After reading an article on The LAD Bible and another one on the BBC this morning (numerous family members and friends forwarded me the articles!) about a British couple who mistakenly booked a flight from Birmingham to Las Vegas, only to find on their arrival at the airport (BHX) that their flight was actually booked from Birmingham, Alabama (BHM), so they ended up going to Amsterdam instead; I decided it is time to finally share my far-more-ridiculous (and in retrospect rather comical) version of the same (slightly longer-winded) story.
It was May 2013, I was living in Santiago de Chile, and I had just learned of my unexpected pregnancy with Sienna. In the midst of chronic morning sickness and an overwhelming feeling of "I think I just need my Mum", I booked the following "cheap" flight through KAYAK with Delta for around £700 after days of searching for flights which came up for well over £1,000:
I knew the flight from Minneapolis to Birmingham appeared to be just over two hours but I took it to mean that I was arriving into Birmingham, UK at 21:28 local time (my Mum was all set to come and meet me at the airport!) and that it was just to do with the time difference/long haul flight.. (In my defence the confirmation email does just say Birmingham!).
I didn't realise until I received this email, notifying me that I could now check into my flight:
Up until that moment I had absolutely no idea that there was another Birmingham on this planet (...and why, oh why is Alabama's city not named "New Birmingham"?!). **F.Y.I. there is also a Leeds, Alabama just down the road!!**
After frantically searching for new flights from either Santiago (Chile not Spain!), Atlanta, Minneapolis or Birmingham (Alabama), I then booked this flight via kayak.com which was the cheapest option (OK I probably should have avoided using KAYAK again after my original huge mistake) and so I did indeed go all the way to Birmingham, Alabama:
And I received this confirmation:
But I then received this strange security check email that I had never come across before (my then father-in-law had lent me his credit card to make the reservation so we thought it was due to there being one name on the credit card and another on the booking):
There was no amount deducted from the credit card. My father-in-law even phoned his bank and they couldn't see any trace of this under $5USD payment. I tried to phone the "Open 24 hours" call centre, the night before I was due to leave Chile, and spent over 45 minutes on hold - nobody ever picked up. Since I already had the confirmation emails I left Santiago as planned and arrived at my hotel in Birmingham (yes, I mean the one in Alabama) two days later only to find this email:
PANIC STRICKEN I phoned Airfare.com again and eventually got through to a customer services agent. My reservation had indeed been cancelled, they confirmed, and if I still wanted to take the flight tomorrow I would have to pay another $1000USD. Omg! OMG!!
Now let's just rewind a bit, because we have already missed out a big part of my adventure. As I had a layover of almost twelve hours in Atlanta (Georgia - not Atlantis, although by this point it felt like anything was possible?!), I planned out a visit to the city down to every last detail (the irony).
My flight touched down in Atlanta at 05:35 (and as it did so I had my last bout of morning sickness) and so I had searched for the best places to go for breakfast. The New York Times had voted Ria's Bluebird café's pancakes as "the world's best", so I purchased my Breeze Card and set out on Atlanta's MARTA underground train to the King Memorial stop (Martin Luther King Jr's house is close by). I changed trains at "Five Points" station and locals later told me, "DO NOT EVER go to Five Points by yourself",.....
I went for a stack of pancakes with pecan nuts and maple syrup and sat at the café's counter with my OJ. One of the regulars came to sit next to me and started telling me all about his childhood and how he was headed to an appointment with his psychiatrist. He then paid his bill and left a $250 tip for the waitress which she refused, so he gave her his iPad instead (he came back 10 minutes later to collect it). The waitress then insisted on paying for my breakfast as she thought I deserved it for putting up with her strange customer!
Atlanta is home to the world's largest aquarium (I used to live in Valencia and had already been to Europe's biggest aquarium, Oceangràfic) and so that is where I headed via the Centennial Olympic Park. I remember being so impressed by all the children blissfully playing in the fountain, without a care or desire for anything else in the world, and that was one of my first memories of connecting harmoniously with my little shrimp.
A few hours later I headed back to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (it is really cool if you ever get the chance to go there, even if it is by accident!?).
The next leg of my journey was Atlanta-Minneapolis and the flight was delayed. I didn't have much time between my flights as it was so I had to run for my flight back down to Birmingham (I was tottering in wedge boots with a long winter coat in hand so that my suitcase didn't weigh as much, can you picture the scene?). When I arrived at the departure gate a member of staff saw me coming from a distance and said in an Alabamian accent, "Are you Emily Lancaster Collinson? Whah in Lord's name hayve you come from Atlayna to go all the way back down to Birminghayym, Albayma?!" I can't remember what I garbled back to her but I know I was thinking more or less the same thing: "Why?! WHYYYY!!" 😫 (and why all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, do I keep hearing "Birmingham" and "Alabama" in the same sentence!?).
When I boarded the plane and got to my seat, the guy sat next to me drawled in an even stronger accent (think Tom Hanks' Forest Gump), "We had a vote to see if we should wait for yuh... I voded for yuh.".
I made a couple of acquaintances during that flight and one of them, local to Birmingham (Alabama), remarked, "Oh yeah, whenever I try to look up the weather on my cell phone it always comes up with Birmingham, UK. It really does rain all the time over there huh!".
I finally made it to the Quality Inn Hotel (at least I booked that in the right place!) which is when I woke up the next morning to my "I'm Stuck in Alabama!!!" nightmare. Ironically, I had always kind of dreamed of going there because of the song "Sweet Home Alabama"!!
This carpark is all I saw of Alabama... 🤔
Because then my Guardian Angel Uncle, living in Fort Myers, FL at the time for work, and was due to head home to Seattle in the next two weeks, came to my rescue. We discussed options of me taking the Greyhound down to Florida but instead my Uncle flew me out there. (I still to this day have a huge IOU over my head!). My amazing Uncle bailed me out even though he didn't yet know that I was expecting - I dropped that bombshell when I arrived, poor guy! It was probably to be expected but there were no direct flights so I flew via St. Louis, Missouri with Southwest Airlines.
I had an amazing two weeks with my Uncle, even though I was actually invading his guy holiday with a friend from England (yes Richy I'm talking about you!). I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to...
... Catch a shark...
... Swim outside at 7a.m...
... Satisfy every pregnant woman's cravings, ever...
...Spot a gator (just!) in the Everglades...
...And enjoy stunning sunsets...
It felt like a well-needed (unfortunately not really well-deserved) holiday after my traumatic ordeal. By the end of the two weeks I had booked a new flight back to Manchester Airport (in the UK, not in New Hampshire!) from Fort Lauderdale, on the same day my Uncle was flying back to Seattle to join the rest of his family. He dropped me off at the airport in the morning when his flight left and I waited there until my evening flight. You would think this is surely the end of a strange, surreal story, but alas it isn't...!
About two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave there was an announcement informing us that the flight (not my reservation this time) was cancelled. Apparently the plane (coming from Frankfurt) had had to make an emergency landing in Portugal due to a technical fault. We then had to collect our luggage (I was travelling with two large suitcases plus hand luggage, plus my huge winter coat remember) and stay in a hotel overnight courtesy of the airline (KLM). The following day we were told the flight was rescheduled for that evening so off we went back to the airport. Soon later: flight cancelled AGAIN! The same aeroplane had made a second emergency landing in Bermuda!?! By this point I was really starting to think I was a bad omen for all flights everywhere. Finally the next day, two days after the original departure date, I arrived back in the UK via Frankfurt. Because of the delay, the airline actually refunded the full price of the flight (somebody up there really must love me after all!!).
It took me a total of 7 aeroplanes, 5 states, 5 airlines, and 4 countries, but I eventually made it home (only 2.5 weeks behind schedule!). And despite what it may seem I actually had a very happy and healthy pregnancy.
To anyone else who has ever had an oh-so- "wrong place at the wrong time" experience, I can tell you that any experience is a good experience as it teaches you valuable lessons - you just have to be open to learning them. It also hopefully means you will never be that stupid again!!
And I can tell you that there is Shine A Life after Sweet Home Birmingham, Alabama, and it's really great! :