RootsTech 2019: The longest day of my life

23 February 2019

Today, is Saturday. But as I write this, it’s the end of the longest Friday of my life. The Friday which has reminded me/taught me so many life lessons on our way to Rootstech!

FWL teamTeamFWL left FWL Mansions at 2am and arrived with much humour and excitement at Bristol Airport at 3am. We were raring to go. We were first in the queue to check our luggage in (it looked to many as if we were emigrating) and we hit a massive problem. I believed that my ESTA had been approved and, it wasn’t. So, there we were, wind knocked totally out of our sails. Two but not three of us were able to travel.

I have never booked my travels with KLM and if the customer service I received today is anything to go by, I won’t be doing so again. No ESTA = my fault. I get that. But the unhelpful approach of the check-in staff who lacked any kind of compassion or even basic courtesy was astonishing. Believe you me, in the 75 minutes which elapsed between my ESTA application being filed and the time the check-in closed, I came up with more ideas about what could be done to move things forward than most people have hot dinners in a month.

Could I fly to Amsterdam (first leg), which does not require an ESTA and then check the status of the application when I arrived? No. This cuts the booking in two and is “not possible”. Well, it kind of is, but that means I can get to Amsterdam but the whole of the rest of my journey is cancelled, including my return. When is the next flight from Amsterdam to Salt Lake City if I do this? Not for over three days. Grrrr….

Can one of my co-travellers take the extra suitcase (with all the display materials) as we had booked and paid for an extra case? No. I was then informed it *might* be possible (at the discretion of the airline) to travel with the pending application. You can imagine the answer. No.

During this time, my co-travellers were already noshing some lovely breakfast and (I am guessing) were concerned what would happen next. 5:35am came around. Check in closed. How the heck was I going to get to SLC?

[N.B. During this time, I had been on the telephone – from 4am – with our wonderful travel agent who was desperately trying to sort things out for me.]

I sat, disconsolate, on the airport floor. Two suitcases. Hand luggage and nowhere to go. Now what?

Honestly? I could have cried. I nearly did.

We (travel agent and I) decided that there was no point in staying at Bristol. No flight path would get me to SLC. Thank heaven, I had driven to Bristol. So, I hotfooted it (well, not really, with two 21kg suitcases!) back to the car, in the fog. Back in the car, out of the car park…. No. How many more No’s today? This time the display at the barrier told me that I had outstayed my welcome. Well, not quite in those specific words but basically, that was the translation. I had booked TWELVE days of parking but seemingly three hours was far too much. Back to the ‘Help’ station and swiftly resolved to allow me out with no additional charges.

Now what? No ESTA. Two on the flight from Bristol to Amsterdam. One flying into Amsterdam from Heathrow and the other party member meeting us in Amsterdam. I say us…. That no longer included me.

I began my drive, ostensibly, home. With no approved ESTA, I could not sensibly book another flight. I take a wrong turn in Bristol (perhaps not unsurprisingly) and so had an early morning tour of the city. Pleasant enough at 6 something and no traffic problems. I exited the city and took a moment to check the status of my ESTA application before hitting the M4 – APPROVED. Those words were music to my ears (I am not sure if there is an eyes equivalent?).

Have ESTA will travel. But how and from where? I headed to Heathrow. My best chance by all accounts. Our travel agent (still beavering away at 7am…. and a whole lot later b

esides) messaged to say there was a chance I could fly to San Francisco at 11:35. I could easily get to LHR by then, but could we book the flights? Not until after 9am to secure the best fare. Parking …. Extra suitcase charges…. So much to think about. Let’s just get there first!

Cutting the slightly irrelevant stuff (all the people I sent voice clips to, called etc.), shortly after 9am the flights were booked. Cinderella shall go to the ball … well, I will go to RootsTech (but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!).

Parking … erm….. Purple Parking rings a bell? Sorted, with shuttle bus transfer. Amazing what you can do from a not so pleasant layby near LHR T2.

Car parked. Arrive T2 and frankly the difference between the United Airlines staff and KLM could not have been more obvious. People on hand to help me check my extra bag, smile at me and generally be positive and pleasant. Such a change from Bristol KLM staff. Took some of the exhaustion away.

Along the way, I did a few videos on my FB timeline to keep people in the loop about what was going on. Not something I usually do but the number of reactions and comments and people behind the scenes supporting me was remarkable (thank you to those of you who were amongst that contingent).

Checked in. Cleared security with no issues and then encountered a lovely member of LHR staff who did not have any need to engage with me. I’d dumped all my security check items on a metal table to sort them out. He took the time to chat. For no reason. I told him about my day and he commented about my positivity about the whole scenario – a rare way of life, he mentioned, before directing me to some good restaurants within the terminal (to avoid the not-so-good ones).

Making my way to the gate, many and various people chatted. Not always so in the big smoke. Having had the constant support of my office team, Mr FWL, Ma and Pa FWL and my 4Networking Pa and Bro, along with numerous others, the delight of being sat on a plane (better still with three seats all to myself) was something else. I’d been awake for 29 hours solid. I don’t sleep easily on planes. I was almost off before the plane was!!!

I had no idea how long the flight was and as I said to several people, “frankly I don’t care, as long as I am on a plane and it’s travelling in the right direction!”

View of the sea from the plane

The sleep didn’t last long because, although I was shattered, sleep + plane + me = not happening, more often than not. I would imagine possibly that I dozed for ish-an-hour or slightly more but then it was time for my course work. Treated myself to two hours Wifi to chat to people, update and generally keep in touch with the world. Constant distractions with a few small cherubs using the aisles as a running track. Apparently, I later discovered, the mothers of the cherubs had informed the aircrew that they were Irish gypsies. Lacking in control of the small people is an understatement. At one stage, one of them tried to use the handle of the emergency door exit and I have honestly never seen two men move so quickly (move over Usain Bolt!).

In San Francisco – early! Immigration to come. The electronic side = simple. Standing in front of the man asking questions (now 10pm at home and having been awake for circa 39 hours) – “where have you travelled from?” [in my head, help! I can’t remember!] followed by “where are you headed?” and more…. I could barely remember my name, let alone anything else!

All fine though. And onward to baggage reclaim. Both suitcases made it to SFO. No need to put them through the scanner and immediately rechecked them onto the SLC flight. Nearly there. Or so I thought!!!

The hour wait seemed like an eternity. But …. The flight to SLC took off on time and I even managed some shut eye. Perhaps more psychological than anything else but hood up and sunglasses over eyes appears to work rather well!

As we taxied into the airport terminal, I excited told people that I was finally in SLC. “Only need to reclaim the luggage, find the car and then I can go home”. Well, this hasn’t been an easy trip so why would the last part be so. One suitcase not two. The other one never left SFO.

A lovely lady in baggage reclaim informed me that the other case would be on the next flight from SFO and that the airport staff would deliver it to my house, between 12midnight and 2am. Thanks, but no thanks. Alternative plan, TeamFWL return to the airport to collect it at 10pm. She asked, “Does it have any identifiable features?” Well, yes! A very large rainbow coloured strap with my name plastered all over it!

Family Wise knitted person at Rootstech

Found the SUV – Chevrolet Suburban. Well, that’ll fit all the suitcases and people in it from the airport. Oh, only me and one case ☹ Homeward bound. Found the house without any problems and TeamFWL were finally reunited. The impossible had occurred.

The evening was never going to be filled with much, but we managed a liquor store and Walmart trip, followed by a very excited return to the airport before heading home for a long sleep.

This is probably the longest blog I have written in a while, but do you know what…..? I have learnt many a lesson today or been reminded of lessons I already knew:

  1. A smile costs nothing. Those people who have smiled rather than been obstructive and unpleasant have made this journey a million times easier for me.
  2. The power of positivity is strong. Being positive despite any and all challenges is essential. I could have sat at Bristol, disconsolate, and given up. I didn’t. I knew there was a way to get to SLC no matter how hard the journey. Belief is everything.
  3. Be prepared. I was a good Girl Guide (Baden Powell trefoil and everything) and today, I was prepared for anything the world threw at me. Literally anything.
  4. Know your tribe. I have met many people in my lifetime. Some I choose to keep close. Some I choose not to. Those who are close (friends, family and colleagues) took the time to support and be there today. I am lucky to have a fantastic team around me (in particular, at FWL) and many have gone above and beyond today just so make it clear they care more than I expected/imagined.
  5. Thank you. Two small words. But they mean so much. I have thanked people today. An enormous amount. Those who have assisted my journey. Made it better in some tiny way. The man on the shuttle bus who helped to put one of my two 21kg cases onto the bus. The driver who got me to T2. The car park attendant who helped me not lose it completely when the machine asked me to pay £12 for overstaying my welcome in Bristol. My wonderful new PA who just rang this morning because she could. My travel agent who I woke up at 4am and remained ‘with me’ until I was through security at T2.

Now, onward to RootsTech 2019. I am here in SLC so let’s get this party/genealogy conference started!

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