[edit: this part covers the time line from friday dec 17 5am until saturday dec 18 10am. i do not know if the times are correct but more or less i think they are. the second part will follow soon. it's a lot of writing sorry!]
hey folks, so here is my promised story of what has happened to me and how i got stranded at heathrow aiport. needless to say that throughout this ordeal i cried, and cried, and cried. crying is the only form of protest i have left in me. crying is my way of cleansing my body from even more negative energy. i can’t stop the crying, it is just bursting out of me. i apologize for everyone who had to put up with me and my crying self these past days. you know this is not me – i have actually seen myself from a new side and have to come to terms with my discoveries.
so here it goes, part 1 of how i ended up where i am.
i started out friday dec 17 in germany and i should have known then that it will go downhill. it had snowed an inch over night – no problem for germany – and i pulled my suitcases (one to check in, one as carry on) through the snow to the train station.
the train left on time (wow, perfect) but ten minutes into the ride an announcement was made. there was a lonely suitcase in the coach restaurant and they asked the owner to retrieve the luggage. oh great, we all thought, because with the current terrorist scares we knew what that meant. a few minutes later another announcement pushed the issue further and let us know that if the owner does not show up we would have to make a longer stop at the next station to call up police and have the bag retrieved. well, guess what. that’s what happened. we stopped and police was called. that took forever. we stood in the middle of a snow storm on a cold train station and eventually, an hour later, they diverted another train to pick us all up. by that time there was still no police around. i’m not suggesting anything but if some sort of attack was to happen in the morning in this area of our country then geez, we’re screwed!
i was naturally worried i would be late for check in, so i counted the minutes until we were in berlin. instead of taking the train i took a taxi just to get to the airport faster. when i got there, my flight was already pushed back an hour. all the stress for nothing. bummer. back then i thought that is the worse that could happen to me. oh silly me!
so eventually, we get to board but then the pilot announced we are in cue for de-icing and it will take a while. in the meantime he would open the cockpit door and we could come down to visit him. that’s what me and a couple of other passengers did. it was great! he was a really funny guy, looked a little like stephen colbert. he explained all the buttons, the de-icing procedure, how he knows where he is flying to etc. eventually we had to leave because there were more people waiting to see the cockpit. we were taxied to de-icing and ready to leave about 30 minutes later. yay! ready to go!
while approaching london the pilot came on again and said that the airport is congested and we would need to take a few extra circles. we did and eventually landed. that was 2pm. he then told us that there is no open gate for us to disembark and we are in line (number 8) to be allocated a gate. but gates would only be available if planes actually leave. oh well, so we just sat there. he opened up the cockpit again, people went to talk to him, and i noticed my blood sugar drop. it wasn’t too bad at first and i thought we would deboard soon. but we didn’t and it got worse. while the flight attendant came around to talk to those with a connection to tell them what to do i got in the back of the plane to ask for something sugary to drink or food. they had nothing left. no cookies, no pretzels, nothing. she gave me sugar packs i sucked on until she had hot water boiling to make me a coffee with a ton of sugar and cream. at that point i was shaking uncontrollably and i think i scared them a bit. they made me sit down on the emergency seat and watched me down the sugary coffee. out of nowhere they produced a joghurt and i had that too. eventually i felt better and i could feel the blood return to my face. the shaking stopped and i returned to my seat. we were number 2 in the cue but were pushed back again because another plane did not have enough water anymore to flush the toilets. running out of food is not a biohazard, no flushing toilet is so another airplane was let to a gate before us. eventually we were directed to a gate and got off the airplane.
i was worried i wouldn’t make the connection because it was already 4pm but they let me rush through security and my flight was announced as 2 hours late. so i went to the loo and when i came back this had changed to “contact airline” – a message that was soon to become my cue for “you are in bad ass trouble”. my flight wasn’t the only one with this message and lines in front of the british airways counters just got longer and longer. i was not close to the message board so i did not see the changed messages. i overheard a family also traveling to washington and they said the message board says to pick up ones luggage. so i went out of that line into another, cleared security and when to the arrivals area where our luggage was going round in circles on the luggage belt. we were supposed to get an information sheet about our next steps but i never got that. i just followed the crowds into terminal one departure area and was met my massive chaos. this area of the terminal is separated by letters (a-g or h i think). because people kept talking about letters and “we are assigned letters” and “you need a letter” i was totally confused because i did not know if they were talking about a sheet of paper or about a letter of the alphabet. and i think they did not know either. somehow i got in line at letter “E” that happened to be for rebooking. i was one of the last people allowed in the cue. it was sheer chaos out there and i think i only got lucky and a head start because i am european and did not have to go through such strict security and immigration. but really, how i got in that line is now beyond me. i just don’t remember.
i was in line for hours, i can’t even tell you for how long. eventually, i made my way to the counter and asked for any flight to the east coast. she said she can only book me on washington (my original destination) right now and will rebook me for a flight on saturday at 5 and put me on standby for a flight to washington at 2. of course i accepted. she also gave me a food voucher for 10 pounds and send me off.
to explain the lines to you is impossible. there were families with children, moms with kids, people who do not speak english, old people, people flying for the first time and naturally lost…a woman asked others in our line to let a head a woman with a toddler and a newborn baby. this young mom was too exhausted and confused to ask for herself. so you think people let her go ahead? do you think others offered assistance? think again. and that was the situation only hours after the chaos began.
there were lines for everything, including hotel vouchers. but my problem was that i was by myself and only able to stand in one line at a time and that was the line for the rebooking. by the time that was done no hotel vouchers were given out anymore so my option was the terminal or to book my own hotel. difficult without proper phone numbers.
i decided to walk around, and eventually spent my food voucher. i was hopefully to leave the next day so is did not think about getting a plug converter thing to be able to recharge my phone or use my laptop. i settled to sleep in an alley leading to the restrooms. it was loud there, and i was laying on the luggage cart and half on my luggage. naturally, i did not get much sleep. but i was still hoping to go the next day so i could put up with it. someone gave me a blanket so i finally had something to cover myself. i was already bundled up in my winter coat, 2 pairs of gloves, and several scarves that i had wrapped around me. i looked like a colorful mummy.
i can tell you, i have never felt that homeless in my life before. people were trying to keep warm while sleeping and while protecting their belongings. i felt dirty, i felt helpless, i was cold and tired and exhausted. i was hurting, at the same time amazed at the anatomical design of luggage carts for people my size. if you lay straight on them with your feet sticking out the end where you normally push it is ok (for a night of course!).
in the middle of the night i moved somewhere else but didn’t get more sleep there. so by 5am i was in the standby line as were about 200 people before me – though i was told to cue at 7am. if i had done that i would have been about a mile away from the desk. it all went ok, people were cheerful to get going, they were looking forward to their flights. trouble started when around 10am the first flights were cancelled. did no yet affect me, i was sure i was going. suddenly there was a lot of commotion, a lot of “oh no’s” and people rushing around. that’s when i decided to go have a look at the notice boards and that’s when i saw more “contact airline” and “cancelled”. i rushed back to section E but the line was already closed. i didn’t care and just got in line behind the last person. more people followed me. the line was moving SO SLOW. i was there for hours. i can’t tell you how long but it was hours. eventually word spread that the terminal would be closed. people waiting in the hotel line were already told to leave the terminal. i remained in line, talked to some people and tried to gain their trust so that they would push my cart if things would be moving. i went to the rest room, decided to look for an adapter plug because my phone was dying and thankfully i got one of the last ones. they had to get it from storage. ten minutes later the plugs were sold out.
so now i was able to charge my phone and use my laptop if only i had an outlet. i went back into the line and waited some more. eventually, armed guards were brought in and they watched the three british airways staff who were trying to rebook people. thing was, officially, they shut down everything because of the weather and they did say they will not rebook. but then again they did rebook people and helped them. so of course we did not go out of the line because if others are helped, we want help too! so the deal is, either close it completely or don’t – but do not leave people in limbo like that. when i saw the armed guards i knew the situation had changed. and i knew that things were getting dangerous. they did not point their weapons down, they had the guns pointing up and they were ready to shoot. anyone conscious of what that means should have been alert.