Monday, November 16, 2015

Day 95: Traveling Home

Today's the day. We return home.

We originally thought we'd take the Tube to the airport. The cost is way less and yet, only about 5 minutes longer than taking a taxi. However, when faced with taking those large bags up and down all those stairs and hallways, we opted for a taxi instead. Ok, Uber car.

Side note: It actually didn't cost that much. It was well worth it. And, just so you know, it takes about 45 minutes of aggressive driving to get to the open road. Once on the freeway, it's only about 15 minutes to the airport. After this hour, Xander is feeling a bit ill from the stops/starts and tight curves out of the city.

Hello, Heathrow!

Chris digitally checks in. We take our luggage to get tagged... and, well... two of them are over weight. One is REALLY too heavy. We quickly take from one and put into another, re-weighing and re-packing. The gentleman behind the counter wants the bags to be around 24 kg, even though the limit is closer to 22kg. One of them was 27kg, so it was a bit of repositioning to get it working right. We could have left the "as is" but it would have cost us an extra $200, so it's worth it to fix.

Side story: During this time, the clocks turned 11am. The gentleman helping us asked us to please be quiet for the next minute. All counters went quiet, an announcement came over the PA system asking for a moment of silence in support for Paris. After the moment is over, computers restart and business begins again.

Our bags are checked in. We have a little bit of time. I get water for the kids while Chris heads into the Tube station area to turn in our Oyster Cards (you get your deposit per card back and any outstanding balance). Well worth doing.

Time to go through security. As we enter the line, the woman checking tickets looks at Venice on my arm and asks if she's ok. We mention she's a little ill and will be ok. The woman asks if we would like a wheelchair. When we hesitate, the woman informs us that the walk to terminal B is about a 20 minute walk. Uh, yeah, we would LOVE a wheelchair! There is no way Venice can walk that far. Thank you for the suggestion and information on how to get a wheelchair.

This time, everyone makes it through, except me. Well, I make it through no problem, but my bag is sent down another track to be manually checked. Everyone gathers their items back up (putting shoes and belts back on, repacking laptops, and such). I get into line behind a gentleman who is having his bag hand checked as well. While I wait to be checked out, Chris and Venice head off to get a wheelchair.

Security. Good times. First, there was no one working the counter where bags have been flagged. So, we wait. Then finally, someone came to work this line. The gentleman in front of me had left his laptop in his carryon on. WHAT? After the millions of signs that ask you to remove your laptop AND the people working behind the bins and conveyor belts verbally asking for you to remove your laptops, he still leaves it in his bag? Ugh. So, every zipper has to be opened, everything has to be wiped down with the "chemical" tester.  Everything has to be removed from the bag and removed. Some items are sent through the scanners again. Meanwhile, Xander and I are waiting, waiting, waiting. The man is cleared and he slowly puts everything back into his bag. The woman cannot begin with me until this gentleman packs up and leaves. So we wait. She makes a comment that if he wants to avoid this, next time, please take out his laptop. The gentleman replies, "I heard that," with the attitude off the charts. Ugh.

My turn. Similar treatment. Open all the zippers. The woman goes through everything. Unlike the gentleman ahead of me, I get no explanation as to why my bag was flagged. And now, Xander and I rush to meet up with Chris and Venice. We had a lot of time before, and now, we're starting to run out of time.

We find Chris and Venice, eating lunch downstairs. Xander and I grab a quit bite and join them at the table. Chris quickly heads out to find the wheelchair and comes back with a cool purple wheelchair. We're in business and ready for our 20 minute walk to our terminal and gate.

Once we arrive at our gate (we made it with enough time for one last bathroom stop), a gentleman came over to us and said that there is a special wheelchair entrance on the other side of the gate (he already has his wife over there). We thank him and head over to where he's waiting. Minutes later, we are checked in and behind the counters waiting to board the plane before anyone else is even asked to line up at the gate. Kind of cool to not have to board with the hoards. Chris wheels Venice down the jetway and we get on and find our seats. We are ready for our 10+ hour flight home!

Side note: At one point, there were about 5 airplanes coming in for a landing. Their headlights were lined up in the sky and it was a pretty cool sight. Chris went to take a photo and was politely told that photos are not allowed. Hmm. Is that normal or is that heightened security?

The flight is uneventful (yay). And, this airplane is a different style of plane we came over on. This one has a digital screen for every single seat. On the way over, we had to sign into their wifi (which was horrible) to try to watch anything (stilted and undoable). On this flight, we each get our own access to the entertainment and there are no glitches in the streaming capabilities. Yay! I watch Paper Towns and Harry Potter and the Prisoner from Askaban. Side note: Half of the list of available movies are comprised of Harry Potter movies and Bond movies (all of them). I can't help but wonder if it's because we're traveling from London or is it just a coincidence. Anyway, I watch my two movies (and a few Amy Schuler episodes) and the flight goes by quicker than I can imagine.

We all love watching the little graphic airplane make its trip from London to San Francisco,
showing us where we are in our trip. 

Another side note: By the time we arrive in SFO, our bodies think it's after midnight. And yet, we each only slept about 15-30 minutes on the plane. Excitement to get home, feeling sick, not able to get comfortable... not sure, but none of us are feeling rested when we get to SFO and go through Customs. Venice, in particular, had a rough time on the flight and missing out on sleeping. We do get her a wheelchair after disembarking the plane, but we did have to ask and got lucky that they were able to find another one for us. Normally, I guess, you arrange ahead of time for a wheelchair. Sometimes there is an extra one (like now) but they have to be sure that anyone who ordered one gets it (can't give it to us on accident).

welcome to san francisco
As we approach Customs, there are self-check-in kiosks. Chris checks us in, says we have nothing to declare (which doesn't quite match what I put on our paper copy we filled out on the airplane), and we head to a real person behind a counter. We answer a few of the questions that they have to ask to check us out (what were you doing, where did you go, what's your business)... you kind of feel like you're getting to know someone and they're really interested in you, but there is definitely a feel of, "this is serious" and we're asking to be sure you're not a crazy person bringing back contraband. Anyway, the guy never asks for my paper copy (phew), and we had to the next step.

Finally, after three check points, we are in the SFO airport. We pick up our bags and walk them one hallway to a place where we re-check them. We're just doing the manual labor of taking them from one place to another, the bags are not really rec-checked. They have been checked all the way through to Eugene, so no re-weighing or anything like that. Just rolled from point A to point B and we're on our way. Unfortunately, we have to go through SFO's security check now. This time, I sail through. Phew.

We make our way to the American Express lounge (Chris has a card that gives us access to this lounge) and we settle in. Venice lays down on a couch and sleeps. The rest of us eat a bit of food and recharge our digital devices. And then it's time for our flight home.

Haha! Joke's on Customs,
we DID ship a live animal!
We have crappy seats on this flight (we're not all together) due to the fact that we purchased them just a day before. But, Chris talks to a woman behind the counter and we get them changed so that we can sit with the kids (two and two). A short flight. Uneventful (yay). We get another wheelchair (phew) and head to meet our family.

Xander and I head down the escalators and fall into Granny and Jiichan's arms, tears of happiness overwhelming us all. Chris and Venice arrive a minute later from the elevator and it's their turn for more hugs and tears. Funny story: While we're in the midst of our reunion, a friend, who has also been traveling, stops in to say hi! Someone who we saw at the airport when we were leaving for a trip to Montana last spring. Small world! Or, is that just our home town? You're always bound to run into someone you know.

It's a bit surreal to be back. Our bodies feeling like it's about 6am, we are zombies and just wanting to get into our own beds. We'll deal with our emotions... tomorrow.

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