It’s pronounced “Ay-yah-FYAH-la-yer-kel”

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

         It looked good on Friday, the night

before I was to catch a flight from Heathrow for San Francisco via Denver. Though I’d heard the Iceland volcano that caused such disruption to travel in April had erupted again, it didn’t seem as serious this time. I checked online Saturday morning for a flight status report, which indicated my flight was still on time. I left my Dagenham abode at 8:45, and began my 15-minute walk to Heathway station for my two-hour tube ride to Heathrow. No problems there, got to check-in by 11:00 for a 13:05 flight. By the time I’d gone through security and had actually gotten to the gate, it was about 11:45. But I noticed further down the same corridor a gate posting a direct San Francisco flight scheduled to leave at 10:30 that hadn’t departed. I tried to think “Oh technical problems,” but the obvious reared its ugly head a few moments later when the staff announced my flight’s scheduled departure was moved back to 16:00 “due to the volcanic ash blocking our designated flight path.” I was still better off than the folks on that direct SF flight, whose departure time had been moved to 16:40.

           Then a glimmer of hope! Our time was moved up to 15:30 (3:30 PM for you confused Americans), then 15:20, and we began boarding at 2:30, 14:30, oh fuck it, I’m not going to mention time of day anymore. If we were really going to depart when they said, and I originally had a 3-hour layover scheduled in Denver, there was still a remote chance I could actually catch my connecting flight. We all boarded, but my hopes were dashed as we sat at the terminal for almost an hour as air traffic was already bunching up. The queue (love that English word for “line,” and it’s not pronounced “Q-ee-oo-ee”) on the runway was heavy enough that it took another hour to be airborne. Because the ash from the volcano was covering most of the Atlantic between Iceland and the European coasts, it meant that we had to fly around the eastern part of England and north of Iceland, which added an extra hour and a half to flight time. We touched down in Denver a mere two hours after my connecting flight had already left.

                Denver, Colorado has grown so much over the last 50 years that it is now one of the US’s top 10 most populous cities, and its airport is a designated hub for United Airlines. This meant going through customs there, which I’d only done in airports in LA, New York, or SF. Even though it’s a big city, there’s still plenty of down home country vibe, for it seemed that the customs agents wanted to make small talk with every passenger at length about god knows what. It was not my longest wait ever to get through customs, but given the day long day I’d already had, any wait of more than 30 seconds felt like an hour.

               Since I couldn’t fly out that night from Denver, I had to stay the night there. United booked me for 10:15 the next morning for San Fran, and they also arranged (But didn’t pay for, the cheap bastards!) accommodation, surprisingly easily done given that it was now 9:30 on a Saturday night. Of course there was then that frustrating wait for a hotel shuttle, and of course about 90% of all the people who were waiting for any shuttle at all seemed to be waiting for the same one I wanted. 30 minutes went by, finally one shows, and it fills up before I could even get near it. The driver assured us “there’s another one right behind me.” Well, not exactly, it was about another 15 minutes right behind, but I got to the hotel, the Red Lion, and just one more line to deal with, which was hotel check-in. Now I don’t know why this seems to happen to me so often, but there was only one staff member at the front desk doing check-in. There was only three people in front of me, but sure enough, each of them was taking what appeared to be eons getting checked in, and when I was finally the next person in line, that’s when more personnel showed up to handle check-in. I did finally get into my room near 11:00, and didn’t even unpack anything, just ran back downstairs to the bar to get a richly deserved pint of beer.

               And just to make sure I didn’t oversleep, there were railroad tracks close by the hotel, and at about 3AM, a freight train with what seemed like 500 cars went by, blowing its whistle multiple times in case some hotel guests hadn’t been startled out of bed by the first blast. Another one of equal length and volume went by an hour later. Well, so much for sleep that night. Hell, I’d gotten three hours, plus the one hour I’d gotten on the plane! Thankfully, the buffet breakfast opened at 6, so at about 6:05, I was there. I’ve gotten so used to English prices that when I saw the price listed as $4.95, I was reminded how places in UK like Hotel Ibis charge £4.95, or about $7, for their breakfasts of croissants, fruits, toast and cereal. These Denver guys don’t mess around! You got your bacon, eggs, three kinds of sausages, pancakes, waffles, English muffins, Danish pastry, yogurt, juices, cereals, fruit, and you’re reminded again why so many Americans are fat.

              The flight was on time and arrived in San Francisco at 12:15, and by the time I’d gotten my baggage and secured the rental car, (which amazingly was still being held for me even though it was 17 hours later than my designated pick-up time) it was now 1:00 Pacific time on Sunday, 9:00 PM in London, making the journey from my house to the exit of SFO airport exactly 36 hours. Normally, when I have a direct flight, that whole odyssey takes about 20 hours less.

                 Well, at least I’m here, and almost over the jet lag, even though it’s now Tuesday evening. I could have a whole new, more interesting adventure next week, when I fly back to London via Toronto. Please, Eyjafjallajökull, just chill a bit, OK? Can I call you EJ for short?  

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