London: The Unexpected Stop

Long story short: British Airways can bite me.

During the nine hour flight from Phoenix to Heathrow, I was seated next to a woman with a pharmacy in her purse. Before take-off she took several pills, and she spent the entire flight passed out with her head dangling like a door knocker. She looked just like the woman at the LA Marriott Amy Lerman and I saw get Roofied and removed by ambulance. The woman’s husband was seated in business class but kept coming back to check on her, which involved asking me to poke her until she shook her head up and grunted.

Our first indication that something was wrong on the ground came when we were held on the tarmac for about an hour waiting for a gate. The captain let us know slowly that BA was experiencing a global IT outage and that all flights up to 6 pm were canceled. Our flight to Cape Town was not set to depart until 9:30 pm, so we figured (hoped?) we would be safe.

Once the plane got a gate we had to wait for a jetway. The captain came on the line to let us know they had no way to communicate with ground, and that he and the co-pilot were calling friends and acquaintances to try to get someone to pull the jetway over. My seat mate used this opportunity to sort through and find some more choice pills, which she swallowed with a large slug a of cough syrup straight from the bottle.

Once we finally disembarked, we knew immediately that the situation was worse than we thought. The hallways at Heathrow are usually packed, but this was total chaos. Babies were screaming, Adults were screaming, and there was not a BA employee to be seen. Some Heathrow officials were trying to direct traffic and answer questions, but the only reply they had available was, We don’t know.

The line for customs is always long at Heathrow, but this day it was terrible. We waited for 3 hours in a snaking queue without any food or water. We passed my seat mate about 30 times as we zigged and zagged through, and each time she looked worse and worse, slurring words and barely able to stand. Her husband finally rushed her through to the front of the line. I couldn’t help wondering about their story.

Once we cleared, the scene in baggage claim was like a horror film. People screaming, crying, cussing, and angry. We were told we could not get our luggage then we were handed a letter saying we must leave the airport and do not call. They said check Twitter for updates.

We still didn’t have confirmation that our flight was canceled, but we decided to behave as if it were. So we tried to find a hotel close to the airport so we could get back quickly if another flight came up. Hotels had clearly gotten word and the price surge pushed rooms to $1500 and more. We normally stay at The Ampersand in South Kensington, but it was booked so we found a hotel nearby and took an Uber into town to check in.

The room was comfortable and quiet. We were so hungry, so we headed out to a pub and we were able to catch the end of the Arsenal Versus Chelsea game while eating fish pie. Not too bad. But then, back at the hotel, we spent the next six hours on the phone trying to get any news on how we would get to Cape Town. No one at BA would answer the phone. We tried Chase Bank, who holds our BA Visa, and they were no help. A friend worked from home on getting help from his Centurion Amex folks but they couldn’t book the flight. When we finally got through to an agent, she booked us on the next flight to Cape Town and told us our luggage would be on it.

We got a few hours sleep before getting up and wandering our favorite South Ken streets. We had lunch at one of my favorite local pubs, Bumpkin, then had a beer at The Scarsdale Tavern. We grabbed an Uber to head back to the airport and enjoyed chatting with the Kurdistan driver about US politics.

At the airport, we were amused by the Heathrow employees telling stories about how the previous day the BA employees had hidden like Sean Spicer in the bushes while they did all the work with the public.

Our new flight was delayed an hour, but once we were finally on I watched two movies then fell asleep and woke up in Cape Town.

Here is what I can tell you about cancelled BA flights: If your flight gets canceled and the airline didn’t give you at least 14 days’ notice, they may be required to compensate you, according to EC 261. EU passengers are entitled to as much as €600 for canceled flights, but there are a number of factors that determine both eligibility and compensation amount.

John and I were entitled for compensation, which rendered our round trip tickets to South Africa free.

 


London

So it was up at the crack of dawn the next morning to do our 3 hour drive back to Venice. It was rainy and cold and there was nearly no one on the road.

I was a touch anxious about returning the rental car because we had gotten our requisite European Dent. Plus, the daily rate was so low I was certain it was a mistake.

But the return went off without a hitch! The flight to London was another story.

We waited and waited at the gate, when there was a bit of ruckus beside us. One man called another man a wanker. Then man accused of wankerdom turned out to be Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. We witnessed an almost altercation and ended up chatting with the band and their roadies until the plane was boarded and we took off.

Our trips to London are a good excuse to stay in our favorite neighborhood, South Ken, at our favorite hotel, The Ampersand, and eat a luxurious meal (like we needed one more on this trip!). I really wanted to eat at The Five Fields, but of course they were closed the one day we would be in London. So we chose Kitchen W8. It was so delicious!

It was so hard to head home after such an amazing trip.


30 Hours in London

We left Ennis in the wee hours of the morning. The taxi driver said to John, “please sit up front because I need your help.” The help he needed was to have John listen as he talked non-stop for 30 minutes on the way to the airport! Wow. Very friendly and typically Irish but it would have been better with coffee.

We took a very short flight to London and got a ride to our adorable hotel. Ampersand is a new boutique hotel right in the heart of South Kensington, about 2 blocks from the Natural History Museum. It is a perfect location near restaurants, shops, and museums but it is super quiet and features unique furnishings and design. I really recommend it and I would stay there again in a minute.

It was quite early so we dropped our bags and walked to the Natural History Museum. This is where I had my absolute favorite moment of the whole trip. We walked into the dinosaur display, which is huge and fascinating and full of skeletons. A little girl in front of me, she was probably 5 years old in a sweet little dress and coat, suddenly yelled, “Look! It’s Stegosaurus!” And she ran towards the display. Cutest. Thing. Ever. Her parents followed her and took her picture and I wanted to take one too but thought it would be rude.

Next we headed to the National Gallery to look at art. After wandering the halls for about 2 hours, we walked down Whitehall towards Westminster Abbey and then crossed the Thames to see the London Eye. The crowds really got to me, so we hopped on the Tube and headed back to our hotel to freshen up.

Since one of our favorite things to do in the States is try craft beers, next we went to a great new pub that serves locally brewed craft beers. Cask Pub and Kitchen was really fun!

Then we went to dinner with our friend James who is Irish but lives in London. We met him in December 2010 hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. It was so fun to see him again!

We slept for a while and the next morning went for a lovely walk in Kensington Gardens, then we had a croissant and caught the car back to the airport.

It was a short trip, but we managed to tick several London boxes and we can’t wait to go back.