Thursday 20 August 2015

2015 LAOTN - Why Do I do This? Travel

I love travel, I love to visit new places, meet new people and experience new things. I love geology and love to experience it first hand. This all means I have to travel, and most of the time I don't mind it.

Interestingly when it goes wrong (which is often), it isn't normally the air travel itself and my posting on my 10 worst journeys are mainly on land.

All that said, my journey to the start of 2015 LAOTN was a nightmare and the return wasn't much better!

For the OTN tour itself I spent 42 hours in the air covering just under 21,000 miles, additionally we crossed from Uruguay to Argentina by a 3 hour ferry. Additionally Tim and I did a very quick trip to Machu Picchu, 2 more flights, several taxis and 2 luxury trains and a lot of walking at altitude!

Last year it was 45 hours but only 14,000 miles. This was the south tour and we started in Uruguay which is actually further (just) from Miami than London!

After each tour there are learnings and what I learnt last year from Gurcan Orhan was that if you want to experience the places you visit you have to maximise the little time we have in each venue. Other learnings were someone has to go first, book flights and share with the other travellers so we all try and take the same internal flights, this makes it easier for the user groups we are visiting and if we then use the same hotels makes it all more fun. 

So when we got the go ahead to book, I took the initiative and booked first, however I may not have been successful....

Back to the travel - Having got to London, I flew to Miami, and was a bit despondent about a 6 hour layover after a nine hour flight, but the worry was misplaced, Miami decided to have a storm in the run up to my arrival and it caused chaos:

  • Chaos in that there was a stack of flights to land
  • Chaos in that once we landed there was no stand free so we spent over an hour waiting on the ground, during which time I think every bored child and several bored adults let us know how they felt.
  • Chaos that in the queue for immigration was also over an hour - please tell me why if I am in international transit I need to do immigration and customs, I didn't even have my luggage that was checked direct through?
  • Chaos in the customs queue as people started to realise they were missing connections and there was no help from staff.
  • Chaos in the final security screening when really fed up passengers simply couldn't take any more delays.
When I arrived at the gate, I had just over an hour till take off, almost 5 hours to land and be processed!!!! On the way home I only had 3 1/2 hours and hoped it would be long enough.

American Airlines gave me an upgrade to Premium Economy so I managed to sleep most of the journey to Montevideo so when I arrived mid morning I felt fine. 

I have learnt to do something when I travel and knitting does it for me, on the way over I knitted a matinee jacket and hat for Ronald Bradford and his wife Cindy's expected baby. On the little journeys I crocheted squares which on the way home I joined together to make a little fringed vest for my best friend's grand daughter. It wastes the time and keeps the stress levels down.

The journeys between countries were without troubles and despite the tribulations of the Machu Picchu trip, my travel was quite straight forward.

The flight from Cusco was at 6am and on arrival in Lima I had 3 hours to catch my flight to Miami. What a weird airport Lima is, we arrived a little late and the only way to go from domestic to international, which was separated by a locked gate was to leave the terminal, walk along the pavement 100m and then re-enter. It was freezing but very little difference between inside and out.

I didn't have too long to wait for my flight and as we had travelled north all week, the flight to Miami was half the time to Montevideo. We landed in Miami 10 minutes early so I thought things were looking up. On board the flight the Avianca crew told me I didn't need an immigration form for international transit, which was of course..... wrong! So back to the end of the line and start again Debra.

That done, I had lounge access with British Airways and the staff were wonderful. Even better they too gave me an upgrade home and I had plenty of room to sleep most of the flight.

The layover at Heathrow is always hard, you just want to be home, but have to wait for the final hop to Belfast. I was all ready to have a shower in the lounge and freshen up, but for some reason British Airways thought one of the busiest weekends of the year was a good time to have over half the showers out of action for maintenance. So no shower for me.

On arrival in Belfast I felt fine and as it was early afternoon just 30 hours after leaving the hotel in Cusco, I was ready to get home and start on the laundry. However it wasn't to happen, my main suitcase decided to extend its stay in Miami.

24 hours later we were reunited, and all the suitcase had for its trouble was a bright pink sticker stating it had been cleared by TSA MIA (Miami airport). When I opened it one of the two Inca Alpaca blankets I bought at Machu Picchu was missing. It cost $30, not worth claiming for but made me so angry, I had bought it as a present.

At first I thought it must be an accident, it had been on top of the case and I suspected it had been put to one side and then forgotten, once someone realised they wouldn't know whose case it was. I didn't consider theft, after all I had an iPad mini in the case and it was fine.

Then I took to Facebook to vent my frustration only to be shared an ABC News article where they had made a documentary on TSA theft. Hundreds of TSA employees have been sacked for theft and top of the league is....... Miami. They also held an experiment using iPads and there was a high profile example of a TSA officer being jailed for the theft of it.

I rang my local airport to complain and they were brilliant, they managed to make me laugh, it was priceless.

"Mrs Lilley, I ringing to return your call where you left your voicemail" 
"You say you think TSA have taken your blanket, can you tell me more?"
I explained
"I'm really sorry, you seem to think we know this 'TSA' but we are only a small regional airport and you will have to report him to your local police"
"Sorry TSA is not an individual, it is American Homeland Security"
"Well I still don't know who they are so I can't help you"
I then explained that on British Airways own baggage website they have a link for TSA claims but apparently, BA staff in regional airports don't need to know corporate processes as the final sentence was
"You obviously know more than me, I suggest you do what it says"

That was me told!

So I don't mind too much the time in the air, it's the time on the ground between flights that is the problem.

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