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Started: 2023-04-23 19:35:52

Submitted: 2023-04-23 22:24:49

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Flying back to SFO after a week in London

On Easter Sunday, the 9th of April, we left London to fly home across the Atlantic Ocean.

We packed (and tried to guess how heavy our bags were, and tried to remember what the relevant weight limits were since we were flying a US carrier from an international destination), checked out of our hotel, and walked to Gloucester Road to take the Piccadilly Line to the airport, because the station layout meant we only had to carry our suitcases down one flight of stairs after taking the elevator down to the deep-level tube. We let one train pass that stopped first at T4 before looping back to T2/T3 because the monitor told us that a T2/T3 then T5 train was two minutes behind it, which meant that the second train would actually reach our departure terminal ahead of the first train.

Piccadilly line train pulls into Gloucester Road station
Piccadilly line train pulls into Gloucester Road station

We reached Heathrow terminal 2 with plenty of time to check our bags and make our way through security. We waited inside the departures hall until our gate was announced (though the United app on my phone showed it before the departure monitors showed the gate), then took the escalators down from the main terminal to the underground tunnel leading to the satellite concourse.

Waiting in departures at Heathrow T2
Waiting in departures at Heathrow T2

The start of boarding was slightly delayed because the aircraft had arrived later than scheduled, so the cabin was still being cleaned and resupplied for its flight back across the Atlantic Ocean. At length we boarded, found our seats, and settled in for our ten-hour flight back to San Francisco.

Like our outbound flight, I selected four adjacent seats in a single row, anchored by a window seat. (I selected a window seat on the right side of the plane, on the theory that it would be facing north for the cruise portion of the flight, so we would get less direct sunlight into the light, so it would be easier to keep the window shade up. I put Julian in the window seat and picked the middle seat for myself, so I could look out the window over Julian. I've trained Julian that he ought to keep the window shade up so I can look out the window. Calvin got the aisle seat next to me, and Kiesa got the seat on the other side of the aisle.)

Our route took us north-north-west across Scotland, according to the in-flight map, but clouds obscured our view of the land below us. I watched Jurassic World on the plane, which I had missed when it was first released and turned out to be a perfectly adequate airplane movie, though I couldn't help but think that the script seemed to have been written by ChatGPT emulating a Jurassic Park screenplay; it hit all of the beats I expected to hit in exactly the way I expected, and nothing that happened was remotely surprising. The musical score hit too many of the musical notes from the original movie; it seemed more like a cover of the original score than a new movie score. At least the visual effects of the dinosaurs marauding around the island were top-notch (which I guess is sort of a spoiler, to the extent that I can spoil a six-year-old movie, though presumably no one goes to a Jurassic Park sequel without expecting a fair amount of dinosaur-involved mayhem).

I spent some of my time on the flight going through the vast pile of pictures I took on the trip, which was an overwhelming undertaking since I ended up with 594 pictures from both of my cameras (my Nikon D5300 DSLR and my newer iPhone 13), which I eventually narrowed down to 202 unique photos in the complete set from the trip.

The clouds cleared as we approached North America and I saw sea ice on the Labrador Sea between Greenland and Labrador, stretching far to the horizon, broken into slabs where the ocean water looked like rivers between the ice.

Sea ice on the Labrador Sea
Sea ice on the Labrador Sea

We entered North American airspace four hours into the flight, less than half of the way to San Francisco. I watched on the map as we flew over Quebec and Ontario, then entered American airspace over Minnesota. When we crossed over California a few hours later, just before beginning our descent into SFO, I spotted Lake Oroville, looking full after a wet winter. We descended over Point Reyes, before looping around to land at SFO from the south, descending lower and lower over the bay before the runway appears below us.

Descending into SFO over Point Reyes
Descending into SFO over Point Reyes

We landed at 15:30 PDT. I had already set all of my devices to Pacific time, and I refused to do the time zone math that would tell me what the local time was back in London. It was bright and sunny in San Francisco, letting me fool myself into thinking that it was a reasonable time to be up and awake, instead of almost midnight and definitely bedtime. We made our way through the Global Entry lane at immigration by facial recognition alone (at no point did we actually have to show either our passports or NEXUS cards), which was an interesting new experience (and only slightly awkward to hold Julian up high enough to capture his face on the camera while finding a spare hand to hit the button to take the picture to match against the immigration database).

Then we waited for our bags to emerge from baggage claim (and tried to recognize which specific mid-sized black spinner suitcases were ours rather than everyone else's), and emerged through customs into the arrivals hall under the SFO international terminal.

In our somewhat-hurried packing in the morning in London, I put my and Calvin's SIM cards in my suitcase, rather than in my carry-on bag, so I couldn't swap our temporary UK SIM cards for our permanent US SIM cards until we claimed our luggage. I pulled out the cards as we waited for the people-mover to take us to long-term parking, then swapped my SIM card while we rode the train. As soon as I turned my phone on with my SIM I received a deluge of text messages that United had sent me to tell me about my flight's gate, then that the flight was delayed, then that the flight was boarding.

We arrived home in Santa Cruz at 17:30 PDT, sixteen hours after leaving the flat in South Kensington at 09:30 BST that morning. Spring had arrived while we were gone: it was warm and sunny (and the house was bordering on hot and stuffy, since it had been closed up all day long), and the irises in the front yard had bloomed. I stayed awake until the sun went down at 20:00 (which was probably the middle of the night back in London but I didn't want to do the time-zone math), then jet-lag kicked in and I went to bed.

We spent a good week in London. I got to see some new things, and my kids got to see the city and its sights. I think (hope?) that everyone got to see something they enjoyed, and we all returned home without anyone catching COVID-19.