Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Home from England--West Dean adventure ended with more than expected!

Thousands are still stranded at Gatwick, from what I read in the BBC news this morning.  Others at Heathrow.  Absolutely distressing situation and I'm both so very glad that I made it home on Sunday--and so guilty that I was one of the lucky few.  I don't know if my friend, Diana, is back in Dublin yet--her flight was supposed to leave Monday.  Is Warren still at Gatwick as well or did he finally get back to the States on Sunday?

A few photos from the return... these by no means show the state of the whole situation.  I learned, by the way, that apparently if one makes photos from a departure lounge of the view from the window--of plane de-icing and overviews of the runway--that one then becomes subject to both full body search and bag inspection even through I'd already been admitted into the area with my boarding pass.  I enjoyed two full body searches while trying to depart, in fact... once going through security for the flight that was scheduled after the cancelled one, then the one at the departure gate.

It was bright and sunny as I left on Friday afternoon.  I stayed overnight at a hotel near Gatwick so that I could get to the airport by 6 a.m. on Saturday morning as it was recommended to arrive three hours in advance of the flight departure--scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on December 18.

We drove off with a cheery farewell from Magenta, LouLou and Diana
On the way to the hotel near the airport snow began to fall.  It had stopped by arrival and I spent a calm evening in my comfortable hotel room near Gatwick.  I got up at 4 a.m. on Saturday to get myself together for the short trip to the airport... gave myself the luxury of a taxi after standing in the slush and freezing conditions for several minutes waiting for the airport shuttle bus that was to arrive every twenty minutes.  The snow had gotten worse through the night although it wasn't snowing at that point.  After arriving at the terminal, I checked in easily and was on my way... I thought.

Our plane was to begin boarding at 8:20 a.m. and was to depart at 9:15.  We actually were allowed onboard later than expected and by about 9:45 this was the view from my seat inside the plane as the snow got heavier and heavier.  The pilot said we would wait while the plane was de-iced and the runway clearer.  Then he said more de-icing would occur.  After about an hour all of the passengers feared the worst... that we wouldn't be able to take off after all.  And that was indeed the case.  We were unloaded from the plane after a couple of hours, told to be at the gate at 5:30 the next morning (Sunday, December 19) and that our flight was rescheduled for ll a.m. 

Here's what a parking area looked like from a breezeway between the gate and the terminal... snow continued to fall through the rest of the day.

One view of one area inside Gatwick... this was one of the more comfortable areas because there  shops and cafes around.  Food was running short by the morning in most of the places, though.  There was limited seating and most shared the spaces graciously.  However, there were instances of people lying across several seats.  I have no photos of all of the people lying in the floors.  There were a few blankets--but those were ones passengers had taken off the planes with them.  I regretted leaving mine behind!

Warren, on the left, and Diana, in the center, came from the South Terminal where their flights were cancelled to the North Terminal to find me.  We met the woman at the right, Georgina, when we had a snack at the bar.  She joined us throughout the evening.  She was having little success of finding information about her flight.  People were forming small group relationships all over the airport, small "tribes" to look out for each other--share watch over luggage when going to the toilet, for instance.   

On Sunday morning, after being in long lines for many hours, first to get the boarding pass needed to re-board the previously cancelled flight,  we then pushed through the hundreds of others waiting for their turn for boarding pass to get in the next long line to go through security once more.  We overheard one of the airline employees referring to us who were herded between the stanchions  as "those in the pit" -- it felt more like cattle in the chutes.

Through all of this during the day on Saturday and throughout out the long night until Sunday morning there was mostly calm resignation.  Our flight, scheduled to leave at 11 a.m. was finally in the air by around 1:30.  However, we had a long delay in boarding because the airline OVERSOLD the flight by twenty tickets!!  Once the announcement was made of that fact and that Delta was offering $1000 Delta dollars (whatever that means), plus overnight lodging (like, right--a hotel room was available anywhere and even if it was... could one get to it??), plus a ticket for a flight the next day (guess where those people still are now???!) for 20 people to volunteer to not be on the plane, a near riot broke out among those of us who'd been on the plane the day before and had to leave it--a plane that hadn't been overbooked then.  Of course I know people were desperate to get away--but for the airline to continue to sell tickets was unbelievable.

Eventually there was resolution... don't know what it was--did "volunteers" appear or did the Delta delete the passenger(s) if they'd bought their tickets later.  I wish them well but those of us who spent the long day and night at the terminal were desperate to leave.  When the plane finally lifted off the ground there was a spontaneous applause throughout the cabin.  And almost nine hours later, after a very smooth flight, there was even more applause as the plane landed in Atlanta.  Unfortunately for thousands of others, continued cancellations have caused more delays.  This news report with short video shows some passengers three days into their stay at Gatwick.

I'm so very glad to be home and I hope all others will make it home safely and soon.  My West Dean TAPESTRY adventure postings will continue eventually with more photos and comments.  But for now...

Happy holidays--safe and warm ones--to all of you.  I hope you are where you wish to be and I hope others will be there soon.


  1. So glad you are home. Now for rest and a wonderful holiday for you and yours. I have been checking every morning for this post. Thank you for taking the time to share with your friends online.

  2. So glad to hear you are safely home! I'm sure you'll have stories of your adventure to share!

  3. Tommye,

    What a trip! I am glad you are home.

    Janet Hart

  4. I'm glad you are safely home, Tommye. I look forward to hearing more about your experience at West Dean. Have a wonderful holiday!

  5. So glad that you are back. Thanks for illustrating what an ordeal it has been over in the airports of Europe. Have a wonderful holiday!

  6. Thanks for the thoughts...
    just heard from Diana who was trying to get home to Ireland for the holidays... didn't make it. Next flights available will be after Christmas for her. Warren finally got off to the U.S. on Monday, Diana said.

    Thousands are still effected and will be for days, maybe weeks, to come.

    This incident makes rethinking travel a priority for me! Not something to take for granted.

  7. What a trip! Glad to hear you finely made it back home. You are right about rethinking travel. As others have said the world has definitely changed.

  8. You were in my thoughts as I watched the fiasco on TV. Not a fun way to end your West Dean experience. Welcome home and fond wishes to you and your family for a wonderful Christmas.