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Speedbird (Reprise)

Started: 2017-09-17 19:53:49

Submitted: 2017-09-17 23:17:07

Visibility: World-readable

19th August 2017: In which the intrepid narrator flies home to North America across the Atlantic Ocean

After five days in Copenhagen, and eleven days in Europe and the Schengen Area, the time came for us to fly home.

We left our Airbnb, left the key in the mailbox as requested, and took the metro to the airport. (We were already halfway to the airport because I had carefully pre-screened the Airbrb to be close to transit.) The metro dropped us off at Terminal 3, and we had to walk around construction hoarding and across a parking lot to reach Terminal 2, where our flight departed. We printed our boarding passes at the kiosks shared by all the airlines operating in the terminal, then queued in a lengthy line to check our bags with British Airways.

Kiesa and Julian queue to check in at Copenhagen Airport
Kiesa and Julian queue to check in at Copenhagen Airport

With our bags checked, we went upstairs to go through security, then found ourselves in the midst of a giant duty-free shopping mall. We followed the signs to our assigned departure gate, which was on the other end of a lengthy passport control queue. (It occurred to me later to wonder whether the border agent was asking how long we'd been in Denmark (five days, since Tuesday) or how long we'd been in the Schengen Area (eleven days, since last Wednesday).) We found the little waiting area at the gate for our plane, an A320 for a quick two-hour hop to London, and presently boarded the plane.

British Airways A320 G-EUPH at CPH
British Airways A320 G-EUPH at CPH

I had an aisle seat for the flight, so I didn't get to see much outside the window, and what I did see looked cloudy. We landed at Heathrow, found the right line for international transfers, and went through another security screening checkpoint in Terminal 5. The metal detectors did not like any of us, apparently alarming on our shoes, so we all got to go through the secondary screening millimeter wave scanner, which found nothing. Then we had to wait for Kiesa's backpack -- apparently an inexperienced screener spotted something they didn't recognize on the x-ray screen, which turned out to be the Magnatiles in the backpack.

We emerged from security around noon local time (an hour behind the time zone we left in Copenhagen) and went in search of lunch. From our last trip to Heathrow Terminal 5 three years ago, I remembered a Wagamama with good veg ramen on the upper level overlooking the terminal, but it didn't seem to be where I expected it to be. I wandered around the terminal for a bit, and consulted various maps which generally agreed that the restaurant was in fact supposed to exist, until I realized that there were two similar-looking open spaces in the terminal and Wagamama was perched above the other one.

Noodle bowl at Wagamama in Heathrow Terminal 5
Noodle bowl at Wagamama in Heathrow Terminal 5

We ate ramen (it ranks as the best ramen I've eaten in an airport in Europe, though that doesn't represent a large sample) and Kiesa headed off to make sure she could get Julian to the gate in time to depart, leaving me with Calvin to finish eating and get the check. I had forgotten how "get the check" is much more complicated in the UK, where it's apparently considered impolite for the waiters to volunteer the check. I, on the other hand, am a brash American and I like getting the check as soon as possible after eating -- especially when I have a plane to catch. It took at least fifteen minutes to flag down my waiter and ask for the check, while I was watching the departure board on my phone and seeing that it thought I ought to proceed to my gate and wondering how far away satellite terminal C was and trying not to get anxious about missing my flight when I was pretty sure the next flight was tomorrow and wondering what contingency plan I could come up with if I were stuck in the UK because I missed my flight and deciding I'd be fine (I had a credit card, and there was probably room on another flight, and if I really had to stick around for a couple of days waiting for an extra seat I did at least have my badge so I could show up to the office in London and say hi to my coworkers there, but Calvin was supposed to show up for his first day of school on Monday and the school district would get cranky if he wasn't there).

My paranoia turned out to be unfounded: I paid the check (giving me one last opportunity to curse my stupid credit card company for refusing to give me a proper chip-and-PIN card and instead forcing me to sign for my credit card transaction like my credit card was stuck in the stone age) and hurried with Calvin to the people-mover to the satellite concourse. By the time we reached the gate they were almost done boarding our flight, but there was still time for us to scan our boarding passes and make our way onto the plane and find our seats at the very end of the upper deck of a massive A380. Kiesa and Julian were already there, sitting in the two seats next to the window in the row behind Calvin and I. (I chose our seats carefully, picking the upper deck because it was in a 2-4-2 seat configuration, so our family of four fit neatly on two adjacent window sections.)

Our flight pushed back, taxied to the runway, and began the take-off roll. As we accelerated down the runway I marveled at the size and power of the super-jumbo aircraft we were flying in -- and then we were airborne, with several hundred tons of aircraft, passengers, crew, cargo, and fuel.

Our flight to San Francisco was uneventful, quiet, and long. I finished reading The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (which I'd started reading four weeks earlier, while flying to Omaha to spend two weeks in my employer's data center) and dove into The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross, the latest book in his Laundry Files series (and the one book that I managed to get signed by the author at Worldcon -- I brought it with me because I was planning on reading it). I finished the entire book before landing.

The in-flight map showed that we were flying over Iceland, but the glimpses I caught out the window showed only clouds. (Calvin spent most of the time watching videos on the in-flight entertainment, and kept his window shade closed to avoid the glare. I thought this was a waste of a perfectly good window.) I saw Greenland under the plane, and watched our North American landfall over Baffin Island (near the cliffs I saw last fall when flying the same route home to San Francisco from London) around the midpoint of the flight, then continued the long journey across the Canadian shield before eventually reaching American airspace.

British Airways A380 G-XLEJ at SFO
British Airways A380 G-XLEJ at SFO

We landed in San Francisco ahead of schedule at 16:55 PDT. I had already set my watch, and the clocks in my various electronics, to Pacific Time, and tried not to do the time zone conversion to check what time it was back in Copenhagen. It was bright and sunny outside, and that was what I let my body clock believe as I tried to stay awake long enough to get home.

We disembarked and made our way to the regular US citizen immigration lane, since Julian does not have Global Entry. We answered the immigration officer's screening questions to his satisfaction and he let us enter the country. Our bags took some time to make it off the plane -- the baggage hold of an A380 seemed to overwhelm the baggage carrousel; bags were packed three high by the time our bags came out, and it wasn't clear that it was going to be able to handle any more bags before the bags' owners came and claimed them. We joined the long queue for customs, then stepped out into the drab international arrivals hall on the lower level of SFO's international terminal.

We caught BART back home and watched the fog envelop the train as we approached Daly City. Calvin fell asleep on the train, and I had to wake him up so we could walk the rest of the way to our house. Calvin and Julian didn't wait long to go to bed. I took a shower, and waited until 20:00 PDT to go to bed. I was happy to be home, and happy that we'd survived our European adventure.

Power to the insanity -- it's the only thing that keeps us sane.
- Jaeger, 26 March 2000