Saturday, March 29, 2014

Traveling to Belfast: The Purple People

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First I just have to say thank goodness for kind people willing to lend you a helping hand while you are traveling with a child with special needs.  It would not have been possible without the cabin crew, flight attendants and even the pilots of our flights assisting us into our seats, offering to hold a child, strap in a car seat, put extra things in cabin storage and make us as comfortable as they could.  We flew British Airways the round trip and have nothing but positive things to say.  They made sure that all four of us were back to back seated or across the isle from each other so both parents could tend to Noah's needs on the long flight.  We both were worried about how Noah would do on a plane.  With his sensory issues we knew it was going to go really well, or really bad.  We just didn't know what to expect.  Surprisingly, Noah found take off exhilarating and turbulence a big party in the sky.  Wish I could say I shared his sentiments and didn't quite enjoy the feeling of dropping hundreds of feet periodically.  Luke did equally as well and simply sat very patiently and quietly in his seat often dozing through the night.   Noah however stayed up literally the entire night without so much as a blink! 

Our first layover was at Heathrow Airport in London. There was always an attendant who escorted us and our belongings during all transfers helping be our guide through the airport which was extremely necessary when we landed.  I have never experienced any airport like that ever!

Chris and I joked that Heathrow felt like being in a video game attempting to complete several different levels to get to the next stage of the game.  Bus here, bus there, and yet another bus...two customs checks, two checks of baggage, two scans of the wheelchair, two sets of pictures, and then a twenty minute walk to the next gate.  To say we were lost in Heathrow would be an understatement.  The really great thing is that all airport staff wear a really pretty royal purple and all you have to do is look for the Purple People (their real title is Heathrow Passenger Ambassadors) and you know they'll know how to help.  I also really loved how handicapped accessible things were upon arrival in London.  My first impression was that it was very much more handicapped friendly there than in the US.   They really in all honesty kind of pull out the red carpet for you.  The helped us by getting through shorter lines, fast tracking, and doing their best to make it as easy on us as possible. 

We scrambled to get to our next departure from Heathrow as had to be bussed off the plane arriving in from Denver, since the plane was unable to pull into a gate terminal, and they accidentally sent our handicapped bus away thinking we were already on it, when we were still trying to get off the plane.  Everyone was quite apologetic, but in the end the wait was just merely a handful of minutes and nothing that terribly inconvenient, and they let us sit in Club World while we waited for our bus, which is rather luxurious.  Can't say I minded too much!

When we finally got to our next terminal to depart from London to Belfast, there was a delay as the "Jetty" was not working.  I thought that was English terminology for the actual airplane not working which made me nervous when they said engineers were working on it before we flew!  Turns out it's the gadget that connects the walkway to the plane, so when I figured that out I felt a lot better, but the wait was over an hour.  The kids continued to do well even waiting and Noah has very little patience for waiting.   We gave him a drink and fed him while we waited.   And the pilot was so sweet and kind when it was time to board to Belfast.  He even installed our car seats for us so we could simply carry Noah aboard.  British Airways truly gets 5 stars. 

For some reason they had us listed as vegetarians for our flights so we experienced veggie meals on departure flights, which were fine and decent for airplane food.  Noah did have a mini breakdown due to exhaustion for being up for more than 24 hours without a nap and collapsed into a heap of cuddles my arms moment before take off from London to Belfast.  I told the crew I couldn't put him down and they simply put a special buckle around him and me and allowed us to take off that way.  Bless them!

The flight to Belfast to London seemed like a flash compared to the flight from Denver to London.   And once again an escort waited to help us gather our luggage and make arrangements to help us find our taxi ride to the hotel.   The taxi driver was so nice, and wanted to help in anyway he could.  On the drive to the hotel he made sure we were comfortable and told us all the sights of the city as he drove.   I tried to tip him after we reached our destination, but he declined and said "kindness is free here."  I wanted to cry.  As kindness in the US... well we tip for almost everything.  In fact the Super Shuttle that we took to the airport had the sign "Gratuity is not included in price" plastered several places within the vehicle.  It's expected in the US, for just about any kind of service.  

But he meant it, he wanted to help because he cared, not because there was something he expected in return.  My first impression of Ireland was one of love and kindness.  We walked through the doors of the Park Inn Radisson welcoming our adventures with open arms.  We had made it!


Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.