I’ll kill the suspense now and tell you we made the flight.
Of course, while we were in the middle of things, that outcome was never assured. And in fact, at points, it seemed like it was highly doubtful.
Luton airport, as noted previously, is about 45 miles away from where we were. It took us about 90 minutes to get to the hotel from there in the middle of the afternoon, so how long would it take at 2 in the morning? We figured about an hour. So with that in mind, knowing our flight was at 6:05, we figured if we left by 3am, we should be fine. As it turned out, this was a huge error.
Here’s how it went down:
Up at 2:30am, having prepacked most everything, we prepared Monki’s travel beverages (she drinks anywhere from 6-8 bottles of tea a day, often having three or more in the mornings), packed up morning toiletries and by 3:10 we were on the road. Now, being a rental car, I had to fill the tank before returning the car and didn’t know where a gas station was close to the airport so just filled the tank nearby the hotel and hoped it would still show as full when we dropped the car off. This added another few minutes to our departure time.
Hitting the highway, the GP started off by saying we would arrive at 4:05. Not bad. Pretty much exactly where we wanted to be – airport 2 hours before flight time. As we drove though, that time increased. Only slightly, mind you, but enough so that by the time we got to the car rental return, it was 10 past 4. Oh yeah, and there was definitely something about the car, because about 45 minutes into the trip, we once again had a vomiting child. Thankfully, Rasa had some warning this time and was able to aim Monki a bit, covering the car, but leaving clothes and car seat unscathed.
Now, I was so focused on keeping the right-hand drive car in the center of the road, I just followed another car into the rental area. Turned out this was also the area for employees to park and was not where I was supposed to be. I ended up behind the shuttle bus to get back to the airport proper. It took a while to depart, stopping once to let some latecomers jump on so I was finally able to get the car into the proper parking area but even then, owing to tiredness and stress on my part, it took me several tries to actually figure out where to park the car and even longer to figure out where to drop the keys. I had told them when we picked up the car that we would be returning it way early in the morning. I had been assured that was no problem, but no one ever made mention of the fact there would be no one there at that hour and I needed to put the keys into a drop, a drop which was hidden behind the crowd of early morning employees waiting for the shuttle bus.
A shuttle bus which, I was assured came often. But not really, and not that early. So it didn’t show up again until almost 4:30, which got us back to the terminal around 4:40 and in line for luggage drop and passport check about 4:50. No problem, right? Still had 30 minutes until check in closed. But then when there’s someone new on the counter who can’t find your reservation and then finds anomalies because you’re flying with an infant, who then tells you to go drop off the oversized car seat at another location but neglects to inform you you need your boarding pass to do so, those precious few minutes of cushion begin to erode.
With that all sorted, we head towards security and get into the special assistance lane, we have a baby and a stroller after all. At Luton, this is a two-part process, you have to first go through a gate where your boarding pass is scanned and then you go through the actual security check. Naturally, since we were in a rush, the guy in front of us at the first check was having difficulties and no matter how many times the guard told him he needed to go back to the check-in counter, he didn’t understand. Then, as he finally left, another guard came and halted everyone going through those gates for some unknown reason.
A few minutes later we got through, but now the primary security line was long. I stopped a guard and explained our flight was 30 minutes away from departure. She pushed us to the front but again, people ahead of us, it seemed, had never flown before and the whole process appeared alien and unnatural and took forever. So did the checking of each of the baby’s juice bottles for explosives.
Now, I think you see where this is going. The gate we needed to get to was, you guessed it, almost as far away as it could be. We were running through the crowds, me pushing the stroller and yelling excuse me with Rasa trailing in my wake, carrying an incredibly grumpy Monki who was screaming and crying and trying to understand what was going on.
At the gate itself, yes, of course, it was downstairs and they were already announcing last call so we carried what we had down a half dozen flights of stairs and ran through the holding area, where the attendants stopped to check our passports and then had to actually walk us out across the tarmac to the plane, where they were literally waiting for us to close the doors. We found our seats, displaced a woman who was sitting there, and just sat, catching our breath while the closed the doors and we taxied for take-off.
This is the second time this has happened to us. Last time was a year ago flying to America. I hope there won’t be a third. The first time definitely was not our fault. This time, we should have left a bit earlier. Either way, I think traveling by plane as a family is off the table for a little a while.
Getting home was a bit easier. No problems going through immigration and all our luggage arrived. There was a CityBee car in the parking lot so I could comfortably drive on the proper side of the road once again. And no Monki getting sick.
All in all, based on what went before and what happened during, this was a generally good trip. I just hope the next one will be a little more stress free.