The flight was only a tad bit delayed–much better than having to reschedule my flight three times because of snow as my friend Ann had to do! The plane was a beautiful, spacious new model with touch screens in every seat–much better than I was expecting from Aeroflot. Didn’t get to take advantage of much of anything but the roominess though as I was pretty exhausted and ended up sleeping the entire eight hours, waking only as we were touching down on the runway in Moscow. I turned my phone back on and looked at the time–my connecting flight was scheduled to depart in less than thirty minutes. If I missed this flight I would have to wait a half-day until the next one, so I got off the plane, hurried through customs, and ran towards my gate. I was one of the last two people to make it to the gate before it closed. As the two of us were being driven on the tarmac to where the plane was I saw that the baggage handlers were still unloading luggage from the plane I had just gotten off of. It seems my bag wasn’t going to make the connection!
Sure enough, six hours later I’m told at the luggage carousel help desk that my bag didn’t make the connection and wouldn’t be showing up until later that night. I chose to just have it delivered to my friend Roman’s house the next day (where I had stayed before the rally) so that I could pick it up on my way back to the airport on Wednesday. Then I took my backpack and made my way two hours or so over to Benfleet, where my friend Dave was waiting to pick me up. We spent the rest of the day eating, drinking, and going over stories from my trip. His wife, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and their two kids joined us later on in the evening before the two of us had dinner at a great buffet place. It was the heartiest meal I had had in a long time. The next day I was planning on heading to Roman’s place in Hackney to say hello to his father and one of his flat-mates there but things ended up not working out and I stayed for another night with Dave and Oyuna. Dave and I spent most of the day lazing around, having drinks outside and enjoying the fine weather.
The next day I was scheduled to leave at around 2:30PM but still didn’t know what was up with my bag. I called up the airlines and they said that they had tried to deliver but no one was home so it was back at the processing facility. I told them to ship it back to the airport and that I’d grab it later on in the afternoon. Last minute as usual! Dave drove me to the train station and I took another two-hour ride back to Heathrow. I was running short on time and would have to go to a separate terminal to grab my bag before taking a tram to get back to my departure terminal. I made my way to the luggage claim office and tried using the courtesy phone to dial someone from the department. No answer. I tried again and again over ten minutes, even calling the main branch number from my phone, but there was no answer. I had to head over to the airport help desk and ask the woman there to dial the department’s cellphone in order to get somebody. The guy came out a few minutes later, took me past security to the back room, and I arrived just in time to see my bag being dropped off at the front desk. I thanked the guy who assisted me, grabbed my bag, and raced off down the hall to the tram stop.
I arrived just in time to see the tram leave the station. Next tram: 25 minutes later. 25 minutes!? I waited for the tram, headed over to Terminal 4, and made my way to the check in counter only to be told that they had stopped processing people fifteen minutes ago. I would have to check with the ticket counter about changing my flight. I went over to the ticket counter and waited for about twenty minutes while some old guy in front of me hassled the airline employee about not having the exact ticket he was looking for available. It turns out that since my ticket was an awards ticket I would have to wait until the next day for a flight and pay $100 to change it. Again, no real choice in the matter so I paid up and got the last ticket available for the same flight the next day. Now the dilemma was do I go back to Dave’s place two hours away or find some other place to stay for the next 24 hours? I hit up my friend from grade school, Tom, who I had hung out with for a bit prior to the rally. He said he could probably give me a place to stay for the night, so I stored my large bags in airport storage and headed over to his spot less than an hour away.
We hung out at his place near Wimbledon for the night, ordering in some awesome Indian food and telling stories from the rally. The next day he drove me to the airport on his way to play a round of golf. I made sure I had more than enough time this time around to get checked in and past security before the plane took off. The flight home was a bit cramped, but I made it pass by pretty quickly by watching movies on the seat-back screen. At around 9:30PM I ended up back in Detroit, and luckily all of my baggage returned with me.
Thus officially ends Mongol Rally 2009–it was one hell of an adventure!