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Saturday, May 13, 2000

I didn't get much sleep. I was too wired with everything going on. I slept an hour or two but was wide-awake at 2 a.m. I got on the Internet and surfed until 4 a.m. before becoming sleepy enough to go back to bed. I was also eagerly awaiting a phone call from my mother or brother.

My sister had finally contacted them before they left Charlotte. She had told them I would be going back to Madison and to call me from the Hotel in London as soon as they arrived. I had thought I had asked for them to call me from Gatwick so I was expecting a call from them between 4 and 5 a.m. By 7 a.m. I had still not heard from them so I left a message on my answering machine for them to call my sister to get the information I needed to let them know.

Luckily, they had all the vouchers for the hotel and airport transfers with them. I wasn't sure how I would get from Gatwick to London but I knew I would find a way. My initial plan was to take the Gatwick Express to London and then take a Taxi to the Hotel.

I only had one bag and one carry-on, but my one bag was HEAVY. I actually had my old reliable red bag that I have used for years. This I fit into a second canvas bag (that fit like a second skin). This way, I would have one completely empty bag I could fill with goodies in England.

My bag was so heavy that I actually left a few items at home that I decided I didn't need. Plus, I wasn't looking forward to carry this bag all over London while trying to get to the hotel.

I called Sheila and gave her a list of information to pass on to Mom and Alan. This included: 1) exchange some money at the airport ($100 or so); 2) buy an all day tube pass to get around the city; 3) use the tickets to Les Miserables that were at the theater; 4) talk with the people who run the airport transfers and see if I could get a transfer for Sunday morning.

Dwayne took me back to the bus stop where I caught the 7:30 a.m. bus to Chicago. Once again the trip was non-eventful. I managed to sleep most of the way. This time the bus let me off at the opposite end of the terminal from the ticket desk. Fortunately, I was able to grab a luggage cart left on the sidewalk. At the check-in desk, I asked for an exit row or a bulkhead seat for my flights. I was assured that I had these seats for both flights (first flight was to Philadelphia and then to Gatwick).

I stopped to call my sister, Sheila. Mom and Alan had arrived in London and made it to the hotel. Sheila had passed on all the information that I had left with her, and I should see them tomorrow morning. She also said that someone had stolen my mother's pre-paid phone card number and had used up 450 of the 500 minutes on the card. So she had given them her card number that had 500 minutes available. They had also arranged transportation for me from the airport to the hotel using the shuttle service.

I then went to the gate to await my flight. While waiting I had a very pleasant talk with a lady who would be on the same flight. I include her story just to remind myself that regardless of my misfortune, others had a worse time.

It seems she had been scheduled to fly out the previous day to Philadelphia, and her flight had been cancelled due to the weather. She, and many others, had been rebooked on an American flight scheduled to depart at 7 p.m. that night. The American flight was delayed an hour or so. They finally boarded, only to be told that due to a mechanical problem, the flight would be delayed several more hours. I forget all of the details but eventually around 2 a.m. in the morning (they had repeatedly been told that the flight would soon leave) the flight was cancelled because the Pilots had reached their 12 hour limit. They were then told that there would be a flight out at 6 a.m.

Of course, this meant that it wouldn't be worth trying to get to a hotel. Everything around the airport was full and it would take an hour to get into town, leaving less than two hours at a hotel before having to return to the airport. The 6 a.m. flight was cancelled and finally they were rebooked back on USAir. This lady had kept calm throughout all of this. She did tell me that there were many very irate people.

An hour before the flight was to leave we were informed that it would be delayed for 45 minutes. Oh no, not again! With only this slight delay, we were soon on board and on our way to Philadelphia. It was a nice smooth flight, and I managed to sleep some on the way. We were also served a small box lunch consisting of a sandwich, chips, and dessert.

As we came in over Philadelphia, I had a beautiful view of the city. I saw the football stadium and the Naval ship yards. Seeing the Mothball fleet of old cruisers was very interesting. Philadelphia airport is huge. At least, it seemed that way. I am not sure how well it is laid out, but it seemed I had to walk a mile or more to get to my international departure gate.

I stopped to take a picture of Hymie's Delicatessen (the name of a friend's pet, Hymie that is, not delicatessen). I also purchased a bottle of water and sat down to wait for my next flight. During this time, the monitor suddenly changed to show that the flight was leaving an hour late. Arggghhh! Then, it suddenly changed back to show everything was on time. They are trying to mess with my mind.

The plane we were using was a Boeing 767. This is a huge plane. It takes a long time to board everyone. I found my seat and it was neither an exit row nor a bulkhead. It was one row behind the bulkhead. This plane has 2-3-2 seat configurations. The left two seats of the bulkhead row in the middle section were empty. I asked the flight attendant if I could move to one of these seats. She said fine as long as no one else had been assigned the seat.

Eventually, the plane was completely filled except for these two seats. Finally, my luck had changed. Not only did I have a bulkhead seat with the extra legroom; I also had an empty seat beside me. As we taxied out, the Pilot came on and announced that we would be waiting 45 minutes to take off (here we go again). Fog was forecasted for Gatwick at 6 a.m. so instead of getting there and circling until the fog lifted, we would wait on the ground here and leave when we could arrive at 7 a.m. instead.

I was seated with a man who had a very pronounced accent. I asked if he was from England and was shocked when he said he was from Connecticut. We ended up talking for half the flight about all kinds of things. I found out he was a manager in Computer Ops so we had common backgrounds. I was amazed to find out he was 42 when he looked no older than I did.

Across the row on the right side of the plane was a young black teenager. I had first noticed him at the airport. He was wearing a very large gold chain and was dressed in "gang style" clothes. At the airport I noticed an older white gentleman and his wife talking with him while we waited to board. And while on board he was continually helping people, showing them how to operate the bathroom doors (more below). So while I had initially judged him one way, I had an entirely different opinion by the end of the trip.

I will say this for USAir. They have the nicest flight attendants I have met. Throughout the flight, they were continually bringing the drink cart around. I did enjoy a gin and tonic and got another gin to add to my collection at home. The dinner was very good. It was a chicken and potato dish, cake, salad, crackers and cheese. The movie was a waste of time. I think it was called "Topsy Turvey" or some such. I only watched a few minutes.

Throughout the flight there was a continual line of people at the toilets. And none of them seem to know how to open the door or tell if they were occupied. We repeatedly showed them where to push to open the door or if they were in use. A few people also tried to use the extra room in my row as a way to cross from one side of the plane to the other. I finally slumped down in the seat and put my knees against the bulkhead thus preventing anyone else from asking.

After dinner I slipped my shoes off, took out my inflatable pillow, and managed to sleep several hours. Towards the end of the flight, a light breakfast was served. Looking out the window I could see several other planes in a holding pattern around the airport. After circling once or twice we began to descend. It was so foggy that I didn't see the ground until the wheels hit. We then taxied for 20 minutes to reach the terminal. I was just hoping that another plane wouldn't land and plow into us.

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