|Day 1: I woke up at 5:45 Thursday, May 24. I went upstairs to
wake up my kids. The eldest had cereal for breakfast, and Donna cooked
the last egg for the youngest. I gave the eldest a ride to work. Before
he got out, I gave him my Jerusalem Cross pendant to hold until I got back.
He said, "I'll take good care of it." From there, I went over to the in-laws'
to drop off his stuff. He was going to stay with them while we were overseas,
while the youngest stayed at home to take care of the animals. When we
first planned our trip, we worked it out so that we'd leave after the youngest
graduated from high school. In the meantime, the school had several snow
days with no school. As our departure date closed in, he graduated on time,
but still had a few days to go to school (while we were out of town) to
make up for the snow days. The middlemost son was already moved in with
the in-laws for the time being.
I got $10 worth of gas, and watched some ominous clouds roll in. Back home, Donna already took the youngest to school. We made sure the animals were inside, locked up the house, and left about 9:30. The clouds turned to rain while going down the BA-- it just came down in sheets. We had to slow down to navigate the highway. At Fine Airport Parking, the bus led us to a parking space back on the far lot. When the driver helped us with our bags, Donna tipped him $2. At the last minute, I thought about bringing my sunglasses, but decided it would just be one more thing to carry. Inside the airport, the lights were out. The storm had knocked out power throughout the airport. Some computer desks were running on generators. We checked in at the United Airlines desk, and Donna asked about standby flights. There were-- the clerk thought she could get us on an earlier flight. We were supposed to take United 5653 at 2:20 from Tulsa to Chicago, arriving at O'Hare Airport at 4:12. Instead, we got on stanby for United 5447 leaving at 10:39. Someone had reserved 12 seats for Flight 5447, but he hadn't arrived yet, so getting on looked promising.
We checked our bags and went upstairs to the international check-in. I had to take off my jacket, watch and shoes. They checked my passport. I'd read that medicine had to be in a ziplocked plastic bag, but it had to be a quart bag, not a gallon one. We got through, and headed for Gate 56. Somebody opened a door that shouldn't be opened, and a loud alarm rang through the airport. I had some apple juice for breakfast. At the gate, the plane wasn't there yet. We were told it was "in the area." I went to the restroom, remembering Isaac Asimov's addage to never pass up a chance to pee. We had a boarding pass for the flight to Chicago, but not one for the flight to London. You used to get all your boarding passes at once when you checked in, but it looked like the airlines didn't do that anymore.
A group arrived at the gate, putting our standby status in question, but we managed to get on board. The airline checked my passport again. Our seats were in the last row on the airplane, right next to the lavatory. Outside, the rain came down hard as ever. We worried about our luggage catching up with us. The hatch was closed, and the plane slowly backed away from the gate. The stewardess gave her little safety talk, but the engines were revving so loudly we couldn't hear anything she said. The plane taxied down the runway. It took so long, we thought the pilot might be driving to Chicago. Beside the runway, passing the maintenance section, I saw a corporate jet propped up on blocks, one engine missing. I wondered if that's what redneck pilots have on their front lawns.
Finally, the plane turned around and sped down the runway. We took off into a rainy Tulsa sky at 11:25. I remembered why I hate roller coasters. The plane bounced and jumped throught the choppy air for several minutes as it ascended, banking left over the I-44/169 interchange. Every airplane disaster movie I'd ever seen flashed through my head. There was a big line of storms all the way from Minnesota to northern Texas that day, and the pilot warned we'd have to fly around them.
we were deep in the clouds. Donna said I shouldn't worry, because if something
went wrong there was nothing we could do about it, anyway. That didn't
make me feel better. She added that we were still safer flying than we
would be driving. To England. That, I could not deny.
She thought maybe I should have a beer to relax. Out the windows, the exterior was completely featureless as we climbed through the clouds-- terrible for pictures. The stewardess came by with drinks. I got a Coke. Donna bragged about it being our 25th wedding anniversary. The clouds got brighter as we rose closer to the sunlight. About noon, we got some turbulance. I didn't realize we had already started our descent. At 12:25, we pulled out of the clouds, ahead of the storm front. I could hear a change in the engines. Below, white fluffy clouds drifted across the checkerboard landscape, dragging square-mile shadows beneath them. At 12:40, we banked right, and sunshine came in my window. The lavatory had a steady business. On our final approach (why the heck do they call it "final"?!?) it got really bumpy. I was sweating, and my stomach was doing flip-flops. Nobody else on the plane seemed the least bit concerned. The wings dipped back and forth as we descended, and I think the wheels on the left side were on the ground for about 10 seconds before the rest of the wheels touched down. I was really glad to be back on solid ground again.
It was sunny and hot at O'Hare Airport, which had some Jetsons-esque/Crystal Palace style to it. Inside, food was a priority. Quiznos looked good, except for no beer and no place to sit. We found some seats at a nearby gate. My back was really hurting-- somewhere on the flight from Tulsa I'd pinched a nerve. Possibly stress-related. It felt like a railroad spike was stuck in my spine. Our London flight was departing from Gate C10, according to the United rep, so we took the shuttle over to Terminal 1. It was hot and stuffy at the gate, with annoying sunlight bearing down from the windows. On the other seats, a redheaded girl was napping with her feet up, and a brunette girl read a copy of the graphic novel "Maus."
The airline started seating us about a half hour later. The clerk announced our boarding passes had to be in with the face page of our passport as we went through-- nothing else should be in our hands. She repeated that over and over. We got it already, okay? They seated people in groups, and many people hurried to get first in line. Donna insisted on taking our time, that there was no point in rushing to get on board. "It's not like the seats are going to get any better," she said.
The plane was a big Boeing 777, which can carry over 300 passengers. We got seated back in the 24th row, in the center section, with me on the aisle. As we waited, I aquainted myself with the controls on my armrest. They controlled reading lights and air, as well as several video and audio channels. At 6:13, we started moving. The takeoff was much smoother than the smaller plane we took earlier in the day. The feeling of power all around us was tremendous. Donna said, "we're in God's hands." One of the video displays listed our speed, distance and showed maps of our current position. Within 10 minutes, we'd climbed 22,000 feet and traveled 88 miles. I couldn't see a thing out the windows. The plane soon leveled out, and the stewardesses started taking drink orders. Donna had a glass of wine, and I had a beer. They also started pushing the duty-free stuff for sale on the plane. There seemed to be some good deals. For instance, a carton of cigarettes cost about $100 in the UK, but they were selling them for $27. By 8 PM, we were passing north of Quebec. Supper was pot roast, with some side dishes. It was basically a TV dinner, but it was hot and tasty, and the "salad" (a chunk of lettuce) was fresh. By 8:30, we started over the Atlantic. I watched a movie about Beatrix Potter. We were packed into our seats pretty tight-- there wasn't much room to move around, and the seats didn't recline all that much. Still, I tried to take a little nap. I dozed on and off, never really getting comfortable. I think I slept for maybe an hour. People all around me were sleeping soundly. Donna fell right asleep.
A little after 11:30, I decided to just stay up. A shaft of sunlight was coming in from a window on the left side of the plane. We were south of Iceland, heading due east at 37,000 feet. With a 54 MPH tailwind, we were making good time. About midnight, I thought I felt the plane make a turn. As we approached the British Isles, the audio and video channels went off. Slowly, people around me started to wake up. Stewardesses appeared serving tea and coffee. Breakfast was a hot biscuit with butter, and a fruit cup.
The flight path took us between Glasgow and Belfast, right over Manchester. Over the Irish Sea, 300 miles from London, we picked up a headwind. The first officer came on the loudspeaker, and told us we were 30 minutes from landing, with clear skies and a light wind in London. The plane banked, and I got my first, quick glimpse of the British Isles. The first officer said we were flying over the London Eye, but I wasn't where I could see it. We were in a holding patter for about 5 minutes, then descended for touchdown at Heathrow Airport, one hour ahead of schedule. We made it! We made it to England!