Michael’s Trip Diary – Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Houston to London

We set our alarm for 7:00 am, Houston time. Our flight was scheduled to leave Houston, on Continental Airlines, at 3:45 pm, so we didn’t need to be at the airport until about 2:00 that afternoon, but we had a few tasks to finish before we left the house. After breakfast we washed any remaining dishes, and started running through a last-minute checklist. We definitely didn’t want to arrive at the airport and find out I had left the power cord for my laptop plugged in at my desk, like I did thirteen years ago when I was about to fly to Seattle for a conference. That time I called Minay (who had just gotten back to the house after dropping me off). She rushed back to the airport with the cord, and I met her outside the terminal. This was in April of 2001 — pre-9/11 — so leaving the terminal and coming back inside was a fairly easy process then (but not so easy by 2010). And this time no one was at our house for me to call.

Somehow, we had managed to use up most of the perishables. We had spent the night before packing and repacking items to get everything into two suitcases, two backpacks, and one small daypack. We had already made arrangements for one of our neighbors to pick up our newspapers and mail, and for Minay’s sister, Lyndy, to stop by our house while we were gone, to check on it and water a few plants, etc. Lyndy lives near San Antonio, so she was going to do that for us when she drove here to Houston to see Oz and Lila (her and Minay’s parents) a couple of times while we were gone.

Checklist completed, we loaded everything into my Prius. We left Minay’s car in the driveway to help make the house look a little more occupied, and drove my car north to Oz and Lila’s house. We were going to leave my car there and take a taxi to the airport (their house was closer to the airport, so the taxi fare would be smaller). We stopped at a Jack in the Box for lunch and got a couple of chicken sandwiches, some fries, and (I think) a couple of smoothies. We ate at Oz and Lila’s, and went over some last minute details with them while we waited for our taxi to get there.

The taxi arrived at 1:00. We piled our bags in the trunk, said a quick goodbye to Oz and Lila, and we were off. After all the months of planning, it was beginning to feel like this trip might actually happen. Our taxi fare was $29 and I gave the driver $35, which now seems awfully high for a tip. I don’t remember why I did it. Maybe I didn’t have any dollar bills, or was just in a hurry, but I still tipped him way too much.

Speaking of money, Minay and I had visited our bank a few weeks before, and had exchanged some US dollars for British pounds. When we arrived at the airport, I had $135 and £935.89 on me, and Minay had $28.51 and £940 on her. I think my 89 pence (AmE – cents) was leftover from my trip to London in 2000. We were positive that we would need more than £1,875.00 before the trip was over, but we had checked with our bank, and found that we would be able to use our bank card at any Barclay’s bank in the UK. One of the pre-purchases we made were money belts. Once we were there, rather than going to a bank every few days or so, we thought it would be better to get a sizable amount of cash once or twice, and keep it with us,  but keep it hidden.

Inside the terminal at Houston, we checked our suitcases (I barely squeaked by on weight), and then endured the usual removing of shoes, belts, metal items, and spreading the contents of our backpacks out for the TSA’s x-ray machines). I had to get wanded and patted down because I had a knee replacement a couple of years before, and my knee always sets off the metal detector. Minay watched my luggage for me while they felt me up.

We were early. It was barely after 2:00, so we sat and waited. I bought us a couple of large bottles of water and a pen (because I realized — too late — that I had packed all of my pens in my suitcase). I was a bit impatient. We were here, ready to go. “Let’s get this party started.”

Sometime between 3:00 and 3:30, they started boarding the plane, a Boeing 777. It was as large as I remembered, much bigger than the smaller jets Continental uses for cross-country flights. I’m a long-legged six-footer, and usually feel cramped in coach on a regular flight. The 777s have plenty of leg room, even in coach. Here we are just after lifting off.

2010-05-05 We pass over one of the airport's giant parking lots as we take off.

2010-05-05 We pass over one of the airport’s giant parking lots as we take off.

The flight got underway a little after 4:00, and they served supper a couple of hours into the flight. It was actually pretty good. Real silverware (not crappy plastic), chicken on a bed of rice, served with some kind of sesame-ginger sauce, a vegetable (maybe broccoli, I forget), plus a salad and a roll. We were heading eastward, into a later time zone, of course, and the sky was beginning to darken.

A video system was built into the back of each seat, and we had about thirty movies, some TV shows, and several music channels to choose from, plus our books. Plenty to keep us occupied. We watched movies (“Sherlock Holmes” and “It’s Complicated”), but tried to go to sleep shortly after supper, because it was already after midnight London time. We weren’t very successful, but I suppose we napped for a few hours. I think we watched one of the movies before supper and one after. The cabin was quiet, everyone else was trying to get some sleep too. About 5:00 am London time, I snapped this picture of the approaching dawn.

2010-05-06 The sun appears as we approach England.

2010-05-06 The sun appears as we approach England.

About that time, we were served breakfast (cereal and milk, juice, croissant, fruit, and a chocolate-covered cookie. We landed at Heathrow a little after 7:00 am. We were ready for our first day in England, but fairly exhausted (because our bodies were telling us it was really 1:00 am), and we still had to pick up our car before we could get started.

Minay’s version of the day is up next, and then we’ll post pictures from Day Two, London to Bath.

Do you have any particular tricks to help you get some sleep while flying long distances? We’d love to hear them.


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