A 20 year-old's testimony to chaotic international travel
“Newport to Paddington take the Heathrow Express, get through security, find the gate” I repeat in my head over and over again as my mom walks me to the train entrance turnstile. While I have some experience flying, I have never had to navigate international travel completely by myself. I am unsure of myself, because despite being 20 years-old I still feel like a kid. Am I really being trusted to do this all by myself? Regardless, I need to do this. Not only because I had a class to get to, but so I could prove to myself that I was capable.
Mom reminds me “to keep my head up… it's just like how we got here, but in reverse, you’ll be fine…I love you.” When my train arrives, I attempt to locate my seat; however, I get flustered when I realize my seat is 4 carriages down and simply settle into the first available window seat I can find. The 2 hour train ride is beautiful. I really love trains. They are smooth, provide optimal views, and are quite relaxing. Sadly, the Paddington train station is anything but relaxing. It's extremely loud with people in motion all around. Even if you don’t know where you are going, you need to keep moving. Thankfully, Paddington station has a direct line to London Heathrow Airport. After a few circles trying to locate the platform, I make it on the shorter ride over.
Checking my bag and heading through security went fairly smoothly and I happily stumbled upon the duty-free store. For context, purchasing items duty-free means you don’t have to pay taxes on it in the country where you bought the item. I snatch some tea and chocolates for my roommates before locating my gate. For some reason I am convinced that I need to physically see my gate before I can get something to eat or relax. Unfortunately, my gate was located in a far off empty terminal with no bars, restaurants, or shops aside from a cafe. Of course my anxious self decided that one and a half hours isn’t possibly enough time for the 20 minute walk to the other terminal for a glass of wine and slice of pizza. So I sit in the small cafe and begin planning my return back to Wales.
As I am sitting on my first flight from London to Washington, I am thinking “wow, okay I made it on my first flight which should be the hardest part right? When I land, I’ll be in America. I got this!”
Wrong, oh I was so so wrong.
When you first land after an international flight, you have to go through customs, recheck your bag and do the whole security dance before getting on a connecting flight. I stand in the customs line first which is noticeably long, but I don’t freak out until I realize my phone won’t switch back to my US network.
I can’t make any phone calls and could barely get my text messages to send. Worst part is that Washington airport “wifi” decided that it wasn’t compatible with my airline app containing my boarding pass. After 20 minutes of a not so helpful network troubleshoot page and restarting my phone, I take out and reinsert my sim. Finally! I successfully called my brother and roommates, yet as I hung up I noticed the time. My flight leaves in 45 minutes and I am still in the customs line. I still need to collect and recheck my bag, go through security, and get to my gate. This is my worst nightmare.
After customs I get to my bag and approach the connecting flight luggage drop off zone. I see the family in front of me get denied. Their flight was leaving in 10 minutes; they would never make it. My heart is racing as the airport worker asks where I am heading. My flight is now in 20 minutes. I shakingly say Cleveland. Praying that I won’t get the same message. He grabs my pink suitcase and tells me to “get going.” I am trying to do what the man said and “get going,” but I can’t find the security entrance. The first three entrances were closed or reserved for special members.
I feel time slipping and the thoughts of missing my flight cause me to run. I make it to the security guard who scans my passport as I am already whipping off my shoes. I ask if he thought I could make it. I am now 10 minutes till my flight, not my boarding time, my flight taking off. He responded with the question “IDK can you run?” I take his instruction racing to my gate with my carry-on slamming behind. Instead of my gate, I come across a shuttle to the terminal where my gate is at. I don’t like this. By the time the shuttle leaves, I have three minutes. The air in the shuttle is tense, everyone fears they are going to miss their flight.
The shuttle gates open and travelers storm out the tiny doors. Everyone is hellbent on making their connecting flights. It is difficult to weave between the crowds, but I guess that's where flying solo acts as a benefit. My little legs carry me to my gate as the flight attendant begins to close-up. She thankfully spots me and says “it's okay, you’ve made it.”
No one can express the relief I felt at that moment. I did it. I navigated my way through shuttles, trains, and planes, surpassed the security, customs, and general airport confusion. I learned how much I could handle. To the rest of Generation Z, I promise you will be able to figure it out, no matter what gets thrown your way.