Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Flying home...

After dinner I moseyed on upstairs to room 535 – a number that adds up to 13 (5 + 3 + 5 =13). I bring that up because the flight number of the American Airlines plane that was not going to take me to Chicago on Friday evening was AA3073, which also adds up to 13. Had the gate been 13 I might have re-booked and would probably have ended up in the Sheraton with my other self in the same restaurant, wondering why the bloke sitting alone in the corner reading USA Today was, in fact, me. But let's not go there, it gets too confusing.

I got a reasonable night's sleep, aided by the fact that, seven days since I flew out of the UK, I was now fully acclimatised with US time – and now I had to go home and re-acclimatise myself with BST. That glass of red wine and the meal (see previous post) also helped. I washed, shaved and showered and soon found myself back in the restaurant eating granola, fresh fruit, a yoghurt and a slice of bread, not forgetting a mug of black tea. I was tempted to go the whole hog and have the hot breakfast (sausages, scrambled egg, diced and fried potatoes, hash browns) but I decided to keep up with my regime of healthy eating.
My Jumbo 747-400 to London Heathrow at O'Hare's Gate M12

Back in the room, albeit briefly, I did my final checks. Had I left anything behind? No. And I was off. Check-out was simple and the shuttle bus took all of five minutes to reach the terminal. Then there was security. Security is weird because it's not consistent. Some airports demand that you take off belts and shoes, others don't. Cleveland wanted shoes off. The worst bit about flying is going through security because you have to take the lap top out of the case, put it in a tray of its own, empty your pockets and then walk through the scanner. Sometimes you have to raise your hands above your head, like a criminal, and be searched by one of the guards, other times not, and then you find yourself on the 'other side' in the strange world that exists beyond passport control where the shops sell expensive perfume, wines and spirits, not forgetting watches and stuff you rarely see people actually wearing.

I tend to ignore the shops and head straight for the coffee retailer, although I always order tea and sometimes a pastry of sorts. Then I sit down, realise that hell will freeze over before I manage to suss out how the WiFi works and simply resign myself to wandering around, looking at other people waiting for other planes going to other destinations.

I started chatting with a woman from Cleveland who was on her way to see her mum, to surprise her because it was Mother's Day on Sunday. We talked about mice and houses and gardens and she seemed very amused at the fact that I was looking forward to having lunch at Romano's Macaroni Grill on O'Hare airport (opposite gate H3 if you're interested and well worth a visit). I think she was amused because, apparently, Romano's Macaroni Grill is a chain. The woman, whose husband worked for American Airlines, has plenty of family in Chicago and will probably visit most of them while she's in the Windy City. She was on stand-by and managed to get on the flight. In Chicago we said our goodbyes and she hoped that I would enjoy Romano's. I did, but I shouldn't have ordered lemon drizzle cake.

In fact, the drizzle cake led me to spend around an hour, possibly longer, simply walking around the airport. I passed virtually every gate in an effort to burn some calories and I must have burned plenty hauling my hefty suitcase behind me. The walk not only did me some good, but it was an education. I discovered that I didn't have to go through security twice in order to access the international terminal and Gate M12 from where my BA jumbo would depart. There was a bus service going from Gate K12 and that, my friends, is worth remembering. When I say I went through security twice, I meant that I endured it at Cleveland and you'd think that would be it, but no; at O'Hare, having arrived at what was essentially the domestic terminal, passengers taking the transit to the international terminal then find they have to go through security again – but not if you take the bus from K12.

The international terminal was a lot swisher than the domestic side of the airport (although it didn't have Romano's). I decided to do some more walking but not until I'd asked for a better seat. They'd given me a seat in the middle row of the plane (a 747-400) and I wasn't at all happy. The thought of being sandwiched between two other passengers for seven hours was horrific, but I was in their hands and after leaving them my boarding card, I wandered off and once again found that I couldn't work out how to use the airport WiFi.

When it was time to board I found that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I'd been upgraded. The bad news? I still had a middle aisle seat sandwiched between two passengers. But there was more room and I decided to endure it until after dinner and then stand up in the galley area for an hour or so. Dinner was good and because I'd been upgraded I got a real wine glass (made of glass) a menu from which to choose either pasta or steak and a cloth napkin instead of paper. I opted for the steak, listened to Money for Nothing by Dire Straits about half a dozen times (the music choice was awful) and then got up and went for a wander around. After standing in the galley area for about 30 minutes I walked to the rear of the plane where I a found a seat used by the air hostesses at take-off. I sat here for some time watching the sun rise outside as we edged our way towards daylight and chatted to an IT consultant from Bournemouth who, like me, has a 16-year daughter about to take her GCSEs.

The flight itself was relatively pleasant. No turbulence. I returned to my seat for breakfast (a chunk of cake) and found that my fellow passengers – the ones I was sandwiched between – were both asleep. I had to wake one of them up to take my seat.

We landed, I said goodbye to my IT friend and then headed towards departures to find my taxi driver who had called to say he was outside. I then endured a nightmare journey that involved said taxi driver missing turnings (clearly no idea of where he was) asking personal questions and playing his music miles too loud. I was so relieved to pay up and get out when I reached home.

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