When I told a childhood friend of mine that I was traveling to Scotland, he immediately asked, “Why are you going to a place where they hate us?” I confess that I did not know if the “us” he referred to was “American” or “African American.” I was unable to find much information about the average European’s attitude toward African Americans on the internet and I left for Scotland not sure what might lie ahead. I found myself very pleasantly surprised by the Scots’ response toward me.

My first contact on Scotland’s soil was admittedly a little chilly. I needed some help finding the other members of my traveling party and the gentleman behind the information desk suggested I return to KLM for assistance. Three women sat behind the KLM check-in counter, chit chatting with each other and completely ignoring my presence. I waited a while before I excused myself and asked if they would page my party. Very unconcerned, they told me that they did not “do that” and they went back to chit chatting as if I was not there. An hour later, I asked for assistance at the check-in counter next to KLM and the customer service staff member accommodated me and paged my party.

My group rented a car, ate at a not-so-tasty Indian restaurant, rode the ferry from Glasgow to the Isle of Arran, found our way to our 100 year old farmhouse and although I was extremely exhausted, I could not help but notice how kind everyone  was.

I had some great moments on the Isle of Arran, like the time a large Scot, who’d stayed a little too long with the ale, grabbed and hugged me, kissing me on the neck. I had a chuckle with a woman in my favorite bakery when I asked where she was from because I could barely understand her and she told me that she didn’t “have an accent.”

I took a brief and exhausting trip to London on the last days of the Olympics. The city was so packed with tourist that I purchased a 48 hour tour bus pass and stayed on the bus. One would think the residents of London would have grown weary of the tourist circus but again, I experienced extraordinary kindness.

Minutes after I arrived at my hotel room in London, I rushed out again, eager to see the city. I forgot to bring with me the name and address of the hotel and I spent three hours wandering around Buckingham Palace with no clue where I belonged. I met a gentleman who offered to provide me with a sim card so I could use my phone. I also spent some time with two cops who attempted to plug the vague recollections I had of the hotel’s location into a navigation system and help me find my way home. They were helpful in getting me back to the train station where I retraced my steps and found my hotel. The following day, I shared my experience with a tour bus driver and he drove off his route to drop me within one block of my hotel. I told another bus driver I’d never seen the eye of London and when we arrived, he came upstairs to point it out and make sure I took a picture of it.

The hostel in Glasgow allowed me to leave my luggage in the room at no charge while I traveled to London. As is typical of me, when I returned from London I had no idea the name or address of the hostel. I met a wonderful taxi driver who helped me find my way from the only landmark I remembered, Mother India restaurant. He was such a great guy, I asked him to pick me up at the ungodly hour of 4am and take me to the airport for my 6am flight. At 3:45am he carried my bags from the hostel porch and I was on my way to another adventure.

The internet in the UK is not the same internet we know and take for granted in America. There are few websites that allow you to pay on line and you cannot check in and obtain your boarding pass on line, at least not if you are traveling on KLM airlines. KLM is a very special airline and I don’t mean special in a good way. It is my belief that they only have three employees in Glasgow and these were the same three women I encountered my first day in Scotland.

I stood in the line for 30 minutes waiting for my turn to check my bags only to be told that while I brought two bags into the country, I could only take one bag out. That is, unless I wanted to pay $50. When airlines began to charge extra for luggage, I decided not to patronize those particular airlines. I checked the baggage allowance for Delta’s international travel before I purchased my ticket, I printed the information and I complied with their requirements. I brought with me one large bag under 50 pounds, and another carry-on sized luggage filled with books. On my way home, the rules changed and KLM, a partner of Delta wanted $50 for my second bag. To make matters worse, I could not find my print-out of the rules. I asked the employee at the ticket counter to check the internet for the policy but she told me that they did not have internet in the airport. Convenient.

I am a financial statement auditor. I measure others on their adherence to the rules. I was dismayed that the rules changed at the end of the game, but I’m flexible. I told the KLM employee that I would carry one bag on the plane with me. Any reasonable person would have expected that to be the end of the matter but the situation did not end there. The employee told me to place all my carry-on items on scale and if my items weighed more than 20 pounds I was still required to pay. My luggage, my purse and my blanket totaled 25 pounds. This employee still wanted $50 from me.

As a matter of principle, I refused to pay to take the same items home I’d brought into the country for free and I asked what my options were. The KLM employee told me to go through my belongings, decide what was important to me and throw everything else away. I was stunned to say the least. What this employee did not know is that I am a road warrior and I never travel with anything that is important to me. I followed her instructions and threw away all my books, all the travel brochures I’d accumulated during my stay as well as all my personal hygiene products over four ounces. I reduced my carry-on weight to her satisfaction or dissatisfaction and proceeded to the gate.

Once at the gate, I asked for a customer evaluation card because I wanted to have my say about my bizarre experience. I was told I had to wait until the boarding personnel arrived. Of course, since KLM only has three employees in Glasgow, the same three women came upstairs to assist with boarding. Needless to say, I did not receive a customer evaluation card. In fact, the “customer service” employee had a few new experiences for me.

I was told that some of the “passengers” in the line behind me said that I took my discarded items out of the trash before I left for the gate. I could not believe my ears. The rule follower in me was incensed. In an effort to defend my character, I asked her to check the trash and/or to re-weigh my carry-on items. She called me “ridiculous.” In her final play, she flashed her satanic grin and said “you don’t appear to be in any condition to fly. I don’t think you should get on the plane.” I looked around me and saw four armed guards at the boarding gate. I got her point.

I believe that even at 5am, in my exhausted state I was very well behaved. I saw no need for her power play. Before I crawled on my belly to my seat, I asked her for her name and title. She said, “my name is Carol and I am the only Carol her at this airport.” She refused to provide her title and when I spotted it on her name tag I understood why the past hour had been so unpleasant for me. Carol was not a manager or a supervisor but a “hand bag handler.” She was someone with no stake in the success of KLM. She viewed customers as the inconvenient part of her job and if only all the customers would just go away, she could actually enjoy coming to work. “Carol the hand bag handler” could not care less if I ever flew on KLM again and at that moment I felt I would never fly Delta either.

For 50 minutes I sat exhausted on the plane to Amsterdam, afraid to look around me because I imagined the “passengers” on the plane believed me to be some type of criminal. I wanted to buy tulip bulbs for a friend who’d recently purchased a house in Chicago, but I was afraid security was following me around the airport in Amsterdam so I proceeded straight to the boarding gate. When a Delta employee asked for my luggage ticket, I realized “Carol the hand bag handler” had not given it to me and I began to cry. I told the Delta employee about my experience with “Carol the hand bag handler.” She confirmed that I was indeed entitled to check two pieces of luggage. She told me that Carol’s comments to me were “unacceptable.” She left me and returned with her boss who was a manager, and he had in his hand a boarding pass that put the smile back on my face. He’d moved me to FIRST CLASS.

It is a different world in first class. “We” enjoyed champagne while we sat on the tar mat waiting for plane to take off. We enjoyed our mixed nuts in a glass bowl, not a pouch. I didn’t need my blanket in first class because we received quilts and a full sized pillow and my chair reclined to a… BED and I could sleep if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to sleep. Why would I want to sleep through this first class experience? I didn’t want to miss a thing. I pulled my quilt up to my chest and I wished the “passengers” who lied on me and the “passengers” who paid the extortion fee because they did not have the courage of their convictions, could see me now. Thank you “Carol the hand bag handler!”

In first class, they served me a shrimp appetizer on a real plate with a cloth napkin, a real salad in a glass bowl, delicious hot soup with a real spoon, hot rolls and soft butter, mashed potatoes that actually came from potatoes, chicken that looked and tasted better than chicken and crisp, not limp asparagus. I should have said no to desert but I did not. I had the fresh baked cookie for a snack too. After my second glass of wine, I forgot all about “Carol the handbag handler.”

In the travel kit all the first class passengers received, I found socks to keep my feet warm. I went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth with the toothbrush they provided me. I hoped those “passengers” caught a glimpse of me. I forgot all about the books I threw away, I watching movies on my private screen TV with headphones, not ear buds. The eight hour flight went by much too fast. When I arrived in Detroit, Delta airlines checked the bag “Carol the hand bag handler” would not check... and for free.

 


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