Monday, 7 August 2017

Homeward Bound

We now have around 450 miles to travel back to Denver to return the RV. It would be possible to do it in one long day, but we've chosen to split the journey. and rather than retrace our steps, we planned a different route that just took us into Montana, so we could cross another State off the list. Here's the route.

We pretty much had the entire route to ourselves and soon found ourselves in a Montana State Park that seems a reasonable place to stop for lunch.

We thought we might see some Buffalo roaming in the grassland, but nothing to be seen, bust miles and miles of open space. Our overnight stop was in the small town of Guernsey, Wyoming on a campground inside a State park. At one point, we thought we had the entire park to ourselves, but a couple of other people showed up in the late afternoon. The park, like many others, is built around a reservoir with the resulting lake being used for boating, fishing, swimming and skiing. Once a year, the water level is dropped to allow the silt to flow over the downstream farmland and it so happened that the "silt run" was starting as we arrived.

The water level being dropped

From Guernsey to  Denver, we followed this route. Almost all the way on Interstate with storms on the horizon. Just south of Cheyenne we found a Bison ranch that offered tours to view the Bison. As we'd still not seen any, we stopped and took the trip.

And then our final night with a bit of a clean up, ready to return our RV in the morning.

Our journey home is the reverse of our outward trip with an overnight in Munich. Denver airport is HUGE! It is modern and replaced the old Stapleton airport some years ago, which had been seriously outgrown. There are multiple terminals, all connected by a train, so having checked in, we head to the correct terminal for our flight to find that Lufthansa use the United lounge, which is in another terminal. So back on the train to the first terminal and we install ourselves in the lounge for a few hours. Our flight is announced as "boarding" and he head back to the correct terminal and gate to be met with a sea of humanity! 

The flight isn't boarding, and there is a problem. Apparently one of the jet ways is broken and it will be necessary for all passengers to board through the forward door and walk through the plane, which means those of us in First Class and Business Class will have to wait while the hoi-polloi take their seats. Almost an hour later, we get on the plane and the flight crew introduce themselves with the usual "Eine schoene guten abend, meine Damen und Heeren. Hier schprect ihre FlugKapitain.......". when he gets to the English, he explains the reasons for our (continuing) delay.

It appears that the aircraft auxiliary power unit is "defekt", but normally this is not a problem as they can use the gate power to start the engines. Except, we have been parked at a gate that is "defekt" - he may even have been a little more accurate and used the word "kaputt" and they were arranging for a compressor truck to attend to get the engines started. So, we were having the engines of an Airbus A340-600 started with a compressor not that much bigger than the one I have in my garage. Business class on Lufthansa is, as you would expect, functional and precise. Having flown on many airlines, I'm not sure it is the very best in the world, but it beats sitting down the back!

Arriving at Munich next morning, we headed straight to our hotel, this time we had got a cheap deal at the Airport Hilton, to take a quick shower and drop our bags before heading into town for a walk around to pass the day. It's a train ride into the City and while trying to figure out which ticket option we wanted, we were approached by a young couple with a baby and asked if we'd like to share a ticket. It seems that a group ticket for all day travel is the cheapest way to get into and back from the City; it would cover us all day on the S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses and they could travel to their stop half-way into town with us. In return, they paid half the ticket cost and we all saved money. And all perfectly legal. Well, in keeping with the strict interpretation of the rules, if not the spirit.

A wander round the Englischergarten and we are falling asleep on our feet! Back to the airport, a bite to eat and sleep. Next morning, it is the very final leg, back to Southampton by British Midland. Usual check-in, which works perfectly as BM operate this flight in co-operation with Lufthansa, so we check in at LH. It's a bit of a hassle getting through security. My camera bag gets pulled for inspection, not surprisingly. The security guy looks at my bag and says "Canon or Nikon?" I give him a bit of a sideways look and reply "Canon, of course". I open the bag and he pulls out the camera and takes a picture. "Ja! It works. A very fine camera!". Then he pulls out all the lenses and looks through them. "You know, this is one of the very best lenses that Canon have ever made", he says looking at the lens that is on the camera most of the time. "People pay crazy money to get an "L" lens [the ones that are either white in colour, or have a red ring around them], but this is just as good". "Ah, yes, this ist eine gut lens also". He obviously knows his stuff, so I say "Are you a photographer as well?" and he replies."No, not really. Before getting this job I was a product marketing manager for Canon"

And so onto the plane. It is a flying cigar tube again:

The camera bag is designed to meet the requirements for cabin bags and has a tag on it to confirm it meets the IATA regulations, but on these tiny aircraft, you carry your cabin bag to the door where it is taken from you and goes into the hold ready to be returned to you as soon as the plane lands and the doors are opened.

But not at Southampton, it seems. Despite having a tag on it that says "Delivery at Aircraft"

and the trolley being waiting for the "hand luggage" at the aircraft side, the baggage handlers have decided different. Eventually, after a "full and frank" exchange of what I think of their airline and baggage handling, I conclude that I'm not going to get my bag here. so I watch the bags being thrown from the aircraft onto the trolley and  those that aren't thrown are being deliberately dropped because the bag handlers are too lazy to bend to put the bags down gently. I remind the ground handler that it is "cabin baggage", valuable and fragile. His response: "Maybe you'll think again about bringing valuable stuff on a flight".

Luckily, everything seems to have survived without damage and there has been a complaint with British Midland since we returned asking for their comment. 

They replied immediately - the gist of which is "We have received your email and are currently dealing with a backlog of enquiries;  it may take us up to 30 days to reply". That just about says it all! I contacted Southampton Airport with a copy of the email I had sent and said to them "I know it's nothing to do with you directly, but you might want to know what goes on and this kind of treatment seriously influences my decision on whether I fly through your airport again......" That got a reply from the airport in a few hours - very sorry, "disappointed" at the ground handling and they will monitor BM's response. And so far, after just over 30 days, BM have been silent.

It was a sour note to the end of a wonderful holiday. Would we travel with British Midland again? Only if we absolutely had no choice, it was a dire emergency and it was free! In normal circumstances, I would avoid like the plague!

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