Not that regrets can do anything. I suppose, on balance, everything worked out well enough—-or it has so far, at any rate. I'm still in the air, and my luggage could very well still be floating around Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. And we'll be quite late in landing, quite late.
At first, I thought it was all going to be my fault. Or more specifically, the fault of a certain ferrous metal object locked in a box in one of my checked bags. I don't want to have said object, and traveling with it is a tremendous burden. But travel with it I must. Checking it in at the airport in Tampa took significantly more time than checking in any other bag, and the bag required a special tag and I had to place a special card inside. And sign some things. And take the bag to a special screening area (which is interesting because by this time everyone at United knew what was in the bag. It's the people who don't tell you they have stuff in their bags that should go through extra screening, right?). I felt this was probably sufficient warning for any and all air carriers that this piece of luggage had something inside not to be trifled with.
Evidently, however, different airlines don't speak the same language to one another, as United failed to inform Kenya Airways about the bag. How Kenya Air didn't notice on their own, given the different luggage tag, I won't contemplate. Nonetheless, after sitting in Heathrow for an entire day and being bored out of my skull, I finally boarded the airplane for the next leg of my journey. Once most of the passengers were on board, a girl from the airline finds me in the aisle and asks, in a not-at-all quiet voice that people throughout the aircraft, possibly in other airplanes nearby, could hear, "Excuse me, sir, is there a firearm in your luggage?"
Hooray for discretion!
I had to get off the airplane. They had found the lockbox in the bag, and presumably also the card indicating what was in there, while scanning luggage, and apparently this was the first they'd heard about it. Why hadn't I said anything? Well, see, I did say something. In Tampa. Where I went through the whole rigamarole...
Eventually it was explained that there was no way the luggage could go. They'd have to refile the flight plan and so forth. I could go, but my luggage would stay behind.
Would all four pieces stay behind? I wouldn't feel too bad about leaving just the bag with the weapon in it behind, if I had to. No, all four pieces would have to stay behind. This surely must have been out of spite. I decided I better go get my carry-ons and plan to spend the night much as I'd passed the day.
Fortunately, Bob Not-His-Real-Name Booker was in exactly the same predicament as I. Not that this was fortunate where Bob was concerned, but it's always nice, if you're going to be stuck on a sinking ship, to have someone along with you.
They wanted to see some sort of documentation that covered why we were allowed to have firearms. No problem. I have a concealed weapons permit, my orders, all manner of things. Military orders? You're on military orders?
It's amazing how quickly attitudes change. In fact, one of the people dealing with our 'problem' quite plainly stated, "Well, that you're military changes rather a lot." I suppose it's nice to know that.
Calls are made, flight plans are suddenly refiled (something that two minutes earlier I'd been told couldn't possibly happen), and it isn't but a few more minutes and we're back in our seats in the plane. If all goes well this flight might still take off no more than ten minutes late, based on the takeoff slot we've been given.
This brings to mind a separate point. Not knowing we were pilots the people trying to convince us not to stay on this flight threw around a lot of jargon about flight plans and slot times and so forth, like an auto mechanic trying to tell you there's something wrong with your car when there really isn't. Our official takeoff time, listed on our tickets, was 2000, eight pm. On the nose. Our slot time was 23 minutes after. All jargon aside, 23 minutes is a damn thick bit of padding for an airline schedule, don't you think? Had we managed to get off the ground at 23 minutes after, or even within a few minutes of that time, we'd have been all right.
But it took rather longer than that to refile the flight plan. Bob and I were now both feeling rather conspicuous, as we were sitting in different areas of the plane and by now probably two dozen people in our vicinity were aware that we were the cause for the holdup—worse, one dozen people thought I was the only cause, and another dozen thought Bob was. Not fun.
We sit for a bit longer. About 15 minutes after the hour the girl from the airline comes back and says the captain wants to see my papers. My papers? What, to prove whether I'm purebred or something? Off I go to the front of the plane. I hand over every paper that could conceivably be of use to the captain in determining whether I ought to be trusted to fly on his airplane with a partially disassembled firearm without ammunition locked in a metal box in a checked bag. And I wait.
The stewardesses up at the front of the plane, where I was standing awaiting news of my fate, were very flirty, which was fun. They said they all wanted me to stay on the flight and would vouch for me. They also offered that I would be much better off getting stuck in Nairobi than in London, and in fact I should stay with one of the girls if indeed I did have to stay in Nairobi. This was great fun.
In the end the captain deigned me unlikely to pose a significant threat to anything but our timeline, and I resumed my seat. We took off about forty minutes late. The captain, as we were being pushed back from the gate, announced that the delay was caused by a paperwork problem, and that the airline sincerely regretted any inconvenience it may have caused. Immediately the people seated around me knew that I was sole cause of this now very late flight. When we finally got off the ground, people applauded.
I tried to sleep for as much of the flight as possible.
As we approached Nairobi, the captain announced when he expected we would land, and again noted that any inconvenience caused by our late arrival was highly regretted. I tried not to make eye contact.
We landed at 0710 local time. It took another twelve minutes to taxi, and, this being a 777 and quite full, eight more minutes before we were off the airplane, making it 7:30. Our connecting flight to our final destination was due to depart at 7:40. I figured there was no way we'd make it.
We didn't make it. Fortunately, neither did the airplane on which we were to depart, which was having mechanical problems. We got to the plane, and sat, and waited. Power flickered on and off. The captain announced that there was a problem and noted that any inconvenience was highly regretted.
Eventually we were herded back into the airport terminal, because it didn't seem like that airplane was going to be fixed soon. This would be a blessing, were the terminal air conditioned, but as it was the plane was no hotter than the terminal. We waited two hours and then some.
Finally we got underway in a new aircraft, after further regrets and apologies from the captain (who really isn't at fault and shouldn't have to apologize). We are inbound as I write this to City A, where we'll stop and exchange some passengers before heading on to our destination. We will land at city A a few minutes after we were to have reached our ultimate destination, and it will be a further 90 minutes or more before we land there. Whether there will still be anyone at the airport terminal to meet us remains to be seen.
Any inconvenience this causes will, however, be highly regretted.