weren’t for my dad being a hero? The former.
So I breathed a sigh of relief as we took off from Edinburgh airport and I settled into my 6.5-hour flight. At this point, things had already been looking grim, not just because of the weather. When I’d gone to check in my suitcase, it was slightly over the allowance – the man didn’t mention it. He then said he was looking for volunteers to fly tomorrow instead of today – if I decided to do so, I would be given bed and breakfast and $500 travel compensation – that’s enough to reclaim all the money I spent on Christmas gifts! But no, I did not consider it. First of all, the words “travel compensation” aroused my suspicion. I’d end up getting it in the form of Air Miles or something – and probably for Continental Airlines, which isn’t even my usual provider. Secondly, of course, $500 was not enough to put off my arrival for another day – nor was it enough to be worth the consequences of telling Grant I was selling out. Thirdly – and I actually didn’t think of this at the time, but it’s probably the most important reason – I ended up escaping the snow at the very last minute. I have no doubt that whatever poor sucker ended up taking the $500 will end up stranded.
Anyway, so I said no I wasn’t going to wait another day. Then he told me what I’d already assumed was going on – Continental Airlines had overbooked their flight, and there weren’t enough seats for everyone who had a ticket. I was calmly informed that as a result of this error, I had not been allocated a seat number. I did not have a seat on the plane.
For a second, I just stared at the guy. He couldn’t be telling me I wasn’t able to fly – he’d been so nonchalant about it. Did this happen all the time? Was he used to breaking this news to passengers? I didn’t want to ask stupid questions, so I just stared. After a second, though, the airport worker next to him said he could try assigning me an emergency seat, which is what he started trying to do. He footered around for a good fifteen minutes in an attempt to find me a seat on an exit row, and after a great deal of anxiety on my part, I was finally told that I would be allowed to fly after all. Thank God.
I later talked to Dad about it and said I didn’t understand why my ticket was the one without an allocated seat as we’d booked so long ago. He asked if I’d specified online which seat I wanted the day before, and when I said no, he nodded and told me that was probably why. I guess it escaped my knowledge that after reserving a ticket on a plane and paying £1200 for it, it still wasn’t a given that you’d be able to go unless you log in and specify that you do, in fact, still want to fly. Call me naïve.
Actually, I think Continental Airlines’ lax policy towards overbooking might have worked to my advantage at a later stage – stay tuned for more news of that some other time.
The plane ride itself wasn’t so bad – seeing as I was in an emergency exit row, I had a good amount of leg room, although my legs are pretty short anyway, and the seat also didn’t recline. I read a little of my Spanish book and watched a movie or three, and it was over within 6 or 7 hours – not bad at all! And when we came down into Liberty International, the view was pretty amazing.
I know it sounds strange, but I’d never fully grasped the idea that New York City is a real place in the world. In fact, it is a real place, where people – millions of people – live and work and go to school. I’d seen pictures of the skyline and thought “wow”; but I had never really got my head around the concept of a city like that actually being situated on the Earth. Well. Coming down into New Jersey with the city right across the water was something I won’t forget any time soon. It really is as impressive as you would imagine. As my layover is only a couple of hours, unfortunately I don’t have time to go see it up close, but that’s fine – all the better for getting to Ohio faster!
It’s ok now that I’m sitting at the gate, but for a long time, getting to Ohio fast did not seem to be happening at all. Liberty Int’l is pretty and glassy and everything, but my God, it’s a hassle. First I had to wait at least 40 minutes for my suitcase at baggage claim. Then I saw the queue for customs and my heart sank. There was no way I’d be out of there any time soon, so I decided to use that opportunity to find the restrooms. I had to wait in line for the restrooms, and then manoeuvre around the tiny cubicles and washbasin, accompanied by my large suitcase, with which I’d been so recently (and unwisely) reunited. The good news is that by the time this farce was over, the line for customs was considerably smaller.
Once I made it to the end of the queue, it only got harder. Mindlessly waiting and trying not to look too grumpy and anti-American is one thing; trying to come to an understanding with a customs official who recommends you “be careful” travelling to and from the States so much is another. I told him about my conversation with the guy at the American Embassy – how he told me that technically I could come and go as much as I please but that if they think I’m taking advantage of the system, they’ll ask me to get a visa for next time. I asked if that was what he meant by “Be careful”. He first mocked me for my use of the word “guy”, then explained (and I’m really playing it fast and loose with the word “explained” here) that he wasn’t telling me to get a visa: I just needed to be more careful.
I thanked him and left, still puzzling over how to make my future U.S. travel more punctilious, but mainly happy to be allowed into the country. Then I picked up something to eat at a not-so-delicious Italian kitchen called Villa Fresh, and embarked upon a lengthy and awkward conversation with a middle-aged man called Vinnie. Following this, I proceeded to the gate I thought was my own, did a U-turn and left for the shuttle to the C concourse as my gate had been changed. Now here I am, finally ready to take my last leg of my journey – save for the car ride from Columbus to Akron. What a relief it will be to touch down in good old Ohio for the third time.
Bob Evans, how I have missed you!
You too, Grant Stubbins.
Love and kisses,
EDIT: It has come to my attention (thanks Jenny) that I should be sourcing my pictures, which I regret to announce were not taken by me. So if you do desire to follow up on any of the visual stimulation you’ve experienced today, you’re more than welcome to. The pictures now link to their original sites. Enjoy!
EDIT Mk 2: It has also come to my attention that the site where I got my hilarious picture of George Bush being nibbled by a turkey is from a site called Lolpresident.com and apparently this site is dangerous for malware and other nasties. That’s why if you’ve tried to visit my blog lately you might have had a safety message telling you to steer clear. My wordpress is totally legit – I promise! I’ve removed the picture and the link (reluctantly: it was a brilliant and highly relevant addition to the text), and you should be safe from harm now. Don’t say I’m not good to you!