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Trapped on a plane…

Trapped on a plane…

With my glamorous international air travel lifestyle, I’ve been trapped on an airport or plane numerous times.

One time, I was at Philadelphia Airport when it was snowing outside. Despite the blizzard conditions, they still insisted the flight was going to take off, so we all schlepped onto the plane at 8pm. Which remained standing still at the gate, while my ridiculously tall seat neighbour tried in vain to find a comfortable position. An hour later, they started the film, while we were still standing at the gate watching the snow swirl outside. Two hours later, they started the on-board meal service – while we were still at the gate, watching men on the wing vainly try to sweep the snow off. At 3am, they finally conceded defeat, and we all trooped off the plane, to finally arrive at some stupidly plush hotel at 5am to sleep. 24 hours later, we were back on the same plane, in the same seat, shown the same film and given the same meal. Although at least this time we were in the air.

Of course, there’s also the last time I was in the US, where I was stuck at JFK Airport for 18 hours

Still, none of this compares to the 50 passengers stuck on a Continental plane overnight by an airport gate, with no food and overflowing toilets, because most of the airport security staff had gone home.

London to Cleveland. In 37 hours.

London to Cleveland. In 37 hours.

The epic voyage of 3727 miles began with a short journey from my London flat to Hammersmith tube station at 5am. Where I waited for 30 minutes having failed to realise that the first tube to leave for Heathrow Airport wouldn’t do so till 5.30am.

T+1: Finally at Heathrow, the first long queue was to check-in, but there was a brief excitement as they said they were looking for volunteers to deplane the flight (in return for a US$500 voucher), but alas eventually we weren’t needed so two hours later, off into the skies we go.

T+10: Seven hours later, the plane touched down at JFK airport in New York at around 12pm New York time. I was expecting a long queue and harried, bored, angry immigration officials but for some reason the queues were relatively short and I got a nice Lopez-esque immigration officer, who even handled my gentle queries as to why I’d been asked to fill in an ESTA form online a week before I left (as all UK citizens who want to go to America have to do), only to also have to answer the same questions (eg have I ever been a Nazi?) on the traditional I-94W visa waiver form and hand it over to her in person.

T+10.5: Pick up my suitcase, hurl it past Customs, and then dump it to be re-baggaged. Where they tell me that my next flight to Cleveland has been cancelled, so I’ll have to go via Chicago. And that flight leaves in seven hours. Well, at least it gives me plenty of time at JFK Airport… which turns out to be relatively dull. No central shopping/food court area (as far as I can see) – instead all the shops are dotted between the various gates. I manage to secure a table for two hours at a cool bistro, but once I leave, I have to leave so I spend a while wandering between the gates.

In the meantime, I persuade my lovely assistant (in real life my friend Miss Hob Nobs) to call American Airlines on my behalf to try and find another flight out, only to find that planes have been grounded all day in New York, Chicago and Cleveland thanks to lightning in New York and storms in Chicago and Cleveland, and no planes are heading out in that direction just yet. Darn.

T+15.5: It’s 5.30pm New York time, so I go to the gate where the flight to Chicago is meant to leave, only to find the flight departure has now been delayed to 8pm. I talk to the lovely airline lady on the counter, and discover that the plane that was meant to leave Chicago to be our plane back to Chicago hasn’t even left yet.

So I sit at the gate, and generally end up talking to a bunch of St. Louis-bound teenagers, a Japanese-American grandmother from Memphis who’s just come back from two weeks in Europe, a woman with two small children who has been travelling from Pakistan to London to New York for the last two days, and a Hilary Clinton lookalike. There’s nothing like being trapped in an airport to get people doing small talk, but I note each conversation manages to last 30 minutes before people drift off bored. Must figure out an easy exit strategy for small talk conversations sometime.

T+18: It’s now 8pm New York time. The flight that was supposed to leave at 5.35pm, then 7pm, then 8pm, is now scheduled to leave at 9pm. The plane itself still hasn’t left Chicago.

T+19: An hour later, the flight that was supposed to leave at 5.35pm, then 7pm, then 8pm, then 9pm is now scheduled to leave at 10pm. The plane itself still hasn’t left Chicago.

T+20: It’s now 10pm in New York, and all the other shops at the airport are slowly closing up. The flight that was supposed to leave at 5.35pm, then 7pm, then 8pm, then 9pm, then 10pm now has a scheduled arrival time of 12.30am. But the plane hasn’t left Chicago yet.

T+20.5: The plane has finally left Chicago. Hurrah!

T+22: It’s midnight by the time the plane arrives at New York, and we all shuffle to get on board. Luckily, I find I have a first-class seat for once in my life. Unluckily, I’m so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open – but I do find time to chat to my single-serving friend who looks like a very smart business-class executive who has been travelling first class all her life. She turns out to fly around the world, sourcing new textiles and designs that she then sells to Bed, Bath and Beyond – but lives in Idaho. I think. Then I fall asleep.

T+25: We touch down in Chicago at 2am Chicago time, 3am New York time, and 7am London time. The next flight to Cleveland isn’t till 11am, so if I want to find a bed for the night, I’ll have to pay for it (since the delays were apparently caused by the weather). Fortunately, I am given a coupon that gives me a bed for $70. Unfortunately, nothing for food or water. Fortunately, I did steal a biscuit earlier.

T+26: There’s nothing like three sleep-addled strangers trying to find a bus to a hotel at 2.30am Chicago time to guarantee inefficiency. We walk around in circles, up and down until we eventually find the hotel shuttle, and slump into our rooms. Which are spacious, ostentatious and gorgeous – but have no toothbrushes.

T+31: Five hours later (8am Chicago time), I’m up, check out of the hotel (well, dump my keycard at reception) and head for the airport.

T+34: Finally, I get to board a plane for Cleveland, at 11am Chicago time.

T+36: At 12pm Cleveland time, I arrive and am warmly greeted by HyperHam. But my suitcase hasn’t arrived, it would seem.

T+37: We’re still at the airport, trying to find my suitcase. It turns out that after I left it at JFK in New York, it got sent to San Diego. As suitcases do. I don’t pick it up again for another 24 hours. But at least I pick it up!

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