All flights cancelled.
Somewhere in the world, an industrial-sized drone is being operated by a human being—8 years old, 18 years experience in world politics—who knows who it is. And in the meantime, 119,000 people are put out of a flight during the holidays.
Shit, am I a travel blogger or a CNN journalist?
What was originally intended as a personal getaway with a friend who happened to be a coworker, I headed to London for some much needed Christmas spirit. Last Christmas wasn’t the greatest, and I think deep down in the dark pit of intangible happenings and images of cute animals that is my mind, I knew it. I knew I didn’t want to spend it in my new home. I knew I wanted to spend part of it in my childhood home; but I didn’t know why I still felt like I didn’t know where I was supposed to be.
It kind of went like this:
Coworker/bestie named Gina, the day before Thanksgiving:
You should come to London with me.
Omg are you serious
Uh yeah let me look at flights
*12 hours later*
Booked. I’ll be there the 11th. Working remotely. Will go into office a few times with you. Excited!
OMG THIS IS AMAZING YES
What unraveled was travel in all of its unexpected greatness. I was coming off a trip from Mexico City (that I did not write about, but it’s been eight months and frankly, I haven’t written much at all other than for work and comedy, so sue me. We’ll get to that in the next post) where I was celebrating my friends’ 30th birthdays. It was a hell of a four days. But I also didn’t realize that I would be cursed with Montezuma’s Revenge. If you’re not familiar with it, enjoy this handy Wikipedia article and not my further description of bodily functions. You’ve been warned.
I arrived to San Francisco from Mexico City at 9 PM on a Monday night. On the flight, I felt…a little…funny. I have never gotten airsick *knock on wood* and I assumed it was because I probably drank more than I had in a very long time due to the fact that I was reunited with 25 of my best friends in the world in a city that I love. *run on sentence intentional*
I carried on and sweat through it, breathed deeply, and successfully made it off the plane. Until…I had to get to my Lyft line pick up place. It was on the opposite side of the airport. Cue:
Me having three minutes to get there
Me hustling, huffing, puffing, jogging, running, to get there
Me breaking out in a cold sweat
Me realizing I needed to vomit like, now
Me canceling the Lyft line
Me running down four flights of stairs to the nearest bathroom
Me realizing the “nearest bathroom” is NOT CLOSE
Me diving head first into a toilet in a public restroom stall
My body being like “nah, not here, we good”
A public toilet too smart for our generation, automatically flushing in my face
Me for, the only time in my life, probably being the most unhygienic and smelly person in an Lyft line
Me getting through the ride without getting sick
Me getting to my room
Me running to bathroom
Me throwing up 14 times in 6 hours the entire night
K, cool. That was fun. I lost 4 pounds! Thanksgiving WHO? Fantastic. Silver lining!
I couldn’t go to work the next day, I didn’t eat for four days without wanting to barf, and stupid me thought that I would be fine and dandy to make it on a plane in 8 days to London.
I finally got better on Thursday, the day before our company holiday party. Needless to say, that was an interesting night. And then, just like that, I was on a plane on Tuesday leaving for London.
It’s funny how travel makes the time go by so insanely fast—the last time I looked at my watch I was 26.
As I was saying…the trip was originally supposed to be mostly fun times, and a lot of exploring London. I hadn’t been since I was 15 on a world choir tour. I remember singing at churches, getting on the London eye, seeing Big Ben, hating blood pudding, getting served wine as a 15 year old (OMG SO COOL), posing in a telephone booth for a photo, and leaving in the blink of a…London eye. ;)
So technically, I would say, no, I’ve never “been” to London.
However, the trip took a turn when it became obvious that my super talented friend/coworker would be working double hours (London and San Francisco-an 8 hour difference) for most of the trip—and so would I. And thus, it became a bit of a work trip and less of a “am I living in a romcom?” holiday.
The point of all of this is to talk about how London doesn’t want me to leave.
While we did work a lot, we did try and have fun when we could. We visited the Soho Farmhouse in Oxford and I decided I’m moving there once I find a Brit to marry. We also went to three other Soho Houses because apparently, they own London. We met strangers who make wine. We bonded with the team from our London office who we never get to see. We were convinced we need to move here stat. Meanwhile, London was convinced that I was NOT leaving for the holidays, but staying.
My original flight out was on the 20th at 10 AM. It was pouring rain, so I ordered an Uber to the airport (an hour and a half journey) at 5:45 AM. In the Uber, I talked to my very friendly driver who was from Poland. He had the radio turned on at some point and that’s when I heard it:
“Gatwick airport is INSANE! DON’T COME! CHECK WITH YOUR AIRLINE! DRONEZZZZ!”
Oh, right. Okay. Well, I have no data on my phone. But my kind Uber driver that I bonded with gave me access to his hotspot. I connect to the hotspot and check my flight—phew! Looks like long haul flights aren’t affected.
Practical Lauren booked this flight on Norwegian Air to Denver because it was the cheapest, and THEN booked on Southwest to connect directly to San Antonio.
Stupid Lauren booked this flight on Norwegian Air to Denver because it was the cheapest, and THEN booked on Southwest to connect directly to San Antonio.
Booking flights is always a gamble. This was not a huge gamble. I had a four hour padding once I made it to Denver.
I’d be fiiiiiine!
-not me, two days ago
I arrived to pure chaos. I checked in and dropped my bags. I remember thinking, “Should I turn around? Should I even give them my bags? I’ve never had a cancelled flight though…meh. It’s fine. I’ll hang in the lounge.”
It went like this:
Go to lounge.
Get denied, too many people are in here and oh guess what, every flight is delayed!
Sign up for lounge reservation.
Get into lounge.
Flight cancelled, proceed to airline desk.
Wait for an hour at the desk only to get a piece of paper with the phone number of Norwegian Airways.
Learn there’s no flight to the same destination that has any open seats until December 27th (it’s the 20th, and that’s after Christmas, in case you don’t know how calendars work).
Retrieve bags from Carousel 7.
Realize I have no phone charger.
Realize I don’t have data outside of the airport.
Realize I have friends.
Text Anu (who lives in London and who I stayed with when I got there).
Go to her place.
Get served whiskey and cheddar and onion crisps because she loves me.
Rebook a super expensive flight for the next day out of Heathrow airport because Gatwick is closed on and off, for who knows how long. She’s going to Myanmar at the same time, so we can go to the airport together.
Go to a bar.
Meet Jeff again.
Go to dinner.
Go to a bar.
Go to bed.
Go to the airport.
Check into flight.
Get SSSS on my ticket—AKA hello sir or madam, we think you are a security threat so we will go through your bags 3 times and search you privately twice.
Finally board a plane.
Get visibly excited on the plane.
Flight gets delayed due to fuel engine issues.
Captain assures it will be a quick fix.
Captain not sure that it will be a quick fix.
“Did you try turning the plane off and then on again?”
Captain tells us he’s turning the power off and then on again in five minutes.
Captain thinks this will fix it. Engineering has got it.
Captain informs us engineering does not, in fact, “got it”.
We’re told the flight is cancelled and we will be rebooked, along with hotel and shuttle and meal vouchers.
We wait another hour.
We get served a sandwich, a “FRUITY FLAPJACK”, and (from the makers of “Dick in a Box”…)
We get hotel and shuttle vouchers.
We have to go back through immigration.
We wait an hour in line.
I hightail it to an open store to buy wine. And cheese. Because if we weren’t getting dinner, you can bet your ass I’d have a plan. And I don’t know about you, but I’M ALWAYS WORKIN’ ON MY NIGHT CHEESE.
We wait for a shuttle that never comes.
I take a cab with a very nice Egyptian woman. (We split it.)
We wait in another line to get into our hotel rooms, along with all the other passengers.
We eat a crappy buffet dinner at 11 pm.
I WORK ON MY NIGHT CHEESE, DAMNIT.
I wake up at 5 AM to call to rebook an earlier flight because I couldn’t get through the night before and they had me going through Philly. The east coast has weather issues—not taking any chances.
I change my flight.
I’m warned I’ll have only middle seats the entire 10 hour flight to London and 2 hour flight to San Antonio.
I go to the airport.
I get denied the lounge again because it’s full.
My flight gets delayed.
I book a massage.
My flight gets delayed more.
I get on the plane.
I’m currently in mid air at 34,000 feet at 538 miles per hour.
I’m writing this.
UPDATE TO THIS POST A DAY LATER:
I arrive in Dallas an hour and a half late, meaning I have 50 minutes to catch a connecting flight.
I have to get my bags from the baggage claim and then recheck them because the DFW airport is stupid.
I wait 30 minutes.
My bag is the second to last to come on the conveyor. Guess which carousel? Carousel 7.
I sprint through only to literally roll my bag 25 feet to a person to recheck it.
I roll my eyes VERY HARD.
I sprint to go through security again.
I ask the man at passport control if he thinks I’ll make it. He laughs and responds,
“You have to get to terminal C? HAHAH no.”
I TAKE THIS AS A CHALLENGE.
I get through and sprint up the giant escalator to the tram.
I twiddle my thumbs for 14 minutes on the airport tram because I can’t do anything but wait.
I make it to gates C1-C20. C1 is first. My gate is C20.
I board the plane, with five minutes to spare.
I throw a fist in the air like at the end of The Breakfast Club.
The two men I’m sitting in the middle of pretend they don’t see me and discreetly put on headphones.
I put on my headphones and just thank whoever or whatever greater power that’s out that I am en route home.
I make it.
I’ve never had a cancelled flight in my entire life, and somehow, out of two different airports for completely unrelated circumstance, I had two cancelled in a row.
It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder:
Are we all being controlled by some sort of higher power? Was there a reason I was NOT supposed to leave London for 36 hours? Did I meet someone whose life I impacted so much that it was inevitable that we would meet? Did I meet someone that would have so much impact on my own life that it was destined? Would I have been in danger otherwise? Would I even be alive if it hadn’t happened? Does everything happen for a reason? What is the universe trying to tell me?
So many questions. However,
I had a strong gut feeling that I was not meant to leave until I was able to.
While experiencing all of this, I met so many people. I don’t know most of their names, but I want to jot down the few I do:
Justin was flying to Denver with me on my first cancelled flight. We bonded over not knowing what the hell was going on. He flew from Barcelona and last we spoke, was trying to get directly to Heathrow to fly back to Denver. I wished him safe travels as I had other plans (I didn’t need to end up in Denver). Justin, if you ever read this…sup? Wanna hang? Sorry we didn’t exchange numbers.
Charlie, a very nice man on the train back to London, let me borrow his phone charger.
Ramona was the super nice lady who I had to talk to going through immigration again. TWO cancelled flights in a row? “Bless ya.”
Hinaz, a woman from Cairo, was on my cancelled flight. The shuttle we had to take was so full every time that we never were able to get on it from the airport. We ended up splitting a cab to the hotel only to wait in line together.
Along with strangers, I met Colin, Anu’s friend living in London, and hung out with Jeff, another Remote Year alum who is also living in London. I also got to hang with Gina one more night.
And to all the others that I didn’t exchange names with but know their story:
The man from Italy who had also been deterred from the Gatwick airport and was in line to check in at the same hotel as I was for the second cancelled flight in a row. I offered him wine. (And my block of cheese, but he refused both. Unclear why, both were delicious.)
The girl I sat next to on the plane on the cancelled flight from London to DFW (second one) who went to TWU and was heading to Denton with her family, who was sitting right behind us. We had the only middle seat in the entire plane that was empty. Again, silver lining?
The man I am currently sitting next to, who is coming from Baghdad. He was there a week and the airline lost his luggage—he never got it, and they still don’t know where it is. He just bought all new things. I asked if they reimbursed or gave him a voucher. His response: “kind of hard to get anything like that at the Baghdad airport”. True. True. He’s asleep currently, handling it like a champ. What a man what a man what a man what a mighty good mannnn.
It’s no secret that the more that I (or anyone, I think) travel, the more you realize we’re all in the same boat. I no longer lose my cool over a delayed flight. I don’t freak out at airport employees because something out of their control has gone wrong. I empathize. I see people screaming at things that are completely out of their control. Everyone is experiencing what you are experiencing. You are not entitled to think that you are more important. We all have the same problem. I think that goes for a lot of things in life:
No matter how special we think we are, we have to remind ourselves that most humans have a situation that is completely relatable, if not worse, to ours.
All of this time spent in airports, on tarmacs, in airplanes, in bars and restaurants, in convenience stores, asking people for help, on the tube, on the bus, on the train—has given me so much time to reflect and realize:
At least I’ve had the opportunity to experience all this.
At least I’m physically able to travel.
At least the place I was born gives me a booklet of paper that people look at and say, “okay, go ahead”.
At least I’m independent enough in my personal life and my career to be able to do what I want, when I want, for the most part.
At least I’m alive.
I know it’s a little cheesy, but I hope that this gives some insight into the chaos of loving travel. I know it’s not a complete overview of why I haven’t been writing, but trust me, it’s coming (in a gully washer of posts, hopefully).
To the people that do read the things I write and know the things I go through and empathize with me:
Thank you. But know that you shouldn’t: there’s far worse going on in the world. There are far better things to be grateful for. And as my grandpa used to say:
There’s nothing so bad it couldn’t be worse.
Professional writer, designer, and do-it-aller. Remote Year citizen/alum. Currently living in San Francisco and probably trying to avoid the terrifying amounts of pigeons.