What started out as being one of the most emotionally challenging days of my life has quickly become one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. The day’s antics started a little over 24 hours ago, with a frantic trip across NYC as myself and Emilija tried to make it to Newark Airport in time for her evening flight to Oslo. We barely made it, however; a slight delay to her flight meant that we actually ended up with time to spare – still though, there was an extremely touch-and-go moment at Penn Station where we couldn’t find the elevator to track 11, and there was literally 2 minutes left before the train to the airport departed! As usual, I was way more stressed than Emilija, and it wasn’t even my flight!
After saying goodbye I set about making my way back across the city and over to JFK where I was hopeful I could sweet talk my way into getting on board a much earlier flight. I don’t want to get too into my financial situation, but let’s just say this – the USA almost ruined me and I barely had 2 cents to rub together so the idea of getting a hotel for the night in New York was a non starter. Even hostels were out of the question – if there’d actually been any free bunks that is – everything was fully booked! I knew that if British Airways couldn’t put me on an earlier flight then I’d have to resort to sleeping in the airport – much against my better judgement as everything I’d read online said that JFK was a nightmare to try and sleep in.
As I was crossing the city, a reoccurring issue cropped up as the E-Subway which I needed had some major cancellations on the section of the line where I was at, and so for the first time during my stay in New York I had to somehow find my way to one of the F-Subway lines, where the E-Subway was being rerouted. I had no idea how to get there and I find NYC street names to be utterly confusing. 42nd St and 6th Av? What does that even mean. Well, I do kinda get it, but it still leaves me a bit clueless as to which way to turn. So many times I would exit a subway station and no know where is east and which is west. Often I’d only know once I saw the street numbers ascending in the wrong order and then I’d have to quickly double back on myself and try to make up for lost time! On this particular occasion, I found myself having to make my way through Times Square. Now in one sense, this was cool… I hadn’t seen Times Square at night, so it was interesting. But trying to push my way through the throng of folks there on a Saturday evening, was not ideal at all. This cost me best part of an hour (again I was heading in the wrong direction and had to turn back twice).
Then there was the issue of multiple elevators being out of service. At least 5 times on my journey to JFK I had to resort to pulling my wheelchair up the stairs as I crawled. I’m usually fine with this, but there’s something about NYC that makes me feel totally uneasy about this process. In New York, the usual “hey, can I give you a hand with that” suddenly becomes “what the hell are you doing mother f**ker, why aren’t you using the elevator, you’re holding everyone up”. Then when you try and explain that the elevator is broken the just mutter under their breath and storm off. This happened to be twice last night. The second time was with some rather shady looking characters… Ones which I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
All in all it took me 3 hours to get from Newark to JFK, a trip which should in theory take no more than 1.5 hours. When I finally got to terminal 7 and made my way to the British Airways desk I was met by a very kind guy named Michael who also happened to be a supervisor. He told me that if I’d arrived half an hour earlier he would have stuck me on that evenings flight to Heathrow, free of charge. But as it happened I was a little too late and they were actually closing down for the night. The next best thing he could offer me was a slightly earlier flight of 18:35pm, instead of 21:30pm. I took it as again it was offered to me free of charge. He gave me some suggestions on where to sleep in the airport and I made my bed for the night. Thankfully I had a BA blanket which was given to me on my flight over here, again by a man named Michael. Originally it was for my wet wheelchair, and was designed to act as a make shift cushion for me, but I was glad to have it as a soft space to lie on now I was hunkering down in JFK terminal 4 for the night.
I barely slept. My back was in agony. I have two metal rods screwed into my spine so sleeping on a hard floor is totally ill-advisable, but I had no alternative. I got up around 6am, after around 3 hours sleep, due to the noise being too loud as crowds of people had already started to enter for the morning flights.
I made my way back over to terminal 7 where a lady helped me with the ticket changes. I then found a sofa in the first class check-in area. I wasn’t meant to be there but the area was deserted so thought I may as well grab the chance to get a couple of hours extra rest.
I was told to go through security as early as I liked, so I headed through at 10am. You know, only 8 hours early for my flight… No big deal. I kinda wished I hadn’t at first, as memories of that lovely sofa were ringing in my mind once I was faced with cold hard seats with metal arm rests preventing you from lying down.
After around 4 hours I eventually got so bored I went for a wander. I’d been given a wifi passcode when checking in but it wasn’t working anymore now that I was through security. I plucked up the courage to go to the lounge reception, just to ask if I could connect to the wifi – using the excuse of needing to do work as my reasoning. The lady on the desk took one look at me and just said in a really sympathetic voice “would you like to go ahead and use the lounge sir?”. Yes. Yes. My god yes. I could hardly contain myself and felt like giving her the biggest hug ever. I’ve never had lounge access before and this was the BEST time for it to happen. I stink like hell, my back is shot to bits and I’m starving. This couldn’t be any more perfect. Thank you British Airways. Even though this is not a paid endorsement I’d just like to say you guys are really the best. I’ve never flown with BA before, despite having written for the in-flight magazine ‘High Life’ and also despite BA being Britain’s national carrier. All I will say is this… It may be my first flight with BA, but it certainly will not be my last!