Wednesday, August 30, 2006
London...A Continual Source of the Unexpected
Thursday, August 10 (Day 2)
This is the first time since London that I’ve actually been able to sit down and write down my thoughts.
London was an experience which you can never quite forget…and yet I wouldn’t trade anything which has happened up to this point. When we flew into London, we were told that we would not be allowed to depart our plane due to a security breach. The pilot went on to tell us that no planes were leaving Heathrow airport and no more planes were being allowed in. Our plane, in fact, had been the last plane to leave Toronto Pearson airport to London.
As things progressed, we eventually found out that a potential terrorist act against the United States, based in London, had been found out and stopped before anything happened. London officials had arrested approximately 21 people in connection with this. As a result of this, security at Heathrow airport was heightened to its highest level. This meant that every person entering the airport had to go through customs which required more time and therefore, this meant that a lot of planes, including ours, were parked on the tarmac until other planes were finally deboarded and spots opened up for new planes to come in.
In the end, we spent 2 ½ hours on our plane waiting – our crew was fantastic and did a superb job of keeping everyone at ease, despite everything going on. We finally deboarded our plane about 15 minutes before our connecting flight to Colombo was scheduled to board. We figured that we would have plenty of time, assuming that if all the incoming planes had been delayed due to security measures, that all the outgoing planes would be as well. We proceeded through customs, picked up our luggage and at that point, found out that some of our team’s luggage had been “lost”, so we had to go and inquire about this. It was said that their luggage had actually been transferred directly to the plane, which is the normal measures when flying transcontinental flights. Apparently, halfway through the unloading of our plane, the order to have all luggage transferred to the airport was lifted and things went back to the normal procedures. Dan and Ben said it was the most confusing time they’d ever had in Heathrow, as we ended up going through a completely different process and schedule of events then what would normal have occurred.
We literally ran to catch a train, which would take us to our Terminal – we got to the platform with 3 minutes to spare before the train’s departure. The train we took was very similar to a subway and brought us to our Terminal within 5 minutes. There were so many people in the Terminal and airport in general. The whole time I found myself whispering “breath” prayers that the team would be able to stay together and not be separated. Praise God, as He allowed us all to keep very level heads, were able to keep the team members in eye distance and therefore we didn’t get separated once.
We arrived at the Terminal only to hear that our plane was announcing it’s final boarding call before take-off. We found someone at information, who was able to direct us to the Sri Lankan Airlines desk, which was located at the other end of the Terminal. When we
Arrived at Sri Lankan Airlines, we were told that their office in London had been closed for about 3 months and that another airline, which was right back beside the information desk, was now taking charge of Sri Lankan Airline’s flights. So we then ran back to the other airline and once there, another lady proceeded to try and send us back to Sri Lankan Airlines. Sheryl Murray talked to another information person and then asked Dan Sheffield to come and explain the situation.
The only explanation for what happened next is because God’s hand was so firmly upon us…this truly drove home the point to why you so desperately need a team of prayer warriors behind you! The lady believed Dan’s story of events, which he said, had taken place and went to the airline to talk to them. It took a lot of convincing, but they radioed the pilot and found out that they were indeed missing 42 passengers who were scheduled to be on the plane. They halted the plane’s departure and proceed to rush as many of us through as possible. Because of heightened security, we were required to check our entire carry-on luggage and the only thing we could have on our possession was our wallet and our passport. You were permitted to take necessary medication on board, but because of all the chaos, we completely forgot about our malaria meds and they went under the plane. This also meant we had to check a variety of electronic devices which were being carried by the team – a laptop, cell phone, tripod, digital cameras, MP3 players.
Once our entire luggage was checked, we then had to go through a very rigorous security check – you had to remove the usual stuff (all jewellery, money, watches, belts, etc.), but we were also required to remove our shoes (that’s a lovely smell after they’ve been on your feet for almost 24 hours!) and have them X-rayed. Then we were very thoroughly patted down and frisked, from head-to-toe – this was a first in terms of the thoroughness and was a little bit uncomfortable in terms of personal space! Once cleared, we had to gather our things and run clear across the Terminal to get to our gate. We did make it on the plane, but very narrowly – only 18 of the missing 42 passengers actually left for Colombo at the designated time. The rest were left to wait in Heathrow airport for the next plane, which left approximately 6 hours later.
You could definitely tell you were on Sri Lankan Airlines and a trans-continental flight. Our stewardesses were dressed in saris and you actually received a menu to choose a meal vs. receiving a meal in a box. Our meals came on these beautiful lilac trays, complete with appetizer, rolls, main course, dessert, water and tea in an actual teacup. They had an amazing selection of movies, music and games to choose from, so as to occupy your time when you weren’t sleeping – it was especially handy, being that we weren’t allowed to bring books, paper or pens on board the plane. So began our 10 hour flight from London to Colombo. I fell asleep with it sunny outside and woke up to complete and total darkness – we had went through some time zones as I slept. It was a long and tiring ride in many senses. As the time changes, your body is tired and you want to sleep, but in the same sense, your body is trying to wake up, as it’s daytime where you came from, even though it’s nighttime where you are flying – very confusing to type and to experience!