Time zones are funny things. We left the UAE yesterday to reach New York today. But when we got here it’s still yesterday! Trippy, no?
Anyway… our trip got off to a rather adventurous start. The past few hours have made me reflect that in all our travels we have been blessed with more than our fair share of smooth sailing. We’re barely into this trip and already I have learnt that we too often take things for granted.
Let me start at the beginning. We reached Abu Dhabi airport yesterday morning in time to catch our first flight to London Heathrow. Unfortunately the fates conspired that the flight was delayed by an hour. Lesson One – Never ever assume that a flight will take off on time all the time. With so many international networks and overlapping routes, delays and even early departures are a common occurrence.
We started to worry because we only had a 1.5 hour layover in Heathrow in which time we had to disembark and find our way to a different terminal to catch our next flight to New York. Lesson Two – always give yourself plenty of time between layovers. Even if Google tells you that 1.5 hours is more than enough, in travel, there are way too many factors beyond your control and you need to give yourself some wriggle room.
We decided to go on to London anyway. If all else failed we would have the experience of flying on an A380 to Heathrow and could get a transit visa to stay in London for a few days. Lesson Three – even when life throws you a curveball you can always find a plan B. Do not despair but hold onto your wits and start searching for alternatives.
Lesson 4…and 5
We started chatting with our seat mate on the flight. Turns out she works as cabin crew for the same airline that we were on. She gave us really great advice about making our situation known to the cabin crew so that they could help us disembark quickly and radio ground staff to inform them we were on our way to the next terminal. A real help because our seats were on row 82 (yes… an A380 is MASSIVE!!!) and we would have had to wait until almost the entire plane disembarked. Thanks to our guardian angel we were whisked through a back door to the upper deck and made a quick exit. Lesson Four – Be open to help from unexpected quarters. Strangers are more often than not willing to help if only you reach out to them. And Lesson Five? Never ever book seats at the rear of a plane especially if you need to disembark quickly to catch an onward connection.
We made it to Heathrow and after an Olympic-worthy sprint through the terminal finally made it on board the next flight. You know you’ve escaped by the skin of your teeth when there are staff dotted along your route radioing ahead where you’ve reached. When there are 2 ground staff impatiently waiting at the gate waving at you frantically to run even faster than you already are. When the gate closes as soon as you drag yourself past with the last reserves of your strength. And when ground staff in uniform congratulate you as they leave the plane and say ‘You made it!’.
We finally landed in New York, got through the 2 hour immigration queue (no picnic that was) only to find that my surname for whatever reason raised some alarm bells. I had to go on to another room to wait while they did whatever it is they do to ensure you are who you say you are. Meanwhile DH went to claim our luggage only to find that our bags never made it on to the New York flight and were languishing somewhere in Heathrow! Lesson Six – always pack a change of clothes and essentials for an overnight stay in case your luggage is misplaced. This includes chargers for phones/laptops and converters you may need for your critical devices.
Since we had no luggage and it was just the two of us we decided to use the trains to get to our hotel. It was not the wisest decision we’ve ever made. While the route may have been fine during the day we found ourselves having to change trains in nearly deserted stations with some shady characters hanging around. Not a good choice when you’re an obvious tourist and it’s 3am. Sending up prayers and berating ourselves once again for blindly trusting Google we finally made it to our hotel safe and sound. Lesson Seven – All the research in the world doesn’t mean that things will work out as you expect. But every cloud has a silver lining. We may have feared for our lives down in those stations but we made the smart choice to stop at Penn and catch a cab instead. We emerged onto the heart of New York and walked around at nearly 4 am just drinking in the sights and sounds of the city that never sleeps.
We are so excited to be here that we even started talking about dropping the Philly and DC leg of the trip and just staying here instead. Let’s see where life takes us. Either way this trip has got off to one heck of a start… can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next!