I got home last night about 8:30 after 13 days away. One of my associate pastors and friends, Jim Vaughan, went with me to South Africa on a ministry trip. I'll be blogging about it for a while, telling my favorite stories rather than try to give a running itinerary.
Our tale begins with the evil that is British Airways, at the new den of their iniquity, Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. We left Denver on March 26, flying over night to Heathrow Terminal 4. We got a day room at the Hilton, caught 4 good hours of sleep, then headed over to see what was being hailed as "an architectural wonder," and "the future of air travel." "How exciting," we had been told, "to be there on opening day." What we saw when we got there was chaos on an epic scale. Every news channel on earth was there. The queues (lines to Americans) of angry people went out the doors.
But we weren't worried, we had received our boarding passes in Denver and our luggage was checked through. This is when we encountered problem #1. Seems that the printer in Denver and the scanner in London were incompatible. A very weary, harrassed, and cranky security guy sent us to the end of one of dozens of queues. After almost an hour in line, we had new boarding passes. Security was no worse than Denver on a busy day, and we'd allowed plenty of time, so we still weren't too worried. We had a bite to eat and waited for the gate for our flight to be listed.
First message came up as we finished dinner. "2 hour delay." We both had good books, so we settled in to wait. I got up and went to the men's room and when I came back, the board was flashing "final boarding for flight XXX" and the gate number was listed. We were a 15 minute obstacle course away, but we made a dash for it. We grabbed our stuff and moved our butts down escalators, on shuttles and back up escalators to the other section of the terminal.
Our gate was the one farthest away (naturally) so by the time we got there, we were sweaty and stressed. Except there was no one else there. No BA person at the gate, at least, and only 3-4 other passengers. The board there said "stand by" with no other explanation. It was like a scene out of the twilight zone.
Was there a two hour delay, or had our flight left without us? Or...had we entered some very different dimension of time and space?
It took a while to find out that there was only a delay, but in the meantime, I'm getting cranky. That happens when I'm sleep-deprived. The television is showing a live interview with the president of British Airways, apologizing for the mess, while making it clear the fault lay with the BAA, British Airline Authority, who owns and operates the terminal. I heard later that Naomi Campbell, fellow super model, was arrested for her behavior. "This was not our finest hour," said the pres. You got that right, mister.
It was at this point that they started broadcasting that all flights for the rest of the day would be "carry on luggage only." Little did we know that somewhere in the bowels of the terminal, the "state of the art" baggage system had gone on a drunken rampage. Before it was over, more than 20,000 bags were snarled in a tangle. (As of this writing, more than two weeks has passed, and I've heard no word on my luggage.)
Meanwhile, back at our gate, people were starting to drift over, but there's still no info on our flight, at least in our section of the terminal. I walked down about 10 minutes to a customer service station, where there were no customer service representatives. I finally went to another gate and found someone who told me our flight was delayed indefinitely, and we should stand by for details over the broadcast system.
Finally, at about 10:30 pm, we started to board. We left Heathrow without one single piece of luggage on board. On our dirty, unkempt 747 we found the world's most sullen, impersonable flight crew. Our flight attendant had evidently started her career with the Wright brothers, right after she dropped out of charm school. She actually slung our dinner trays to us with a growl. I really wanted some coffee with dessert, but she scared me so bad, I was afraid to ask for it. (Later that night, she woke me to see if my seat belt was on, and at the sound of her voice, I think a little trickle went down my leg.)
When the captain came on to welcome us aboard, he was quite pointed in putting the blame on BAA, and promised to make up time as we flew. I hoped he was capable of doing just that. I had a middle seat for an 11 hour plus flight.
(Next time--the bad news in Jo'burg)