Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our latest Serial: The Emerald Shores of Ireland

The Emerald Shores of Ireland
A trip journal by David Bowers
September 2, 2009 - September 11, 2009
Part 2

Anyway, they clear one busload at a time to exit the terminal building, and then go down stairs to the tarmac level where you are escorted to a waiting bus. The bus then travels along the edge of the airport nearest the terminal buildings and arrives near gate C71. They then release you from the bus and you are escorted to another stairway that leads up to the concourse level. It turns out that gate C71 and C72 are right across the hall from each other. So we walk directly across the hall to our new gate lounge. A time check would make it appear that we have just under two hours to our next flight time. At least they planned in ample time for us to change planes. We headed to chairs and got comfortable for the wait. I decided to make a run to get us some soft drinks, and wind up finding a food court not too far away, just on the other side of the duty free shopping area. I get some soft drinks from the McDonald's counter and return to our gate.

We were sitting in the gate lounge are with our drinks and some snacks from our carry on bags waiting for our flight time when we heard an announcement. The announcement indicated that all passengers must come up to the podium and present their boarding pass, passport, and if not a US citizen the appropriate departure card. This is strange to me, I recall there was a time it was customary to check in at both the ticket counter and the gate agent, and then at some point in time they decided that if you checked in at the ticket counter you did not have to check in at the gate. I suppose international travel is different, as here we all are forming a long queue at the gate agents podium to check in. Luckily they did have two gate agents and it's a fairly quick process of showing your documents, at which point the gate agent marked your boarding pass with a special marker. I also noted the crew from the duty free store had arrived, it seems that if you took advantage of your right to tax-free shopping as you were leaving the country, they sealed your bags in the store, then they will give them to you as you board the plane. They want to make sure the stuff you buy "For Export Only", actually get exported.

A short time later, we are loading the plane, and as luck would have it in a row of 3, there were only 2 of us, so Bob slid over a seat, we put both armrests up and wound up being as comfortable as one can be in an airplane. We pushed off from the gate and the crew happily announced that we are 2 minutes ahead of schedule. They proceed to do the safety demonstration, and here is where I note that this particular plane has not been outfitted with the new personal entertainment system that Continental is deploying. I noted one of the fold down overhead monitors kept folding up and down for about 3 minutes before it finally lowered and stayed in place. They ran the safety demonstration movie, and soon I realize we were still on the tarmac, and had been still for some time. Eventually an announcement is made about air traffic control deciding now is a good time to reverse some runways, so what this means is that we are basically parked for 2 hours, about 500' from the concourse. Oh sure every now and then we would move forward about one or two plane lengths, but overall nothing. Worse, we were not allowed to move about the cabin, as the policy states that if all passengers are not ready for takeoff, the flight can be moved to the back of the line for take off. The Continental crew did try to make things as pleasant as they could, they kept the air conditioning on, and came through the cabin with water 2 or 3 times, once even with packs of pretzels. When it was clear it was going to be an extended delay they put some TV programs on the overhead TV's. Eventually they get the runway situation squared away, and the captain says that we are like 25th in line for take off, so doing the math we are talking 30-45 minutes. In the end despite pushing off 2 minutes early, we took off about 2 hours and 40 minutes late. I am reminded of a quote Fr. Barry made during the pre-trip get together that seems appropriate, "This is a pilgrimage, pilgrims must endure some suffering" or something like that, as it comes to things going wrong on a trip.

We did eventually take off and once we were at cruising speed and altitude, they put on the in flight movies They had given each passenger a bag with a pillow, blanket, and courtesy headset in it. The first movie was "Made of Honor" which at first I really tried to get into, but watching it on a tiny TV perched 3 or 4 rows ahead of you, its not easy. Then they started serving dinner and that was the end of the movie for me. Dinner was your standard airline fare of "Chicken with Pasta" or "Beef with Pasta". I took the chicken and found it came with a salad with peppercorn dressing, a boneless grilled chicken breast sitting atop some pasta (no real sauce) and mixed veggies, a dinner roll, and a brownie. All in all not bad for an airline meal, I've had worse. For $5 I added a can of beer for that and learned by the time they got to me they were out of Heineken, leaving just Corona and Miller Lite as options. I went with the Miller Lite and sat back ready to get comfortable for the long haul.

The crew had just started to offer the in flight duty free shopping cart when something happened, the result of which is that I was able to actually settle in for some quality sleep. The next thing I knew they were serving breakfast. This is very odd as I usually can't sleep on a plane for anything. About that duty free shopping, the airlines aren't going to leave a revenue maker on the table, while they are over international waters they bring a cart down the aisle for tax free shopping, this after they give you a catalog at the start of your flight so that you can be prepared. Tax free shopping also means no "sin" taxes on tobacco and alcohol, making those two items very popular tax free purchases.

Day 2: September 3, 2008

So if we say the day starts when I see sunlight, the day started when the flight attendant was offering me breakfast. It was a small continental breakfast, hey its Continental Airlines, what else would you expect? The service consisted of a fruit cup and a nice warm croissant and jelly, to which I added a Cranberry Juice. A glance out the window revealed some light rain falling. A short time later they came around passing out Irish Arrival Cards. "Sorry, we do not have pens" That's convenient. It seems I have to fill out an index card sized form to enter Ireland. Most of the information is basic, some identifying information such as your name, date of birth, nationality, and passport number. Then some details about your trip such as arrival date and "place of residence in Ireland". Our tour company had advised us to bring along a copy of our hotel list for just this purpose, but there just isn't enough room on this card to list all 6 hotels and addresses. We asked our flight attendant who suggested we indicate "Pentecost Tours" as our place of residence. Okay, I'll give that a go. The one that I wonder about is the question "Your Occupation", what bearing does my occupation have on my worthiness to enter Ireland? I tucked the card into my passport marking the photo page. (On newer US passports the photo page isn't the inside of the front cover the way it used to be.) It was soon time to gather up the carry on bags and depart the plane. We were given the advice that our luggage would be on either carousel 2 or 3. We left the plane and went up the jet bridge into what looked like a deserted part of the airport. I know that European airports are optimized for international travel where all passengers are forced to go towards either passport control, or to the connecting flight check in area (which I know from experience leads to a security screening to renter the concourse on the departures side.) Recall that US airports are optimized for domestic travel, since the majority of our flights are domestic in nature, whereas their countries are the size of our states, and they have great rail and bus networks. Europe allows for domestic travel by having bypass lanes around the passport control and customs checks.

We left the gate area and headed into the hallway, as predicted we could either go straight and stay on the upper level to go to the transiting passengers security recheck, or we can turn right, and then make a u-turn to go down the stairs to passport control. We headed down the stairs and entered into a large wide hallway with several booths at the far ends with lines extending back halfway down the hallway. For those unfamiliar with international travel and passport control, in most cases it's a simple as going through the admission gate at your favorite amusement park. We got in one of the lines and proceeded to have a slow wait. Around the walls are signs offering helpful advice and instruction for clearing customs. After waiting some time in the first line, we notice the line over to our left, which was not marked a European Union (EU) Citizens only line was moving significantly faster. You see EU Citizens are allowed to travel like a "domestic" flight as long as they are flying from one EU nation to another EU nation. I get the felling that the European Union is somewhat similar to the United States if we didn't have a federal government. In other words the various European Union nations have each kept the sovereignty, but have come together to help each other out on some things. Hearing a European talk about the United States helps to confirm that feeling, as they seem to think of our States as nations.

So as I mentioned, the line to our left looked to be going faster, so while I feared I was about to be introduced to Murphy's Law of Lines "Switching lanes to a faster lane, will make the line you just left move faster", we did change to the other lane. Even better, the line remained the faster one,. When we got up to the booth, we had no problems as the immigration agent we had was not of the ask questions type. He took our arrival cards, and applied two stamps in our passports, one the traditional date stamp that also tells where we arrived, the other a stamp that outlines the conditions of our tourist entry, the agent wrote "90 Days" as the length of time we had permission to stay in Ireland, and the stamp also indicated we can't gain employment or access to public funds. I noted the people in the slower moving line had an immigration agent who was in a more talkative mood. After the passport control booths, we took a right and walked into the baggage claim room, right between carousels 2 and 3.

Our flight attendant had said either carousel 2 or 3, so I went over to carousel 2 but I noticed our flight number wasn't on the electronic board above either belt. What I also noticed was they have a line around each carousel and a sign basically saying to stay behind the line until you are in the act of grabbing your bag off the belt. Of course, it looked like most people summarily ignored that sign. When we saw our flight number come up on one of the electronic boards, it was for the other carousel. Lucky for me, just about the time I walked over to the other carousel and found a spot to stand, my bag came around. So I claimed my bag, and heeded the advice of Fr. Barry who was circulating around the area directing people to go ahead and clear customs and meet up in the arrivals lobby.

On the other side of baggage claim from passport control, is the customs area. Here you are presented with three choices, the blue channel is reserved for EU citizens traveling between EU countries, which leaves red, for declaring restricted/dutiable items, and green for "Nothing to Declare". We head into the green lane, which is pretty much a walkway that bypasses the customs area and goes through an opaque sliding door into the arrival lobby. I'm sure there must be some sort of random spot check in this area to keep people honest.

So we walk into the arrivals lounge, and right in front of us is a man holding a Pentecost Tours sign. We join the steadily growing group behind him and mingle while the rest of the group clears customs . Looking around the area you see the usual arrival lobby amenities: rental cars, tourist information desks, ground transportation and the like. After the group is assembled Jerry makes his first introduction brief, but indicates that we will take care of our luggage and then have some time to take care of things that people who have just entered a foreign country need to take care of. We walk through the relatively small Shannon airport and make our way to our bus which was parked just outside the departures lobby. As we approach the bus, we check our bags in with the bus driver, and are told to go ahead and find a seat and we can sit our carry on bags down, then we will have about half an hour to visit the currency exchange desk, coffee bar, convenience store, restrooms, phones or anything else people need to take care of. Well we checked our big bags, and then people started to board the bus to find seats. The first people on the bus headed to the back of the bus, and the back door wasn't open, and people were continuing to board the bus behind them, which meant when all was said and done, everybody wound up boarding the bus, stowing their hand luggage then we got back out of the bus and headed back into the airport terminal to take care of business.

Bob and I had already purchased Euros back at home, so we were set in terms of money, but we did head to a little room that is quite popular after transatlantic flights. After that, we stopped by the convenience store for some cold beverages and then headed back to the bus. So my official first purchase in Ireland is a 500mL bottle of Coke for €1.80 which comes to about $2.70. On our way out of the terminal, I noted that they have made the little plastic bags you need for liquids a revenue item, as they have vending machines that sell "Clear Security Bags".

Ireland Shannon Airport

So after our half hour to take care of airport details, we all board the bus and eagerly look at the gentleman standing in the front of the bus. Our tour leader introduces himself to us as Jerry, and our driver as John. Jerry explains what John is doing, they are tagging our luggage with their own tags, each tag being numbered so that instead of dealing with an alphabetical list with such a large group, 56, they can check off luggage by number to ensure that whenever we leave a hotel we have exactly 56 bags, not 55 which is a problem, and not 57 which is also a problem. Several tour groups used the same hotels we did on the same night, and you never know but somebody's bag could get diverted to another bus. It also means hotel porters don't need to look up names to assign bags to rooms, just the bag numbers.

Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon...


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