Home Again

The journey home was much less eventful than the outbound leg. I realise even more just how bad Heathrow Terminal 5 is.

At Houston, the Fast Bag Drop was actually a fast bag drop. There were about five parties in front of us, but it took us seven minutes to get served rather than ninety. The actual process at the counter was much faster and more efficient. Security was faster, even though they had a drill and shut everything down in the middle of our x-ray experience. Boarding the plane was simple and straightforward. We even left slightly ahead of schedule.

The food was marginally better this time, thanks to the lack of turkey and stuffing and mushy vegetables. I’m not saying it was great or anywhere near the standard we used to expect from British Airways, but better than the westbound flight.

The only bad thing was the woman sitting in front of The Woman. She insisted on reclining her seat back the whole time, even when she was actually sitting up, away from the back of the chair. This put her seat and The Woman’s knees in constant contact. The Woman did kick her hard enough to get her to sit up during the meal, but before the lights were off for the overnight flight,  she had fully relined again back into The Woman’s lap, and as she had a bulkhead seat, she stretched out with her feet halfway up the wall. First-class leisure at cattle class prices. She intended to stay that way for breakfast in the morning, until the flight attendant made her sit up so The Woman could eat without her tray table pressing against her spine.

Terminal 5 is much better for arrivals than departures, though not necessarily for the distance to be covered before it’s all over. After a long walk on various different levels, it is then necessary to take a train to another part of the building, then walk long distances on various levels to get to passport control. The actual immigration process was quite quick and the bags were already on the conveyer belt by the time we got there.

Now comes the jetlag recovery.

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British Airways – The World’s Second-Rate Carrier

Despite the best efforts of British Airways, we made it to Texas for Christmas.

When Heathrow Terminal 5 opened in March as BA’s new home for long-haul departures and arrivals, it was a fiasco. Despite all of the hoopla about the high-tech, state-of-the-art facility, nothing worked. We gave them nine months to work out all the kinks, but when we arrived at Terminal 5 this week, it was a fiasco.

We got in the queue for the “Fast Bag Drop” behind about six other parties. That took 90 minutes. I had checked in online at home to save time. Gave all the passport details, printed off our boarding passes and everything.  The Fast Bag Drop guy still had to run the passports through the machine and who knows what else before he would tag our bags and send them on the conveyor belt into the abyss.

We then proceeded to security, as we were instructed. We were promptly turned away because our passports hadn’t been cleared by the guy at Fast Bag Drop. So we had to go to another Passport and Visa Clearance desk. The woman there did the same thing as the Fast Bag Drop guy and sent us back to security, who finally let us through to the queue for the scanners. Since we weren’t flying first class like Olympic runner Colin Jackson, we weren’t in the same queue. But really it didn’t take as long to process the cattle class as we had feared.

Since we were 2½ hours early to the airport, we told the kids they could have breakfast there before we got on the plane. We didn’t know that BA would take so unbelievably long or that the boarding time on our boarding passes was incorrect. By the time we got through security, the instruction was to go to the gate. The Woman had to quickly find some sandwiches and we had to hustle to the gate. Actually that should be “gate”, since what it was in name and what it was in reality were two different things.  It was a bus stop.

Yes, at high-tech, state-of-the-art Terminal 5, we had to board one of a series of buses and be driven nearly to Berkshire to board the plane out in the middle of the tarmac. Thenwe had to climb up the stairs into the 747. most of you have seen a 747 and realise that it is not a small plane with doors near the ground. I had to climb into a 737 in Bristol and that was no big deal. There are lots of steps for a handicapped man with carry-on luggage to climb to get into a 747. I honestly have no idea how the several wheelchair users got on that plane.

The food on the plane was the most awful I have ever had from an airline. British Airways had always done well in the past. I suppose economic cutbacks being what they are, they couldn’t help the awful turkey dinner with overcooked sprouts and carrots.

Now I can’t say it was BA’s fault that it took well over an hour to get our bags once we arrived in Houston, or that a sniffer dog found the leftover half of a Boots ham and cheese sandwich so that we had to have all our bags x-rayed by US Customs. They weren’t responsible for my unfounded fear when we walked into the Customs x-ray room and the first person we saw was pulling on a latex glove.

The rest of it, I put firmly on their shoulders. I hope the journey back is better.

Endless Research

I’ve been a bit scarce of late, but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. The creative juices have really started to flow with my novel and I have been spending every available moment doing research. I even have the tentative first couple pages drafted.

Do you know how difficult is it to find out the price of a train ticket from Nashville to Algood, Tennessee in 1912?

And what about the statutory interpretation of a 1881 Jim Crow law that railroad companies were “required to furnish separate cars for colored passengers who pay first-class rates”. If a white person and a black person were to both buy second-class tickets, could they then ride in the same car? And before you think that there wouldn’t be provision for black people to go first-class, the law was amended in 1882 so that railroads were “required to supply first-class passenger cars to all persons paying first-class rates.” It’s not the sort of thing a lot of people need to know.

And what was travel like in a day car? Photo archives that I’ve seen only show the inside of first-class carriages. I have a fight to stage and I need to know what I’m working with here.

Home Again

Welcome to jet lag. It’s almost 3:00 am here in Merry Ol’ and my body thinks that it is 9:00 pm. So you are thinking, well, it’s not too long til bedtime. That would be true, except that I had two big naps since I got back, due, at least in part, to being awake almost all of 28 hours.

So now’s as good a time as any to describe the journey back.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Treat a Lady

I don’t like to fly. So after three flights in 24 hours, I am visiting my parents. We couldn’t afford for the Unnamed family to travel as well, so I am here on my own.

On the way across the Atlantic, I sat next to a elderly British lady who had been in New Jersey on 9/11. She told me about how she had a difficult time getting back to the UK. Once she got a flight, she was sitting next to what appeared to be a Muslim man. After she described his gross-out eating habits, she described how he wanted to stretch out so he told her to go get another seat toward the back of the plane.

She told a stewardess that the man had told her to move. The stewardess told the man off, though he is not appear to be in any way ashamed of his behaviour. A few minutes later the stewardess came back and told the man she was moving the lady. The man said, “Thank you!” The stewardess replied, “I’m not moving her for your sake – I’m moving her for her sake.” She moved the lady to First Class.

Making Space for Religion

It’s not often that you see something positive in the interaction between religion and the state these days. I was surprised to see that Barnet Council in North London is introducing a special parking permit for religious leaders on official business. Parking in any part of London can be a nightmare and when space can be found, fees can be outrageous.

In many areas residential parking is restricted to residents. For those making house calls this can be particularly problematic. The new permit will allow priests and other Christian ministers as well as Rabbis and spiritual leaders of other religions to park in resident spaces.

As you can imagine, parking for worship services can also difficult in some areas. Barnet Council will consider applications for the special permits for these situations.

The permits will cost £40 per year, but compared to the normal parking costs combined with the increased availability of spaces, these seems like a pretty good deal.

Burning Liquid Gold

At the half-way mark, I took a break last night from report writing to have a pre-Father Day’s dinner at our favourite Chinese buffet in Gloucester. It’s a bit of a drive, but even with petrol prices what they are, we love it. It costs a bit more in the evening, but that’s when they bring out the good stuff.

And speaking of petrol prices, we needed a bit of fuel to get back home, so we pulled into a relatively reasonably priced BP garage. £20 bought 16.82 litres of petrol. To translate that for Stateside readers who are paying nearly $4.00 a gallon, we bought 4.44 gallons for a mere $42.60 (at yesterday’s tourist rate for buying sterling). Yes, your calculator is working correctly: that’s $9.59 a gallon. I’m just glad we were buying unleaded gasoline rather than diesel.  The same amount would have cost $49.04 or $11.05 a gallon.