A couple of weeks ago, I made a quick trip to England, primarily to test British Airways’ new “Club Suite”. I planned more than just that one review, though. I made my final destination Manchester, a new city for me. From there, the plan was to fly Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy on the 747 back to the States. And my friend Kyle from Live and Let’s Fly suggested a classic Sunday roast. Ultimately, it all worked out, and I have a full slate of reviews in the works. But a winter storm nearly threw a wrench into things a couple of times. It all had me feeling like I was in a real life episode of the 80s classic film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
My trip started on Friday, February 7th with a positioning flight to Toronto via Atlanta and Fort Myers. (Because hey, that’s what all normal people do.) I booked Delta to get me to Fort Myers, from where I’d try out WestJet Premium to Toronto. A severe the storm the day before badly snarled Delta’s ops, but luckily my flights operated on-time. WestJet then brought me a few minutes early to Toronto, where I overnighted.
The next morning, I received notification while eating breakfast that my London-Manchester flight had been canceled. Not from British Airways, but from the Flighty app. I suspected this might happen, given the forecast effects of Storm Ciara in England. But it’s disconcerting, nonetheless. I quickly pulled up my reservation, but only found a message to contact the call center for assistance.
Not wanting to risk getting stuck in London, I booked a rental car as a backup plan. (I did consider taking the train; however, authorities warned of possible major delays due to flooding and high winds, so I decided not to.) Later, I tried to call BA on the on the way into town, but gave up after half an hour on hold. I decided I’d just figure things out at check-in later that afternoon. And so, I enjoyed a few (cold) hours in Toronto, visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame.
While eating lunch, more than three hours after Flighty’s warning, BA finally sent me a notification. A rebooked flight 11 1/2 hours after my original departure, and a downgrade to coach. Ugh – glad I booked that rental car. (And a thank you to Flighty for giving me a 3-hour head start on finding a solution.)
Ironically, this is one situation where booking separate tickets actually worked to my advantage. At the British Airways counter that afternoon, I asked about canceling the London-Manchester leg. Since I only booked a one-way journey to Manchester, she said no problem. But she mentioned that if I had a round-trip reservation, no dice. I’d just have to wait the whole day at Heathrow. Missing the segment, of course, would then cancel any remaining ones.
One interesting tidbit – I flew the same night as the record setting flights from New York to London. Our captain noted tailwinds approaching 240 mph, with ground speeds occasionally touching 800 mph. We didn’t set any records, but still arrived in London an impressive hour and 10 minutes early. The downside? Less than three hours to sleep between meal services.
The Automobile Saves the Day
Probably my favorite scene from the movie is the “car rental counter” scene. After Steve Martin’s character reaches the St. Louis airport, he tries to rent a car, but it doesn’t quite work as he hopes.
Thankfully, the car actually saved the day this time. Of course, a last minute, automatic transmission, one-way rental in the UK – isn’t cheap. It set me back nearly $200, including nearly $40 for gas. (It adds up at $6.50 a gallon.) But National had the car waiting for me, and had me on my way by 7 am. They even provided an upgrade from a compact car to a very nice Mazda CX-9. To my surprise, the weather mostly cooperated enroute, with gusty winds but just some occasional showers. It’s too bad I picked such a gloomy day, because the countryside sure provided some scenic views.
I even remembered to drive on the left side of the road, avoiding a fate like this.
Anyway, the roughly 200-mile trip took about 3 1/2 hours. A mostly easy drive along the M40 and M6 motorways. After filling up the car, I made it to Manchester Airport a little after 11. Nearly 10 hours earlier than my rescheduled flight.
Trains Fail – Twice
The storm really picked up after reaching Manchester, with wind gusts up to 60 mph at times. I planned to take the train to the city center, normally a 25 minute ride. But shortly after buying my ticket, an agent announced a total closure on the line due to downed trees. Ugh. They sent us to the tram instead, a ride that took about 45 minutes. It was then I realized I left my raincoat at home. Oops! Luckily the rain stopped just as we reached central Manchester.
More importantly, I made my 6:30 reservation for my much anticipated Sunday roast at Alberts Schloss.
The next morning, I tried the trains again, heading to Oxford Road station around 9:15. With a flight at noon, that should have brought me to the airport more than 2 hours before departure, plenty of time to visit the duty free and the lounge. But lingering problems from the day before left the trains a mess. After boarding a packed train at 9:30, it took nearly 45 minutes to travel – less than a mile to Manchester Piccadilly. Now sweating the clock, I ditched the train and called an Uber. The car came to my rescue again, reaching the airport around 10:45. Security was no sweat, and I made it to my flight with a little time to spare. The 747 never looked so good!
So no, I didn’t have to relive any scenes like this, just to catch a train that breaks down halfway there…
…but still, the whole episode reminded me how unpredictable traveling in winter sometimes gets. Or perhaps moreso, just how lucky I’ve been over the years. I seem to always luck into great weather that makes the journey a breeze. For example, I just spent a week in Hawai’i during rainy season – where it hardly rained, on two islands. Heck, I even enjoyed two days of sun in Ireland of all places once. For once, Mother Nature decided not to cooperate, subjecting me to the kinds of disruptions road warriors talk about frequently. But a little improvising made it all turn out OK. And in some ways, like the impromptu road trip, more fun.
Anyway, look for a full slate of posts on this trip later this spring.