I don’t remember what it was that had every plane in America grounded / delayed / overbooked that day in March 2007. Maybe it was snow, or a hurricane, or one of those volcanoes in Iceland that erupts every once in a while and covers the entire northern hemisphere with a massive ash cloud.
Whatever the reason for the Grounded Plane Extravaganza, it made me MAD. Because I was supposed to go see my friend K. that week.
And if you know me at all, you know . . .
Now, this wasn’t going to be my first trip to Dublin. In fact, I think it was my third. But it was my Spring Break (don’t forget, I’m a teacher, so I still get stuff like Spring Break HAHAHA) and I had some money, and I wanted to go run around Temple Bar and the Ha’penny Bridge for a few days.
Oh, and there was also the trivial and unexciting detail that my trip would coincide with St. Patrick’s Day.
Which, honestly, is one of my favorite holidays EVAR.
BUT THE SNOW / HURRICANE / ASH CLOUD, it would not allow my plane to leave. The flight had been rescheduled for the next day, or maybe they just put me on a different flight, I don’t remember.
I spent that night with my parents, and my dad drove me to the airport at 4:00 the next morning. He helped me in with my bag. Then he stood in line with me just to make sure I made it on the plane, because as anyone who’s traveled knows, just because they SAY you can get on a plane doesn’t mean you will ACTUALLY get on a plane.
And lo, I did not get on a plane.
“Sorry,” the woman behind the counter said as thirty-five people accosted her using their Outside Voices at 4:30 in the morning. And then I don’t remember why the plane wasn’t leaving again, but it was something like an icestorm or a freakish outbreak of tornadoes in the plains or there were too many seagulls in Florida or some such thing.
“Please,” I begged, close to tears. “I was supposed to leave yesterday. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
But she was too busy trying to fend off the people who were rapidly transforming into Cancelled Flight Zombies to reply, so my dad put my bag back in my car and we left. Again.
TWO DAYS later, Rob (who was my BOYFRIEND at this point, and the fact that he married me after I did what I was about to do gives him major props for life) and I were in my car, on the way to the airport. I had given up on my dream of a Dublin St. Patty’s day. All I wanted was my dadgum money back.
“I hate planes,” I growled from the driver’s seat.
“Mmm,” he said.
“I’m never flying again.”
We arrived at the airport at 2:30 that afternoon. The place was deserted–probably because the Cancelled Flight Zombies had eaten everyone. I walked up to the counter while Rob loitered behind me.
“Hi,” I said to the guy at the computer. “I was on Flight 33 to London via Philadelphia. The one that was supposed to leave four days ago, but was cancelled twice. I’d like a refund, please.”
(If you’re confused because you thought I was going to Dublin, I was. But the flight that was actually cancelled was Birmingham to Philadelphia, where I was supposed to pick up a plane to London, and then another one to Dublin. I know, INSANE.)
“Well, it’ll take a few days,” the guy said with his best Tortured Apology Face securely fastened on top of his Heartless Airport Guy face (which, as we all know, was his REAL face). “Just fill out this endless form and mail it in, and you’ll probably get a refund within a few weeks.”
Then I looked at the information board on the wall behind him.
“What is that?” I said.
He looked over his shoulder. “What is what?”
“THAT. Does that say Flight 33 to Philadelphia? Leaving at 3:00?”
“Um, yeah,” he said. “That flight runs every day.”
I cocked my head to the side, looking at the clock on the wall that read 2:45. “Does the flight from Philly to London also run every day?”
“Hmm. It’s funny, because I still have my packed bag in the car, and–what do you know? Here’s my passport.”
We looked at each other for a moment, and I knew we were thinking the same thing. I smiled. He smiled.
“I don’t want my refund,” I said. “I want you to put me on that plane.”
He was already tapping away at his keys and calling the gate to make sure they didn’t leave. Meanwhile, Rob stood in the background with no idea what I was up to, although I could tell by his slightly nervous expression that his Spidey Sense had detected something it didn’t like. Much like a dog who begins to suspect that the “fun car ride” is actually a trip to the vet.
“Go,” the guy behind the counter said with a final stroke of the ENTER key. “It leaves in ten minutes.”
And then I looked at Rob and basically shouted I’M GOING TO IRELAND GO GET MY BAGS I HAVE MY PASSPORT IN MY PURSE AND ALSO CAN YOU CALL MY PARENTS AND TELL THEM WHAT I’VE DONE HUSTLE RILEY HUSTLE!
And he hustled. He ran to the car, got my bag, brought it in, and asked me if I was sure I wanted to go.
I said yes.
Then I kissed him goodbye, ran through security (but not before having my carry-on SEARCHED for five of my precious ten minutes) and dove onto the plane as it was taxiing away from the gangway.
(Okay, it wasn’t quite that close, but we really did leave the gate about one minute after I sat down.)
I arrived in Philadelphia a couple hours later, where I placed an international call to my friend K. and informed her that I was, in fact, coming to Dublin. She was SUPER excited. Then I hoofed it across about five million concourses to my next gate, and AGAINST ALL ODDS, managed to get myself on a plane to London.
<fast-forward six hours and one low blood sugar attack in which I almost passed out on the plane and had to call for some emergency orange juice>
I got off the plane in the blessed Promised Land of England. I went through customs. Then I killed about four hours until I could go through to the next gate for my flight to Dublin.
But SHOCKINGLY, there was a problem.
The self check-in thingy wouldn’t work. It kept saying it was too early to check in for the flight.
“But it leaves in an hour,” I thought somewhere in my sleepless mind. “That doesn’t make much sense.”
I walked up to the airline counter and explained what was happening.
“That’s because your flight is scheduled for tomorrow,” the kind English lady said, pointing at my ticket.
I squinted at the words beneath her finger. “Huh? What day is it?”
She told me the date. And my flight was, in fact, scheduled for the next day. I hadn’t messed up; British Air had. But the flight that left in an hour–the one I THOUGHT I was on–was overbooked. I wasn’t getting on that plane.
“Okay,” I said, and walked away in a haze.
There was a mild sense of emergency brewing somewhere in the back of my mind, but I didn’t really grasp it until after I’d stood in the middle of Gatwick Airport for a good half hour, staring at things and hoping someone would tell me what to do. Finally it dawned on me that I was either going to spend the night in the airport, or spend it somewhere else.
I changed some money, paid for some internet time, and looked up some hostels in a part of London I was familiar with.
(By the way, I’ve been to London like, twelve times. No joke. I’ve probably spent the equivalent of three months there. So I know my way around. That’s why I wasn’t as freaked out as you’re probably thinking I should have been.)
Anyway, I found this hostel in Greenwich, an area I know and love dearly. I called them and begged for a room. A private one. And guess what? They had one.
St. Christopher’s Hostel in Greenwich. I actually stayed here. You may now commence the mad rush to stay in the same hostel Anne Riley stayed in. Although, bad news, I don’t remember my room number. Sorry, superfans.
So I got on a train to London’s city center, and even managed to switch trains at London Bridge so that I would, in fact, end up in Greenwich. I dropped off my bag at the hostel (my room wasn’t ready yet) and then went straight to Greenwich Park. I did not shower, I did not eat, I did not even use the bathroom.
Because I love Greenwich Park more than anywhere else in the world. And I wanted to wiggle my toes in the grass.
Please don’t judge the Ugly Toes of Death. I know they are horrible. I just don’t care.
My flight to Dublin went off without a hitch the next day. I actually managed to get on the right plane, at the right time, on the right day. And as soon as I got to K.’s apartment in Dublin, I celebrated my arrival like this:
Then K. took me to this awesome pub in her neighborhood. We talked and listened to real Irish music played by real Irish people. No joke.
Here I am by a bridge that I thought was the Ha’penny Bridge, but after a swift Google search, I have discovered that it was, in fact, Some Other Bridge. Oh well.
And that’s how I accidentally got on a plane to Europe–and had a fantastic Irish spring break.