I Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Seriously some trips can make you crazy. Here is a short summary for those who have not followed my adventures on Twitter of how I managed to fly back to Europe just in time for Christmas.

Houston, we have a problem... too.

I was traveling to U.S. for work, I have again been stranded on the other side of the Atlantic. No Icelandic ash cloud this time, but a so-called snow storm that would have hit Western Europe instead... Seriously, how can we still be surprised by snowfalls in December? My departure was initially planned from Seattle on Friday 17th in the evening. I got hot by a treatorous SMS in mid-afternoon informing me that my British Airways flight would be canceled due to possible flight restrictions over Europe. And indeed a couple hours later Heathrow closed its doors.

I then spent the afternoon on the phone with my travel agency emergency hotline, since the main line was long closed due to the time difference and the promising weekend. Well, when I say spend the afternoon on the phone you will have corrected by yourself: I meant "spent the afternoon listening to a pre-recorded message reassuring me of my importance and the immediacy of the hotline response"...

Three hours later, someone finally picked up the phone... to confirm that my flight was canceled - thank you for the news, miss, but that I knew first hand otherwise I'd be in the air rather than over the phone with you! The real new news was that a Continental flight may be leaving the next night from Houston to London. I was thus rerouted to Texas the next morning to make sure I catch my connecting flight. In parallel I learned that fellow Londoners were trying their luck via NY or Dallas... If all roads lead to Rome, it seems that they also make stop-overs in London.

Saturday morning, at dawn, I was leaving Washington State, in the Northwestern part of the U.S., for Houston, Texas in the Southern part of the U.S.. At least I was migrates eastwards, and it was looking promising... My flight to London may be over than 5 hour late it was still scheduled. In fact we even boarded. My eyes soon closed under the weigh of accumulated fatigue, the time differences, flight foods served at any time... "Crrrrr ..." The microphone crackled and woke me up. A glance by the window tells me it is still dark outside and we're still airborn, however my ears were to capture some bad news. "Crrrr... back to terminal 3... crrrr door 15."

What? Did I hear that correctly, we were returning to Houston? After two hours, our plane made a U-turn, having been denied access to European airspace. So it was three o'clock in the morning when we got back on the ground, in the baggage room, waiting for our suitcases. 5 by 5 we made our wayto a suburban hotel, presumably to rest. But for me no time to sleep: I needed to use the Wi-Fi in the lobby to join either the airline or my travel agent to my being placed on the first flight to London. The perspective of spending Christmas amongst Long Horns rather than stuffed turkeys did little to charm me.
Back to square 2.

Since the pre-recorded messages started to make me sick, I never went to bed, and rather jumped in the first shuttle to the airport and do what French people do best: snake my way through the queue to get a precious pass to home. Luckily a ground hostess opened up a patch of blue sky in my so far gloomy horizon. She was French (Yeah!), in her late fifties... and more importantly had access to a terminal which informed her that a flight would leave that same Sunday evening from New York City. And off I go to NYC. Good fortune seemed to be with me that Sunday: a shortcut through the Personel lane, a breathless race through the airport corridors I had extensively visited the day before and here I was boarding a plane to... Newark. "Sorry, what did the hostess say? New York or Newark... that sounds a bit similar to my tired French ears... but I cannot cope with such a misunderstanding at this point!"

Newark was indeed the final destination of the aircraft in which I was buckled up, but Newark was also printed on my ticket and the passenger next to me informed me that it was the third airport in NY (actually it is in New Jersey but it broadly speaking it sounds better to pretend it is "New York" for most tour operators).
Do I really want to be a part of it?

It was 11am when we landed in Newark, my connecting flight to heaven was scheduled on time, but 8 hours later. Fair enough, I was not going to complain, even if the airport was indeed much, much smaller than JFK or La Guardia, I had never been that much East and therefore close to my final destination. I just had to to kill some time: I toured the few shops clockwise, and then anti-clockwise. I stopped in front of the electronic displays in order to assess the situation: some delayed flights from Europe, nothing alarming. A few pages of reading, a little surfing on my Windows Phone 7, and I resumed my walk. A small burger, one for the road as they say.

Soon enough it is 4pm, and even if the displays remain positive, I am less and less. My wife hqd just pinged me a weather report from London and a notice regarding further airspace restrictions which reminded me of many bad memories. Customer Service was as usual not aware of any cancelation, or at least they did not receive any official guidance to confirm or deny the rumors which had begun to spread amongst some seasoned travelers like me. The signs were unmistakable, so were the sidelong glances of ground staff. And for good reasons, few minutes later the two evening flights to London were canceled.

Taking advantage of my earlier wanderings, I headed up straight to the customer service and booked myself on the first flight to... Paris. As a matter of fact, due to the backlog and new weather predictions, the first seats for the Old Europe were not before Wednesday. Yet on the Tuesday I was due to fly to our holiday destination with wife and son. I would never get that plane, but a detour by the French capital and a possible connection by train or car should enable me to spend the Holidays with my family. The Holy Grail at this stage.

Some will say that I'm lucky in my misfortune because NYC is still a nice destination. Except that the constant time difference between the UK, the West Coast and East Coast, uncertainty, a remnant of bronchitis and the stress of the last few days have got rid of my last strengths. I was exhasuted and had no taste for tourism. I wanted to see only one thing: the light at the end of the tunnel. And I was not alone since my colleague who had gone directly to NYC from Seattle there was still stranded there too. There will be no blog post entitled A Mountain Dweller in the Hudson Valley this time, it will take a more favorable opportunity to report on the inspiring cultural disparities to be experienced in the Big Apple.
Home Run.

Wednesday came. The plane was scheduled to depart at 6:30pm but I was already on site at 1pm. I must have missed Newark Airport... In any case, I was not to miss this opportunity to go home. My first three attempts had failed... The fourth should not. And the overweighted couple who would travels with me, will not indent my anticipation. The seat was too small for the woman who was spreading over her husbands who in turn was crushing me against the cold window of the aircraft. I did not care, I was flying home and no smelly armpit would make me lose my smile.

Because this time it was true, the plane took off and did not turn around. It was en route to France, home sweet home. I peeped over and over again through the window to see if a change of scenery would announce a change of course. To no avail. Despite the fatigue, I did not close my eyes, the experience in Houston left marks. Besides, my neighbor's elbows tucked in my rib cage helped me stay awake.

Land, I see land.

What a joy to see the Irish coast at dawn! Not to mention the frosted English back country... But what a joke to see the Parisian airport Roissy Charles de Gaulle. I expected to see six-feet-high snow drifts, employees shoveling snow with flamethrowers... Think again. Only a few inches of snow were scattered around. You could still see here and there some patches of grass. Seriously if there was a snowstorm a few days before, it must have been followed by a tropical one that melted down the evidence!

But again I did not care, I was in France, only a few hours from my family and day ahead of Christmas Eve. I did not care either about the announcement on the loudspeaker letting passengers from Orlando know that they would have to wait for their luggage another two hours due to a "sudden strike from the ground staff"... It had to be France. A Warm Welcome Home!


  1. Sandrine Plasseraud7:38 am

    J'espère que vous aurez bien profité de vos vacances bien méritées après ce long voyage de retour !

    Bises à toute la famille


  2. Mais, je me pose une quesion... Est ce que les miles du vol Houston - Londres ont été pris en compte malgré tout ? :)