Journey to Belfast
Day 2, Northern Ireland 2013
The journey began at the unholy hour of 3:45am in Portland when I had to get up in order to get the 7:17am flight to Newark. I thought I had the timing all down to a ‘t’, but still managed to leave slightly late. Nonetheless, I arrived in good time and geared myself up for a possible confrontation with the United Airlines desk clerk.
You see, when I’d booked my flights (redeeming air miles) I’d decided to buy their Premier Economy seating for the international parts of the journey, which gives one several more inches legroom. It’s a bit spendy at $109 each way, but at the time I hadn’t already flown from the U.S. to Australia and back 6 times within a 3 week period. If I can take a 15+ hour journey in Qantas’ economy seating, this trip to Northern Ireland would be a doddle.
Anyway, I digress. I’d had to move my flights back from the middle of August until the end, and when I requested that the Premier Economy seats be transferred they told me it couldn’t be done. I asked if I could get a refund and just re-buy them, but no. The seats were an ‘elective choice for comfort’ and it’s clearly stated in the small print that there’ll be no refunds. Annoyed, I wrote to United about it and posted on their Facebook page to no avail. So, at the airport I planned to have one more try.
Clutching the printout of the transaction, when I got up to the check-in desk, I meekly asked to speak to someone about seating. That proved to be more difficult than expected. The entire process from checking in to passport scanning was automated, and one only dealt with a real person to get the luggage weighed and receive a baggage claim ticket. I felt a bit guilty about bothering the staff, as they were frantically busy hauling suitcases about and answering questions from passengers that sounded unnecessary to me. I wonder if some people just ask questions because they think it’s expected of them? I hear stupid questions being asked all the time. And it irritates me, so who knows how the person being asked feels!
I’d rehearsed what I was going to say. I handed over my printout and began:
“Although I couldn’t change it at the time, I was hoping to leave it up to your discretion if…”
At the same time the young lady tapped at the keyboard. “There you go,” she said, handing me back the paper.
“What, am I…”
“Is it a…”
“Wow. Thank you. You’re awesome.”
And that was that. I hope the Belfast ground staff will be as accommodating on the way back!
Then I discovered my suitcase was 7lbs too heavy. Which is disturbing because I'd weighed it on my bathroom scales, which showed the weight at just under 50lbs. Disturbing because I must weigh more than I think if the scales are out of whack! The baggage handler asked me to remove the extra 7lbs from the case. I offered to pay whatever the extra would be, but when she told me it would be $200 I promptly hauled the suitcase off the airport scale and knelt to unzipper it. Fortunately, Neil had driven me to the airport and had come inside, just in case there were any hiccups. I produced a plastic carrier bag from the case and began to rummage around to see what I could put in the bag for him to take. A pair of jeans. One sneaker.... where the hell was the other one? A bottle of chewable vitamin c tablets. A printout of a screenplay I wanted to work on. Found the other sneaker... just 2 more pounds. I was beginning to stress out, flustered and running out of things to take out. A few of my fingernails got torn, one to the quick, as I scrabbled about in the case. The baggage handler took pity on me. "That's good," she said. With relief I zippered up the suitcase again and watched it disappear down a conveyer belt. And this trip, despite being for 6 weeks, I'd taken even less than usual!
Once seated on the plane, as the rows filled up and mine remained empty, I began to hope I’d have some room to spread out. But then a young woman with a baby strapped to her chest stopped and asked to ‘sneak’ in there. I momentarily considered saying no, but of course smiled and stood to let her and her husband scramble in. My heart sank, but what can you do but make the best of it. When the baby made eye contact with me I said, “Hello, sweetie,” in the voice I use for the cats. He grinned toothlessly and his Mom visibly relaxed and smiled at me. I did my best to help make it as easy as possible for them, offering to hold the baby when they needed to get up, or taking their trash as they were very much crammed in there with all their baby paraphernalia as well as their own.
When all three were off at the restroom, one of the flight attendants asked me if we were all traveling together. When I answered no, she patted my shoulder in a very sympathetic manner. I made her laugh heartily by telling her about the “Shaming Passengers” Facebook page I’d found, where flight attendants and passengers post photos of bizarre and horrible things that some passengers do during flights. But I needn’t have worried about the little family at all; the parents were very laid back and made sure the baby was happy and content. No crying at all; he had a great time. I joked that he was probably going to be a pilot or astronaut when he grew up, which pleased his parents very much. Wouldn’t it be fun to check back in 20 years and see what he did turn out to be?
I had a 6 hour layover in Newark, and as my United Airlines credit card rewards me with 2 United Club passes a year, I retreated there to hide out from the cacophony of the airport. It turned out not to be much better. The entire place was packed and all the internet booths occupied. There are 2 clubs in Newark and I remembered that the one I liked had lots of little corridors leading to private internet booths, where you can camp out comfortably for several hours and relax. I went back up to the reception desk and told the clerk I wanted to go to the other club.
“Why?” she wanted to know.
“Because it’s jam-packed here and any of the internet booths that are empty, don’t work. I need to plug in my computer.”
“Let me see,” she said. I dove into my bag and pulled out my passport and ticket.
“No, let me see your computer.”
She was trying to be helpful. The old me would have gone along with it, let her fiddle with the computer and then meekly return to the madding crowd. The new me insisted, “I want to go to the other club.”
“You won’t find it any better than here,” she replied.
“I’ll take my chances.”
“I warn you, it’s really crowded there.”
“Then I’ll come back and eat my hat.”
She gave me an odd look and I smiled and left. It was indeed pretty crowded in the other club, but I scuttled straight toward the internet booths and snagged one as a guy gathered his stuff and vacated it. I spent a pleasant few hours catching up on email, and watched a couple of episodes of ‘Revolution’ on Netflix.
Pleasant, except for the people who insisted on having high-volume conversations on their phones. All male, oddly enough. They either had earphones or a Bluetooth attached… either way they must have thought no one could hear them. I was privy to intense one-sided conversations from arguments with the wife to wheeling-dealing ‘I’m so important’ with secretaries and assistants. They never seemed to take a breath; I’d go mental if I had to live with any of them. I wanted to scream at them to shut up, but fortunately, one by one, each man gathered up their belongings and hurried to catch their flights, leaving me in peace at last.
In line to board the plane I had to laugh when an irate father dragged his screaming little boy into the line. The child was yelling, “I don’t want to get on a plane!” The people around me smiled, and I said, “I know how he feels,” making them laugh. Then the father tried to entertain his son with a toy. I couldn’t see what it was, but all you could hear was 'SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!'
I muttered, “Hope he’s not sitting near us,” and a lady in front said, “If he is, that thing that squeaks will be TAKEN AWAY.”
I happily took my Premier Economy seat near the front on the Belfast bound plane. Two sisters aged about 13 and 9, with English accents, took the window and middle seats, and kept to themselves for the entire flight. In fact, (T.M.I.) they never once got up from the seats, not even to use the bathroom!
You’d think with two smaller people in the row beside you, you’d have a bit more room, but I had to keep shifting stray items aside with my foot, like straw hats and glittery pink bags with butterfly designs on them. All in all, the Premier Economy, for all my fuss about them, simply aren’t worth the money. The benefits are that you get served first when they bring the meal and beverage carts through, you’re closer to the restroom, and your knees don’t get almost dislocated when the asshole in front of you slams his seat recliner back. If you have an extra couple of hundred dollars to spare, go for it, but next time I’ll just squish in Economy. I always get served first anyway, because I order a gluten free meal in advance. I averted a disaster there, when the flight attendant brought me breakfast. I opened up the box and saw to my delight that there was a bagel inside. I ripped open the package, but hesitated, bagel in hand. I’ve never been served a gluten free bagel in all my years of flying. Studying the package, sure enough, wheat flour was listed prominently. I told the flight attendant, who was appalled and snatched the bagel from me in case I foolishly tried to take a bite! Another box was presented to me, with another seat number and passenger’s name. I didn’t ask any questions. I just hope that passenger didn’t do without on my accord.