Daddy Clanger (imc) wrote,
Daddy Clanger

What I did on my holiday, episode 1: March 8th, 2004

Got rudely awoken by alarm at 5.20 and made a slow start at getting up and finishing the last minute packing. We got out of the house a bit later than planned but despite some very slow traffic on the approach to heathrow we made it to terminal 2 by about 8am. Unfortunately it turned out we wanted terminal 3 so we had a bit of a walk to check in.

Had breakfast (purchased at Starbucks) while we waited for our flight number to come up on the screen. When it eventually did, we ambled to the gate and found everyone else already there and boarding. They wouldn't let us take the car seat on board, but they did fit an infant seat for smallclanger to sit in (unfortunately this made him more upright and so he couldn't sleep as well as he does in the car seat).

Before long we were presented with the Virgin Atlantic courtesy pack, which sadly no longer includes a small plastic duck. More disappointingly (for us, anyway) it also didn't include a small tub of Virgin Vie lip balm.

The entertainment system is interesting - it offers 52 different films and several TV channels (including programmes such as Absolute Power and Coupling); interactive map; surf the `intraweb'; seat-to-seat and air-to-ground text messaging (the latter for `a nominal fee'), and games including chess against a fellow passenger and a trivia game which apparently matches your score against those of other passengers. All this presented on a 9-inch screen with a swish handset having play/pause, stop, rewind and fast-forward buttons (lit up by different coloured LEDs) which you can use while watching your chosen programme - it's like having your own TiVo. My one gripe about the system is that the menus often require you to use the ff/rew buttons (on the right of the handset) to go to the next or previous page, but the up/down buttons (on the left) to move the selection. The OK button to activate your selection is also on the right. But accidentally pressing the play/stop buttons instead of the up/down buttons can take you somewhere unexpected, such as into the help system.

Once the entertainment system was switched on it started with an introduction to the system and then a BBC News report. During this I plugged my headphones in and discovered that there was no sound. It soon became clear that half the other passengers didn't have sound either. There was an announcement that they would rerun the introduction video. It still had no sound, but the flight crew seemed to think it would be OK after the video finished. Things got more comical when there was an announcement to say that they were aware the video was in a foreign language and so they had decided to skip the video and turn on the system proper. A short while later, a friendly penguin appeared at the top of the screen with text below showing the running of some shell commands and ending with `press Enter to activate this console.' Eventually they announced that they were going to have to switch the system off and reboot it, which would take 40 minutes (why?). So a couple of hours into the flight we actually got to try the system.

Sadly, the menu system didn't seem to offer seat-to-seat messaging (not that I'd have had much to use it for) and `surf the web' just responded with `this feature not available yet'. Trying to play the trivia game just sent me back to the menu. But I did play a slightly silly bowling game and watched some TV. They turned the system back off over half an hour before landing so no watching the place names go by on the map as the plane approached.

Anyone going through Immigration with a visa these days has to provide two fingerprints and a photograph, but this wasn't so onorous as it was all done in a few seconds with digital equipment. For once they didn't raise any queries at all (so maybe writing to USCIS had done some good) and it was just a case of filing the paperwork and being allowed straight through. (It was probably a relief to the officer that we had the right forms filled in, since his previous two `customers' hadn't.)

We found our suitcases waiting for us at carousel 6, but no sign of our car seat or stroller (which we had expected to collect at the gate, but ground staff told us to go through to baggage claim). Another woman with a small baby was also waiting for a stroller. Someone was despatched to collect the items and eventually we proceeded through customs and on to car rental.

Traffic wasn't too bad, though slow in places, and before long we discovered route 7100 which goes in the right direction (so long as you don't miss the turning you wanted and end up going north instead of south…). We made it to my aunt and uncle's house by about 6:30pm, at which point my aunt had only just got back from work. After dinner we had an early night - and an early morning when smallclanger decided it was morning and wouldn't go back to sleep.

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