••• The International Writers Magazine: Flying Blind
Getting to Dublin
It started with what was probably good advice from my travel agent. “Small airports have a tendency to cancel their flights without much notice,” she said. “You should leave enough time to drive to Calgary. Just in case. You never know.”
“This is true,” I said. “You never know.”
She booked me a ticket for the earliest flight of the day and, four weeks later, I arrived at my local airport an hour before take-off. The flight departed on time and, after thirty-five minutes in the air, I arrived in Calgary. Then I waited for eight hours in the Calgary airport. Eight hours is a long time to spend in the Calgary airport. I drank coffee, ate cold Mexi-fries at Taco Time, and watched several episodes of Father Ted on my laptop, and still had four and a half hours to kill.
As I was checking in three hours later, the man behind the counter looked at my itinerary, shrugged his shoulders, and told me I would have to collect my bags in Heathrow. “You have to collect your luggage in London, and then check in again before you board your flight to Dublin.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t bother to ask why. Normally my luggage transfers to my final destination, but I knew airport rules and regulations changed all the time.
By the time I boarded my flight for London Heathrow, I had been up for almost twelve hours. I was already sick of traveling, and my journey had barely begun. Most of the flight across the Atlantic went by without incident. However, with only half an hour before touchdown, I threw up. I had only felt nauseous for a minute or two before, and this hadn’t given me much time to find a sick bag. Most of it got in the bag I found wedged between some magazines, but some of it had landed on my jeans.
After exiting the plane, and with jeans smelling like stale vomit, I went to collect my luggage. With noodle legs, and feeling a little woozy, I staggered to the appropriate luggage turnstile, picked up my bags, and then headed over to the British Airways check-in counter. I handed over my ticket and the young lady behind the counter punched in my information. After a few minutes, she typed something more before making a disapproving noise that meant she had no idea what to do next. “You don’t seem to be booked with British Airways,” she said. “I think you need to go to the Aer Lingus counter.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. I couldn’t recall any mention of Aer Lingus before, but I thanked the lady and went in search of the airport map.
The Aer Lingus counter was all the way across the Heathrow airport, in a completely different terminal. After crossing the first terminal, waiting for the underground train for ten minutes, traveling by underground train for twenty minutes, and then spending ten minutes crossing the other terminal, the young lady at the Aer Lingus check-in counter welcomed me with a smile. I handed over my ticket, and the young lady behind the counter punched in my information. After a few minutes, she typed something more into the computer before making a disapproving noise that meant she had no idea what to do next. “You don’t seem to be booked with Aer Lingus,” she said. “I think you need to go to the British Airways counter.”
“Right, okay,” I said. “But I was just there and they told me to come here. Now you want me to go back and try again?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I see,” I said.
Without any further argument, I headed back across the terminal, waited for the underground train for ten minutes, traveled by underground train for twenty minutes and then spent ten minutes crossing the other terminal before queuing up again at the British Airways check-in counter. While waiting in line, I noticed the general information desk and decided to talk to someone there instead. As I approached, a uniformed gentleman was looking out into the abyss of airline travelers.
“Hello,” he said as I approached the counter. “How can I help you?”
I explained that I had just spent almost two hours crossing terminals and traveling by underground train, and I didn’t know what to do next.
“Let’s have a look, then, shall we?”
I handed over my ticket, and the uniformed gentleman behind the counter punched in my information. After a few minutes, he typed something more before making a disapproving noise that meant he had no idea what to do next. But then he thought of something, and this was followed by more typing and soft grunts.
Finally, there was a moment of clarity. “Huh,” he said. “That’s interesting. I think I solved the problem. But it’s not good news, I’m afraid. Here’s the thing…”
I was afraid to say anything.
“So you arrived from Calgary and landed here in Heathrow,” he continued. “But it seems your next flight – your flight to Dublin – leaves from Gatwick. Not Heathrow. Gatwick is all the way across the city and there’s no way you will make it in time. There is not nearly enough time. Did you use a travel agent? Because this is a serious mistake. I don’t know what to tell you.”
I tried not to panic. “Is it possible,” I asked, “to book a flight from here to Dublin, without having to go to Gatwick?”
“I will check,” he said as he typed away.
I waited patiently.
“It is, yes,” he finally answered. “But it will cost you £115.”
“Bugger,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to do but hand over £115. It felt like a hostage situation. “When is the flight?” I asked.
“Three hours from now.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “But I’m firing my travel agent.”
After waiting around in Heathrow, I finally boarded my flight and touched down on Irish soil. I collected my luggage and found the car rental counter near the terminal exit.
There was a beautiful, raven-haired woman behind the counter and I was hoping the stink from my vomit-stained jeans had dissipated. “How was your journey so far?” she asked with a lovely, lilting Irish accent.
I smiled. “Not great,” I answered.
She laughed and, after a bit of paperwork, handed me the key to my rental car. I was overjoyed – giddy, even. I skipped along, counting the parking spots before I found my car. But there was something amiss.
While I expected the driver’s side to be on the right, and car to have standard transmission, I did not expect it to be parked only three inches from the next car. I thought it was some sick joke. I had no way of getting into the driver’s side, even if I hadn’t eaten at Taco Time.
It wasn’t just a matter of sucking in my gut. Try as I might, I couldn’t squeeze into three inches. I thought about crawling through the trunk, but then I noticed that there was more room – maybe ten inches – on the passenger side. I squeezed myself into the tight space and then shimmied over the gearshift and middle panel before plunking myself heavily into the driver’s seat. My second road trip around Ireland had officially begun.
© Chris Brauer April 2017
I am a Canadian writer and teacher, based in southeastern British Columbia. I have recently completed a travel memoir about living and teaching in the Sultanate of Oman, and am currently working on a book about my travels in Ireland. I am also working on my first collection of poetry. My writing has appeared in the pages of Celtic Life International and Ireland of the Welcomes.