Right. Follow me, please.
Confused and more than a little frustrated, I watched as the Immigration Official at Birmingham Airport took my backpack into a small side room. It was one of those rooms with no windows and nothing on the walls, the kind of room where people are questioned and probably (in my case, anyway), brought to tears.
In hindsight, every unpleasant thing that happens while on the road always turns into a great story to tell. If we didn’t have any travel snafus, that would make for a slightly boring experience, wouldn’t it?
Well. When I traveled to England to visit Andy’s parents back in 2009, I had a bit of a snafu before I even got to see them.
Let’s set the scene: I caught my plane from Reus Airport. I remember boarding my tiny Ryananir plane and thinking that it seemed like a toy plane. It felt almost cartoonish.
But I was excited to see Harry and Fliss, who I’d last seen when they visited us here in NY the previous summer. I was excited to see Andy’s sister Helen again, and to finally meet his twin sister, Liz, who I’d only seen pictures of up until that time.
The flight time was just over two hours. At last, I was in England! My backpack and present for my future mother-in-law in hand (Bailey’s Irish Cream, of course), I disembarked from the plane and waited in line at Immigration.
Finally, it was my turn.
The official, a tall woman in her forties, flipped through my passport and eyed me. I’m sure she was intrigued by the difference in my appearance: a completely shaved head in my passport photo contrasted with the shaggy head of brown hair I now sported.
Then, the questions started.
How long are you staying here? Just two nights and then back to Barcelona. I return to NY one night after that.
What is the nature of your visit? Visiting my boyfriend’s family. (In my excitement, I may have even told her about the battle reenactment we had planned for the next day:)
Where are you staying? With my boyfriend’s sisters. I don’t have their addresses on me, but his parents are here, and they can–
Do you know anyone here? Yes, I just said, I know the Milfords. They are here to pick me up.
When are you leaving? Sunday night.
How do you know your hosts? I…[getting majorly flustered and anxious, beginning to understand how innocent people can crack under the pressure of police interrogation] I’m visiting my boyfriend’s family. He’s in NY, they live here, in England. They live in Leicester and Nottingham.
When did you meet these people? I met them when they traveled to New York last August to visit their son, Andy.
Where is your proof of departure? You cannot stay here. That was it. That was the reason behind her suspicions.
Frantic, I searched for the print-out of my flight info for five minutes, and came up with nothing, even though I’d made sure to find it before leaving Barcelona earlier that day. I began to get worried about my growing anxiety, hoping it wouldn’t escalate into a panic attack.
In the middle of all this questioning, Andy’s parents actually went to the information desk and had me paged over the public address system. Can you believe I heard my name being called as the Immigration Official was questioning me as to why I was in the UK and did I know anyone? That’s them, I told her, my hosts are here and wondering where I am! Silly me, I thought that would help my case. Nope.
She led me to the white room of doom and proceeded to search through my backpack. I’ve never had my belongings rifled through in such a careless, scrutinizing way before, and it felt simply awful. If I looked nervous and scared, I probably was. Why was this happening? What a horrible way to kick off my England visit! I hated keeping Harry and Fliss waiting, hated the thought of them being worried, and hated that they had driven all the way here to pick me up and had no explanation of my absence.
Then the came the worst part: the Immigration Official took my journal and left the room. My private, never-to-be-read-by-anyone-but-me journal was now being read (and probably laughed at) by complete strangers. I felt so violated! Self-righteousness and indignation came over me as I sat in that tiny room, utterly powerless. Why on earth did they need to see a paper document detailing my flight information in the year 2009? Why couldn’t they just look my flight up and see I was leaving in two days?
I’ll never know. I still don’t know why them kept me waiting so long at Birmingham Airport, but I was released without much explanation fifteen minutes later. However excited I was before that mess to see Harry and Fliss, I was overjoyed now. I finally had my stamp! I was in England and we were leaving the airport!
Thankfully, the rest of my weekend in England was wonderful: lovely spring weather, the kindest hosts a girl could ask for, and of course, fish and chips and curry. But that airport experience is one I’ll never forget.
Oh, and Fliss loved her present:
Today is the second day of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme this year is travel: yesterday was A for accommodations, and today is B for Birmingham. Thanks for following along everyone!
Gaahhh, what happened to the journal? Was it returned at all? No? I would be frustrated! As you know I write personal and private journals too. That was crazy. I never had that experience though because I was never out of the country before but I did have a frustrating experience at the airport a year ago when we weren’t allowed to board because they said a fraudster booked our flight. Ahh crazy things! Good to know that your visit still turned out well despite that airport incident.
Good luck on your blogging challenge! 🙂
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I should have mentioned, they actually did return my journal! I wondered why they had to leave with it, like were they making copies of pages or something? But it was awful, I felt like I was being accused of something that I didn’t even do.
Oh my – what an incredible story! I love how you tell it – I can almost feel like I was there. How crazy and frightening that must have been! Glad you finally got let through. Wow!
Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor recently posted…B Is For Big Bend National Park
Thanks, Ellen! I hope all future visits to my in-laws are without such frustration!
That’s so horrible! I’m sorry it happened to you in the UK, but glad the rest of the trip made up for it.
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Yes, the rest of the trip certainly made up for it. I’ve been blessed with the best in-laws/second family 🙂
I’m glad you weren’t detained too long. How was Ryanair? The yellow headrests look way too loud for my likings. I have been lucky during my travels and have never been put in the little room. Hope your future travels go better for you.
Sean at His and Her Hobbies
Ryanair was all right. You basically get what you pay for and sometimes it’s not even worth the cost of getting to the smaller airport way outside the city you’re in to catch your plane. I’m pretty sure they charged even to use the bathroom?! But since it’s such a short flight within Europe, it was okay. Just be aware of all the little costs and you should be fine! This was six years ago, mind you, so maybe things are different now?
Thanks for stopping by, Sean!
One thing you learn with customs is that they do not play. We had proof of passports for my mother and brother when entering the United States from Canada. We could use our driver’s licenses to enter the United States by car but needed a passport for flying from Canada to the United States. Needless to say, the custom’s agent was taciturn but we did not argue with him. We would have missed our flight.
Exactly. It can get so complicated, and making sure you have all your documents (and copies of your documents in other places) is essential! And I’d say Customs and Immigration are two people you never argue with!
I so would have cracked. And I can’t find anything under pressure. I struggle to find things under normal circumstances. 😉
I’m the same, Tonya! Put me under pressure and forget it! Writing, though, that’s where good things happen under pressure 🙂
Oh wow!! That’s a HORRIFIC experience! I think I’d go from anxious to angry Lol I’d be like “Ma’am MA’AM where is YOUR id?” Glad everything worked out, I would’ve reported that as suspicious just for shits and giggles. F that. I’m not the only one who would’ve had a bad day – I would’ve had her information written down and would’ve found a way to get her into shit too. LoL. Good to hear your trip was wonderful though! Have a great weekend Christy!! -Iva
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You’ve got more chutzpah than I, Iva! 🙂 I crack and get upset and anxious, you turn it around and make it about the other person, haha. I did not want to mess around, I just wanted to the out of there with all my stuff!
How horrible that they took your journal! But I always get questioned when I go to Canada. 🙁 Even if my GF is literally within talking distance, their scrutiny takes no mercy.
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Geez! Getting questioned is super annoying no matter where you are.
Omg, I would have been incredibly anxious about this as well and probably would have had a full on panic attack. And then I’m sure my inner New Yorker would have come out and I would have been in hysterics and handcuffed. Thank god you kept your cool. I was wondering what happened to your journal, too. So glad it was returned (and that you had a nice stay, of course)!!
I think I would have full-on started crying if they hadn’t returned my journal!
Christy, what a down right nail biting story. I would have been so worried about my hosts wondering where I was, and their concern as to what was going on. So happy all worked out smoothly in the end and that you enjoyed a lovely trip! One time when returning to the USA from London with my two daughters and the daughter of a close friend, all under ten- all a different culture than me- the dog sniffer was all over my bags, I was a nervous wreck coordinating the young ones already- finally, I just asked them would they like to check my bag? Turns out the dog was sniffing the Harrods jar of stilton cheese, lol. not funny then though!
Oh gosh, I would have been freaking out with the dogs all over my bags! Glad you survived it all right. Traveling with three small children is no small feat, I’m sure!
It really was such a short and sweet visit with the in-laws. I can’t wait to go back!