Can this really be the end?

7 October 1993 United 919 London Heathrow to Washington Dulles, Business
7 October 1993 United 951 Washington Dulles to Orlando, First Class

Our last few days in England were not the happiest days ever spent. My wife's father was taken into hospital suddenly with double pneumonia; while my wife and I were sorting out our house in Birmingham, our eldest son was violently sick during the night while being looked after by his grandparents.

Another week or so would have been very welcome to us, but such was not to be.

So it was that we went to Liverpool Lime Street station to pick up the train to London, from where we would be met by our best man, with whom we would be spending our last night in Britain for the foreseeable future. It was not the happiest of times, for we were all very tired, but still able to spend a worthwhile time reminiscing about other times and looking to the future.

Just before we left Merseyside, I had spent some time in the American Express offices in Liverpool, trying to sort out flights and accommodation to New Zealand. United Airlines schedules had changed, meaning that the flights on which we had been booked were no longer available, so that some changes to our journey timings would be required. More importantly, we had lost our MCOs for the accommodation in Orlando, which consequently needed to be reissued. Unfortunately, the vouchers required could not be processed without my signature on the appropriate airline forms, none of which were to be had. Accordingly, I had to process these on arrival at London Heathrow.

Our last night in England was a fairly calm one, though quite late. Our best man would later be accompanying us to Heathrow, a journey which we had again to take in a large taxi. We were three adults, two children and an enormous amount of luggage.

As I had never travelled by road to Heathrow before, I was amazed at how poor the road access is. I know I have read about it for a long time, but the reality of it had never struck home before.

Checking in was something of an adventure. As usual, the part of the terminal close to an American carrier was in mayhem, as passengers for some or all of New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles vied for space. A large sign invited passengers for Washington DC (that was us) who were able to take a later flight (yes, we could do that) to volunteer to do so, and in return receive USD 300 per person in credits. We volunteered for this, but alas our services were not required.

While we were volunteering for this, the three famous security questions were posed to us. Did you pack this yourself? Did anyone give you anything to carry? Has this left your sight since you packed it? The answers required are, of course, still yes, no and no.

Eventually we checked in for our original flight, which proved to leave later than the scheduled time of the other flight to which we might have transferred.

I now wish to extol one of the virtues of Business Class travel these days: the so-called fast track. It means that after checking in, you can clear all the formalities such as passport control and customs much more easily, without needing to queue. Of course, it means that the Economy Class passengers probably have to queue longer...

The concept of the blue lane, along with the older red lane (goods to declare) and green lane (nothing to declare) seems an interesting one. It means that certain selected passengers can clear customs and immigration easily and quickly on arrival at their destination too. Of course, if you do have something to declare, it is a different story.

As the time progresses, I find I have less and less to say about the flights themselves. What is most surprising is that, even though I feel it should be otherwise, flights with children generally have less distinguishing features than flights without. What does strike me is that I still can't spell Connoisseur (competent judge:critic [French]) without spelling it, which is a pity because that;s what United Airlines call their Business Class.

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