Sunday, February 16, 2014

Overnight in Doncaster, UK

There is a Wizz Air flight on Friday nights from Brno to London's Luton airport.  Luton is actually an hour from London.  The goal was to be Nat's first Brno guests in London.  The original plan was to fly out Friday night, followed by a shuttle bus to London and then catch the tube to Nat's place.

It's about a 2,5 hour flight from Brno to Luton.  After about two hours the crew announced that we would start our decent.  Then a little later, we were told to hang on due to turbulence.  This was the worst turbulence I've ever been through.  It was scary but obviously I would have preferred a smoother flight.

After a while we received an announcement that due to storms we were unable to land at Luton.  We were to land in Doncaster instead.  We were told that buses would be arranged to then take us to Luton.  So here's the deal...Doncaster, in South Yorkshire, is about a four hour bus ride to Luton.  Don't forget that Luton is an hour from London and then we still had to get to Nat's.

So we landed at Robin Hood Airport.  And yes, there is a statue of Robin Hood in the airport. 

Since the UK isn't a part of Schengen, everyone arriving from continental Europe has to first clear immigration.  There are always two lines, one for EU citizens and the other for non-EU people like me.  Non-EU people have to first fill out a landing card before heading to passport control. 

It was clear that this wasn't an expected flight arrival and immigration agents had to be brought in to process everyone.  There were only two of us on the entire flight who weren't EU folk so our line was much shorter but it didn't go any faster.  As an American, I am allowed to be in the United Kingdom for up to 90 days without a visa.  I'm not sure if the border agent realized that.  She flipped through my passport three or four times and then came all of the questions.  Where did I fly from?  What was the purpose of my visit to the UK?  How long will I stay?  I had to pull out my boarding pass for the flight home on Monday.  Do I have sufficient funds to cover my entire stay?  My favorite question was..."Will you pay for your expenses or will your friend (Natalie) be paying?"  Have you been to the UK before?  When?  Where?  For business or pleasure?  This went on for some time.

Once I satisfied her that I had no intention of staying in England long enough for me to run out of money and need to look for a job, she stamped my passport and let me in.  I walked about five steps before I was approached by an undercover policewoman.  She explained to me that over there was the border but this was a random police check.  Random!?!?  I'm one of two non-EU citizens but whatever.  What's the purpose of your visit?  I'm here to visit a friend in London for three days before returning home to Czech Republic...She joked that I would probably spend most of my time on a bus and then let me go.

We waited in the airport for about 1,5 hours before we heard anything about the buses.  Due to the weather, the buses were taking longer than normal.  The first buses would be for women and children and then families.  First for the flight from Warsaw, then the one from Sofia and Brno passengers would be third.  If we were lucky, we would get on a bus around 2 AM.  Again, at least four hours by bus to Luton, and then another hour to London.

Fortunately, Nat is the best travel concierge ever.  While we were sorting out logistics, she found us one of the last hotel rooms only 50 meters from the airport.  That beer I had after checking in so hit the spot.  We got a good night's sleep, had our full English breakfast and caught the direct train to Kings Cross station on Saturday morning.  We wound up in London give or take the same time we would have had we crashed in the airport.  But this way we weren't dead tired and were able to spend some quality time with Nat.   

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