Memorable Travel - Stuck at Heathrow
By Al Haber @ The Parking Spot
In early March my wife, Kate, was attending a work conference in London for a few days. Somehow, we planned a way for me to join her at the end without our 3 children. We invited her mom from St. Louis to kid-sit for us in Chicago. Our couples’ trip would entail a few days in London and Paris. Both of us were excited for the vacation to begin!
Kate left earlier in the week to attend her conference. My plan was to leave Thursday evening from O’Hare (ORD) for an early Friday morning arrival in merry ole England. While my wife got to expense her trip and took British Airways business product, Club World , I kept it classy in coach, or what they call World Traveller (which is still coach). My security screening and flight was fairly uneventful except for the woman next to me fainted in the aisle partway through during the meal service. She was fine, but just needed some air and time to calm down. My seatmate and I had to finish our meals in the bulkhead section. The flight attendants were nice and didn’t seem to phased by the experience. They did offer us a few extra drinks for our troubles.
London Leg of Our Couple’s Trip
After landing in London Heathrow airport (LHR), I made the quick and very easy trip on the train to downtown London on the Heathrow Airport Express . I’d totally recommend it as it was very fast and simple to do rather than figure out how to get a car and sit in traffic.
I checked in at our hotel, the Connaught, in the Mayfair neighborhood of London. The rooms were awesome, and we had a nice little balcony and view of parts of the city. The hotel is widely known for their martini trolley service . So of course, we had to have one, or three! We were travelling with some friends, so we of course had to try 1, or 3, martinis! They also had amazing guest service where I think they actually knew who I was from my face, and I was regularly greeted in the hallways and elevator by my name and I was just shocked that they knew who I was. It was like a magic trick. We actually were a little late drinking at the martini bar, and we had a reservation at a different bar next door in the hotel and without us even asking they pushed back our reservation, so our table was ready right when we got there. This was a great thing since there was a line to get in. I couldn’t believe the thoughtfulness of the service.
Getting to Paris and Back is a Breeze
The next day we took the Eurostar train down to Paris which was a really easy 2 to 3-hour trip. Much easier and more convenient than flying. We arrived at The Brach Hotel also not realizing it was fashion week. Although we clearly felt underdressed it was cool to walk around the lively city. Our hotel was thankfully in a more residential neighborhood which was much cooler as it felt a lot more local. The Maison Balzac was a super cool little tour of the artist and writer’s house that has a cute little café downstairs with outdoor seating. It was a serene and quiet place to grab a little coffee and breakfast bite.
We got our fancy Michelin Star meal at the very fine Apicus restaurant. It was an amazing meal, but I don’t usually go for those types of price fixe situations. I had just watched the horror movie The Menu with Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy and this restaurant made me think about it. The food and experience were absolutely fabulous, but this is a type of meal that I might only want to once every few years. I’m good with some steak frites, crepes, and croissants.
We returned to London after a weekend in Paris and was a good idea since there was a planned strike happening the next day that would’ve actually cancelled our train back and left us stranded in Europe. They were protesting raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and we learned a lot about French culture about what it means to have a good work/life/retirement balance.
Back in London the one thing I really wanted to do was get a coffee from the shop of a world famous barista, James Hoffmann. He does a lot of interesting YouTube videos of him sampling, reviewing, and opining on all things related to coffee. He has a great British style that mixes a bit of science behind what is very subjective ‘art’ of coffee. I actually ended up listening to a couple of his books while on the flight. I really wanted to visit his coffee shop, Prufrock Coffee in London’s Leather Lane neighborhood. It's actually not a super fancy shop at all and more in a working class type of business area. Kate and I enjoyed a nice coffee and breakfast the morning of our flight home when we got an unwelcome text.
Surprise Flight Cancellation
British Airways just let us know that nonstop our flight home later that afternoon from London to Chicago was cancelled. They didn’t really offer an explanation, but the weather was clear where we were. I checked where was the aircraft that was making our flight and it appeared on time as well. There was no known work stoppage in the UK going on and other flights were arriving/departing normally so we couldn’t figure out why our flight was randomly cancelled. Nonetheless, this caused quite the fire drill as we rushed back to our hotel while my wife tried to call the travel agency that booked her ticket and I tried to navigate the British Airways app from my phone as we rushed to a taxi back to our hotel.
We had separate flight itineraries because we had planned separately: Double the aggravation!
There were no easy rebooking options until the next day which wouldn’t work for us since our kids and my mother-in-law really wanted us back that night. Also, while the trip was amazing and relaxing and just what we needed, we were also ready to head back home to our own bed and have a little more daily routine in our lives.
Since my wife was travelling for work she was able to get the travel agent to rebook her on a United Airlines nonstop flight that left pretty much left around the same time. I was not as fortunate as I was travelling on our own dime and I am way too cheap to rebook a walkup ticket on another airline. So I was stuck with British Airways or their partner airline, American. I looked at all the departures over different cities in the US and the only one that would end up working would be to take British Airways on a nice A350 to PHX (Phoenix Arizona) and then connect back up to O’Hare. This would take me 3 – 4 hours out of my way and overfly Chicago and I would end up landing after midnight instead of late afternoon.
British Airways and Regulations Make It Up To Us
In the end it was just an inconvenience to travel back late and be rushed around and close out the end of trip. The silver lining was that EU and UK laws are very generous to consumers when a flight is cancelled without notice for a non-weather related reason. You can fill out the request right on the British Airways website and it’ll take several weeks for them to get back to you. They kinda make you jump through a few hoops and fill out a bunch of forms, but I was able to get $630 back for each of our tickets which is the maximum permitted under the law. That basically paid for all our air travel and left me as a more satisfied customer knowing that I was able to get restitution from the airline for not living up to their contract of carriage.
It definitely helps to know the rules of what you’re entitled to when travelling. It may not mean much during the trip, but it can at least make up for some of the hassle in the end. Plan your European trip carefully and make sure to get your car, hotel, and parking reservations in advance.
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