Visiting the U.K. – Part 3
In preparation for my trip, I had several people giving me advice and tips and information. One part of all that was a map of the Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. and instructions on how to get from my arriving terminal to my departing terminal. The map seemed simple enough:
I was scheduled to have about an hour to make it from Gate A1 to Gates D1-7. You’ll see the yellow box on the top image, that’s the” Shuttle to D Gates.” However, when I got off the plane, I walked straight past that section and never once saw a sign that said: “Shuttle Here!” I just kept walking and stopped in the exact place the map says “You Are Here.”
I had a killer headache, and I was on a mission to find Mt. Dew. I went down through the terminal and stopped at a Fox News Channel shop to buy two bottles of Mt. Dew, one for me to drink at that moment and one to stuff into my suitcase for my brother. Course, I picked the Fox News shop because it had the counter closest to the entrance and the pop was right there within view. After I bought it, the clerk put it into a Fox News bag and only then did I realize where I was.
I think I’d have gone into one of the other places if I’d known. I hate to put my money towards something like Fox News.
But shortly after making my purchase I began searching for the shuttle…in vain. I could not find the damn thing. And I’ll have you know that all of these duty free shops were crammed with people, so I couldn’t find an available employee to ask for directions either. So I wandered, aimlessly, reading all the signs I could spot. I ended up back where I’d started, at the “You Are Here” red dot, and an older gentleman finally asked if I was looking for something.
I felt like a complete idiot when he told me I was standing right by the shuttle. I’d even stopped right in front of the door to board the shuttle when I got off the plane. I had turned on my phone there and texted my mom to let her know where I was. That whole time, I was standing right in front of the door to the shuttle I needed to take.
Ah, well. I eventually made it to my terminal, found my airline’s waiting area and had a seat. I drank my pop, assuming my headache would go away once I’d had some caffeine. I was wrong… so I went in search of a store selling aspirin. I had to stop at three different kiosk-style booths before I found someone who spoke English well enough that I could understand them.
You know here in Oklahoma we run into a lot of Spanish…but even so, most everyone can speak English well enough to communicate. I understand the benefit of having multi-lingual people working in an International Airport, but I was a little surprised by how poorly these people could communicate in English. The travelers at their booths were using gestures to make their purchases.
Eventually, I gave up – frustrated – and, by now, I was in a lot of pain. My head felt like the seven dwarves were Hi-Ho’ing it away on the inside of my skull with their little pickaxes. I texted the friend who’d gotten me the plane tickets, and he told me to go into any bookstore and they’d have some aspirin.
When I finally managed to find a bookstore and tap my head and groan and wince in pain, the lady finally realized what I was asking for and led me to the medicine. I bought some extra-strength Tylenol from her and went back to wait on my plane.
It’s 4:45PM here in Dulles International, I’m waiting to be assigned a seat on the flight to London. Though they told me at the counter that the flight loads looked good and I should have no trouble getting a seat, I’m still sitting here nervous since I don’t have a boarding pass.
The TSA made an appearance to randomly inspect bags as people were boarding. The lady in charge kept ticking each person off on the back of her latex glove with a pen. She seemed ridiculously bored and impatient. They didn’t really spread out the checks either… out of all hundred plus passengers, they literally only checked the first fifteen or twenty or so people and then left. Essentially, that means they checked the bags of the First Class and Premiere Business Class passengers.
I don’t know about you, but I totally expect my terrorists to be paying top-dollar to blow themselves up. Maybe this is a horrible result of society’s impression on me, but I would find it much more likely that a terrorist would be flying economy. But I don’t know…Maybe that’s a bad assumption to make? Perhaps I should have been more suspicious of the group of five or six elderly white-bearded, prim and proper, sweater-vested men I saw sitting together in the waiting area.
Terrorist Faction No. 1 – Grandpa-Qaeda!
After EVERYONE had boarded, even the other wait-listed passengers, I was still standing near the desk, nervously wondering if I’d be forgotten. The gate attendant was at the desk on the phone and looking very busy, so I was patiently waiting. Once she got off the phone and I started forward, a flight attendant appeared and began explaining an issue with her luggage, asking the gate attendant to fix it. She was taking a baseball bat back to London and didn’t want it sent directly to the hotel with the rest of her luggage. She wanted to pick it up and take it with her, as it was a gift for someone.
So I waited.
Once this had been sorted out, I rushed forward to ask about my seat. But the gate attendant got back on the phone immediately. So I stood there at the counter…beginning to feel that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The flight attendant boarded and the other worker closed off the gate. I was beginning to panic that they’d lock it all up and the plane would pull away before I ever got to express to the gate attendant that I was supposed to be on that plane.
When she hung up the phone, I started forward YET AGAIN, but she promptly picked the phone back up,again. I was cursing beneath my breath at this point, and I cursed right up until she called my name into the phone and it was announced over the PA to the entire waiting area. Since I was already right there, I raised my hand and stepped forward hastily. And she asked me a question I didn’t understand.
I can’t even remember what she said. There were some airport-technical terms in there. I looked at her, puzzled, and she just shook her head and smiled. Then she finally said, “I’ll just give you a window seat. You’ll enjoy it more.”
I took my boarding pass and rushed onto the plane. I felt like an idiot the moment I got on the plane. The flight attendant at the door was a British woman. She said “Through there to your left.”
I looked at her and then at my ticket and said, “But I don’t know where I’m sitting…”
She glanced at my ticket and then nodded, almost impatiently, “Yes, through there and to the left.”
How was I to know they had some kind of roster that updated the moment the gate attendant had assigned the seat? I thought it would be more like the theatre when you go downtown for a musical…they take the ticket, then direct you where to go.
This was only the beginning of my clueless-ness though:
On board! Premiere Business Class, Seat 12J, second row behind the Galley – Window Seat.
It’s approximately 6 o’clock? The time change caught me off guard, so I think we’re only an hour ahead in DC – but I’m time traveling all the while. It’ll be almost 6AM when I land.
I feel like an idiot. All these high class things, and I have no idea how/what to do. They gave me a menu – I’m assuming the food is all complimentary. Charlie [one of the friends who helped organize my trip] told me I wouldn’t need cash on this plane.
They announced what movies are going to play, but I’m not sure how to even watch. I keep hoping someone nearby will do everything first, so I can then follow suit without looking like a complete moron.
Because of the movies I’ve seen growing up, I always thought the screen to watch in-flight movies would be embedded into the back of the chair in front of me. But it wasn’t. They had said that “Tangled” would be playing, and I’d been told how great it was but hadn’t gotten to see it yet. So I wanted to see it on the flight over. But I couldn’t find the screen. So instead of looking like an idiot some more, I resorted instead to playing my PSP for a while.
Eventually the people all around me were watching movies…they had screens but I couldn’t tell where they were coming from. They were on little arms that stuck up from their chair. I searched my chair as nonchalantly as I could…but I saw no screen. So, I just went back to Bust-a-Move until my PSP ran out of battery.
I haven’t decided yet, but I may have to take some of my medicine. Every time the plane shifts – my inner ear has a fit. I also don’t know if they know if they announced whether we can use Wi-Fi devices again or not. I don’t know if my iPod and Kindle count as Wi-Fi devices: I mean, they CAN have Wi-Fi but that’s not necessarily their primary function…
I kept telling myself it was fine to use my iPod in airplane mode – but I kept worrying that I’d get in trouble for it somehow. I didn’t know the rules, and I didn’t want to accidentally break them. At this point, I was still really nervous and scared about the whole ordeal, so I wasn’t using much common sense: unfortunately.
Finally, the man who was sitting next to me (We’ll call him “Guy”) got up to go use the restroom, and I began frantically searching my chair, hands digging all over every nook and cranny I could find. I finally located the screen but couldn’t get it to come out of the chair. I eventually noticed that if I moved my left leg over, there was a button on the inside of the chair against my thigh, and if I pulled it out, the screen popped up – all spring-loaded.
So there I was…after an hour or so, I finally had a screen – BUT – it wouldn’t stand up like everyone else’s. It was drooping sideways into my lap. When “Guy” came back, he noticed and just reached over and jerked the thing as hard as he could. It made some really bad crunching, popping sounds but it finally locked upright so I could use it.
I thanked him with a nervous laugh.
So, I don’t have the slightest idea what time it is, though my watch says 8:15PM. It’s been pitch black outside for some time. I never got to see the ocean. Considering my fear of water and how much I hate crossing bridges in a car…it’s probably a good thing I can’t see it.
I don’t know how many hours are left. I slept a bit after dinner. I was served chicken and rice — some long grain kind that made me feel more like I was eating some kind of bird feed — and mixed veggies. It came with a salad with some SUPER! tart balsamic vinaigrette dressing and two shrimp of some variation. I guess I could have had a glass of wine or juice or probably even pop, but I passed and went for water because I wasn’t sure if it was extra cost. How silly of me…next time, I’m getting something good.
For dinner I HAD ordered the filet mignon but so had Guy. Since I wasn’t a paying customer, however, the attendant had to change my order to the second dinner option. So while I was eating this really weird tasting chicken with some bird-feed rice, Guy was over there enjoying his nice steak and potatoes. Oh, what I wouldn’t have given for those potatoes… Instead I had shrimp – I HATE shrimp.
To make it worse, I was given a roll and a little plastic thing of butter. The butter was hard as a rock. I couldn’t get it to spread over the roll, even using a knife, so I finally resorted to ripping the insides of the roll out and smashing them into a ball, then dragging that across the plastic butter container. Maybe that wasn’t the most appropriate thing for someone in Premiere Business Class to do, but hell, it buttered my bread. I use what method works.
I watched “Tangled” while I ate. I felt bad towards the flight attendant though because I couldn’t hear anything she said over the headphones and the noise from the Engine combined. I had to keep taking off the headphones and making her repeat herself over and over.
The two attendants that have come down my aisle the most are both British ladies. They’re both blonde with short hair but one has a beautiful, though highly English-featured face. Her nose alone just SCREAMS “I’m English” and she has a very stern sort of countenance until she smiles. I imagine she’d come off a bit too intimidating if she didn’t smile.
This was also the same attendant that had directed me to my seat when I boarded. I like to hope that she thought I was much younger than I really am, the way most people do. If she’d have placed me at about eighteen or nineteen like everyone else usually does, then at least she’d think I was just an inexperienced kid and not a stupid 25 year old woman.
I can’t help but think of Ueto Aya in “Attention Please!” [a Japanese drama about flight attendants] when I look at any of them though. Having seen that drama, I think it has helped me with this first-time-flying experience because I feel as though I understand a little more of what goes on on their end of this whole interaction. I think I’ll have to watch it again when I get back home.
Honestly, having seen that show, I was easily able to distract myself from the idea of flying over the ocean by watching the attendants and knowing exactly what they were doing to prepare for each moment of their jobs. It was like having seen a good documentary before experiencing the subject yourself. Before I knew it, watching these women do the very things I’d watched on each episode, I had become so distracted that I had finally relaxed and most of my tension was gone.
To be continued…