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Monday, May 29, 2000

We were up, packed, and in the lobby by 8:15 Monday morning. At 8:30 we were picked-up by the van to be taken back to the airport. At the airport Alan and Pat went to the tax-back booth to get his refund on the bagpipes he had purchased.

Passing through security, Alan had his baggage searched. We then spent the next 30 minutes spending the rest of our pounds. I purchased candy bars for the children of some friends. I also purchased the book "Longitude" by Dava Sobel - which I managed to read in its entirety before we reached the states.

As we boarded the plane, Alan was once again pulled aside. This time his bag was searched and his clothes were searched. Perhaps they thought he was the Jackal and was trying to sneak a copy of the Magna Carta out to sell on Ebay.

I managed to get an aisle bulkhead seat on the left side of the plane. Pat and Alan were seated about 10 rows behind me. I had a nice conversation with the young man seated next to me. He was returning from a 3-week whirlwind tour of Europe. He had traveled by train and stayed mostly in hostels. He was returning to Texas where he had just graduated college and had to start looking for a job. Across the aisle from me was an older lady who was returning to South Carolina after having visited her daughter and grandkids stationed in Europe with the U.S. Airforce.

A very nice lunch was served after which I took a nap. Later, looking out the window, I was able to see icebergs in the ocean below. Overall the trip seemed to go very quickly, and we were soon landing in Philadelphia. The plane was parked on the tarmac and a large "bus like" vehicle was brought out to the plane. This bus raised itself up until it was level with the plane. We boarded the bus which took us to an entrance at the international terminal.

It took about 20 minutes to get through customs. They didn't ask me any questions at all. Pat and Alan both had to answer several questions. I guess I just have an honest face. After clearing customs, we approached the USAir booth to check our bags. It was here that Pat and Alan learned that their flight to Birmingham had been cancelled.

It took the agents nearly 30 minutes to find alternative flights. I actually had to leave before everything was sorted out so that I could catch my flight to Chicago. The walk from the international terminal to where my next flight originated had to be over a mile. It took me nearly 20 minutes of non-stop walking to reach my gate.

The flight to Chicago was actually very nice. I had an aisle "bulkhead" seat but there was no bulkhead. This meant I could completely stretch my legs out. I was seated in a row with a young schoolteacher and another man about my age. We had a very nice conversation the whole way back. The flight attendants were also very courteous (as I have found on all USAir flights - if only the rest of the airline was as good).

I later found out that Pat and Alan had been scheduled for a United flight through Chicago reaching Birmingham at 11 p.m. that night. When they reached the gate, there was another plane just about to depart for Chicago. Fortunately there was room on this plane so they arrived in Chicago only 30 minutes or so after I did. They had to go between terminals, which took 20 minutes or more. If they had taken the later flight they probably would have been unable to make the next flight in time.

As I approached the baggage area, Dwayne walked in the door. He was my ride back to Madison. We grabbed my luggage and hopped in his car. I found myself back home at 9:00 that night - very tired but having had a wonderful time in England.

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