what’s the deal with manchester

The 9-hour flight to Manchester was largely uneventful. Although we were seated in a child sandwich, one small child was great throughout the whole flight. The other small child was great until the last two hours, which was about the time tempers were short all over and I kind of wanted to lock him in the bathroom. Still, we eventually landed in Manchester, England (England; across the Atlantic Sea) for our brief stopover before our final destination of London Gatwick and a week of sexy European adventures.

Unfortunately, things spiraled out of control the moment we landed in Manchester and our remaining journey was A COMPLETE CLUSTERFUCK.

I fully admit that we traveled cheap – we are peasants in the 99% and can’t afford luxury or competence. Everything on our flight was for sale, from water to booze to a quickie in the loo with a buck-toothed sky hostess. The crew pushed the duty-free goods particularly hard, reminding us every 5 minutes that their prices were significantly better than those on High Street (I do not yet know what a High Street is). In fact, so worried about making sure people purchased duty-free goods were they that the end-of-flight messages consisted entirely of what to do with your purchases and not a lick of information for those not staying in Manchester.

We all had to get off the plane, go through customs, then reboard. Annoying, but whatever. Unfortunately, not a single fucking person knew or had any information about what the Gatwick-bound were supposed to do. They went as far as giving us a laminated green card that said something about a transfer, and .. that was it.

What they neglected to tell us was that after getting the green card (and eventually, they stopped telling people about the cards at all) and going through customs was that we were to NOT go out into the main airport and instead, turn right and follow the signs BACK to our plane so we could continue our journey to London. This would have been extremely useful information to have, but not a single member of our crew or airline thought to actually SHARE this with the passengers. Our flight left an hour after we arrived in Manchester. What’s the worst that could happen?

Renee, Heather and I (henceforth to be known by initials only) hauled out our passports and sailed through customs on account of our not bringing any fish or milk into the UK. From there .. well, we had no idea. At all. We weren’t even slightly aware of a return route to our gate, and there was no signage anywhere (other than those reminding us to shop duty free). We went straight, which was the only logical thing to do at that point .. and promptly found ourselves out of customs and in a baggage area. Well, shit. We looked around and eventually asked someone what the fuck – to which we were told that coming OUT of customs was pretty much the worst thing we could have done, and now we’d have to check in all over again (with no boarding passes) on another floor entirely, go through security again, and get back to our gate. Oh, and we had maybe 30 minutes at this point. Fuck!

We made our way to the ticketing counter in another section of the airport, stood in line, and made it to the counter only to be told we were in the wrong place and we needed to go to the adorably-named “Customer Service” counter. I was full on frothing at this point, a situation made so much better by the CS woman snapping at us when we tried to explain the situation. We weren’t alone, either – two other gentlemen from our flight had done the same, only without the laminated transfer cards as all the crew and gate staff had wandered away from the gate. She summoned someone from the airline to escort us back through security and to our gate, hand-writing us some new boarding cards. With 20 minutes to spare, we made a leisurely tour of the Manchester airport, went through security again, told our story multiple times, walked through a duty-free shopping area with the same size and layout as a flagship Ikea store, passed through some secret doors, and eventually found ourselves right back where we came OFF the plane an hour prior, with a minute or so to spare (final boarding calls are scary). At this point, we had been traveling for 13 hours – and the best was yet to come.

The plane was the same one we came in on, but we didn’t get the same seats even though we paid for assigned seating. Apparently, our plane took on some cargo which had to go in the front hold – so everyone on the plane had to sit in the rear. We got separated, and R and I ended up in the last row of the plane in torturous seats. We then got to listen to the sky clowns attempt to do a headcount SIX TIMES – they lost count each time and had to start again – before we could sit on the tarmac for another 40 minutes as they did paperwork for the inconveniently-weighted cargo we had just taken on. Hooray!

My mood was beyond thunderdome, and I spent the entire time swearing blackly louder than I should have.

Luckily, our flight was a short one and we landed in Gatwick without incident. The weather here was much nicer than in Manchester, and things were looking up .. until we had to sit on the tarmac for an extra thirty minutes because they couldn’t attach the passenger walkway bridge to the plane. Oops! They eventually gave up and brought some stairs for us, and 16 hours after we arrived at YVR to begin our trip, we were safely in London on a gorgeous sunny fall morning.

Oh, but we had to go through customs again, because we weren’t supposed to go through it in Manchester. Oops! Fill out another landing card and off into the giant queue with you!

Several levels past incredulous at this point, we pleaded to a jolly round information man for help. After explaining our situation, he tootled off with Heather’s passport to tell the customs officials that we’d already DONE this, and could we pretty please not do it again? After a delay lengthy enough to make us worry that he had run off to live out his life as Heather, he returned and bellowed out the good word: anyone traveling from Vancouver BC who received a passport stamp in Manchester could take this SUPER SHORTCUT, which led us directly to a customs official who would eyeball the date on our stamp and let us through. HALLELUJAH! Jolly Round Information Man, you were the best part of a long, long trip to London!

We collected our bags, grabbed some cash, and made our way to a) toilets, b) somewhere with coffee, and c) the train to downtown London. I was way too zombie’d at this point to properly marvel at all we were seeing, but before long we were in a cab and on our way to Rob and Andrea’s place, where we were cat-sitting Cleo for the week. Finally, at 1pm local time (5am Vancouver time), we were safely in a place we could take our pants off and lie on the floor spread-eagled for a while with no one disturbing us or secretly farting in our personal bubbles. SHEER BLISS.

Then I fell asleep. H and R went wandering for food, and came back with the two greatest things anyone could give me: a voucher for unlimited data through a UK carrier, and Diet Coke. I love these guys.

Operation: 3G in England went off brilliantly, and all three of us are equipped with really long new phone numbers and more than enough data to last us the week.

Miss Cleo the cat hates us all but loves Renee’s coat, and we are drawing straws to see who gets to feed in the morning in an attempt to win her love.

It’s almost 8pm here, and the girls are asleep – I am only awake because of my brief nap, but I too shall be asleep shortly. Tomorrow bright and early we have an entire country to conquer.

We are here, we are safe, and I am so excited for what comes next I could just pee myself (but I won’t because that is uncouth).

YAY! zzzzz

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