On a fine May day in 2013 I dropped Dom off at Heathrow Airport for his flight to Alaska via Dallas. His latest adventure was a three week ascent of Mount Denali, the tallest and toughest mountain in North America. It has a brutal weather system with snow storms reaching -40C (-40F) which, combined with the altitude and extreme temperatures pose a serious danger to those attempting its summit. 100 climbers having died in the attempt and only around 50% will summit successfully. You’re on a glacier for the entire ascent, and the area is full of crevasses which you could fall down at any time. Carrying such a heavy back pack and sled, one thing’s for sure, if you do go through the ice you’ll fall for a very long way. Plus there are no sherpas, so you’re carrying all your own gear in a 25kg (55lb) rucksack and hauling a 50kg (110lb) sled until it gets too steep. It’s one of the pre-requisites for climbing Everest. I can’t say it sounds like my idea of fun.
“Do you have any dangerous objects in your luggage?” asked the passenger check-in assistant.
“Just an ice axe” replied Dom, thinking that was the least of his problems.
Let me tell you something about Dom. He is early for everything. And when I say early, I mean ridiculously early. On Spice events we would normally arrive an hour ahead of our scheduled time, and we’ve whiled away many an hour sat in a car park in the pouring rain. We’ve attracted more than a few curious looks over the years, I can tell you. Being late is against every fibre in his being, so you can imagine his distress when he was advised that his plane was delayed. Throw in the fact that he had a connecting flight to catch and his anxiety was compounded ten-fold. His delayed plane than sat on the runway for 4 hours, making the rest of the 10 hour journey incredibly fretful. He was mightily relieved when the cabin crew allowed him and a handful of other passengers with connecting flights to disembark ahead of their fellow passengers.
He took his place in the priority queue, while the rest of the travellers joined the normal passport control queue. Then in a scenario you couldn’t make up, the person ahead of him was taken away by the Passport Control Officer to a private room, leaving the passport control desk unattended. Dom was rapidly approaching full meltdown mode. He asked a security guard if he could join the normal queue but was told no, he must stay where he is. Non urgent passengers were now being processed quicker than the urgent passengers. The PCO returned after 15 minutes, with no apology, by which time the non-urgent queue was rapidly reduced, and passengers from other flights were allowed to join it. Eventually Dom gets processed, clears through airport security and frantically hurries off to find his boarding gate.
Have you experienced the airport system at Dallas JFK? I’m convinced it’s bigger than some obscure European countries. Seriously, it has its own train system to ferry you around. It covers more than 26 square miles, there are 165 gates and 5 terminals which are reached by the the Skylink monorail which has a maximum ride time of nine minutes to the farthest points. This allows most passengers to make a connection from any one flight to another in around seven minutes, not including walking time to and from the stations. Dom jumps on the correct carriage. His heart is racing. He still has a plane to catch and he can’t bear to think of the consequences if he misses his flight.
When you’re travelling, how many times do you check that you have your passport and boarding ticket? If you’re anything like me, it’s every five minutes, but not Dom. He had gone practically all the way round the Skylink and was entering into the terminal building before he checked. He searches his pockets. He can’t find it. He then starts the rummage of the panicked man, checking all the pockets in clothing and rucksack, but he can’t find it, then the cold realisation of truth dawns on him; he’s left it at airport security. How long did it take to get here? 10 minutes on the train. He does the maths, that’s another 20 minutes there and back, and he’s already late.
His blood pressure is now at an all time high. In a time that Linford Christie would have been proud of (Usain Bolt had yet to be invented), he raced across the terminal convincing the security guards at airport security that he’s lost his passport and boarding pass. Luckily, it being an internal flight, the security area was smaller and he knew which desk he’d gone through. The guard was waiting for him, and handing it over says “I presume this is yours?”
Back he goes again. Through security, onto the monorail to the departure desk, only to discover his flight is delayed by 5 hours. And breathe. The flight gods were obviously on his side that day. Eventually his plane arrives and he boards his flight. You’d think this would be the end of his woes, but the two men seated in front of him start a fight and are escorted off the plane on landing, whereupon their fight turns into a full-on brawl on the tarmac!
Luckily the trip went well and his return journey passed without incident, until his return to the UK whereupon he was stopped at Customs. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, looking gaunt and haggard he resembled like some kind of drug runner (not that I have personal experience of the like). The Customs Officer went to open his bag, Dom took a step back.
“I’ve been on expedition for three weeks and just summitted Denali, so good luck if you want to open it, I’m going nowhere near it!”
He was waived through.