The joke in our family is that when things go wrong while you’re traveling, you’re burning off karma. Well, maybe it’s less a joke and more a coping mechanism. It is vaguely comforting to think, when your flight is delayed for half an hour for the third time, or when your train breaks down halfway to its destination, or your luggage is missing, that at least you’re going to get off the reincarnation merry-go-round a little faster for the suffering you’re going through now.
Going through Heathrow yesterday has to have been one of the most miserable (although not the most stressful, thankfully) travel experiences I’ve ever had. If we were burning off karma, we’d better half burned off at least a couple turns on the wheel of reincarnation
Getting to Heathrow was fine. We flew out of SeaTac straight to London, a 9 hour flight with a 9 hour time-zone change to accompany it. British Airways trans-Atlantic flights have always been pleasant, in my experience; they recognize that being stuck in an airplane for 8-10 hours is terrible, and so they do their best to make it manageable with lots of free entertainment, free alcohol, and better-than-average meals. Sure, somehow they didn’t get the memo that I needed a vegetarian meal, but I got to sip my free G&T while watching Star Trek: Into Darkness (not as terrible as I’d been led to believe, but still really not a good movie).
But a 9 hour flight is still a 9 hour flight, so we were looking forward to our 3 hour layover in London in which to relax, stretch out, eat real food, etc.
Instead, we were hustled straight to a queue that seemed to stretch for half of Terminal 5, to wait for our chance to go through passport control and up to the main terminal. We waited in this queue for over an hour. It was like being at Disneyland, only worse, because there was a time pressure and there was nobody in costume unless you count the purple-clothed Heathrow employees. (I swear, I see Night Vale everywhere now. It’s a problem.) And of course, although we spent some of the time chatting with the couple from Kansas City directly in front of us, within half an hour six people had mysteriously appeared between us and them.
If you are one of those people who passive-aggressively sidles forward in line, be aware that you are the one thing I will allow to crack my Travel Zen, and I have a deep, roiling, un-Christian contempt for you. Deep. And roiling.
They finally got us through passport control, where my parents were fortunate enough to be upgraded to business class for the next leg of the trip and I was not. Heathrow employs a simple and effective feedback system: they have little stands that read “How was your _____ experience today?” with a row of smiley-face buttons: C: (: ): D:
“How was your transfer experience today?” I hit the ): button with gusto.
The giant line of people trying to get to their international transfers of course continued up to the security area, where passive-aggressive sidlers continued to earn my silently seething hatred and a harried Heathrow employee told people with tight connections “Everyone else is in the same boat.” We stepped aside multiple times for passengers who were desperately trying to get to their gates before they closed, hoping that we would get through before we had to become those desperate passengers ourselves.
We finally got through security with 45 minutes to go before our gate opened. “How was your security experience today?” ):!!!
Our dining experience, at least, was quite good — fast, tasty, and finished just as our gate opened. Rome, BA554, Go to gate A23, read the displays. Great! We power-walked our way down to A23, past duty-free shops and expensive fashion stores, ads for Armani and Gucci and Burberry scrolling overhead.
“This is the final boarding call for BA556 to Rome,” said the agent over the PA. “If you’re here for flight BA554, that flight is boarding at gate A12.”
This is about the point where I wanted to start throwing things and screaming, as opposed to just sobbing quietly in misery as I had been wanting to do all through the security line. You know, that exhausted plaintive sobbing toddlers do when they’re just too tired to do anything else? I had been there. Now I was internally at full tantrum status.
Thankfully, this only lasted until I got onto the plane, at which point I passed out. Apparently we were delayed by another 45 minutes once we were on the plane, but as far as I know, we boarded the plane and then I woke up when the drink trolley nearly passed me by. I managed to wake up enough to order Johnnie Walker (whatever else BA does, at least they will always soothe your troubled soul with free liquor), and stayed awake until we landed in Rome.
… Where my mom had to wait for something like forty minutes for her bag to arrive. And our driver texted and talked on his phone for half the drive while barrelling through narrow Italian streets, including for a while down the light rail tracks.
But we made it!
And ultimately, I find, that’s what travel is about: whatever suffering or stress you go through on the way, you do, generally, make it. And once you’re there, new adventures await.