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: