(Author’s Note: I was supposed to get this posted the night I flew in, apologies for any confusion on the dates!)
So Friday, last night, was the night. I was a bundle of nerves, having those niggling doubts like “What if my passport gets rejected?” or “What if, for some reason, my boarding pass is invalid?”. Not to mention that Minnesota chose Friday to have its first snow of the year.
Luckily for me the snow wasn’t much of an obstacle. It took just about the same amount of time to get to the airport as usual. Check-in, baggage drop-off and TSA was surprising smooth too! I got through all three within the space of 15 minutes. When I was dropped off at 6 PM.. for a 10 PM flight. Suffice to say I had some free time on my hands.
I spent the majority of it just walking around the terminals and concourse. I did a lap of Terminal G, checking out a few stores and getting coffee from a surly barista at the Caribou coffee. I got some walking around money from the currency exchange (Spoiler: Highway frickin’ robbery) and then sat to wait for my flight to board.
Let me tell you. There is something about the hustle and bustle of airports that I just love. Everyone is walking somewhere with a purpose. Some going it alone while others are traveling in groups. Some lost in thought, others smiling and laughing.
I like to play a little game where I assign a story to some of the people I see. I usually do it with the solo flyers because their stories can be more interesting to me. A lot of times I just imagine they’re on a flight on the way to their loved ones way off somewhere, coming home from a long trip. Or even going to meet them for the first time. I like the thought of someone taking a chance, going to meet someone they know by voice and mind but not by touch.
While I was walking around the airport, earphones in and making up stories of those I passed I couldn’t help but smile. The earlier nerves were gone and I was at this zen-like happiness.
Unfortunately that didn’t last long beyond boarding.
I get on the plane in Zone 3, the last group to board the plane, so I figure I’ll have to wait the least time before we takeoff. While technically true it just meant I had to sit in my seat and wait one hour for take-off instead of one hour and twenty minutes. The plane had to go through de-icing and apparently another plane managed to sneak in ahead of us so we sat and waited while they did their thing then we had to get the go-ahead for ours.
In the meantime I was getting to know my rowmate, Vaigo (Not quite sure if that’s how you spell the name, or even close), a congenial ginger Norwegian. I felt a kinship with him from the start.
I managed a selfie before takeoff, because why not, and my friends from home pressed me for more information on the woman in the background behind me. It was decided that her name is Grendel, she grew up on the mean streets of Germany and the reason why she wears ill-fitting clothes is because she had very little growing up. She decided she would rather wear clothes with history than ones tailor-fit. She’s doing well now, she is actually an executive VP of finance at a Fortune 500 company. Her husband Jan is inordinately proud of her and doesn’t let the thought that she is more successful than he is get to him. He knows that she worked for it all of her life.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Vaigo and I chatted a little bit. He’s on his way home from a business trip in Vegas and he learned I was going on vacation to England. I didn’t tell him it was my first trip across the ocean but I’m sure it was painfully obvious. Smalltalk was had until we actually started moving. It was at this point that I felt that twinge, where you’re made aware that at some point in the future you’re going to need to pee.
By the time we actually took off I was 30 minutes in to watching The Big Sick (Thanks for the recommendation Sophia!) and the pressure was slowly building. I figured I would be good to wait until after the movie was over. I mean I’m a healthy young guy, I can hold it.
The flight attendants came around with bottled water not long after takeoff. Despite having to pee I was also pretty thirsty so I grabbed one and started drinking. Then dinner came around and when they asked what I wanted to drink I, some might say stupidly, said coffee. I needed the boost to keep me going throughout the flight.
At this point I was about an hour and 15 minutes through a 2 hour movie and I was feeling it. To top it off, the moment I asked for and got my coffee we hit a little turbulence and the captain flipped on the seatbelt sign. So now I had to sit and wait while also juggling my coffee to make sure I didn’t wear it.
At an hour and 30 minutes in to the movie I was donezo, I NEEDED TO PEE. I got up and went back to the bathrooms behind me. I was sitting in the second to last row at the back of the plane so easy access! Except they were both occupied. The flight attendant gave me this exasperated look and pointed out the seatbelt light was on. She told me to go sit down and wait until the bathrooms were free and come back.
I figured that would be fine. One problem. I was inconveniencing poor Vaigo every time I stood up, he was in the aisle seat. Bless this guy’s heart, he didn’t complain once during the entire flight.
I sat down and started up the movie again, hunched over against the feeling of the seatbelt pressing against my bladder. Every time I heard the bathroom flush I perked up and went to stand up and let Vaigo know I needed to go.. only to see someone else pass down the aisle to the bathroom.
This shit wasn’t going to work. I tap Vaigo on the shoulder and gesture toward the bathroom again. Waddling back to the bathrooms I give the flight attendant my most plaintive look while trying not to show off my “Good god I have to pee dance.” and asked if I could just stand there until they opened up. She cracked a smile and took pity on me, telling me to go ahead but not to get hurt.
Now.. Have you ever seen a cartoon where there’s a couple of lines at the DMV or at the bank or something and someone gets in the shorter line, but the longer line starts moving faster? So then they move over there and then the shorter line starts moving!
I was the only person waiting for this bathroom here, both were occupied. I hear both bathrooms flush and I do a little tippy tappy in anticipation. The bathroom across the way opens up and then the person waiting over there heads in. I’m staring a hole in the bathroom door but.. bupkis. After a minute I hear the bathroom across the way flush again and the person pops out. I make to move across the aisle to get in but a flight attendant pops up from the galley in the back and opens the door. I shrug, I can’t complain about that.
Now I hear the bathroom in front of me flush again. Fuck yeah! I’ve got a death grip on the handle bolted to the bulkhead next to me just concentrating on that and keeping my mind off my urgent need to pee. The door still doesn’t open..
I hear the bathroom across the way flush. At this point I just hate everything. The flight attendant comes out of the bathroom and I just about lunge across the aisle to get to it and she stops me with a look. “I have to lock down this bathroom.”. I just bewilderedly repeat “Lock down the bathroom?” She nods and flips up the ‘Occupied’ sign and manually locks it from the outside.
What. The. Fuck.
Three minutes later the door opens up for the bathroom in front of me. This little waif of a girl comes out, trying not to make eye contact. All told I waited for 10 minutes and had my heart broken at least three times.
After that, the flight was fairly uneventful. I ended up watching two movies, listening to some music, and nudging Vaigo every couple of hours ago so I could pee. I do have to mention that I was watching the flight tracker on my screen and I was fairly well annoyed when we flew directly over top of Leeds, my end destination, on our way to Schiphol.
We finally land in Schiphol after about 8 and a half hours total on the plane. Because of our late takeoff from Minneapolis I have a shorter layover in Schiphol, which isn’t bad. I did a bit of shopping and picked up some stroopwaffel for my hosts. Waiting out the layover was pretty uneventful.
The leg to Leeds from Schiphol wasn’t all too interesting but I have to say I was expecting more out of an international airport in Leeds. We landed and as we taxied down the runway toward the terminal I looked out my window and saw cows out in a field.
It gets interesting here again.
We disembarked from the plane and, once again, I really had to pee. I don’t know what it is about flying that causes me to have a little bird’s bladder but there you have it. The problem is for some reason they have NO restrooms before customs and border entry. So I’m sitting here at a tiny table that’s maybe big enough for two, max, filling out my border entry sheet and miserably failing at it. I’m going to say it was a combination of the 12 hour overall flight time and my needing to go to the bathroom but it took me four or five tries overall to fill out this form correctly.
The first go around I didn’t read the instructions well enough and I didn’t write out my information in capital block letters. The second time I forgot that same instruction halfway through filling it out. The third time I missed an entry completely and filled in the answer for the line below it on that line throwing off every single line thereafter. That mistake I didn’t notice until I was actually almost at the border agent’s desk. So I’m pretty sure I was already pretty suspicious to them.
I went up to the border agent’s desk with the correctly filled form in hand and she asked me a few questions. Why was I there, how long was I staying, where was I staying, was I traveling alone, was I meeting people here? Apparently saying you’re there to meet people you know from the internet is a pretty big red flag. After that answer she pretty much started grilling me on who I was meeting, what they did for a living, and their dog’s mother’s maiden name.
They actually had me sit down on a bench across the way and handed me a sheet saying they were doing further investigation. The sheet noted they were holding on to my passport for the time while they continued looking in to my story. The sheet actually had entries for denying entry to the UK and essentially returning me to sender so this whole ordeal woke me up. I was nervous and worried that they’d send me home.
Luckily enough they ran a background check on the people I’m staying with and found out that they are, in fact, not axe murderers. They sort of grudgingly let me through the border check and tell me to be safe.
I went down to baggage claim and it’s a damn ghost town. I must have looked lost because one of the workers came up and took me over to the unclaimed luggage counter to see if any of it was mine. Fortunately my suitcase was there.
Now I’m sure this next bit comes out of a Wes Anderson movie. I was on my last legs, looking for a bathroom and the exit out of this place. I first go left but all I see is unmarked doors and the women’s bathroom. I look around but don’t see the men’s. I turned around and went past the unclaimed luggage counter again but saw a sign saying that the bathroom is behind me. After standing there staring blankly behind me for about ten seconds I finally see the sign for the men’s bathroom over a non-descript door and I run over and push it open. A hallway barely large enough for one person, let alone the suitcase I brought with, greeted me and I hurried down. What kind of heathen country doesn’t have partitions on their urinals?!
After that business was taken care of I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I followed the exit signs and finally get out in to the main mezzanine area to see my friends all waiting there for me. Sort of awkward greetings all around with handshakes. I can see Richard is itching a bit so I say “Fine, let’s get it over with.” and give him a hug.
Journey to the UK complete.