Back to back disasters.

Of course we know that British Airways provide excellent service but this was our first long haul, which was now very much in jeopardy, so we needed them to be on the ball. First, however, we needed to find out if the lion had had a stroke. It was certainly very frightening to observe but the whole episode had in fact lasted no more than a minute. When he finally rallied all he wanted to do was sleep and all I wanted were answers. As is normal in these situations we were made to stand out even more by waiting until everyone disembarked at Gatwick. Pitiful glances from our fellow passengers did little to advance our wait and, as you will hear as the story unravels a bit more, our travel companions waited with us… on this occasion. It was all so uncertain, we had no idea if we were on a flight to Atlanta or heading back to Edinburgh.

Once we were helped off the plane with a wheelchair for the lion, we were transferred to a buggy which rushed the patient to see a Doctor. The lion was still very much slurring his speech and perspiration was dripping from him. He just kept on about sleeping, but the doctor didn’t seem too concerned. He deemed him fit to fly and carry on our journey. It sounded like a fit he determined and I was mighty relieved at that. Although it was the first time, it would not be the last.

British Airways ground staff accompanied us throughout the process, remaining anonymous but coming to the fore if we had any questions or actions we needed taken care of. We didn’t have time for the luxury duty free shopping as this whole process had taken over a couple of hours and now it was time to get to the flight. Our driver careered the buggy through the droves of meandering public who seemed to have lost all awareness of safety on entering the airport. They were quite unaware why we were being chauffeured around and nothing but an inconvenience to their meaningless meanders. I wanted to shout out that we had every right to have this mode of transport MY HUSBAND NEEDED IT. There that felt better.

We were driven right to the gate where we handed over our boarding cards. There was an unwelcome pause as they were studied then ripped up. Oh no we were not being allowed to travel but then our BA companion advised we had all been upgraded to business. Well, not much takes me by surprise but this did, it was completely out of the blue. All 4 of us travelling together were upgraded, it was astonishing, but if I am honest rather welcome after the trauma we had suffered. And of course it would be much easier to deal with dead people in business, they’d just be left in their beds.

Champagne was such a welcome to receive, but all the lion wanted to do was get his head down and no sooner had the seatbelt sign flicked to off he got into the bed and fell instantly asleep awakening only some 2 hours before landing. I on the other hand indulged myself with the seared filet of beef, the smoked salmon and cream cheese washed down very smoothly with a perfect Rioja. Damn them it is so very hard to travel economy when you’ve sampled that experience. BA you won that round.

We landed safely in Atlanta and met our tour rep and bus driver for the next fourteen days. We were high on life, champagne and the tour that lay ahead. The lion seemed better, was rested and relaxed and up for a wee trip downtown before bed and the start of our fantastic trip. I didn’t bother ringing the kids to alert them to the disaster which had befallen us, it had after all turned out alright and their dad seemed fine now. We spent the first night in the Sheraton Suites in Atlanta, as the next day our trip would begin with a visit to Peachtree Road, where Elton John occasionally resides, although just our luck he wasn’t in. Followed by a brief reconnaaitre to ‘Tara’ the home that featured in the epic Gone with the Wind. before setting off for few days in Chattanooga.

We had two rather large suitcases that were doubling as wardrobes for the fortnight as we had rather a lot of stopovers. I flung the discarded socks and pants into a bag for laundry and closed the case. The lion spotted a scrap of paper no bigger than a fly on the floor, clearly it had annoyed him, at least it had caught his eye. He bent over and picked it up, then in a squeal of pain crumpled in a heap on the floor. He was struggling to move, I knew immediately it was his back. He could not get to his feet so lay on the floor and his muscles went into spasmodic overdrive. I watched in horror and could do little to alleviate his pain. It was incredible that within 24 hours my poor lion had gone to the dogs.

I managed to help him to the bed but what were we going to do about this trip now, was the primary thought I had in my mind. ‘I’m fine’ he kept saying and I kept hoping he was, but i knew this was bad. With much effort and pausing with every spasm we managed to get to the lobby. I found a Starbucks and ordered him a coffee but every movement, even holding the cup sent splinters of pain up and down his spine. His face was contorted in pain, it was clear he was in trouble.

There is something in the makeup of tour reps; they are eternally optimistic, ours was no different. He didn’t feel too phased by my pain beleaguered Lion and quickly produced a wheelchair to transport him to the bus, as if that was all that was required. I suppose getting him on the bus was his priority, he had 40 other passengers desperate to set off. Our friends joined us on the bus but in all honestly no one had a clue about the trouble he was in, except me and I just had a feeling it wasn’t going to end well. Even the lion thought if he got on the bus everything would be fine………………………………..

Off on holiday we go.

So the first holiday you take as grown ups without your kids is a remarkable moment. It is s coming of age, when you arrive and suddenly make grown up decisions for you and no one else. Most of our holidays had been taken with our kids in mind, we’d gone where they wanted to go, we’d given up on our dreams, or at least put them on hold. Our hopes were also on hold, and just for the peace that’s was necessary when you have teenagers, we made sacrifices without any fuss. All of those holidays had been safe, we had gone to resorts where teenagers had been accommodated, where parents were invisible, until of course we were needed. Holidays where you blended in, merged with the sand, sea and sunshine and somehow managed to have fun in spite of your kids and their demands.

So when they were 17 and 16, and no longer wanting to travel with us, we were delighted. We tried to conceal our joy when we booked a trip to the Deep South of America and curtail our enthusiasm for this was a first for us. This was to be a journey to the musical Deep South, where we could indulge in our love of country, blues and jazz. We were uber excited and two of our then closest friends wanted to join us, what was not to like? It was after all our first grown up holiday. We booked with a company that provided us everything we needed from our dream trip; starting in Atlanta, crusing into Chattanooga before moving into Nashville, down to Memphis, Natchez, New Orleans, Baton Rouge then finally Houston. What a trip! we were beside our selves with anticipation and excitement and all without our kids.

The night before we set off we had a bit of a blitzkrieg with our daughter, significant at the time, although now, despite my best efforts I have no idea what it was about, but it was significant enough to upset us both that night. We did not sleep. It just goes to show that arguments with children in their teens are an emotional wrench and although hardly worth reflection there is little doubt we were deeply affected by this hiccup because we cared. So much so, we got up in the morning having not slept a wink, for a five o’clock taxi pick up to head to Edinburgh airport with no joy in our hearts for this trip, rather I have to admit we had heavy hearts that day.

We were travelling British Airways, again the most efficient airline customer service wise. And given what was to confront us on this journey, they were to come to the fore once again. Our flight out of Edinburgh to Gatwick was straight forward and after we had been served our breakfast, some 40 minutes into the flight, our journey suddenly turned into a nightmare. The lion who was in the middle seat, like me was making his way through a majestic scrambled egg with sausage and bacon. I glanced sideways to acknowledge the sublimity of this meal, this trip and our happiness when I noticed he was not enjoying his food. I suddenly became aware of how claustrophobic the space was between the three seats we were contained in. Suddenly, without warning, he put his knife and fork down on the tray, and in an instant his eyes rolled in his sockets as he fell backwards into the headrest and turned grey.

My observations were informed by my experiences and the pace of my thoughts had little concern for reality. I immediately thought he had had a stroke. Then I noticed his parlour a pale grey, and thought he had died. I wondered fleetingly where dead people went on a plane. These were flashing thoughts because at the same time I was panicking, I was pushing the button to alert the air hostess. I was screaming silently for help and noticed immediately that the hostess thought I was just seeking more coffee. She looked toward me with disdain but I slowly raised my arms, started waving and my face communicating that this wasn’t a request for coffee but an urgent need for her assistance. All of this while I was calculating where dead bodies might go on the plane.

The outer seat passenger was tucking into his breakfast totally unaware of the drama unfolding before him. When the air hostess arrived with oxygen in hand she dragged him out of his seat without the slightest concern for the progress of his consumption of his breakfast. With a single but swift manoeuvre he was launched into the aisle in shock. So slick was her actions he had no time to absorb what was happening, By the time this response and immediate reaction had take place the Lion was taking a deep breath and with all the effort of the flick of an electronic switch he came to life suddenly, totally unaware of the drama he had created. I was immobile stuck in the corner when this drama unfolded. I could do nothing to inform those around me about what was happening, I could not share with them that I thought he had died. I had to stay put as people were displaced, and while his life was re-ignited I knew suddenly our trip was in jeopardy. The captain was in control of what happened next. I was looking at the lion wondering what had just happened, grateful he was alive and watching those around us who were preparing to land oblivious to anything we had endured on this journey.

The lion started to perspire, slurred his speech and was disorientated. Oh my god he’s had a stroke I thought and my holiday dreams as a couple and not parents, flashed before me…………………….

Markets are calling me away.

January always leads you into thinking about holidays but it’s the advertising that calls me to action and is the real deal breaker for me. Adverts on TV, FB or email seem to flood you with ideas and tempt you to book a wee break. I don’t need much encouragement to be fair. January is a time when I would start to look at booking something. But we are still meeting family needs at the moment so immediate holidays are not on the cards, for obvious reasons.

When British Airways sent me an email about their January sale ( it’s still on btw) I always want to browse the delights on there as soon as possible. So I did, and within a reasonable amount of time I have identified a holiday to Mexico. We have already been to Mexico, it was one of the few places that we did not have any dramas, so you will appreciate the appeal of it. We looked at various options, but by far the best resort was Moon Palace. We enjoyed our visit there previously because there were about 20 restaurants to chose from and you can golf. The lion was sorted then! We organised the flights, our travel arrangements and our hotel, all inclusive for 6k. I have paid more for a holiday there with Thomas Cook so if you think BA are expensive, think again. That price included business class flights.

A dialogue with my lion throughout this dithering decision, meant I hovered over the ‘continue to payment’ button for about half an hour. We debated back and forth about this holiday, but in the end a quick shift onto the Jet 2 site revealed a two week stint, albeit with only bed and breakfast included, to Spain was £1200. Now when you are retired on limited income, and with a big holiday to Australia already planned, my sensible head did come into action. We had been to Spain last year but it has everything we need; heat, food, wine. What was not to like with that deal? So there I was , flicking between the two pages before making the big but sensible decision to take the Jet 2 trip, and that is it booked, decision made.

I flicked onto the BA site again still tempted by their wares, wishing we could go stateside or take the trip to Mexico but remembering there is plenty time. We can always go another time, maybe next year. That is the problem with this kind of marketing, good customer service and enticing you in with a range of deliverable delights. You get seduced into random action. I know I like my brands, but we have had tip top service from BA so my loyalty is guaranteed to an extent, because I know if things go wrong they fix it.

And another reminder of just how powerful these marketing strategies are. The next morning, because it was clear big brother was watching me, I received a letter from BA. It was notification that we had not maintained our tier points (we should have booked Mexico) and were being down graded from silver to bronze status. Shock and horror.

Now it is the maintenance of this silver status that takes me right to the BA site to buy my holiday, so this subtle marketing strategy works for them, on me anyway. I don’t want to lose it, but in all honestly all it does is give you permission to choose your seat ahead of everyone else. Not that much when it comes down to it. When you are that loyal and there are incentives like tier points, it doesn’t take much to tempt you back, or hook you into other purchases. But you never forget you have a choice, so on this occasion BA lost out, mainly because we had already booked a big holiday for next year and finances are not limitless.

If you are thinking of booking a holiday try BA or Jet2 both very good quality for the prices they set. Jet 2 have not yet been tested with any of our dramas yet, but I’m sure there’s time…………………

Paradise can wait….

There are times in life when you know beyond question what the right thing to do is. I found a wide range of blogs out there to ‘advise’ you what you might need to do if someone you love becomes ill when you are on holiday. We are never known to do things by halves, so you won’t be surprised to learn that in our case there were two people whom we love that had been admitted to hospital. This was also impacting on the family who remained at home trying to cope with the situation. In the end the blogs themselves were interesting but we didn’t need the advice really, if you have a dilemma it matters not a jot what’s in your mind, for us it was about what was in our hearts.

When the decision was made, all that remained was to light the blue touch paper and ignite the plans. Of course we had insurance but the mechanics of getting home, where to begin, were a bit of a mystery. I had a bit of an idea but my husband admitted if he had been on his own, he would have struggled to know where to start. Even if you have an idea it’s still a bit tricky when you are out with the UK, to know where to begin.

A sensible first stop was British Airways our carrier, then the insurance company, so I sent off emails. Given the time difference I sent them off on Wednesday morning at 5am St Lucia time, then spent the entire day checking my emails for their response. (For the record the insurance company have yet to reply despite being home 2 days now). It felt as though we were suspended in virtual paradise while we awaited the return emails to begin our descent into reality.

As we waited, we were able to receive hourly reports from home thanks to lots of texts on WhatsApp, which was free when we had WiFi (otherwise the phone bill would be off the scale). We were also able to make internet and video calls free that enabled us to get a real handle on the ever shifting sands of the evolving situation.

There were tears; emotions were constantly on show, we were on high alert to every ping and tinkle of the phone. The appeal of all Coconut Bay had to offer paled into insignificance. We drifted in and out of conscious awareness that the difficulties were ever present on the other side of the world, and these were having a massive impact on our ability to take any real part in our holiday. It was over as soon as we arrived to be honest.

By Thursday we had an email response from BA, only to find I’d cocked up and had contacted the wrong department. They apologised for this causing an administrative delay, (admitting they didn’t deal with urgent matters normally) and provided us with alternative contact information. Another discussion with family further confused our decision but that was momentary. No sooner had things started to sound hopeful in Edinburgh, when more bad news emerged from Glasgow. It was so obvious someone, somewhere was trying to tell us we should not be here.

Our minds made up we made an emotional approach to reception. It was clear this was not for the daily currency exchange and when the penny dropped staff stepped up to the next level from the usual laconic holiday approach. Although we had the number, reception took charge and helped us to place our call. After a few attempts it was apparent that the local BA office was not going to be able to help us promptly. Our second call was international and answered in a call centre, but they quickly realised that once again we were in the wrong place. Instead of starting all over again Raoul put us on hold and transferred us (and thankfully all our information) to the right place.

Albert, ( also worthy of a name mention) took no more than fifteen minutes to get us on the flight that evening, waived all costs, arranged airside assistance and our same flight seating that we had on the way out. This is when you are so grateful you have booked with British Airways. We had 10 hours to pack, grab the last of the Caribbean sunshine, gather our thoughts, build up our energy and hope that we would arrive in time to see and support our loved ones……