Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Journey Home

After driving a total of 2375 miles in our hired car (spent £280 (approx. $530) on petrol), we drove up to Manchester. On the last night of our trip, we stayed in a TravelLodge (a motel) near Manchester Airport, where our sleep was broken by being awoken in the early hours of the morning by the fire alarm. We, and all the other residents had to stand around in the car park waiting for the fire brigade to give the all clear before we could go back to bed. It turned out that someone had fallen asleep after having lit a candle. As far as I know, nobody was hurt.

The real trawl was, however, the journey itself. The previous Thursday, the security level at UK Airports was increased to "critical" and pandemonium ensued. Even though by the time that we were travelling the security level had been brought down a step to "severe", the journey was still difficult.

We got to the airport at about 8am, but the queues were such that we didn't get through checking in our luggage and security until 10:30, so went straight to our gate. Boarding was slow as they were seating a few rows at a time and separating men from women so that almost every passenger could be frisked and hand luggage searched before we could get on the plane. They were so strict that they even confiscated Lauren's ball-point pen. As none of the passengers had pens, the flight attendants had to then hand out complementary pens (of which, there were not enough to go around) so that we could fill in the necessary forms for entry to the US.

The plane then couldn't take off until a full manifest listing all passengers had been approved by US Homeland Security. In the end, the plane left about 3 hours late.

Once in the US, there were more body searches and my hand luggage was thoroughly searched. Next, all flights from the UK had to go through customs. One couldn't just walk through the "nothing to declare" bit. About every other person was having suitcases opened up, but thankfully they just asked us a few questions and let us through.

We missed our flight from Philadelphia to Raleigh by about 4 hours, but they put us on a later flight that got into Raleigh at 10pm (3am in the UK). Unfortunately only one of our seven cases made it to Raleigh with us, which meant spending an hour or so standing in a queue to report the missing bags before we could get the taxi home. Thankfully, however, the missing bags arrived at our door the next day (two of which had been opened and searched at some point in the journey).

All in all, though, compared to others' stories, we came off quite lightly. We're also now thankful that we didn't take our usual direct flight to/from Gatwick, but flew to/from Manchester instead, which was outside the core of the hubbub.

Here's the latest on the police investigation:
More time for terror probe police


Ren said...

I'm glad you made it back well, even though it was so late. It is also nice to have you use British vocabulary without giving us the American equivalent. Also, I appreciate the BBC news link with the update on the investigation.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a nightmare journey for you all. I'm glad you were not on one of those trips where something more dramatic happened; the frightened woman being held at gun-point for having handcream, or your plane being escorted by fighter jets (Q, in common with most soldiers, has a heartfelt distrust of all air forces which has only been enhanced by recent events).

Anyway, Q would also like to thank all of the Goodacres for their hospitality earlier in the month, and looks forward to seeing them, complete with all luggage, as soon as possible.

jacqui said...

As they say that level of security will be permanant in the UK, how do you feel about travelling home once a year as you stated before in your post re London.

Gordon(my husband)came back from Glasgow the Monday after the alert and was relieved that they lifted the ban on books just before he flew. It would have been a very,very, very long flight without something to read. Like you, no pens or writing instruments were allowed, only the little clear plastic bag with his essentials in. Even his glasses had to removed from their protective case.

You can imagine his astonishment when he arrived in the US to find that not only would he have been able to take a sizable bag as hand luggage but his laptop if he had one.

As he waited in the Baggage claim at Austin, he was noticable as the only person with no hand luggage other than his clear plastic bag. One of his bags were lost as well, deliver at 5am in the morning.

Has that level of restriction been removed now?

Glad to hear that you got back safely. I console myself on the journey back that even if my baggage is lost, at least I am going home to my comfty bed.

Viola said...

Jacjui -- glad your husband got back OK.

By the time we travelled, the restrictions had been relaxed a little, so that one could have a small bag (45cm x 35cm x 16cm). Unfortunately, we only had one bag that was small enough, so I was able to take that (it had to be emptied and searched at each stage). Our laptop bags are bigger than this, so we had to wrap the laptops in clothes/towels and put them in the suitcases.

It looks like the remaining restrictions are here for a bit longer, which will make our regular travel to and from the UK rather difficult. I'm not sure how this will effect the frequency of our visits -- we have to think of the children and whether or not it is fair to subject them to this on a regular basis.

Here's the latest news from the BBC:
Hand luggage rules set to remain

Peter said...

It'll be a great day when the daily world news becomes BORING. Thankfully, you made it home safely!