Holiday Tips

Europe has its worst travel day ever–and our family was right there in the thick of it

3 p.m. This story starts with a phone call to Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

“Hello, is the 5:50 p.m. flight to London delayed or canceled?”

“No, still on schedule.”

“But I’ve heard that all flights out of SFO are delayed three hours due to weather and Heathrow is also experiencing major delays.”

“On schedule. You better get to the airport.”

3:10 p.m. My husband calls Yellow Cab.

3:20 p.m. Call Yellow Cab again and learn they took down the wrong address.

3:30 p.m. Call Yellow Cab again as we’re nervous about arriving at the airport on time.

3:40 p.m. We call DeSoto Cab Co. No answer after listening to the phone ring for 5 minutes.

3:50 p.m. We call Yellow Cab again. The operator says a cab will be there in 10 minutes.

4 p.m. Knock on our neighbor Donald’s door.

4:10 p.m. Donald graciously agrees to give us a lift to the airport. As we’re slinking down 280 through a downpour that’s so bad you can barely see the road, Donald says, “I haven’t driven on the freeway in rain in 10 years…”

4:40 p.m. Checking in at the Virgin counter. We arrive only minutes before the airline was about to give up our four seats.

5:50 p.m. The plane miraculously takes off on time.

6:30 p.m. Watching movies and sipping apple juice.

8 p.m. Bed time.

4 a.m. The pilot announces: “We have received word that Heathrow is closed due to snow. We are landing at Stansted Airport.”

Stansted? Huh? Where the hell is that?

4:30 a.m. On the runway in Stansted. “Please stay seated. We are waiting to find out if Heathrow will reopen or if we should put you on coaches to Heathrow.”

5:30 a.m. “Heathrow is officially closed for the rest of the day.”

The airplane stairs open down onto the snowy runway. Walk through the snow into Stansted Airport where we wait an hour to go through customs.

6:30 a.m. Baggage claim is a mad house. Luggage piled up everywhere, people sleeping on the floor.

7:30 a.m. We learn that people have been waiting three, four, even five hours for their luggage. Heathrow and Gatwick are closed and all planes have been diverted to tiny Stansted that’s 30 miles north of London.

9:30 a.m. We get lucky and our luggage finally arrives after three hours of waiting.

9:40 a.m. Buses into London aren’t running. Roads closed due to three inches of snow. Thankfully, the Stanstead Express train is in service.

The ticket machine won’t take my credit cards nor my husband’s. A kind man, who says he loves San Francisco, buys our tickets and I pay him in American dollars. It costs our family of four 60 pounds ($ 90) to take the train to the Liverpool Street station in central London. Bart suddenly seems like a bargain.

10 a.m. A train arrives and it’s packed. Only a few people can get on.

10:30 a.m. Another train arrives. We can’t get on it.

10:45 a.m. Kids are freezing cold waiting outside. We open suitcases and find mittens, hats, snow boots.

11 a.m. Four more trains come and go. My husband yells at a man who shoves himself in front of us and hops on a train, so we’re unable to get on. I yell at my husband for yelling. We’re on the verge of going crazy.

11:30 a.m. I lead my children in jumping jacks as we try to keep warm. It’s zero degrees outside.

noon We finally board a train, after I talk with an attendant and tell her that my shivering children and I must get on the next train.

12:30 p.m. The train breaks down. Hour delay. I read Harry Potter out loud to my daughter, and the passengers sitting around us listen in.

2 p.m. Arrive at Liverpool. Cab or Tube? I convince my husband that we should take the Tube as someone tells us that a cab could cost up to 100 pounds ($ 150) with the traffic and snow.

2:15 p.m. We board a Circle Line train that travels one stop and then goes out of service.

2:30 p.m. We board another train that goes out of service and we learn that the Tube is experiencing major delays due to the inch of snow on the ground.

4 p.m. Finally, South Kensington.

It’s midnight in London and we’re exhausted and cold. We haven’t eaten a meal in over 10 hours. But as we walk through the snow-dusted, glistening streets of South Kensington, past a pub packed with jolly, rosy-cheeked Londoners, the day’s frustrations quickly fade away. That’s the thing with travel. It’s so often a pain to get to your destination, but once you arrive you forget the delays, the waiting, the long lines.