Searching for Castles in the Rain Mist

Some notes and other trivia written on a trip to Scotland

July, 2007.

by Jeff Kravitz

Getting There is half the Fun!

Photo by D. Kravitz

We were leaving on our first trip to Bonnie Scotland. My wife, Donnie, and I love to travel, and when we travel, we typically rent a car and drive, exploring the countryside and the small towns and villages in the country we are visiting. We are both avid photographers, and so we pack two digital cameras, a couple of extra disk storage devices, and sometimes a laptop, along with the usual accoutrements such as monopods, lenses, etc. Since my wife is female, she also brings a lot of clothes. This all means that we don't travel light, as is the usual recommendation.

Anyway, we had a 7:40 PM flight from John F. Kennedy airport to London Gatwick airport on an American carrier. Let's call it Gamma Airlines, so we don't hear from any lawyers. We also had a connecting flight on -- oh -- Brittanic Air to Edinburgh, Scotland. We took an airport limousine from our house, which is about 50 miles north of Manhattan, leaving about 4:00 PM, giving us plenty of time to get to the airport, check in, go through the security rigmarole, etc. -- or so we thought.

Well, it being a Wednesday early evening, it would be obvious to almost anybody that the traffic getting to the airport would be horrendous, wouldn't it? It wasn't obvious to us. We usually get to JFK in about an hour and a half. This time it took two and half hours. We got to the Gamma terminal at about 6:30, only to discover a long, long, line of people, waiting to get into the entrance door! That's right -- they weren't waiting to check bags, or to go through some kind of security check, they were waiting to get into the building! We had to walk past about a hundred or so people to get to the end of the line. We thought, "there's no way we're making this flight". Luckily, after a few minutes, a Gamma employee came to the end of the line and told a bunch of us to follow her to another entrance, where there was no line. We never found out why those people were in line to get into the building.

Once we got inside however, there was chaos -- hundreds of people milling about. Some were on lines that zig-zagged between ropes heading for some kind of counters. The signs that you would think would be indicative of which line to get on were either not there, or placed in such a way as to make it impossible to determine what line the sign was directing one to. We asked people on the ends of the lines whether this line was for international flight check-in. Nobody knew. Then we noticed a bunch of self-check-in kiosks, so we walked up to a free kiosk, followed the instructions, only to have it tell us that we cannot use the kiosk and must get on the kiosk help line. Well -- we found a sign which said Kiosk Help Line, but there wasn't any line. We got on some line nearby. After a few minutes of waiting on line, my wife spotted a Gamma employee in the middle of a crowd. The employee was directing people to another check-in area entirely, and told my wife to follow him. She came and got me, and we followed the employee and about twenty other people around a corner and into a room with check-in counters and three clerks. We finally got to a check-in desk, and handed in our paperwork, got our boarding passes, and then were told that we couldn't check bags at this area, because the bag handling equipment wasn't working, and so we had to take our bags back to the original area and give them to somebody there to check-in. OK -- back to the first area with our bags. We just walked up to the head of the First Class check in line, and handed the clerk our check-in bags.

Photo by D. Kravitz

So we were finally done -- we had our boarding passes and our bags were checked in. Nothing else could go wrong, could it? Hah! We had booked our flight months in advance, like they tell you to do so as to get the best rate. We had checked out everything on the Gamma web site, but because we had some complex arrangements, we decided to call Gamma directly and talk to a Human Being™. When you do this, they tell you that you will have to pay ten dollars extra to book tickets via a Human Being™. This made me proud to be a Human Being™, knowing that talking to another Human Being™ was considered to be worth more than dealing with a mere computer. I mention this so that it is clear that a Gamma employee did the actual booking. We got the flights we wanted, and since we had previously checked the web site and found two seats that were available, two seats together, one window, one aisle, in row 33, we told the Gamma Human Being™ about these seats. The Gamma Human Being™ typed away at his computer terminal, and assured us that we got the exact seats we wanted. Back to the day of departure -- when we got our boarding passes, my wife had a window and I had an aisle, just like we requested, except hers was in row 33, and mine was in row 32! Eventually, at the departure gate we got this fixed, and miraculously, we got two seats together, one window, and one aisle. Hooray!

OK -- now for the dreaded Security Check. My favorite new security rule is now being enforced by Brittanic Airways. They require that you only have one check-in bag, with a certain size limit. That one means just one -- no handbags, no laptops, no purses, no nothing -- one bag. I wanted to bring my camera bag, my laptop bag, some books to read, my medicines, and a small bag containing my extra disk drives, camera battery chargers, etc. My wife had a bunch of stuff that she wanted to carry on also. Why do we want to carry this stuff on? Because if you check it, it will be lost. stolen, or destroyed. No way am I checking my cameras, lenses, disk drives, laptop, or medicines. So we both had gotten some duffel bags, and put the other smaller bags inside them, just to get through security when we made our connection in London. I guess that the terrorists won't be able to blow up a plane if the bomb and its instructions are in the same bag.

We got on the security check-in line, which, unbelievably, was a short line. We got through security with only the usual hassle of taking off our shoes, putting them and our jackets into plastic bins on the X-ray machine table, taking my laptop case out of my carry-on duffel, and my laptop out of its laptop case and putting it into another bin, taking the 1-quart, zip-lock plastic bag containing 3oz bottles of liquid out of my wife's carry on, and going through the metal detectors. Fortunately, neither of us beeped. Heaven help you if you beep. We then had to wait for all of our stuff to come out of the X-ray machine, and then try to re-assemble ourselves, while standing in our stocking feet, and hoping that nothing was lost or stolen in the process, and then try to find a place to put our shoes on. God forbid that the United States Department of Homeland Security would put some chairs there so people could sit down and put their shoes back on.

OK -- boarding passes obtained, check-in bags checked, through the security check, down the 10 miles inside the terminal to our gate. Have you noticed that no matter where you are flying, your gate is the one at the end of the terminal? We got to our gate about 30 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave. Just about right, we thought. Wrong. Instead of leaving at 7:40 PM on Wednesday, the flight took off at 1:30 AM on Thursday! Six hours late! Every half hour or so, some Gamma employee would give us a new excuse as to why the flight was delayed, and assured us that the problem would be solved in the next few minutes. I personally believe that the largest department in the Gamma Airlines company is the "EXCUSE DEPARTMENT". They probably have hundreds of people thinking up new creative excuses for why a flight is delayed. My favorite one, that they actually tried on us, was that the plane we were leaving on was at the airport, fueled, cleaned and ready to go, and they just had to taxi it up to our gate, but some traffic was in the way and as soon as the traffic cleared, the plane would be at the gate and we could board. Well that traffic didn't clear for another 5 hours!

Photo by D. Kravitz

We finally took off, and sleepily flew to Gatwick Airport in London. Just a brief mention of the food on board -- I never touched mine, and my wife was sorry she tasted hers. We got to London. We of course had missed our connecting flight from London to Edinburgh, but a Gamma employee had assured us that they had re-booked us on a later flight. And, in fact, they had. All we had to do in Gatwick was walk the 20 miles from the arrival gate, go through passport control and then to baggage claim, and because we were international travelers from outside the EU, we had to wait for our bags, go through customs, and then back upstairs to departure to check in at Brittanic Airways, lugging all our bags. We got checked-in again, got through security, where they have lots of chairs for people to sit on to take off their shoes, before the separate shoe X-ray, and then lots more afterward for you to sit while putting them back on, and then walked with our heavy carry-on duffels the 30 miles to our departure gate, only to discover that our flight was delayed! About an hour they thought. Well, it eventually took off, and we arrived in lovely Edinburgh, Scotland. After 23 hours of traveling. It was raining. So this is a good time to discuss...