Hey everyone! Do I have a story for you. It's a long one that involves a lot of sweat, a bit of physical assault, and the realization you can't prepare for everything.
I was flying from Toronto Pearson Airport to a layover in Gatwick, London, where I then flew Air Malta to Malta. I left Toronto at 9:00PM EST and arrived in Malta at 5:00PM CET.
The WestJet flight was pretty good! The seat that I had booked online said it was 'less desirable' as a window seat, but turns out it's just because it didn't have a window. But I'd rather that than being stuck in the middle of 3 seats! The guy sitting next to me was truly charming, from Toronto, and we had some good laughs together and shared a glass of wine. I probably slept about 4 hours on and off because we had really bad turbulence for the first 2 hours and no one could get up to go to the bathroom or stretch out before sleeping. That was the easy part.
Upon landing in Gatwick around 5AM EST (10AM CET), I quickly learned there were two terminals: North and South. The plane landed in South terminal, and we had to walk inside all the way to North terminal to transfer. But, the signage wasn't great and I didn't know where to transfer. I asked a woman helping the queue and she said I have to go through customs then transfer. The customs line was huge and since my flight was an hour late, I only had an hour 45 to get through.
Getting into the customs line, I ask the border guard if there's any way I can get expedited because I have to transfer. So he's like "oh, you don't need to go through customs, go over there to the north transfer gate that's this small desk." I go across the big hall to the desk and that gate guard was like "err... which flight are you? Do you know which terminal you have to be in?" I said no and he yelled to his friend, "Ey mate!" and they had to check a sign for my airline and said "Oh, you're in south terminal, you have to go back all the way over there, down a hallway, down the stairs, and find a phone to call a bus to come get you and bring you to south terminal." Repeating his instructions in my my head, I start sprinting in the direction of the hallway. I get down the hallway into this huge waiting area with monstrous ceilings that had no one in it. I did't see a phone, but I saw doors, and I went to the doors to get outside and press a button to open them and it sets off the most obnoxiously loud security alarm as the doors open. I go outside, there's only the yellow emergency phone with a spider hanging off it, and the doors back inside are now locked.
Let's recap: I ran a 1.5km sprint, got locked outside with a security alarm sounding, with no bus to be found, having slept 4 hours, and about an hour and 15 minutes to catch my flight.
A baggage collector with carts was driving by so I yell to him and he drives over, looking very confused, meanwhile cutting off another baggage guy who runs into his carts. I see a window full of people wearing yellow construction vests looking out pointing and laughing. I try to explain I need a phone to call the bus, or where does the bus come from, and the baggage guys are still trying to process how I got there in the first place. This younger lady with a soothing voice comes out and helps me get back inside where we find the phone. While she is radio'ing her colleague about this mysterious bus phone, I notice a sign that says: "If you have your boarding pass and your luggage is checked through, you can transfer."
I second-guess that my luggage is checked through, since in Toronto it was an automatic check-in (which was so convenient at the time.) I find my luggage ticket in the bottom of my bag.... and my luggage is here in Gatwick. The shock of knowing I almost left London without my baggage sets in and pushes some much needed adrenaline through my veins.
I explain to the lady that I have to get my luggage before transferring and she responds with, "Oh, you have to go back upstairs, down the hallway, and you'll see customs. You need to go through customs, get your bag, then catch the train to the South terminal."
My exhausted body weeps as I run back upstairs, down the hallway, and now customs is completed packed. A huge area the size of a football field is full of people lining up back into the hallways. I look around for a border guard in their yellow fluorescent vests to help me. When I realized they were all gone, with some serious determination, I said screw this and ran up through the special needs line-up and waited behind 4 wheelchair passengers. The customs officer asked me what was going on and, as I explained, even she looked panicked for how little time I had. It's now 10:40, my flight leaves at 11:55, and the Air Malta check-in closes 45 minutes prior. She lets me through, I have to explain to the customs officer at the desk that I'm not actually entering the country, but have to get my bags and check back in. She asked why I was sweating so much, but lets me through without any further issues. I'm running like a gazelle again through the baggage area and quickly realized there were hundreds of bags everywhere. Flights were delayed and customs was so slow, which meant airport workers were taking the bags off the carousel and leaving them in the middle of the room on the floor. I find my carousel and start looking around on the floor, then see my bag on the carousel, about to be taken off by a worker.
I throw my 40lb bag on like a sack of potatoes and run out of the airport, through the kiss and greet area, across the road, up a huge ramp, and jump onto a train as the doors were closing, hoping that it was the right one. The train takes 3 minutes and I finally go to South terminal, with my bag, ready to check back into the airport at the Air Malta desk. Quickly scanning for the correct desk and jogging over, the Air Malta employee looks at me like "Oh wow, what happened to you." I laugh and explain and she is shaking her head in disbelief, but reassures me I have time. Upon seeing my backpack, she quietly let's me know that I can't check my bag at the desk but have to go to oversize baggage because of the backpack straps... across from the check-in area. In a soothing, calming voice, she assures me i have about 30 minutes but to be speedy.
We're only halfway through my journey at this point.
I check in my bag, fly through the airport, get to my gate, and make it in with 15 minutes to spare, which I needed to sit down and stop sweating and laugh that this all just happened.
Cooled down, I'm exhausted and looking forward to sleeping on the flight. I'd like to think I'm a good airplane buddy: I have short legs, I like to sleep, and I have a steel bladder. When getting on the plane, I see that it's significantly smaller than my previous Air Malta flight. Like, really small. They changed the seats and it's a tight fit, even for my legs. After we take off, the seatbelt light is on, and everyone is settling in, I go to lean my seat back. The seat then gets punched and shook and I have two people yelling at me to put it back up because there's not enough room. I take my earplugs out, look behind me to acknowledge the older British couple and say "Look. I just got off an international flight. I need to sleep. I'll put it up but I need a slight recline." I had maybe 5 degrees of recline and dealt with it. No big deal. I'm dead asleep to the point where, later in the flight, the girl beside me said she tried to wake me up when they came around with water and I didn't budge.
Blissfully asleep, the next thing I know, my seat is being shook like an earthquake, my arm by the window pinched and scratched, my hair pulled, and I'm being hit on the head with a magazine. I have no idea what's going on because I have eye covers and ear plugs on, and so I ignore it half asleep and it gets worse, then I really wake up. The woman and her husband behind me were freaking out that she couldn't put her tray fully down for her wrapped sandwich because my seat is slightly reclined. They were about 75 years old and not looking any more uncomfortable than the rest of us. I slightly sit up and tell them to get the stewardess if they have a problem. The stewardess comes and in a concerned voice asks: "What is going on here?" and I completely lost it. I started uncontrollably sobbing like a 1 year old, gasping and unable to explain myself. I felt so defeated and tired and all I could say between deep breaths in was "I don't think it's acceptable to be abused by a stranger." At the same time, I'm trying to move the seat up but it keeps falling back because the button is broken, so they think I'm messing around when really I'm just trying to get it upright so I can go back to sleep.
The stewardess says that there's no room to move me or them, explains to them they can't tell other guests what to do, and next time to book emergency exit seats or pay for business class, but at this point I'd already moved my seat up and was crying too much to do anything else. Everyone at this point was looking at us and I can only imagine were thinking "Oh my God, this situation."
In that moment, I really wondered if I could handle traveling again. Was this all a mistake? I broke down.
After I had seemingly calmed down, the stewardess comes back around to offer some water, or wine, and tries to talk a bit with me about where I'm coming from. I explained to her I didn't want to cause a scene and talked about my trip up until this point. Upon learning my journey, she then loudly exclaims "Oh wow that's a long way to come, you must be so exhausted' to try and get the people behind me to hear.
I imagined how this would sound after it was all said and done, and that I wasn't defeated but just really needed a good night's sleep. I calmed down, and managed to sleep, posture-pedic 90 degree angle upright for the rest of the flight.
When getting off the flight, the couple behind me didn't acknowledge I that existed and exited behind me.
I have never experienced anything quite like this before, and it goes to show that you really can't prepare for everything while traveling.