If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen that my dear friend and former coworker passed away suddenly at the end of January. Jillian was battling cancer at age 27, and was doing very well, so it was a great shock to all of us who loved her. She was a very special person and it is still hard for me to believe I will never get to see her smiling face again.
Although I wasn’t able to make it to say goodbye in person, I was grateful to be able to travel home in person for her memorial and to be with everyone I know who was also grieving.
I bought my ticket on a Wednesday evening, and by Friday afternoon I was in New York! It was a whirlwind, and for the first 24 hours I couldn’t believe that I was there.
In addition to spending time with Jillian’s friends and family at her memorial and at the school where we worked, I got to spend some happy time together with other friends – both old and new!
Of course, I ate my way through New York. I made sure to get french toast (the one below was nutella-stuffed), Chinese food, a bagel, pizza, Mexican food, hummus and babaganouj from a Middle Eastern store in Brooklyn, and rugelach and knishes from Zabar’s.
I also took a walk through Washington Square Park and Central Park.
And visited the Brooklyn Heights Promenade:
It even snowed a bit one day!
Then…the adventure really began.
I left NYC on Wednesday evening at around 10pm. About 3 hours into the flight, I woke up because I felt us descending, and I knew we were over the ocean and shouldn’t be descending. I tried to talk myself out of it – it must just be turbulence – and tried to go back to sleep.
Then a voice came over the speaker asking if there was a doctor on board, and again 10 minutes later asking for a doctor. Finally there was an announcement saying that there was a sick passenger on board and we had turned around. We were going backwards 1.5 hours (!) to land in Canada, where the passenger could receive medical treatment.
Okay, annoying, but once the passenger was taken off the plane, we would be able to take off, again, right?
Once we had landed an hour and a half later (2:30am NYC time, if you’re keeping track) they told us that the sick passenger was actually one of the pilots. They hadn’t wanted to tell us that in the air so as not to alarm us, because the co-pilot had it all under control, but they couldn’t take off again without a full crew. The medical situation wasn’t as dire as they’d thought, but they had to play it safe. So we had to sit and wait on the plane until they figured out what they were going to do.
We had landed in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the farthest eastern point of North America. Many passengers said that on the screen showing the journey it looked like we were actually halfway between North America and Europe, and wondered why we hadn’t gone to Iceland or Ireland instead. Who knows…
Then they told us that a flight from San Francisco to London that had enough seats for all of us was going to make a detour and land in St. John’s and pick us up, and we could continue to London all together. That would be arriving in three hours. So we all just went back to sleep and waited.
Then an announcement told us that the flight would be arriving in half an hour. Hooray! I had trouble going back to sleep after this.
Finally, an announcement came on saying that the flight from San Francisco couldn’t pick us up because of “operational complications” (whatever that’s code for…) and we would have to disembark in Canada. We had to wait another half hour until customs opened in the airport (6:30am NYC time, 8am local time) and then we would be taken on buses to a hotel and spend the day in Canada, and take off on the same plane that evening.
In total, we sat on the plane for four hours after landing in St. John’s.
We finally went through customs and all went to Tim Horton’s in the airport for coffee. Then we boarded rickety yellow school buses to a hotel, and waited an hour in line to be assigned a hotel room (since there were about 140 passengers). Finally, finally I got to lay down in a bed. But by then it was daytime, and I wasn’t really tired, especially since I’d had coffee, but I napped for about an hour.
Nothing was more glorious than taking a hot shower. For that reason alone, I was so grateful we had been given hotel rooms. They didn’t take the checked luggage off of the plane, so most people didn’t have any clothes to change into. Luckily I had only hand luggage, so I was able to change into clean clothes!
We were allowed to eat meals in the hotel restaurant for free, so I had lunch with my seatmate and new plane friend Ollie, then set off on my own to explore Downtown St. John’s.
It was a very cute little fishing village, and reminded me of Brattleboro, Vermont, where my dad grew up. There wasn’t much to do for just a few hours. There were a few historic sights and a lighthouse (and beer brewery) that were too far away, as well as a half-day whale-watching tour that we didn’t have enough time for. And it was freezing! It was 19˚F when we landed, with a high of 26˚F for the day.
You know you’re in Canada when…
I bought two postcards and a magnet in a giftshop for $5, and free with my purchase I got a full-sized wall calendar that was worth $6 (which had been reduced from $12).
I was in a shop full of hand-knitted items made by local Newfoundland women (and bought a very warm pair of sheep’s wool-lined mittens!) and the two women behind the counter were talking about a woman who had come in earlier and said her flight had landed unexpectedly from New York to London. I was like “I was on that flight!” Then they asked me a bunch of questions about it. They said, “Oh and this woman was flying in for her son’s wedding this weekend,” and I was like, “Oh yeah, I met her!” #smalltownliving
Also, people always say it but it’s true – Canadians are SO NICE. I had been to Toronto and Ottawa before, both of which are big cities, but this was real small-town life. In the airport that evening, I bought two stamps to mail my postcards (because I had to document this crazy Canadian detour) and the lady at the giftshop told me the mailbox was in the departures area. So I went through security, and then asked at the giftshop in the terminal for directions the mailbox.
The woman working there: “Oh no…it’s downstairs!”
Me: “Oh. You mean before security?”
Woman: “Yes. Well…would you like me to mail them for you?”
Me: “Oh wow – yes please!”
Woman: “I promise, I really will mail them!”
I mean, come on. That would never happen in New York OR London.
Finally, finally we boarded the flight back to London and took off around 10pm – but not before they had delayed a bit further to de-ice the plane. This time, we had none of the previous comforts of economy class, like pillows and blankets. We were lucky to even get a meal – the crew said they hadn’t been sure we would even get that.
They had flown in two new pilots from New York on a private jet just to fly us home. And they told us that the pilot was doing better and was traveling with us as a passenger…which kind of makes me think he wasn’t really that sick, but whatever…
We had had to wait all day to depart because of London’s night curfew for planes – we couldn’t arrive in London before 6am. We arrived around 6:30am on Friday morning, about 22 hours later than scheduled. I had just enough time to run home and shower before heading to class, where I struggled to keep my eyes open and took a nap during lunchtime. We had essentially taken two overnight flights instead of one. I was very happy to sleep for 12.5 hours that night, and 10 hours the next night!
There was even a short article about our emergency landing on the Canadian national news: Medical emergency with pilot forces Virgin Atlantic flight to land in St. John’s
I’m happy to be back in London and back on solid ground!
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