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Going home

Started: 2014-06-05 19:09:16

Submitted: 2014-06-05 21:02:28

Visibility: World-readable

Sunday, 25th May: In which the intrepid narrator returns home to North America after a week and a half in Great Britain

I awoke on the morning of our last day in Scotland with only one mission: Get home, using two planes, two shuttle buses, one people-mover, and my own car. I was underwhelmed by breakfast, but it was free in a place called "Holiday Inn Express" so there was an upper limit to what I ought to have expected. (The coffee, though, was atrocious.) Properly fortified, I finished packing, successfully stashing all of our stuff in our suitcases, though we ended up hand-carrying Kiesa's purse on the plane just to relieve our luggage of an extra kilogram to keep it under the weight limit.

We checked out and caught the shuttle to the airport terminal. (This being an airport hotel, the hotel was located across the street from the perimeter fence, but we still preferred the shuttle to actually get us to the right part of the terminal.) We checked in at the automated kiosk, which involved trying, with mixed success, to apply our own luggage tag, then finding the right queue to drop our bags (and have our passports scanned again) and get the other bag tag printed. The security queue warned about the presence of body scanners, but only one of the several security lanes had the scanners; the rest had traditional metal detectors, so we had no problem picking the right lane and walking straight through security without the level of scrutiny devoted to a couple who had packed x-ray blocking kitchen pots in their hand luggage, explaining that they were moving and had to take everything.

And with that we were inside the concourse, with more than an hour before our flight to Heathrow departed, and without a gate posted. I got a cup of coffee and watched Calvin watch the planes come and go. At length our gate was posted, and presently we boarded the 767-300 waiting for us. As a party of three, British Airways chose to assign us the three adjacent middle seats, which I decided was slightly preferable to being split across an aisle. It didn't give us the ability to look out the window, but both Kiesa and I got aisle seats for easy access.

British Airways Boeing 767-300 G-BZHA at Edinburgh Airport
British Airways Boeing 767-300 G-BZHA at Edinburgh Airport

We landed in Heathrow and, once again, had to wait a few minutes before our gate was vacated by the plane in front of us. We disembarked and, following the signs to connecting flights, found a queue waiting to check our boarding passes to make sure we were in the right place. The queue was long, but moved quickly, and shortly we were waved through, up an escalator, and suddenly we were within the duty-free shopping mall that passed for a departure lounge at Terminal 5, without going through another security check or passport control to prove that we were legitimately leaving the country. (The lack of outbound passport control confused me for the remainder of the journey, since every other country I've traveled to recently wants to check its outgoing passengers, until I got home and verified that I do not have a departure stamp for either of my two previous visits to the UK.)

British Airways Airbus A380 at Heathrow Terminal 5
British Airways Airbus A380 at Heathrow Terminal 5

We found the children's play area and let Calvin play for a while, then ate lunch at Wagamama. After lunch, I stopped to buy a copy of The Economist for extra reading material (which involved a self-check-out machine that had to signal the staff to get a signature for my £5 purchase using my second-rate chip-and-signature card), then made my way through the people mover to the second satellite concourse "C". I saw two A380s parked next to each other on the far side of the concourse and showed them to Calvin. We joined the Denver-bound passengers milling about and, at length, boarded our plane for our flight home.

Passengers wait at gate C57 at Heathrow Terminal 5
Passengers wait at gate C57 at Heathrow Terminal 5

On the flight I remembered just how boring a nine-hour flight can be when I actually remain awake for the duration. (The eight-hour flight out from Denver was easy since I slept for five of those hours.) Out my window I watched the English countryside give way to the Irish Sea, then clouds over Ireland, and finally the Atlantic Ocean.

English countryside under G-YMMB's wing
English countryside under G-YMMB's wing

As we approached North America, I spotted drift ice on the open ocean. I didn't think I'd actually seen sea ice before; I don't think I've been in the right place at the right time to see it. We flew south of the Great Circle route, well south of Greenland, so after a brief glimpse of Ireland the first land I saw was the coast of Newfoundland, spotted in snow, with the ocean still covered in ice.

Drift ice in the Labrador Sea under G-YMMB's wing
Drift ice in the Labrador Sea under G-YMMB's wing
Sea ice and the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador under G-YMMB's wing
Sea ice and the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador under G-YMMB's wing

Our plane entered American airspace over Michigan's upper peninsula, and immediately the anything-goes road layouts I'd seen for the past week and a half gave way to the strict north-south/east-west Cartesian grid of section roads one mile apart. We landed in Denver and I tried to pay more attention to the bright sunlight coming in the windows than my body clock, which was trying to tell me that it was after midnight in the timezone I'd come from.

We disembarked and walked across the upper level of the bridge between Concourse A and the main terminal used exclusively for arriving international passengers. (I've been here only once before, also after arriving the BA flight from Heathrow.) We skipped the main immigration queue and went instead to the Global Entry kiosks, which meant we needed to figure out how to use the kiosk while still a little dazed from our flight. It took several tries to figure out how to get the machine to read our passports; a Customs and Border Patrol employee noticed us struggling to use the machines and suggested pulling the top of our passport back slightly from the top of the scanner, and suddenly it worked perfectly. We answered the questions on-screen, got receipts with poorly-aimed photos of us that the kiosk tried to take, and proceeded to baggage claim. We still had to wait for our bags, but once they eventually arrived we handed our Global Entry receipts to the customs officer and exited into the main terminal. I've never had a lengthy wait in a US immigration queue, but Global Entry made the whole thing that much easier.

We took the parking shuttle to our car in long-term parking and drove home just as the sun was setting over the mountains. After spending most of the past week reminding me to drive on the left, Kiesa suddenly had to remind me to drive on the right. (I didn't actually have any problems figuring out which side to drive on; seventeen years of driving on the right is a habit I can't break in four days.) After eleven days away from home it was good to be back, and Cat5 agreed; she did her part to welcome us back by meowing every half-hour all through the night.

For more photos on Sunday, 25th May, see Photos on 2014-05-25. Kiesa did not write a parallel account of our trip home, on the assumption that it wasn't worth an entry.

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