USA 2015 Day 1 – Birmingham to Tyler

For the first time since 2009 it was a business trip that would be taking me abroad. Whereas previously I had gone with a couple of other colleagues, this time I was flying to the US alone. Due to the number of weekends I had busy over the course of the year it meant the only way I could fit in this trip was to fly out mid-week, but this did also mean I’d have some downtime at the weekend to use for sightseeing (I couldn’t use two weekends unless I left the trip until December due to other commitments).

Unfortunately the best flights I could find meant that I had to get up at 04:00 in order to get to the airport on time. As it turned out it was good that I arrived a little early as it took a whole hour to get through security due to the immense queues, and also having to wait several minutes to have my bag rechecked during security. When it was time to board this seemed a little chaotic also – caused by the doors for the gate not working. It seemed typical that following this the headphone socket for my chair on the aeroplane then didn’t work, and after they rebooted the media system for the plane I then started getting audio – just not for what I was attempting to watch!

The flight included plenty of drinks, and also a light lunch (something that was supposed to be pasta along with a bread roll). After almost eight hours we got into Newark, NY. Before I could move on to my next flight I needed to clear border control, baggage collection, customs, baggage recheck, security and then get across the airport to the next gate.

As it turned out though the flight was running 30 minutes late when I got there which meant when I’d arrive in Houston I’d only have 35 minutes before my next flight was due to leave. However this soon changed and we were told realistically we wouldn’t get into Houston until 17:30 – 5 minutes before my flight was due to leave, despite only a couple of minutes previously being told otherwise.

More time passed, and again the situation changed – they told us the plane had arrived in from Boston at 14:45. They still needed at least another 30 minutes for passengers to disembark and for them to prepare the plane though. This confirmed I’d miss my connection to Tyler as we boarded the plane over two hours late. Whilst waiting for this I sat underneath the charging station at the gate, attempting to use the 30 minutes of free wi-fi but the signal was terrible from my iPhone, but okay from my laptop.

By the time we left the gate it was 16:10 and took another 20 minutes until we were in the air. They did make up 50 minutes in the air, but we still arrived late in Houston – meaning the flight had already gone. I then spent the next hour queueing at United’s customer services desk, by which time the number of staff on it had halved. Fortunately they were able to get me on the next flight to Tyler, but this wasn’t until 21:17 so they gave me a food voucher for $7 as well.

I walked around the majority of the terminal before deciding the only place I could get hot food quickly would be Subway. With how long it had been since I’d eaten anything I was tempted to just eat at the first place I could find, but I needed it to be quick as I couldn’t risk missing the flight – the next one wouldn’t be until the following day.

It seemed I managed to confuse the person that worked at Subway though as my meal came to over the $7 so I gave them money also. Confused, the employee there commented that they can’t give change for vouchers – I explained this was okay as I’d be using the voucher in full and getting change from the additional money I’d given them. They insisted it didn’t work like this and I gave up on trying to explain this before the discussion got too heated. As it turned out though they still gave me my change so I’m not entirely sure what they were talking about, but then they didn’t like me asking for a receipt!

I boarded the final plane (one the locals refer to as a puddle jumper) just before 21:00, but it seemed that my camera backpack may have to be stowed in the hold due to the luggage bins being too small on this plane (very small). Fortunately the air attendant was able to put it in one of his empty cupboards. We had to wait a while before taking off though as they were missing three passengers, one of which they said was a wheelchair user. Two of these never turned up so eventually we left without them.

During the flight I heard one passenger ask the other passenger where they were going – the answer obviously being “Tyler” as they were both on the same plane to a small airport that had no further flights that day, and to which only served airports that Houston also did.

It was almost 22:00 when we landed, and Tyler is one of those small airports (though not as small as some I’ve been through!) so I knew it would be fairly quick to get through. Walking off the plane and into the terminal you arrive pretty much into the lobby which is also the baggage claim area and departures. My bag was one of the first off and then my next task was to figure out how to get to the hotel.

There was nothing in the airport really, and the only places open were two car rental places. I asked at one of them if there was somewhere to get a taxi from and they just gave me a telephone number – not much use really as I couldn’t use my phone for it. I wandered around outside, contemplating the two hour walk it’d take to get there, but eventually I went back inside and asked at the car rental place if there were any pay phones. Fortunately they let me use theirs and I was able to order a taxi.

After a short wait the taxi arrived – for the next 25 or so minutes we drove from the airport, through the town, passed the impressive looking college buildings, and to the hotel. All this time the driver was asking questions about England and genuinely seemed curious about what it is like – though when I first spoke he thought I was Australian. The fare seemed a bit pricey though at US$25. Fortunately it didn’t take long to check in and just before midnight I was finally able to sleep after around 25 hours awake.

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