We made it to Italy! But the trip didn’t start out as planned . . .
Traveling to Italy From the US
No matter how many flights I go on, I’ll probably always be an anxious traveler. But usually, once I’m through security and at the gate, I’m good to go.
BUT, we’ve never traveled internationally with our kids. And we’ve also never traveled internationally during the COVID pandemic . . .
So, when we filled out our online paperwork with our COVID vaccine information 24 hours prior to our flights and received email messages back saying, “We couldn’t verify your information and now it’s too late — talk to someone at the airport,” — I got a little bit worried.
We’d done our research and knew the requirements for entering the UK and Italy, but now I was worried there was some paperwork snafu that would cause us to miss our flight.
I called anyone I could think of — our airline (no option to hold, simply, “all agents are busy, please call again later,” — OVER AND OVER), our connecting airline, the airport in Phoenix where we’d catch our international flight, a local travel agent in Bend — ANYONE.
No one knew the answer. Or what we were even talking about, really.
And though I knew logically that we were probably fine, the words in that email had me worried.
We arrived in Phoenix just fine and walked straight to our gate. I went up to the ticketing agents. No one there could help me or knew what the form was…
Finally, a helpful young man told me where to wait, and so I stood near an empty counter and soon a huge line grew behind me full of other confused travelers.
An hour before the flight was due to take off, a British Airways agent came to the counter and thankfully, I was first in the long line.
I handed her our passports and boarding passes and told her our online documents were rejected. She wasn’t concerned one bit and said, “Oh yeah, that form isn’t working right. You’re fine.”
UMMMM…really?! That’s it?
I was reassured, and it’s really what I was expecting since we’d done our research, but C’MON! This is an example of when technology fails us. 🤣
Missing Your Flight at Heathrow Airport
The next step in our journey was a red-eye from Phoenix to Heathrow — with a two-hour layover before heading to Brindisi, Italy. When the flight from Phoenix was delayed an hour and a half, the crew assured us they would make up the time.
When we arrived at Heathrow, the British Airways agent greeting the plane (and rushing people off to their next flight) assured us that we had plenty of time to get to our flight. Still, we walked swiftly down the long terminal, where we finally came to a security checkpoint with a fairly long line. We waited 5-10 minutes and when it was our turn to scan our boarding passes, the security agency said the gate was closed and she wasn’t allowed to let anyone else past…maybe, if we had an escort, she could let us through.
She shrugged and pointed to the nearby British Airways counter. We rushed over to the line and asked a few people ahead of us if we could simply ask about getting an escort and they kindly let us pass.
I asked the kind young man behind the counter – “Is it possible to get an escort to this gate? The flight leaves in 25 minutes!” He looked down at our tickets and immediately shook his head, and told us, “No, it’s way too late for that flight.”
WHAT?! But the man assisting people at the arrival gate told us we had plenty of time!
Clearly, there was no possibility of getting to Brindisi that night. So, we went back to our spot in line, thanking our fellow travelers for allowing us to the front, and waited our turn to speak with the one ticketing agent at the counter.
The kids were squirrely, complaining, and spinning circles on their hands and knees on the filthy airport floor. But I couldn’t really blame them. We were all exhausted and they were handling it well.
Finally, a second ticketing agent came to the counter, but we felt like we were in the Love Actually scene when Mr. Bean (excuse me, Rowan Atkinson) helps Alan Rickman at the department store jewelry counter — he was moving incredibly S.L.O.W.L.Y.
He made a few calls, spoke very softly, and eventually informed us that our best option was to take the same flight to Brindisi the next day and that they would put us up in a hotel.
We were frustrated, but by this point, we knew we weren’t getting to Italy that night and had assumed this would be our best option.
Mr. Bean may have been slow and quiet, but he was incredibly kind and issued us our hotel voucher, shuttle passes, and a $20 coupon to use anywhere in the Heathrow terminal. I was impressed with the British Airways customer service. At least once a mistake happened, they made it right. That’s more than I can say for other airlines I’ve traveled on.
After the initial sting of missing our flight, we decided this was definitely a silver lining. We got settled into our hotel and dropped off our heavy backpacks — and then ventured out to find a red double-decker bus!
A short bus ride to the tube, and we were on the kids’ first subway ride with some incredible destinations. In just a short evening, we hit up these areas in our own self-guided walking tour:
- Leicester & Trafalgar Squares
- Hungerford Bridge
- The London Eye
- Big Ben
- Red double-decker bus
- The Underground
- Red phone booths
- Dinner at a pub
We definitely looked like tourists, but I’m okay with that because you know what? We ARE tourists! 😆
It was evening in London, and we were hungry. We found a cute pub and sat outside. Scott got Toad in the Hole (sausage in Yorkshire pudding with gravy and vegetables – yum!) and I had a steak and ale pie with potatoes and gravy on the side. It was all delicious, but I’m a dork who forgets to take pictures of food like all the cool kids out there. Next time!
Anyhow, we finished our whirlwind tour of as many sites as we could manage and then took the tube back to the Heathrow area, and another red double-decker bus to our hotel. We felt like we were on the Knight Bus from Harry Potter — “Take it away, Ern!”
The next morning, we ate a wonderful breakfast (also provided by British Airways – and I promise I don’t get paid anything from BA!) and then got to Heathrow well over three hours before our flight.
Heathrow only places gate numbers on the reader board right before it’s time to board the plane, so we were chomping at the bit as we waited. Five minutes before the boarding time on our ticket, and still no gate was displayed! Time continued to tick by and finally, the gate number was listed. And though we knew we had the same amount of time as everyone else on our flight, the Winters family hoofed it very quickly (the boys running up ahead!) to the gate — where we were the first people in line. 😆
I’ve never cared about rushing to board a plane, but we were DEFINITELY making this flight — and once we were on board the plane, heading to Brindisi, we felt like our trip had finally TRULY begun.
This is part of a series about our family travels this summer through Italy — and beyond. You can start from the beginning of the blog series here, or follow along on Instagram.