Take Off and Arrival — Our Newest Adventure, Part 1

The first several posts detailing my experiences in Ireland will actually be things I wrote originally in my personal journal, and adapted for the blog.  They will be very in the moment, sort of stream of consciousness, so possibly something a little different than what you are used to seeing here, but a very real snapshot of what’s going through my head as we make this transition.  Please enjoy.

We are on the plane to Ireland! I can’t believe this is a thing! I’m excited, but also not nearly as nervous as my first independent international flight.  I’m wearing a paw print necklace for Oleta, the Celtic ring that Dad gave me, and Mom’s high school ring, which was an accident, actually, yeah, Mom I have your class ring right now.  Anyway, I didn’t plan it, but I’m glad I have a piece of all of them. I wish I had something from my brothers.

This is one of those moments that I am so full of gratitude.  I am floored at the way God has provided over the last several months so that we could do this, and humbled beyond belief.  God, Thank you for bringing us to this place. Thank you for providing for everything that had to happen to make this possible before this. Thank you for leading me in your way, not my own.  Please God, let your will be done. Whatever I do in Ireland, let it be for your glory. 

Prim is doing so great so far. Just chilling on the plane. We are in the air. I’m sitting next to an Irish girl.  She said Limerick is a lovely place. I’m looking forward to being there.  We have an incredible amount of exploring to do.

7:05 Am Irish time 

We are here, and by God’s provision we are both through  customs. We are just waiting for the pastor of our church, who kindly offered to give us a lift from the airport.  I am so looking forward to making our first friends here.

Everyone is so hospitable! The agriculture man was so sweet, came and found Prim and I while we were waiting for my paperwork to get looked at, and got us started with that in order to take less time. One of the stewardesses from the airplane found my guitar and brought it to me because we had gate checked it and I completely forgot about it, bless her. The immigration officer was so nice too, and gave me directions to the money exchange place. Haha, and just now I heard someone, I’m assuming someone who works here, singing, “La di da…” to himself as he went. What a cheerful soul.

I am so grateful that God has brought me here and very excited to see what he has planned. I cannot wait for church on Sunday. I feel as if I’m coming to meet family I previously didn’t know I had, which I guess is exactly what is happening. Wow!  I also feel so odd for some reason that everyone back home is asleep right now. I’m like, why aren’t you responding to my text messages… oh, right, they are fast asleep lol.  My first run-in with the problem of time differences.

And so it begins.  Our newest adventure.  Let’s do this.

A Second Journey: Why I’m Missing my Little One with Wings, Part I

If you thought Friday was a fiasco, it was nothing compared to Tuesday.  The day dawned with the thrilling hope that I would be leaving for Scotland the following day.  I spent the morning reading and starting to touch up my previous week’s packing job.  After a long conversation with my big sister in the afternoon, I got an email from US Airways saying there was a problem with my service dog traveling with me to Scotland.  The email didn’t shock me exactly; Oleta and I have experienced plenty situations in which there was misunderstanding or down right ignorance where our partnership is concerned, and certainly the legalities that surround guide and service animals.  If you are not aware, in the United States, guide dogs are legally protected to enter any public area with their handler, including restaurants, stores, schools, museums, hospitals, public transportation, etc etc.  Refusal to allow a guide dog team into any such area is considered a federal offense.  You can read more about that here.

http://nagdu.org/laws/usa/usa.html

Keep that in mind as we move forward.

I realized I had also missed a call from US Airways, and found a voice mail that said basically the same thing as the email.  Resigned, but only a tad worried, I called the US Airways number and talked to a customer service agent.  They clearly were not very educated on the topic, as they began spouting things about vaccines, blood tests, and quarantine.  I pointed out that I knew perfectly well what the regulations were regarding guide dogs entering the UK, that I had done this twice before, and that I had the necessary paperwork.  Was there some other problem?  I thought about hanging up right there, but I was afraid there was some legitimate issue that I would need to sort out before our departure tomorrow.  If I wrote them off now, it’s possible I’d arrive at the airport Wednesday evening and they would not allow us to travel.  As far as I remember, the customer service agent then proceeded to read something about how pets had to enter the UK through London Heathrow.  I made it clear that she is NOT a pet, and those regulations, if they are directed toward pets, should not apply to her.  They then claimed that the policy specifically says that service dogs also have to comply with this directive.

This was strange.  Everything I had read on the UK and Scottish government websites had seemed to say that guide dogs were exempt from traveling on prior approved routes.  What is more, I flew US Airways through Edinburgh last year without an issue.  This left several possibilities:

1. The customer service agent was woefully ignorant and this was a case of discrimination/misunderstanding.

2. The customer service agent was correct and this was a legitimate UK or EU law that we could do nothing about.

3. The customer service agent was correct and this was a discriminatory US Airways policy that probably should be illegal under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

I was fairly sure that number two could not be true, considering three factors:

A. I traveled through Edinburgh May of 2014 with Oleta with no problem whatsoever.

B. I remembered reading headlines several years ago about the UK putting through legislation to allow guide dogs on all airlines and through all airports.  I wasn’t sure that legislation applied to international travel, but if it did, it seemed unlikely that they would have changed those laws so soon after.

C. All of the UK/Scottish websites that I had read seemed to indicate the opposite.

Number 1, on the other hand, seemed highly plausible, so I tackled that one first by asking to speak with a manager.

She was even more unhelpful, if that was possible.  She merely emphasized her underling’s claims, complete with the clear lack of understanding about the UK pet travel scheme and the specifics on legal guide dog protection.  In response to my inquiries about why I could travel through Edinburgh last year, she said that their policy changed in October of 2014.  When I asked whose policy, she claimed that it was a change initiated by the EU.  Back to square one.  If she was right, that meant number 2 could still be a thing.

She became irate when I told her I thought she was mistaken and asked to speak with another manager.

“This is not a matter of my competence in my job, Ma’am.” She insisted angrily, “This is a matter of you refusing to understand what I am telling you because you don’t want to hear it.  If you are not going to listen to what I am saying then we might as well end this call right now.”

Okay, I thought, so you’ve got an attitude.  That’s exactly why I need to speak to someone else.  Finally, she transferred my call and I was able to converse with a slightly more rational human being in Phoenix, AZ.

I didn’t get much further with him, except to discover that it was a US Airways policy, not an EU regulation.  Still, he said I would have to fly through London Heathrow and offered to change my flights.  I told him I would not pay for a flight change, as the information regarding my guide dog had been on my reservations since May 1st, and we had heard nothing of this until the day before my departure.  He said it wouldn’t be fair for me to have to pay “out of pocket”, which sounded unconvincing, so I said I’d call back after I sorted some things out.  A bit of online research on the legalities of all this, a few emails to the department of agriculture in Scotland and England, three or four more phone calls, a stern conversation with one of the customer service agents about the ADA and the possibility of a law suit, and a FREE flight change later, I hung up under the impression that I would be able to travel to Scotland (via London) with Oleta the next evening.  How wrong I was.

Scotland Trip: GOd Can Speak Through Bagpipes… Who Knew!

I am currently sitting in the window of my hostess, Beth’s house, as the sun is out and feels so lovely after the damp chill of the outdoors earlier.  Today has mostly been cold and rainy, as many days are here I suppose.  Still, I enjoy the crisp air.  It reminds me of fall.

So yes, after a lot of hassle and stress, we arrived yesterday at around 9:30 Am, Scotland time.  There were many moments Friday night when I thought I might not be here today after all, what with terrible traffic, ratchet rest stops, packed parking lots, clueless airport check in agents, and of course the constant fear that they might reject Oleta’s paperwork for some obscure reason, I was a little worried, but we did get there in the end, and I knew we would.  On the way to the airport, and as I went through the checking in, security routine, I was sick with nervousness, for several reasons, but through all of it I had the underlying sense that no matter what went wrong, this was God’s plan, and he would redeem every situation for his purposes.  With that knowledge, I tried to calm down, though I still couldn’t bring myself to b excited exactly.

That is, until we reached the gate, where we were greeted with this:

[audio http://vocaroo.com/i/s0l5ciLqLb8x]

And it finally hit me.  The music was in celebration of the fact that this was the first direct flight from Philladelphia to Edinburgh, offering the passengers and flight crew an early welcome to Scotland, but to me, it felt like a welcome from GOd.  I heard his voice in it, rejoicing in this new experience in my life, and the way it has and will continue to draw me closer to him, assuring me of his blessed sovereignty through everything.  I needed assurance, and encouragement, and He knew there was no better way to provide those things to me than through music.  He is so awesome!

With that boost of confidence, my anxiety melted away, and I felt much more secure hugging my Dad goodbye and taking my seat on the plane.  As we taxied onto the runway, I marveled at God’s providence, the way He had brought me here despite all of my stumblings and lack of trust, and how incredible it was that our All-powerful, All-loving God would choose to work through me, through any human, to achieve his purposes.  God is, as I said, all powerful.  He doesn’t really need us to do anything, but He loves us, and wants us to participate in His perfect plan, even if we do mess up and make things more complicated sometimes.  That is also awesome! 

In that moment too, I realized that this trip will change my life.  In what ways, I don’t know, but I know that I will return to the States different, with new purpose and fresh direction.  I hope others will be changed by it also.

So, after a 40 minute delay due to air traffic, we took off, and were in the air, headed to the Scottish city of Edinburgh.  They served dinner, and I ate half of my hard tack roll, and a bit of my oatmeal raisin cookie, but left the chicken and very sad salad alone.  I couldn’t eat much, partly because I was still full from dinner, which probably hasn’t ever happened before in my life, and mostly because I was too occupied to be hungry.

After dinner, I curled up with my airline pillow and blanket and tried to sleep.  About 2 and a half hours later, I awoke to the sound of the speaker, as a flight attendant announced breakfast.  Groggily, I accepted orange juice and a cynamin muffin from the stewardess, and checked my clock to see that it was about 3:30 in the morning Maryland time.  I guess it was Maryland time… who knows.

An hour on, and we were touching down onto the runway of the Turnhouse airport in Edinburgh.  I could not believe it!  We were in Scotland!

Oleta and I disemBARKED (haha, get it?), and found our way to the immigration people.  They asked only a few questions, stamped my passport, and I settled down with a friendly airport employee, Fiona, I seem to remember, to wait for the department of agriculture person to come check Oleta’s paperwork.  After an hour of friendly conversation and confused phone calls, someone called to inform us that we had to go to another room to have her checked, so, huffing and puffing on my behalf, an entire entourage of employees escorted me to the room in question, and got Oleta processed and verified.  Finally, Fiona, Oleta, and I headed out to the luggage area, and found my team leader and our host church’s secretary waiting for us there.

I am cursed with being a very detailed writer. It is late, again, and I shall have to complete this account tomorrow.  I will try to make my posts a bit briefer in the future.

Right then.  Good night.