london undone

As I wrote to several friends shortly afterward:

London didn’t actually happen. Strong winds caused delays that cut what was supposed to have been a two-and-a-half hour layover at JFK to 30 minutes. Then a screwup by American Airlines found our plane docked at the right gate but the AA agent at the wrong one at the other end of the terminal, so there was no one to bring the jetway to the plane. It took the pilot 25 minutes to finally get someone on the radio who could straighten things out and let us all off the plane; meanwhile, we could see all the luggage being offloaded below. That left us five minutes to get from the end of one terminal to the middle of the next terminal, through security, and down to our gate. Needless to say, we didn’t make it.

And after letting us wait on standby through the next three flights to London, the American Airlines gate agents finally admitted that they didn’t think they’d be able to get us on a confirmed flight to London–considering they’d oversold all of their flights by 20-25 seats–for 48 hours. They did finally agree to give us two rooms at the airport hotel while we were waiting, though they said they would not reimburse us for the two days of the trip we’d lose, even though they admitted that we missed the flight through a fault of theirs.

We went downstairs to get our luggage to discover that it–despite TSA regulations that require that luggage be taken off a plane if the passengers aren’t on-board–was actually already about two-thirds of the way to London. The airline refused to send it back to us, saying that it might take as long to get back as it would take us to get there. So with only the clothes on our back, we went to the hotel where we expected to spend the next two days.

And we awoke the next morning to an email from my Mom that my grandmother had died at midnight.

We cancelled the trip [“sorry, sir, no refunds, you didn’t get travel insurance? oh, so sorry”], went back to the airport to ask them to return our luggage to Arlington, and they agreed they would do so right away [“it’s all taken care of, no problems, you’ll have it tomorrow morning” (oh, so now it can get back in less than a day?)] and in fact we watched them type those instructions into an email to the London crew, and then took the subway to the train station where we bought tickets for the next train back to DC.

When I got up the next morning, I called to check on our luggage, to see if it might arrive early enough for us to wait for it before driving to my Mom’s. No, it’s still in London, and the crew there won’t release it since there’s been no formal claim filed. Why didn’t they tell us to file a claim while we were physically in the baggage office in New York, and were told it was all taken care of? The women on the phone didn’t know that, but she’s sure that that’s not the way it should have been done and we never should have been told that our bags would be sent back. “In fact,” she said, “you’ll need to come here to JFK to file a claim.” I explained that I was at JFK the previous day, but that now I’m four states away, heading to my grandmother’s funeral, and really can’t get back to New York to file a claim. “Well,” she noted cheeringly, “there’s nothing I can do for you. You could try calling the main baggage office in Dallas, and maybe they’ll file a claim for you.”

So I did. And they did. And they said our luggage would be back on Tuesday morning. We scrounged around for a couple of pairs of underwear that were still stateside, grabbed some clothes from among those we hadn’t liked well enough to take to London, and drove to Covington for the viewing Monday night and the funeral Tuesday afternoon.

Our luggage finally got back to Arlington on Tuesday night. We got back on Wednesday.

On the one hand, it’s probably a good thing we hadn’t actually made it to London, since it would have been messy either way trying to get back to Covington mid-way through the trip, or feeling guilty about not being able to get back and therefore not enjoying the trip. And, in a “the grapes really are sour” kind of way, London apparently experienced one of its worst weeks of weather all winter. England’s not going anywhere, so we’ll plan another trip sometime when it should be warmer and sunnier. It is weird coming back to work after a week off, though, and not feeling at all rejuvenated or recharged, in fact quite the opposite.

And even if I’d still had any doubts about our relationship (I hadn’t), they’d have been erased by just how well we weathered the week together. Jeff really came through for me, and helped me (mostly) keep my perspective and my cool, when I really just wanted to wipe the smirk off the face of every unhelpful, unfriendly, smug, lying, buck-passing American Airlines employee we encountered along the way.

Whew… not yet completely over it, I guess.

That was a month ago. Tonight over dinner I was retelling the story to a friend who hadn’t yet heard it, and still felt a twinge of anger and disappointment over the whole experience.

We are already planning the second attempt to get to London, though. More about that over the new few days, as the plans and arrangements take shape.

I don’t mean to gloss over my grandmother’s death. Certainly it was sad, but it was also a relief in many ways. My grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s thirteen years ago–a very long time to live (if you can call it that) with that horrible disease. She hadn’t known any of us for at least five years, and hadn’t been capable of producing a recognizable word, much less a meaningful utterance, for probably three. She’d likely suffered a stroke over the past year, couldn’t move or feed herself, and had lost control of her excretory functions a couple of years back; at the end, her body finally forgot even how to swallow, and her living will stated that no artificial measures be taken to prolong her life. My sister and brother-in-law have patiently fed, cleaned, changed and sat with her every day for almost two years. I said goodbye to the essence of who she was quite a while ago, and the actual passing came as no shock. While my dad’s and grandfather’s deaths had come somewhat unexpectedly and suddenly, and their funeral services had been excruciatingly painful, my grandmother’s funeral was almost pleasant in a way, a family reunion that really did focus more on the positives of her life and her influence rather than taken over by the raw, overwhelming grief of the earlier two.

And Jeff was with me through it all; when I said to my Mom, shortly after we arrived at her house, that it was important to me that he be with me at the funeral home, at the service and at the cemetery, she said “But of course he will! He’s family.”