Interesting times

22 04 2010

We’ve just had some great news and some great luck.

Gail, who is normally the brains behind everything, NEVER checks our travel plans. That is my domain. However, she inexplicably woke me to ask how to log into our British Airways account as she was stressing about getting home.

Sometimes things are just meant to be. This was to be one of those occasions.

Allow me to give you a little context. We love to go on holiday. We particularly love to travel to the USA. We were even married in Las Vegas in 2008 at Bellagio with the massive fountains going off on our first kiss.

This whole recent experience may have put a dampener on returning to the USA next year. Gail is of course 16 weeks pregnant which means that next April’s trip to Florida was going to involve Pob (our unborn child) at around 6 months old. My parents travelled with me as a small child, as did Gail’s, as did Ken’s (a chum who is going to be one of the Godfathers). In fact, I know Ken took his oldest daughter, Katie, to New York before she was a year old, because he recently took her back for her 18th birthday to all of the same places that they have photos of her together when she was a baby.

So, it can be done. However, and you may think this is being a bit melodramatic, but how much has the world changed over the last week? In the same way that security and paranoia were both ramped up a notch after 9/11, are we going to see an aversion to air travel because we’re frightened we’re not going to be able to get back home? I have to admit that, during some of the darker moments recently, I had given up on the idea of long haul flying on the grounds that being stuck 5,500 miles away is very scary.

I prefer being in charge of my own destiny and, although there were always options involving either ferries or very expensive one-way tickets to the Netherlands or Spain, we really did feel very stuck.  (I can’t get this picture to work, so click on the little blue box to see how much the greedy clog-wearers wanted).

But, in general, we do love to fly and do love to travel. We have been guilty of standing near Heathrow with a camera and taking pics in the past. Yes, I’m aware that to the casual reader it appears a little sad but, well, erm, I can’t really justify it. It is a little sad.

747 at Heathrow taken by Gail

What is an obsession though, that has a means to an end, is the collection of British Airways frequent flyer miles. It’s a bit of a dark art that involves Tesco, eBay and some creative accounting, but it is worth it in the end. There is a great website called FlyerTalk that is basically a discussion forum for people who either travel a lot or who would like to travel a lot. It also is full of tips on how to best collect BA miles.

Why do I collect them? I collect them because it allows me to travel FIRST (as BA likes to spell it) class or Business Class for the price of economy. As I said, it is a bit of a dark art and I’m not going to spill all of my secrets here (or everyone would be doing it and there are only a finite amount of seats going) but if you spend enough time reading FlyerTalk then you’ll work it out for yourself.

Flying FIRST or Business Class turns an 11 hour chore into an absolute pleasure, with free food and drink both on-board and at the airport lounge before. When we were told our original flight home on Friday 16th was cancelled, at least I could pour myself a gin and tonic to ease the pain. The only difference between the two is, on BA anyway, a slightly larger bed and better food and drink. As a very thirsty man I can tell the difference, but either will do. In FIRST they serve Johnny Walker Blue Label; in Business Class it’s Red Label, that gives you an ideal of the distinction (Google it…).

Seat 1K, BA FIRST

Which all gets me back to Gail looking at our booking. I’m the one obsessed with frequent flyer miles, which part of the plane we’re in and which champagne they’re serving in the lounges. Gail couldn’t care less. All she wants to know is that it takes off and lands safely, preferably in the right place. So what was she doing in our booking?

I don’t know, she doesn’t know, it’s just one of those things. She even had to wake me to ask what our log-in is. She then woke me again to ask why our booking said “Thursday” rather than “Friday”. I had just assumed we’d been waitlisted for an earlier flight, in the same way that we had been for Wednesday. All of the Wednesday flights from LA to Heathrow went, but they were full and they couldn’t squeeze us on.

Literally seconds later my mobile went off and it was BA on the phone.

“Hello, is that Mr Anderson?”

“No, I’ll just get him”, Gail answered.

As it happens I was too asleep to be coherent, so Gail had to take the call.

I’d been on the phone night and day to BA (through the marvellous Skype) trying to get us an earlier flight. The best I had been able to do was get us from Saturday to Friday. However, something I’d said (I did go on and on about Gail and Pob) must have resonated as here was BA, in a time of huge disarray, calling us to tell us they’d found 2 business class seats on the 9.20pm flight on Thursday and that she’d just booked us into them. Would we like to take them?

Do bears live in the Vatican? I’ll take the poorer whisky and smaller bed happily.

The first time in pretty much ever Gail had gone into our booking was a few minutes after the woman at BA who called had rebooked us, and a few minutes before she called to tell us so. How’s that for a stroke of luck?

British Airways was much maligned by some parts of the media during the recent strike, a view I had never shared. Ken, who I mentioned earlier, is stuck in Spain at the moment and is booked with Ryanair. I’m getting constant communication and over £100 a day towards my expenses; he’s getting nowt. I hope that BA gets through this unscathed, especially as I have a load of frequent flyer miles left….

I’m only partly kidding about that, but there is something to be said about karma and good corporate governance in this situation.

Take the difference between BA and Ryanair, and how they’re treating Ken and I.

There is a bit of European law (EU Directive 261) that states that airlines have a ‘right of care’ to passengers who are stuck due to cancellations or severe delays. Essentially we get some money for a hotel and some food and a couple of phone calls. BA has been giving us that, Ryanair isn’t giving Ken it and, believe me, Ken could charm his way into selling oil to Saudi Arabia, so it won’t be through a lack of trying.

Michael O’Leary, who runs Ryanair, had said that the law is an ass and Ryanair wouldn’t be handing out any more than the cost of the ticket. He has since backtracked a bit saying they would refund “reasonable receipted expenses” but that is a very vague phrase that allows them to get out of pretty much anything they want.

Is the law an ass? Probably. Should airlines be made to pay for hotel rooms when it clearly isn’t their fault? Probably not, but Michael O”Leary is, despite clearly being a brilliant businessman, an odious little man who I would love to see suffer and put out of business.

Willie Walsh, the Chief Executive of BA, shares several qualities with O’Leary (such as being short and Irish, much like a leprechaun) but they have a totally opposing stance on looking after their customers in times of crisis. One thinks they should, one thinks they shouldn’t.

It does raise the whole question of whether it has all been an overreaction.

Sir Richard Branson, who was unusually quiet through the whole episode, thinks so. “I think if they’d sent up planes immediately to see whether the ash was actually too dangerous to fly through or to look for corridors where it wasn’t very thick, I think that we would have been back flying a lot sooner.” he said.

The recriminations will go on for some time; I just hope we’re back home to our 4 cats before they change their mind.

Talking about our cats, they’ve been causing trouble. Pablo, our youngest, yet fattest cat, has been bonding with Gail’s mam, Shirley. My mam and dad, as well as Gail’s mam and dad, have been taking turns in going over to our house to feed them. Of course, part of the process involves washing the bowls – today Pablo was mooching around Shirley while she was washing up; Shirley decided to put some soap-suds on Pablo, Pablo decided to bite her. That’s his way of saying he likes you, which has to be a good thing.  It could also be because Shirley, and my mam, have accused Pablo of being too fat.

Big fat Pablo-cat

The other great call was from a woman called Faye, from Fishburn. A week before we went on holiday we managed to catch a stray cat who was attacking our 4 cats and spraying in the house. Faye and her husband are two very kind retired people who spend their time taking in stray or unwell cats, nursing them to health, and then re-homing them.

She didn’t realise we were stuck in Los Angeles so didn’t realise her call woke us up this morning. We didn’t care, as she was calling to say that Quincy (as we’d called him) had been neutered, microchipped and jabbed and had turned from a nervous stray into a “big soft lump” and had a new home.  We thought he looked like he had a bit of Maine Coon in him, it turns out he was 100% Maine Coon.

Quincy, when we caught him

Our call from BA was great luck; our call from Faye was our good news.

Being stuck in this sort of situation clearly makes you react in odd ways. Gail, who has developed a fear of travelling (mainly due to the implications to Pob) has suggested to Ken and his partner Sarah that, if they remain stuck in Spain, that we will catch a ferry, drive there, and pick them up. That’s the sort of crazy adventure that Ken and I would dream up together, but I wouldn’t have expected Gail to look at a 25 hour drive days after getting home from our journey.

Fortunately, Ken tells me they’re booked onto a flight this weekend and is already suggesting lunch to catch up on our experiences. There is something marvellously absurd about driving to Spain to pick someone up, but I suggest I’m better off sleeping for a few days when I get back home.

Ken and I share a number of co-incidences which have led us to suggest that we may be “brothers from a different mother”, they have continued by him telling me he’s killing time tomorrow by going to a restaurant in Valencia. I asked him, via Facebook chat (another cheap way of staying in touch) whether it was Ca Sento? He asked how I knew, and I said we ate there a couple of years ago and I just knew he would sniff it out eventually. I recommended a bar across the street and stealing a handtowel from the toilets, as they have the restaurant’s name on them. Mine is framed next to the menu.

Ca Sento

Ken and I have a mutual friend, Martin, who has spent the last 6 months living in China, teaching English. Martin is probably the cleverest person I know, a true polymath (he reminds me of Doctor Who), and on a whim decided to take a year off from his job as a BBC journalist and move to China. His reason? Before I explain, I appreciate this doesn’t make sense to the average mind, but Martin is not average.

He was bored at work so decided to take a night class at Teesside University. He wasn’t sure what to take, but plumped for Mandarin Chinese “as it sounded hard”.

He got a taste for it and when the opportunity came up to move to China, he told me the decision came down to: “do we go to China or not? There was no choice really.” I agree, but in totally the opposite direction.

Anyway, I tell you this because Martin is coming home in 2 weeks for a friend’s wedding and is already planning to join Ken and I in our homecoming lunch. That’s me in LA, Ken in Spain and Martin in China, all meeting at a ropy Chinese restaurant in Middesbrough in a fortnight.

The ancient Chinese had a saying, which is meant as an insult or curse: “may you live in interesting times.” I’m unsure as to what Martin’s new friends would make of the last week or so, but they are most certainly interesting.





School days

21 04 2010

“Every day is a school day”, so the saying goes.

Over the last few days, my timetable has covered volcano ash and its affect on planes, how to use the internet to make phone calls home and that, yes, you can get sick of American food.

Ironically, I’d watched an episode of Air Crash Investigation, only a few weeks before flying out to California, about BA009 – the British Airways flight that suffered severe engine failure while flying through the erupting volcano of Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. That incident, back in 1982, was what ultimately led to the recent closure of UK airspace. Air Crash Investigators (what a great title to have on your business card) deduced that small particles of volcanic ash, when sucked into red hot jet engines, clogged them up and caused them to stop.

Almost 28 years later, following the biggest shutdown of airspace in history, it appears the experts have changed their minds. A few hours ago my pregnant wife, Gail, and I heard on the news that UK airspace has re-opened and there is some light at the end of the tunnel after being stuck 5,500 miles from home in a Los Angeles hotel room.

The irony of being able to keep in touch with world events from a laptop, but feeling absolutely stranded due to those same events, isn’t lost on us. As it stands we’re on standby for a flight in the morning, with a confirmed booking on Saturday, 8 days after we should have left and 21 days after we actually set off from home in Spennymoor.

The eyes of the world have been on the first few flights that landed in UK airspace after Transport Minster Lord Adonis announced it was re-opening. The big world vs. small world irony was immediately evident as news channels over here that normally only concentrate on anything with a Stars & Stripes tattooed on it were showing pictures of an Air Transat flight from Canada diverting to land at Newcastle Airport – the first transatlantic landing after the announcement that airspace was re-opening. Talk about feeling homesick.

So what has changed since airspace closed last week? Have scientists, examining test data from flights operated by BA, KLM and Lufthansa, decided that as long as you don’t fly through the actual funnel of the volcano then you’ll be OK? Or is it a case of airline bosses putting pressure on a government (well, technically the government has been dissolved, but you know what I mean) that doesn’t want to have to explain to potential voters that their brother, sister, mother or daughter is stuck at the other side of the world even though other European countries are letting people back in?

I really hope it’s the former, but the cynic in me thinks that there is some politics involved in this. I watched Lord Adonis say: “The issue at stake here has been the assessment of the safety authorities as to what is the safe way in which planes can fly when there is a presence of ash.
“The fact which has changed in the last week is we have had a volcanic eruption and having to assess safe levels of ash content in the atmosphere within which planes can fly has been an urgent issue which the safety authorities have had to deal with.”

However, he was never going to say: “Willie Walsh (CEO of British Airways) called me up and begged and pleaded down the phone to let his airline fly or it might go out of business costing thousands of jobs and the voters will blame you.”

In reality, I can’t see any airline threatening the safety of passengers, staff or planes just for the sake of profit or posturing, be believe me I’ll be keeping a keen eye on the virtual arrival and departures boards for now.

As for us, we’re just playing the waiting game. Waiting for the UK to wake up (as I write this it’s 9pm local time and 5am UK time the next day), waiting for BA to start answering the phones and waiting to find out when we can finally check out of this hotel and get a taxi to the airport.

Due to having to run our supply teaching agency, SupplyMatch, from here we have set up a mini-office with laptops and mobile phones on divert from home. We’ve had a nice balance between extra bookings from schools missing staff who are stuck abroad, as opposed to the extra money it’s costing us to live out of a hotel room.

There are some costs we can’t avoid, but one way I have learned to save money in this situation is how to make phone calls via the internet. I’d heard techhy friends mention Skype before, but I’d never bothered to learn how to use it. After all, I get around a billion inclusive minutes and texts on my Why Aye Phone and that fits in my pocket.

We have spent a lot of time on hold to British Airways over the last few days, with the priority line a UK number open from 8am-8pm. As I explained yesterday, there is a freephone US number, but that involves a 3 hour wait.

The priority line usually picks up in 5-20 minutes, but at £1 from my mobile, you can see the costs mount up very quickly. Forget the hotel phone, those greedy sods want $5 a minute. I needed a solution, so I Googled “Skype”.

It seemed to be a godsend. 1p per minute to call anywhere in the world and it was pay as you go. Brilliant, I thought. I signed up and called BA in Manchester.

Skype makes a lovely little noise, like a phone being dialed underwater. Then, it just rings like a normal phone. And rings. And rings. Eventually a reassuringly British-sounding (recorded) woman thanks me for ringing BA and my call would be answered as soon as possible.

15 minutes (and only 15 pence) later I hear a voice say: “Hello, British Airways You First, how can I help you?”

“Hi, my name is Paul and we’re stuck in Los Angeles. Can you give me any idea……”

He continues: “Hello, is anyone there. Hello. Hello.” Click. He clearly can’t hear me and has hung up.

The last few minutes were a lesson in how hopes can be raised and shattered in an instant.

I try calling my mam at home, same result. I can feel a deep dark cloud settling over my mood, deeper and darker than the one still hovering over most of Europe. Then, we have an idea. Who’s the most technical person we know who could tell us how to fix it? Gail’s brother, the engineer who messes around with computers for a living, and is the epitome of a Mac-geek. He’ll know!

A quick phone call to Anth later, he tells me to switch on the internal microphone and, voila, we have cheap calls home. He deserves the “I’m a Mac” t-shirt that we bought for him at Apple HQ in California what seems an age ago, but was only actually about a fortnight ago.

Anth's much deserved prezzie

Who's a Mac-geek?

As I said at the start, every day is a school day.

There is, as we speak, no word on whether or not any of the three Los Angeles to Heathrow flights are going in the morning. West Coast US goes to bed at around the same time the UK gets up, so at around midnight here I can fire up good-old Skype and sit on hold for ages, without considering re-mortgaging the house.

Due to the fact that, since we left Las Vegas and came to Los Angeles, we’ve had to run the business, we’re pretty much living to some mixed up combination of UK and USA time. That’s no problem as we still get enough sleep, just during the day. I guess the lack of regular sleep patterns is something Gail and I will be getting used to, as Pob is almost half-way to being born. He or she has apparently started kicking over the last few days, probably protesting at all of the rich junk food we’ve been eating over since getting to LA.

One consequence of living your life during the middle of the night is that everything around you is shut (except in Vegas, but we drove away from there last week). Everything, that is, apart from the room service kitchen. However, overnight there is less choice than Henry Ford offered people in what colour they could buy their Model T in. Burger, soup, club sandwich, another burger. That’s about it.

We finally snapped today and I dragged myself out of bed and tracked down some pasta and a salad from a local café to bring back to the room. It was like tasting chocolate and smelling roses for the first time. One of the reasons we like coming to the USA is that you can’t get a decent steak or burger at home, so we fill our boots when we’re here. However, they’re well and truly filled. There is a lemon tree outside of our window, I was so desperate for something fresh that I almost picked one and ate it there and then.

We are missing our 4 cats still; usually they’re unfriendly to strangers but our youngest, Pablo, seems to be missing company too and has latched on to Gail’s mam and dad who are currently on feeding duties.

An old pic of Pablo, after he broke his paw.

On the subject of animals, my parents have just got a new puppy (a Newfoundland called Missy) who we’re still to meet.In the small world, we’ve had regular pictures e-mailed over and I hear her bark over the phone, but in the big world without air travel I’m yet to give her a fuss. Again, it is the little things are hit home when you’re stuck away.

There are a couple of small things that have kept my faith in human nature propped up. One of them is that the long-stay car park at Newcastle Airport has said they won’t charge us any extra, although we’re already late to pick it up. I’ve read horror stories over the last few days of car hire companies charging £2,000 for one-way rentals from Paris to the UK and I’ve seen, with my own eyes on the KLM website, them wanting over £5,000 each (not a typo) for one way flights home. It reminds me of the petrol stations that were charging £4 a litre during the fuel protests in 2000, only to find that people boycotted them when things got back to normal.

Newcastle Airport car park must be losing a fortune as very few people will have checked their cars in over the last few days, so to offer us this gesture is much appreciated, which is why I wanted to tell you about it here.

I hope to be on a plane home in the next 24 hours, but I’m not holding my breath. I still don’t know if the planes we could get on are even in the right place. We have had some bits of good luck and some bits of bad luck in recent days, but as long as we don’t hear something like this, then I’ll be grateful to get home by whatever means possible.

Captain Eric Moody, on BA009 on 24th June 1982: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

Compare that to how Gail and I will feel if our Captain says something like the Air Transat pilot must have told his passengers yesterday: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. Airspace over London Heathrow has been temporarily closed, so we are diverting to Newcastle Airport. I hope this doesn’t cause you too much inconvenience.”

After our journey so far, it would be like winning the lottery. Lets see how lucky we are.





Beer and Slothing in Los Angeles

20 04 2010

I’m one of the many people stuck away from home because no flights are operating into the UK as I write.

Real Radio North East, where I used to work and still have a few chums there, has asked me to write a blog about my experience. I agreed when in drink, but to my surprise I really enjoyed writing it. So much so, that I’ve got myself a blog and will publish it here too.

Here’s part 1….

**************

When I agreed to start writing this blog for the nice people at Real Radio North East, I expected to write a short novel before I made it home to Spennymoor, from Los Angeles.

However, I’ve just had some promising news that might make this the most short-lived job since Brian Clough joined Leeds United.

Let me introduce myself – my name is Paul and just over 2 weeks ago my wife, Gail, and I were going on one last big holiday before our first baby is due this summer.

We flew into San Francisco and stayed at a hotel overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, which we visited on a hot spring morning.

We flew down to Las Vegas, where we were married in 2008, to eat, drink and gamble day and night. For a little while we hoped it would never end as once we flew back home it was back to work and back to real life.

If only we could be there now, with our four cats, who we are missing more and more by the day.

We also run our own business, an agency for supply teachers called SupplyMatch (www.supplymatch.biz). We are the only two people who run it, which could cause some complications depending on when we fly home.

Now, I’m writing this from a hotel room in West Hollywood, overlooking the infamous Viper Room where actor River Phoenix died in 1993. A few minutes ago we went out to buy a few beers and cans of Coke from the off licence next door, people were already queuing to get in for tonight’s show.

So how did it all come to this?

The hints were there that we shouldn’t have taken this trip in the first place. Literally the day before we flew to San Francisco, Gail, who is 16 weeks pregnant, had to go to hospital in Durham following a minor scare. Everything turned out fine but, if there was a problem, we were ready to drop the trip in an instant to make sure we were doing the best by our unborn baby (who we call and will be referred to here-on as ‘Pob’).

Little does Pob know, but he or she is caught up in a unique and unprecedented event that’s making the whole world look at how fragile air travel is and how much we take it for granted. There’s a common saying that the world is getting smaller, but being stuck five and a half thousand miles from home gives you a stark reminder just how big it still is.

We were due to fly back on Friday 16th April on BA268 Los Angeles – London Heathrow, then on a short hop on the Saturday afternoon up to Newcastle. Being a bit of a plane-saddo it was hardly a chore as I’d booked us into First Class (I did say this was our last holiday for a while) and was looking forward to drinking BA’s champagne cupboards dry).

A couple of days earlier we were interested in, but not unduly worried about, an Icelandic volcano called Eyjafjallajoekull.

It wasn’t being mentioned on the TV news over here, partially because most US news networks don’t really acknowledge the existence of things that go on outside of the 50 states, and partially because I don’t think any of the newsreaders wanted to have a go at pronouncing it. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/pronounce-eyjafjallajokull-10392613

As our flight got closer and closer, I did what everyone does in Las Vegas and sat in front of my laptop alternating between the British Airways, BBC News, and the FlyerTalk (a discussion forum for other likeminded plane-anoraks) websites keeping up with the news.

I watched as flight after flight was being cancelled, just waiting for ours to be next. 24 hours before we were due to come home, the first two BA Los Angeles – Heathrow flights on Friday were cancelled, but ours (the 9.20pm) was still there. Could we dare to hope that we’d get away with it and fly home on time?

Not a chance, we thought. Then the inevitable happened – I got a text from BA simply saying “Flight BA0268 on 16 Apr LAX-LHR is cancelled. Visit ba.com or call on (877) 7677970 (US).” Seconds later I got something similar via e-mail.

So, I picked up the hotel phone and called as suggested, only to hear an automated voice say: “your wait time is 68 minutes”. Bearing in mind it was a hotel phone at hotel phone prices I hung up and went to the BA website.

There was nothing, so we took it in turns to call our parents to ask them to continue to feed the cats and look out for any interesting looking mail.

The cats. They go in the huff at the sight of a suitcase and we’d already been here for 2 weeks. They will not be in the best of moods when we get back. It’s a good job we stocked up on premium cat-food at WalMart the other day. However, it’s not doing much good sitting in one of our four packed suitcases in the corner of this hotel room.

Then, what seemed like a minor miracle happened. The flight details on the ‘manage my booking’ part of the BA website changed from “BA0268 LAX-LHR Cancelled” to “BA0268 LAX-PIK”.

Confused, I looked up the airport code “PIK”. Never have I enjoyed the reading the words “Glasgow Prestwick” more. I’d flown into it once before, when I was 18, returning from a week in Majorca with ‘the lads’. It was a cheapo Teletext holiday, my first ‘on my own’. The day we flew back we heard the news on the bus from the terminal to the car park that Princess Diana had died in the early hours of that morning. It was an eerie drive home to Bowburn with only two programmes on the radio – the BBC radio obituary and the commercial radio obituary. It seemed significant that I was going to fly into PIK for the second time during another world-changing event, only this time I was part of it.

We eventually did speak to British Airways, this time they called us on the morning of the supposed flight home. Adam, an Englishman in New York, asked if we still planning to get the flight. We told them seeing the flight details change from ‘cancelled’ to ‘PIK’ felt like winning the lottery and we’d walk to the airport if it meant getting home. I was very aware, but was hesitant to tell Gail, that it was clear that the volcano ash situation was getting worse rather than better, so this was a possible chance to get home that we couldn’t afford to miss.

We loaded the hire car and started the drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. With the Strip disappearing in the background and the desert approaching we were in good cheer, celebrating how lucky we were to be on one of the first flights going back home from the USA.

It however started to feel a little like Planes, Trains and Automobiles when we got to the outskirts of Los Angeles and we realised that neither of us knew how to get to the airport. We’d also packed the sat-nav and didn’t know which case it was in. It was still 4 hours before our flight, but we were approaching rush-hour in Downtown LA, which is some of the worst traffic in the civilised world.

We pulled over, eventually found the Sat Nav and it told us we were 20 miles away, and had to go through the middle of the city. However, from prior experience in LA traffic, I know that at its worst it can take an hour to go 10 miles.

Slight panic started to set in when it took us 10 minutes to go one mile. How could we be so stupid? Were we about to miss the first flight home; potentially the last flight home in some time.

To rub our noses in it, my mobile rang and it was an American woman calling from BA at LAX. “We’re just checking you and Mrs Anderson are still flying with us, despite the re-routing to Glasgow?”

“Yes, if we make it to the airport” I replied, only half joking.

Then, out of nowhere, the traffic seemed to part like the Red Sea and we were bombing along the interstate at 65mph.

Get in! The hire car was dropped off and we found ourselves checking in. The First Class line was short, and it didn’t register to me that there were people in seats in the economy queue. Only later did I realise that these people were on the earlier, cancelled, flights and they were hoping to be re-booked onto the 9.20pm.

The check-in agent handed us our boarding passes along with a letter saying that on arrival at Prestwick, passengers would be put on coaches for an estimated 8 hour drive to London.

Glasgow to Newcastle Airport (where our own car was parked) only takes around 2 ½ hours, so as Gail is off the booze due to Pob, we decided to pass on the 8-hour bus ride and pick up a one-way hire car at the airport.

We got through some very short security lines at the international terminal, as nearly half the scheduled flights were cancelled, and straight into the lounge. I got a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and a glass of champagne (both for me, as we’d wasted good lounge-time in downtown LA traffic and I had some catching up to do).

I don’t normally drink ‘Dog’ but it seemed fitting. If you’re ever in the USA and people ask where you’re from (and you want to give them some context) just say you’re xx miles from Newcastle, where they make the Brown Ale. It usually works.

I logged onto the interweb to book us a hire car, while trying to celeb-spot out of the corner of my eye. Flyertalk.com has a ‘celebs on BA thread’ (I told you it was for saddos) and people including the Beckhams and Stephen Fry had been spotted in the lounge recently.

The internet was really slow, due to just about everyone in there using it, but eventually I’d spotted a reasonably cheap car-hire deal that looked ideal.

It’s a good job that the interweb was running slow as there was a tannoy announcement saying: “can all passengers on BA 268 please come to the reception”. Given that BA shares this lounge with the Australian airline Qantas and the South-Asian carrier Cathay Pacific, the collective sigh was distinctively British.

We were informed, an hour before boarding, that Scottish airspace had been re-closed, and the flight had been cancelled. It wasn’t really a shock, but it was frustrating. I made sure I was at the front of the queue, as I realised that whatever was going to happen wasn’t going to be ideal.

Gail and I were booked into a hotel for the night, but re-booked on a flight 8 days later from the same airport. Gail was upset, and had a little cry on the phone to her parents. She’s just become noticibly pregnant, and I made eye-contact with a well-dressed older lady in the adjacent seats who gave us a smile of compassion. I later discovered she was Baroness Kingsmill, who is a director of British Airways, flying home. I guess if she couldn’t make the flight take off, no-one could.

We went to the airport hotel depressed and tired. The Sheraton Gateway was truly awful. I checked their website before we set off from the lounge and it looks very nice. They must be some old photos on there… I appreciate BA is giving it to us free, but a) it didn’t remove the fact that it was dirty and smelly and b) they are required to under EC law.

We checked out the next morning and into the London West Hollywood, a hotel we’d stayed at the year before. I’d also got BA to promise to put some money towards the cost of it, so it wasn’t hitting our pockets too hard.

We’ve been here for 2 nights as I write this (Monday evening here, early Tuesday morning UK time) and we’re waitlisted onto a flight on Wednesday, with a confirmed booking on Saturday.

We’re really lucky – we are together and we can run our business from anywhere in the world that we have a laptop with WiFi access and a mobile phone. We once ran it from a tent at T-in-the-Park. It means as long as we are stuck here we can still earn a living, I can only imagine how worrying this is for people who are fast running out of money and may not have a job to go back to if they are here for too long. As we were leaving the airport on Friday night we got talking to a man who was waiting with his very small daughter to pick up the luggage that had been offloaded from BA268. His wife was waiting in a very long queue with his other daughter trying to get re-booked and get put in a hotel. As I say, it could be a lot worse.

Yes, we’re worried that it will go on indefinitely, but we can cope both in terms of keeping our business going and staying sane.

The idea of getting stuck in one of the most vibrant parts of LA sounds wonderful, but it gets more and more tiring by the hour. Even the fact that a Gordon Ramsay ‘franchise’ runs the downstairs restaurant doesn’t detract from the fact that we’re fast getting sick of room service.

The good news is that the cloud looks like it could be moving with some flights going on Tuesday. As I say, I pleaded with BA to waitlist us onto a Wednesday flight because of Pob and they did. For what it is worth, I think BA is handling this very well; I read about other airlines ignoring their passengers ‘right to care’ under EC law, thinking they’ll just challenge it in the courts when this is all over. I realise that the EC law wasn’t designed with this in mind and airlines are losing squillions, but if this goes on too long how many people are going to lose jobs and miss mortgage payments?

I’m certainly no socialist and am no fan of big government, but it is correct that in this case the government steps in and makes a plan to get us home. I’d happily fly to Spain and get ferried home by the Royal Navy, although I don’t think it’ll come to that.

It’s notable that COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A) is hosting a meeting about this, bearing in mind the last few times the crisis committee met was for the foot and mouth outbreak and the 7/7 bombings. The people at the top are, quite rightly, taking this seriously.

So, we sit and wait. At midnight our time (8am UK time) the phone should start ringing and schools will need supply teachers. In fact, we had a great day on Monday because some teachers haven’t made it back from their Easter holidays. Why do you think Gail and I went away when we did? The difference is, and as I say I know how fortunate we are, that we earn a living from here.

I’m interested in the test flights being done by BA, KLM and Lufthansa. At the moment it appears that they’ve been successful. Anyone who thinks that they’re just doing this for commercial gain is horribly wrong, bearing in mind that BA and KLM are the two airlines that almost lost planes to volcanic gas in the 80s and 90s.

Now, we’re just playing the waiting game. Waiting for the sun to rise in the UK with more news about Eyjafjallajoekull and whether or not the ash cloud will disappear.

In any event, whatever the news is, I don’t imagine I’ll hear any newsreaders try to pronounce it.

Oh yes, in case you’re wondering, the last time I called the USA BA help-desk: “your wait time is 183 minutes”. I’ll leave it for now.








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