Hard to believe I'm back in Northern Ireland again! Time has this pesky habit of sneaking away from me. Last time I looked, it was the end of January ... and here we are, already in May.
As always, I have tales to tell about my journey over here. It didn't start very auspicially when United decided to cancel the direct flight from Portland to Newark. They had me flying into Chicago with only half an hour to change flights to Newark. After my last experience ('take a taxi ... to Ireland?) I knew that was impossible. The email read pretty much 'take it or leave it'. I phoned customer service and they couldn't have been more helpful. Between us, we worked out the best route and moved everything a day earlier. So, at the ungodly hour of 0400 I dragged myself out of bed and got to Portland International in plenty of time for my 0720 first leg of the trip to San Francisco. I had a window seat, as I'd literally been squeezed in at the last minute. A girl in her twenties took the middle seat next to me. She had an interesting style ... a DPM U.S. Army jacket with a red wool beret tucked under the left epaulet, a black miniskirt, white socks and concourse trainers. (What we used to call baseball boots in the UK, I think.) As she got herself settled, I noticed a huge tattoo on her thigh. It looked like a feather. Of a sudden the entire tattoo was revealed as her skirt got caught on the armrest. Absolutely stunning, of a Native American woman. I opened my mouth to compliment her on it, but was left speechless at the sight of a bare buttock!
"Oops, sorry," she said, hiking her skirt back down again. "Excuse me while I moon you."
I laughed, replying, "No worries, nothing I haven't seen before." But was she really sitting on a much-used fake leather plane seat, with no underwear on? Ergh.
We passed the time discussing the merits of tattoos and body piercings. I have none, other than my ears. I told her I'd always fancied a tramp stamp, and she informed me in no uncertain words that women aren't tramps!
The flight was over quickly, and with an easy cross from one gate to another, I then boarded the Newark flight. I always try to get an aisle seat for flights longer than a couple of hours, otherwise I feel trapped. I stood up to let a young eastern Indian couple in beside me. She clambered over to the window seat, and her husband took the middle one. I smiled and greeted them, but they didn't acknowledge me at all.
I have a tiny water bottle that I got on Qantas Airways when I visited Terry in Australia in 2013. To most people's horror, I keep using it over and over as it's just the perfect size to pop into a handbag. After the plane took off I pulled it out and promptly dropped it. Damn. I've never seen another bottle that size so didn't want to lose it. I asked the man behind me if it had rolled back somewhere around his seat but he couldn't see it.
When the Flight Attendants brought the beverage cart along I asked one of them if they could spot it. "Oh, I'm sorry," said one of them. "I just put it in the trash."
Thrifty me wanted to request she get it right back out again, but an American would be totally appalled that I wanted to reuse it after it had been thrown away! "Oh, well," I said with a smile. It was no big deal, but she was so kind. She brought me a plastic glass of water, and then presented me with a full size bottle. Unfortunately I promptly dropped it on my seat companion by accident. Apologizing profusely, I bent double to rescue it from the floor, and realized belatedly that my face was practically in his lap. I could hear him huffing and puffing in outrage, and I couldn't help but get the giggles. Rendered pretty much useless I retrieved the water bottle and straightened up.
"I'm really very sorry," I managed with a wobbly voice, tears of laughter escaping down my face.
In unison the husband and wife turned their faces away. I shook with laughter for a while, and eventually managed to calm down. It's awful when you get the giggles in public, isn't it? The more embarrassed you feel, the more you can't control your laughter. At least the Flight Attendant saw the funny side of it and offered me an amused wink.
About three hours into the flight, I heard, "Excuse me." Turning round I wasn't sure if it had been addressed to me, as neither of my seatmates were looking at me. I went back to my work, and heard a slightly more emphatic "Excuse me." He almost made eye contact with me, and gestured toward his wife. I leaned forward to look inquiringly at her. Beverage and snacks were finished, and I thought she wanted me to hand some trash to the Flight Attendant. She ignored me. I looked from one to the other with a quizzical smile on my face. They both finally managed to look at my face without actually meeting my eyes. "Oh," I said, the penny dropping. "You would like me to get up?"
But I unclipped my seatbelt and complied. Yes, that was what they'd wanted. They shuffled by me and made their way to the back of the plane. I sat back down and before I could refasten my seatbelt he appeared at my side. I began to get up.
"No!" he commanded. Leaning past me, he retrieved his laptop from the pocket in the seat in front of him and took off again.
Dear me. And there I was, planning to slip a flashdrive into his computer when he was gone and stealing all his data. Bah, foiled again.
Back they came in due course; I was well aware of them standing over me. But I pretended to be absorbed in my editing. They stood. And stood. They would have gone on standing, but for the Flight Attendants bringing the beverage cart down the aisle again. I got up and as before, the charming, friendly young couple took their seats without acknowledeging my presence.
Well. Each to their own. Or perhaps that invisibility spell from A Celtic Yearbook took effect again? Hmm.
I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming it might be a language barrier. But as the plane approached Newark they chatted to each other about their upcoming visit there in perfect North American English. I thought about making them sit and wait at Newark while I fiddled and faffed with my bags, but decided not to be petty. It was again an easy transfer upstairs to the International terminal, and I didn't have to go through Security again, like I used to when flying directly from Portland. I have a complimentary pass to United's Club Lounge, but as I only had just over an hour to kill, I left it for my return trip, when I'd have more time at Chicago.
I was the first person to reach the gate for the Belfast flight, and sat in solitary splendor for a while. A lady in her seventies came along, spotted me, and beelined across the deserted waiting area to sit right next to me. She was from Donegal in Ireland, and we spent an enjoyable half hour chatting about how much life has changed for the better all over Ireland. She had been visiting family in New York, accompanied by her daughter and son-in-law. They turned up shortly after that, and spirited her away to get something to eat before the flight.
When United's Customer Service had changed my flights, it was with such short notice that on the website I could only select an aisle seat on the very back row on the plane. I couldn't face six and a half hours with a steady stream of people looming over me as they lined up for the toilet, so I splurged and bought one of the Economy Plus seats that offer a lot more leg room. Conversely, the flight was pretty empty despite what the website had shown, so I got the entire row to myself. Wonderful! Once the doors were closed I shifted to the middle seat and spread out, claiming my territory.
Unlike Aer Lingus with whom I traveled the last time, United had gluten free meals ordered for me, which I cannot say how much I truly appreciate. It's probably silly, but I feel so cared for and valued when they go that extra wee bit. And then when I ordered a glass of wine to accompany it, the Flight Attendant waved away my credit card and said, "This one's on me."
"Really?" Pleasantly surprised I thanked her profusely. I don't know why I was favored, for I noticed other people paying for their drinks. Then when I thought about it, I'd said hello and smiled when I came on board, while most of the other people just shifted along, ignoring her. Perhaps that was it, but I really appreciated it. Then I curled up on the three seats and managed to have a twenty minute nap, which is more than I've ever slept on a plane before!
I woke up with a start and raised my head to look out of the window. I'm so glad I did. The moon looked amazing with wispy tendrils of smoky cloud linking it to the wing of the plane. I watched the sky change from dark cobalt to light rose as dawn crept in, and saw Venus rise, sparkling out in the horizon.
Then we began our descent. I watched as the green patchwork quilt of Ireland's fields rose to meet me. It doesn't matter how many times I come back here, they always fill me with a sense of joy and expectation.
I'll stop now and post this before time starts slipping away again. I have lots to share, and promise to write more in a day or so.