Flying our of Heathrow Airport
Today marks the official end of our vacation as we are going home. It has been a good trip and we’ve had a lot of fun, but we are ready to come home again.
We had practically everything packed last night so we didn’t have a lot of those tasks left to perform this morning. The trick was getting it into suitcases so they did not exceed 50 pounds each. Anyway, we left a 4:30 wake-up call with the hotel and had a 5:00 cab arriving to take us to the airport. With 8 time zones involved, that means we got up at 8:30 Monday night. We quickly got dressed and finished loading the last things in the suitcases, weighing the bag after each item to see if we could still add something else. When our scale said 50, then everything else went into our carry-on bags.
We checked out of the hotel and the cab was waiting for us. Our hotel had been a very nice place but not exactly in the most convenient location – an area called Plaka might have been better because it has lots of tourist shops and cafes. Anyway,
Some of Suburbs outside London
the driver gave us an estimated price just a little higher than we expected 45e vs 40e, but we couldn’t exactly quibble at that time of the morning. He got us to the airport by 5:30 and dropped us in front of the correct terminal. We went inside and began the airline/security hassle.
We found the line for passengers who had checked-in online (Janet did that yesterday from the bus going to Delphi) and worked our way to the front. The scale said 22.5 and 22.6 kilos, which is just barely under the 22.7 limit. This is confirmation that our “hand scale” is pretty accurate. The person at the counter next to us was just slightly over the limit and was going to be charged a 75 euro penalty. Our British Airlines counter rep spent a lot of time fiddling with our tickets and trying to print boarding passes. It turns out she was actually flagging our suitcases for a “short transfer” in London as the connection was only about 90 minutes and she was also trying to print Chicago-St Louis boarding passes, but to no avail. However from our side of the counter all we heard
Arriving in Chicago
was Greek (literally) between herself and her neighbor and David was worried something was wrong. But it turned out alright.
There is always a lot of walking in an airport but since we didn’t know where anything was it was even more stressful at 6:00 in the morning. We made it through Customs and they stamped our passport for exit, although we had never even shown the passport to enter Europe. Then we got through the security checkpoint with a minimal amount of effort and we headed to a little café to try to get some breakfast before our flight was called. After a cup of tea and a bottle of OJ, along with a couple of rolls, we headed for our gate around 7:00. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:00 but they started boarding at 7:30 and we got our seats. The roller bag fit in the overhead and the backpack underneath a seat. Janet had her purse under the seat in front of her and her blue carry bag in the overhead. We had made it on the plane without having to leave anything important behind.
The flight was pretty smooth and we actually got to the London area early. They had served a surprisingly good hot breakfast of bacon & eggs, potatoes, yogurt and a roll. That sure isn’t what we were expecting after flying US airlines. The flight was delayed landing because the gate wasn’t ready and we actually got off the plane and into the terminal right at 10:00 UK time (after 4 hours of flying). Then we began the exercise all over again at Heathrow – they don’t trust any incoming passenger to have been properly screened and everyone had to do their passport/security routine. We got through the passport check quickly (basically no stops required) but someone objected to the size of our roller bag and made us check it before we could go any further, although there was no charge for it. By then we were down to less than an hour to get to our gate to board the flight to Chicago and we had to go through the security check. It seemed more involved than we usually see in the US, although we did not have to take off our shoes. But they studiously examined everything and body-scanned a lot of people who failed the basic metal detector – each time that added time to the line of people waiting for their turn.
Finally we got through security and we started the O.J. Simpson dash all the way out to gate C61 – the farthest one from the terminal. There is a transit tram to help people leapfrog bunches of gates, but before we could get on they had to do a security check of the carriages to make sure nobody had left anything from the group which had just gotten off. Did I say that they did a very studious job with “security”. The ticking clock was very stressful , but we eventually got to the C50-C62 transit exit and headed for our gate. NOTE TO SELF – don’t schedule a “short time” connection in Heathrow ever again.
Having done all this we got to the gate about 11:00 and the flight was supposed to go at 11:20. Surprisingly the whole gate was full of passengers – they had not started boarding yet because the plane was still being fueled. In fact, there was a maintenance problem and they almost cancelled this plane altogether. But there was no alternate 747-400 so they worked on fixing the problem with the fuel filling system and we were able to board about 12:15. We sure were hopeful that they really had fixed it correctly. Then there was a delay in departure because of Air Traffic Control, so our flight actually didn’t take off until about 1:30.
We had reserved the first row in the back of the plane where the fuselage tapers closer and they can no longer get 10 seats across. We have the 2 seat by the window and it is more spacious than we had expected – David could put his backpack between the seat and the window and not under the seat ahead – Janet’s purse was under the seat in front of his backpack. There also seemed to be more leg room for us. We are also fairly close to the lavatories but the space is the nicer part. Of course it would take forever before we would finally get to exit the plane.
They served drinks soon after takeoff and we each got a small bottle of white wine. Then they served a hot chicken & rice meal for lunch which was accompanied by another bottle of wine for each of us. Our intent was to hopefully be able to get some sleep while we flew, but that didn’t really happen. There is a fairly nice personal entertainment system in the back of the seat each person is facing, so we each had our own screen, earphone, and controls. There are plenty of new movies, TV series shows, wide variety of music, and games. There is also a map which shows the flight and provides a lot of statistics about how high, how fast, what time, what temp, etc. David watched a couple of movies and listened to some music while reading his book and Janet watch almost a whole season of a British “baking show”. Periodically they came by serving water or juice and then two hours before landing we were given a chicken salad sandwich with more drinks.
Our flight landed nearly two hours late. The flight had been smooth and uneventful after we finally got off the ground in London, but this had eroded a lot of the time we had for making our final connection in Chicago. Being in the back of the plane, it took some time for us to finally get moving and we were resigned to missing our connection. British Airways had posted some envelops outside the gate for people who had already missed their flight or now had tight connecting flights – we got an Orange envelop which meant they were trying to expedite our connection. This got us ahead of the line to perform the automated US Immigration system – inserting your passport and completing some questions online – except it was frustrating trying to figure out how to get the passport to be read correctly and there was nobody to help us figure it out. Finally finishing with the machine we still had to wait in line to turn in our printout. Then we got into the luggage area and still had to wait for our luggage to arrive – all the time wondering if all 3 bags had gotten on the plane or not. At last our bags came down the chute and we loaded them on a free cart and pushed them to the line of other people getting their luggage tagged with “expedite” stickers – more waiting, more frustration, more and more expectation of missing our plane. At last we turned the luggage in and dashed for our flight.
But no, that would be too simple. With the clock kept ticking toward our 4:40 flight departure, we had to catch a tram to transfer to another terminal. Once there we had to go through the full TSA procedure one more time. Our boarding passes had been included in the orange envelop and they said TSA PRECHECK, but that was a long line, so someone saw our orange expedite envelop and waved us to the head of the “normal security” line. This meant that we had to do the shoes-off, remove the laptop, and all the other headaches of normal. There were about 8 TSA agents and we are convinced they were trying to slow the process down as much as possible. When a person went through the body scanner, it was painfully slow before the next person got to try it. Meanwhile all the bins of luggage were slowly going through the scanner and numerous of them being rejected. Bottom line is that by now we were convinced we would miss the flight while they meticulously checked everything. Finally we got all our stuff and hurried toward the gate which the only friendly TSA person had given us directions. Trouble is he was wrong and we ran 2 gates too far. Finally back to the correct gate, David could not find his passport or boarding pass – Arrrrgh! He ran (literally) back to the TSA place to see if they had found it but they had not. After running back to the gate again, they were able to print a duplicate boarding pass based on his driver’s license and we were virtually the last people to board the flight, but somehow we did make the connection – totally exhausted and stressed to the limit. The flight took off and got us to St Louis pretty much on time.
We got to the luggage dispenser and we held our breath waiting as bag and bag came out but not ours. Hooray! Finally our 3 bags came out also – we and they had all caught the flight. We got another luggage cart (in St Louis they outrageously charge $5 where most places the carts are free) and texted Valerie that we had arrived and were ready for pickup. She and the kids had been waiting in the cellphone lot and she picked us up and drove us home. It had been a very long day and an exhausting airline process, but we were home at last. THANKS to Valerie for making the last step easy for us. The house was in good shape and the cat was eager to get out of the basement and hasn’t stopped purring ever since. THANKS to Elizabeth, Mike, and Valerie for taking care of the house and the cat while we were off having a great vacation. Anyway, we were exhausted and we went to bed about 8:00 Central Time but that was 4:00 AM tomorrow Athens Time.
FYI … David did find his passport and boarding pass when we unpacked everything at home the next day. They were in a seldom used pocket in the bag where David must have stuffed it while trying to get all the stuff back from the TSA people. But despite the hectic return flight, we still had a terrific vacation!
There will be an update coming soon to report our last tour (May 23) concerning the trip to Delphi.
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