Taking an emergency, last-minute trip to Scotland was never in my plans. Neither was having to say goodbye to my dad. Between late and missed flights, my dad passing away, and a couple individuals going out of their way to make things difficult for me, that trip was the worst two weeks of my life.
- 5 Last-Minute Flights to Scotland
- Saying Goodbye to My Dad
- 48 Hours Traveling Back to the US
- Coping With the Nightmare
- Conclusion and a Eulogy
- More Journal Entries
5 Last-Minute Flights to Scotland
Booking a last-minute trip to Scotland isn’t easy in the best of times. It’s truly a nightmare when travel between the US and UK is all but banned. It took over a dozen hours of research to find a last-minute flight within my budget, or rather four flights. I was flying out of Missoula, Montana, and the cheapest route took me through Salt Lake City, Chicago, Dublin, and finally to Edinburgh. Well, that was the itinerary before the hiccup.
The beginning of my last-minute trip to Scotland started off relatively smoothly, although I was rather despondent over the idea of having to say goodbye to my dad. In fact, from what the doctors had told me, I honestly didn’t know if I would make it back in time, although I was pretty sure my dad would wait for me before departing.
Missoula to Chicago
My first flight from Missoula to Salt Lake City with Delta Airlines was smooth. The plane departed on time at 6:30 p.m. Montana was full of smoke from the fires, but Utah was clearer. I had a nice window seat for some good views, including of the Great Salt Lake. It was the first time I had seen the pink lake and salt flats.
My plane arrived in Salt Lake City right on time at 8:03 p.m. I had 40 minutes to get across the airport to another terminal for my departure, and I also needed to get dinner, as the person who brought me to the airport didn’t leave time for my dinner before the flight. Thankfully, my next flight to Chicago was delayed by 31 minutes, giving me enough time to stop at Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh for a gyro.
With my dinner in hand, I ran to my next flight, arriving just in time to board. Again, I had a window seat, but the sun had set just before departure and there wasn’t much to see. Instead, I passed the time reading an e-book – the best option in my opinion for a long flight…and something to take my attention off of what was coming.
Overnight in Chicago Airport
My second plane touched down at 1:23 a.m. in Chicago. The late arrival wasn’t a problem, as I was planning to spend the night at the airport. For years, I’ve been using the SleepinginAirports website to find the best places to cozy up. Unfortunately, Chicago O’Hare didn’t seem to have any nice spots.
I quickly learned that Chicago Airport is absolutely massive. My flight landed at Terminal 2, and it was too late to try to get to any of the other terminals. Instead, I wandered around the v-shaped concourse until I found another family sleeping in a dark corner near the last gate. I kicked off my shoes and was soon asleep, only to be woken up before 7 by the family asking if it was my flight that was boarding.
My next flight was departing from Terminal 5. I made my way to the other side of the airport, going through security again, only to find that Terminal 5 has the fewest meal choices. In fact, there were no breakfast options, unless you count the breakfast sandwich at Burger King (which I don’t). I ended up getting a small chicken salad at the Farmer’s Fridge vending machine, knowing I would have a proper meal on the flight.
Getting Diverted to London
As I boarded my flight from Chicago to Dublin, I started to panic. The flight finally departed at 5:44 p.m., nearly an hour and a half late. It was almost the exact amount of time I had for my layover in Dublin before catching my last flight to Edinburgh, and I didn’t think I was going to make it.
I ended up getting two dinners on the flight (dealing with a tough situation when you’re tired and hungry is never a good idea) and then spent a restless night (even though I had a whole row to myself to sleep in) running through scenarios of what could happen if I missed the flight to Edinburgh.
In the end, my plane landed at almost the exact moment my Aer Lingus flight to Edinburgh departed. In complete shock, I ran around the airport, trying to find out how to get to Edinburgh. I called the hospital and talked with my dad. He was still alive and was waiting to see me, but wasn’t very “communicative”. It honestly sounded like he was just holding to life to see me.
I was the first one to the Aer Lingus customer service desk and spent a nerve-racking 20 minutes talking with the agent (with dozens of other stranded passengers behind me) as he arranged to get me to Edinburgh on two more flights via London, which would have me seeing my dad by mid-afternoon. Their only other flight of the day was at the end of the night, and I couldn’t wait that long. I also got a meal voucher for breakfast, although I really wasn’t in the mood to eat.
The last two flights through Heathrow were more or less uneventful. At the end of my flight to London, I was moved up to the first seat on the plane so I would be the first one off. In Heathrow Airport, I made a wrong turn and had to go back through security instead of directly to my connecting flight, but Heathrow has a fast security queue, and I was at my gate before boarding started.
Saying Goodbye to My Dad
Forgive me if I rush through this part of the post. I want to write about my dad separately, so I can give that story its own proper place and length.
In a nutshell, I arrived in time to have some meaningful conversations with my dad. I went straight to the hospital from the airport. Seeing my dad in the bed there was difficult, but thank god he was alive! Believe me, this photo from the next day makes me look a lot happier than a felt.
If you missed my Facebook or Youtube update, about two weeks earlier I’d received a call from my dad’s carer saying he’d been taken to the hospital to check for jaundice. A couple days later, the doctor called and said my dad had a tumor blocking the bile ducts of his liver. Due to my dad’s frailty, there were no treatment options. The prognosis was days or perhaps weeks – hence my last-minute trip to Scotland.
Jaundice had set in quite badly by the time I arrived. It chilled me to see his yellow skin and eyes. One of the first things he said when he saw me, after questioning if it was really me, was “I feel dreamy.” Those words broke my heart. For the next few hours, I sat by my dad, talking with him and thanking him for everything he’s done for me and thousands upon thousands of other individuals who crossed his path.
Over the next week, my dad deteriorated rapidly. By the third day, he was only awake for a couple minutes at a time. Within a week, it was a few seconds.
In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, August 8, 2021, my dad James Fuller passed away peacefully. He asserted until the end that he was not in any pain, and was at peace with what he accomplished in his life. While I did most of the talking in that last week, I can say he was happy with his life, he filled what he set out to accomplish, and he was ready to move on to the next adventure.
Packing Up the House
With my dad’s passing, I had 48 hours to pack up his apartment, which also had all of Vanesa and my possessions while we were abroad, and get everything into storage. Although that was a herculean task, I pulled it off. In a little more than a day, I had everything packed up and ready to go.
On Monday morning, a friend of a friend with a large van helped me move everything into a storage unit not far away. I was able to get a very good deal for three months while Vanesa and I were wrapping up some important business in the US. Somehow, we managed to get everything from the house into the storage unit in less than 4 hours, and then it was off to the airport to catch my first of four flights back to Montana.
48 Hours Traveling Back to the US
Finally, it was time to return to the US and Vanesa. Little did I know that my horrible experience getting to Scotland would pale in comparison to my journey the other way.
Starting Off Easy and Sleeping at Dublin Airport
My first flight from Edinburgh to Dublin was easy. My two best friends in Edinburgh gave me a ride to the airport, where I got a shock from the new layout. I couldn’t believe how much the airport had changed since I left Scotland only five months earlier. Now there’s a free passenger dropoff location where there used to be empty farmland, and a fancy new entrance to the airport.
The flight from Edinburgh to Dublin is only an hour, as I learned back in 2016 when I took a tour with Shamrocker Adventures. As I didn’t get to Dublin until nearly 11 p.m., I chose to spend the night at the airport, which I also did back in 2016. Thankfully, out of all the airports I’ve slept in around the world, Dublin has the nicest spot.
I couldn’t remember where I had slept the other time, so I first wandered around Terminal 1 for the couches I was so fond of, but couldn’t find them. I asked security, and they just said to sleep in the food court, which had bright lights, a hard marble floor, and loud music playing all night. No thank you!
Instead, I walked over to Terminal 2 where I found the Oak Cafe Bar at the far end of the second floor, which is where I slept last time. They used to have super comfortable, long couches. Now they have benches, but they’re still comfortable, even though they’re shorter and I had to use a chair at the bottom for my feet. At least they turn the lights off in that part of the airport. There was very little noise, unless you count the baby that was screaming a floor below. I was able to get a good 5 hours of sleep before waking up early to check into my second flight.
Difficulties in Dublin Airport
I awoke on Tuesday morning to a message on my phone that my itinerary had changed. I freaked. With three more flights ahead of me, one last day to spend with my mom, and then a bus ticket to Seattle, I didn’t have time for itinerary changes.
I quickly learned that my flight had technical problems, and had been delayed by a couple hours. That meant I would miss my next flight. My itinerary was from Dublin to Chicago, then to Denver, and finally back to Missoula. I had less than a couple hours layover in Chicago, and then about four hours in Denver.
At the check-in counter, I was able to rebook my second flight for another a couple hours later. That would still get me into Denver early enough to catch my final flight, as long as there were no more delays.
What it Took to Get Breakfast
Getting breakfast at Dublin airport was my next challenge. I was given a meal voucher for the flight delay, but first I had to get through US pre-clearance. I was about to go through the second security checkpoint, but then thought to ask the lady what food options were beyond. She said only a single cafe. I figured I’d have a better chance for breakfast elsewhere.
I went back to the terminal but found the food court closed due to Covid. The one pub serving breakfast said they wouldn’t honor the vouchers, so I went back to the pre-clearance to ask if the cafe would. The lady said she didn’t think so. I was running out of options.
Eventually, after wandering around for over an hour, I found the back route that led to Terminal 1 which had several restaurants. The week earlier in Dublin, I had a croque monsieur for breakfast from Marquette, which was horrible. This time, I went to Street Feast for a decent breakfast burrito.
With a full stomach, I went back to pre-clearance and found a spot on the other side where I could plug the laptop in and get some work done. It was one of the first times in a week I’d spent any amount of time online, and I had a lot of emails and messages to catch up on.
Returning to the US
My United flight from Dublin to Chicago departed nearly two and a half hours late. I was famished by the time the flight meal arrived – curry chicken, rice, quinoa salad and treacle toffee ice cream. Once again, I had a row to myself. With Interstellar playing in the background, I napped for a couple hours.
When I woke up, I learned that my flight had made up some time. We were scheduled to arrive only an hour and fifty minutes late, but that was still five minutes after my original flight departed. It was a good thing I had rescheduled the flight from Chicago to Denver for the later option.
This time, I was in the new Terminal 1 of Chicago Airport. With many more restaurant options to choose from, I ended up at the German Berghoff Cafe for a delicious Reuben sandwich. While the food was good, the news about my next flight wasn’t.
This time, I was told the flight was delayed for weather conditions. There was nothing I could do as I waited frantically for the plane to arrive, and then for boarding to commence. We didn’t leave the gate until 1 hour and 37 minutes after our scheduled departure. Then we had to sit on the runway for another 53 minutes due to more bad weather and a long line of planes ahead of us.
My Nightmare with United Airlines
The flight landed in Denver 2 hours and 25 minutes late. Even though the flight from Denver to Missoula itself had been delayed a full hour, we arrived 5 minutes after it departed. Tired and hungry (it was 4 a.m. Scottish time), I made my way to the United service desk, only to find several hundred other people also waiting in line.
It took two hours waiting in line until I was able to see an agent, during which the line doubled in size. I can only imagine there had been hundreds of people that night trying to get their final connecting flight rebooked.
When it was my turn, the agent said he would have me on the first flight to Missoula the next day. I said okay (since there wasn’t any other option), and then asked for my hotel room. The agent said he couldn’t give me one as the plane was delayed due to bad weather. I pointed out the first flight was delayed due to mechanical problems, and he still balked. I then demanded that he take it to his supervisor, which he did, and a few minutes later I walked away with my hotel booking and meal vouchers. It was a small win, but I certainly wasn’t happy.
The Final Leg
The Element Hotel was a lot nicer than I was expecting. In fact, my room was more like a luxury apartment than a simple hotel room, complete with a full kitchen, living room, and separate bedroom. It was nearly midnight (8 a.m. Scottish time) by the time I made it into bed, and I was asleep in seconds. As frazzled as I felt, I had my first decent sleep in weeks, even though I did wake up a little too early.
When I was about to get into the long line for security, a lady approached me and asked me if I wanted a free trial for Clear, the line that bypasses the security queue. Ironically, I’ve featured Clear in the magazine I write for, so I figured it would be good to experience them for myself. It took 5 minutes to sign up, which saved me an hour waiting in line.
The breakfast at the hotel was nice, but small – a simple egg taco with guacamole. At the airport, I found a fantastic restaurant called Root Down, where I ordered a stack of buttermilk pancakes and a chai latte. Unfortunately, when I tried to use my United vouchers for the meal, neither of them would go through. It just seemed United couldn’t get anything right.
Finally, I was on my last flight to Missoula. I landed almost exactly 48 hours after I had left for the airport in Edinburgh. I had one more adventure waiting for me when I arrived, but that’s the subject of another post.
Coping With the Nightmare
I’m not sure coping is the right word here. By the dictionary, coping means to deal successfully with a difficult situation. I don’t know how successful I was. I’m usually extremely level-headed and rational, but those two weeks really put me to the test. Here are some rules that I followed to get me through all the frustration and sadness:
When the Going Gets Tough, Keep Yourself Extroverted
One of the toughest things to contend with when you’re in a difficult situation is not getting mired in your own head and the turmoil associated with past events. My trip had so many challenges: missed flights, dealing with the death of my father, setting up and getting everything into storage in 48 hours, etc. It would have been easy to get overwhelmed and give up.
The way I deal with this is through what I call extroverted meditation, which is quite different than other meditations. While most meditation consists of looking inward (which can make you introverted), I prefer to put my attention outward, i.e. extroversion.
This is really easy to do. The simplest way is to just go for a walk. But when I walk around, I also put my attention on the environment around me, not what’s troubling me. After a little or a long time, my attention is more on the present and what’s real around me, and that allows me to look at the difficulties more rationally.
Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem
This is one of those things you probably hear a lot (or don’t) from life coaches and public speakers. When you focus on the problem, it strengths the problem and makes it bigger. When you look at the problem from the standpoint of what the solution is, things become manageable.
Many of the things I had to deal with on my trip seemed impossible to resolve at first glance. Instead of staying with that mindset, I quickly looked at what possible solutions there were, based on my finances, time constraints and other factors. None of the solutions were easy, but just by putting my attention on them and seeing which would work best, I was able to get things in order…barely…with the resources available to me.
Find the Silver Lining
Things could have been worse. That’s an old cliche, but it happens to have a very therapeutic side. Simply look at the positive side of things. It’s an interesting facet of life that people tend to get what they focus their attention on. The more you focus your attention on the bad, the more negative your life gets. The corollary is also true – putting your attention on the positive helps things go right, almost magically.
Another aspect of this came into play when dealing with my dad. Focusing on the fact that my dad was dying probably would have overwhelmed me. Instead, I concentrated on what a wonderful life we had together. For that last week, I spent hours recounting with him all the wonderful adventures and experiences we had had together. Somehow, my dad and I lived our lives together almost exclusively with pleasurable and positive moments.
If you find it too hard to put your attention on the positive, there’s another trick you can try. Simply look at how it could be worse. Whether you’re dealing with an unexpected setback, an injury, or a catastrophe, looking at how the problem could be even worse helps to move it away from seeming impossible to resolve or deal with, and thus allows you to find the positive sides of it.
Conclusion and a Eulogy
I know these points get a bit philosophical, but I figured I’d just throw them in here to complete the story of how I made it through such a rough time. Thankfully, shortly after my last-minute trip to Scotland, I was able to spend a few weeks in Seattle, one of my favorite cities in the US, and had some truly amazing experiences with Vanesa which helped to restore my vitality and move on.
I will always remember my father as one of the most incredible individuals I’ve met on this planet, and I look forward to seeing him again someday. For those who didn’t see it, here’s the eulogy I wrote on Facebook:
James was the most compassionate man I’ve ever known. In all my life, he never got angry with me. He was a true friend to thousands (or perhaps tens of thousands).Someday I’d like to get around to compiling his life story. He was proficient in so many fields, including an accomplished jazz pianist, a pilot for the Royal Air Force (although he flew his first commercial flight when he was a young teenager), a sailor, an avid motorcycle rider (well into his 70s), an elite counselor…the list goes on.We had so many wonderful times together, and I will cherish them all. His contributions to helping people around the planet are beyond count, and I can say he definitely achieved what he set out to accomplish this lifetime.He left a great legacy behind, and I will always try to live up to his wonderful nature. I will see him again someday.Thank you, dad, for such a wonderful life together!!!
More Journal Entries
My blog isn’t just city guides and food tours. Sometimes I get personal with some behind-the-scenes information about my personal journey. Here are some more posts like this one.
- Reminiscing on My First Day of Travel Abroad Without a Plan
- How I Lost my Smile in August for All the Wrong Reasons
- What it Took to Get My British Citizenship and Passport
Read the rest of my journal entries here.
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