The August 12th
Heathrow
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passengers, scanning computer screens and exchanging worried looks. 'Just a second', I was told. I glanced up at the DEPARTURES screen above my head. Still no change on my flight, but something was happening up there: behind one flight after the other the CANCELLED call was given. Within a blink of the eye almost every flight was cancelled! What was happening? Mine still seemed alright, though, when the girl behind the counter addressed me, still with a phone to her ear. She was impressively controlled and even managed to be polite and friendly. To answer my question she consulted her phone, and the news was not good.
'I'm very sorry, Sir, but your flight has just been cancelled too.' She apologized for not being able to help, and told me I had to get up on the next floor to reschedule my ticket myself.

This is what I had feared. My itinerary had prepared me for an hour and a half's transit at Heathrow on my way from Stockholm to New York, but when a number of terrorists were arrested in London on the 10th - they had planned some activity on BA's London - New York flights (!) - I started to worry. The news reported on the strictest security measures - graded 'critical' - causing delays all over Europe and the world, but particularly at Heathrow. As a good Samaritan I had called BA the day before and, when I finally got through, offered to take anther route if they wanted me to. They assured me, however, that everything would be fine the next day. I was a bit relieved, but not fully convinced.

BA severely miscalculated the repercussions of the security alert, so there I was, witnessing a total breakdown of Heathrow logistics. The whole table of dominoes had fallen and everyone had to make the best out of the chaos and anarchy that followed. First of all I needed to get my luggage - that's downstairs. The whole ground floor was packed with people waiting for their belongings, and from the frustration and despair in hundreds of faces I picked up that many had already waited for hours. I was lucky. After only half an hour both my backpack and my smaller bag appeared on the carousel, and I could make my way upstairs for the rebooking.

First the escalator up one floor, and then the elevator, but no: 'Sorry, Sir, but you can't take this. You'll have to go out in the parking area - can you see the stairs and elevators out there?' The uniformed woman pointed through the glass doors and a hundred meters past them I could see the stairs. I got up and out on the parking deck above, and in front of me there was a sea of people. An ocean. An anthill. There must have been more than a thousand. My God! There were people from all over the world: Indians, Japanese, Africans, Arabs and, of course, Europeans and Americans. There were women in scarves and burkas, grandmothers in saris, an old, white haired Chinese man bent over his cane, and kids of all colours and ages. I wondered if they all could speak English!

By instinct, or maybe by a lucky roll of the dice, I stumbled upon a BA representative who was doing her best to help as many as she could. 'You must go into town and find a place to stay for the night, and we are very sorry that we can't assist you,' she said and handed me a sheet saying that they would refund 100 for the night.




      The photos from the airport were found on the Internet - most of them from the correct date in 2006.
I guess I was too busy to take pictures this day.
My flight was still not called. I was determined to stay relaxed since delays had been expected, but now I was getting a bit uneasy, with my departure postponed an hour and no boarding call had come when one could have hoped. No news. With no big crowd around the British Airways counter I decided to ask about the progress. The BA girls were very busy talking on their phones and with
On my way out I walked past an accommodation counter and learned that all they had was a 150 room in Hounslow, so what should I do? Should I go south or west instead of into the city? I decided to take a chance on Temple Lodge in Hammersmith - a wonderful, small guest house where I had stayed just a year earlier, and just a five minute's walk from the underground station. A place like that wouldn't be on the accommodation lists that they referred to, would it?



So, on to the train, off at Hammersmith, and down to the Lodge. I rang the bell, and there was Michael, the manager, saying yes, they'd had a cancellation. Wonder above wonders! I was in London instead of New York, but I had a bed to sleep in, and I knew a lovely breakfast would be waiting for me in the morning. A call to my hosts in the US rounded off a very special day.

The next morning, Sunday it was, I made two calls, and that was all I needed to find and book a Monday flight from Gatwick - Continental Airlines this time. I was extremely pleased. The mayhem at Heathrow could have caused me a lot more trouble then it had, so now I decided to enjoy my day in London. A round in the galleries would certainly help me keep my spirits up. Tate had a Kandinsky special with some great pictures from his transition into the abstract, and I took time for a meditative stop in the Rothko Room - the ultimate sanctuary of modern art. At the Royal Academy an amazing Modigliani exhibition was showing (he's one of my favourites) with many of his very best portraits and nudes. I stared into the eyes of Jeanne Hebuterne, or no, she stared into mine. Magic!

Yes, I had a good feeling when I was on the plane the next morning, only carrying aboard a transparent plastic bag with my ticket and my passport. Unfortunately more worries awaited me in New York: my backpack didn't arrive, and when I got it three days later everything made of metal in my luggage was missing. Gone was my camping stove, my mp3 player, my Swiss knife, part of the backpack's waist belt and my good Canon camera. F..k! Luckily my small camera was in the other bag, so that would have to do till I got things settled with Continental.

The aftermath of this whole story was one of patience and frustration. I was patient with British Airways, who obviously needed time to deal with thousands of refund claims - it took them six months. The frustration was with Continental who needed the same amount of time to tell me that they wouldn't pay me a penny or a cent for any of the things they had managed to loose on the way. I had sent them several e-mails and faxes during this time, none of which were answered. Absolutely outrageous! My insurance company finally had to step in and cover my losses - they were great.

This trip was the first stretch of a round-the-world tour that lasted for ten months, and I wondered, of course, if this beginning was a bad omen for how the whole trip would turn out. But no, the rest of trip went just fine, so instead I can say that I had all the troubles concentrated on the first few days so that they were over and done with. I don't expect the worst when I enter an airport now, but I'm possibly a bit more humble, knowing that things don't always turn out as planned.
This trip was the first stretch of a round-the-world tour that lasted for ten months, and I wondered, of course, if this beginning was a bad omen for how the whole trip would turn out. But no, the rest of trip went just fine, so instead I can say that I had all the troubles concentrated on the first few days so that they were over and done with. I don't expect the worst when I enter an airport now, but I'm possibly a bit more humble, knowing that things don't always turn out as planned.
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