Blonde moments in travel: Boarding the correct train helps, but don’t underestimate good luck

I was in London this weekend and experienced a definite “travel blonde moment,” or using Urban Dictionary’s lingo “a flash of momentary stupidity” while traveling.

I am sure everyone has embarrassing–or plain stupid–things they have done while traveling. But not everyone has hair color to blame it on. It’s a good crutch, really.

Back to my story. My friend–also a blonde and much blonder than me, in fact–was walking me to the London Bridge train station from where I was to catch the train to Gatwick airport.

Going from London Bridge is a much better way to get to Gatwick than taking the train from Victoria station. It is, also, some 6GBP cheaper and takes just as long! That is, of course, true only if you board the correct train.

Anyway, we are walking, yapping away, she walks me to the platform, I board the train, the doors close. I am waving good-bye to her when I see her face shrivel in sheer terror. I knew. What she wanted to tell me is that I got on the wrong train. I could read it in the lines on her forehead as the train started pulling away.

So, I am standing behind the closed doors of a basically empty train (that should have been a hint, right?) while literally hundreds of people, including pilots and flight attendants, are still waiting on the platform with their luggage (yes, there were definitely hints) and I wonder where I’m actually headed.

I sincerely hope I didn’t just board the express train to Glasgow.
I sit down and try to text people for help because I can’t call from my phone abroad. Where is this train going? (Brighton) Any trains to Gatwick form there? (Of course not; it’s the wrong direction. It would take way too long.)

Finally, the ticket person comes.

“This is not going to Gatwick, is it? I think I boarded the wrong train,” I said sheepishly.

“How? They announce it over and over…There are hundreds of people waiting for the airport train….,” said the uniformed smartass, laughing.

“I know. I had a blonde moment. I wasn’t thinking,” I volunteered, figuring that playing ‘stupid but charming’ was the best strategy, since I didn’t have a ticket for this train and no cash left. I gave all my extra British pounds to my friend before I left. Hopefully, he didn’t plan on charging me extra.

He didn’t. The uniformed smartass informed me politely that I needed to get off at the next stop, some 20 minutes away, wait there for about 20 minutes and get on the next train back to London Bridge. From London Bridge, I should be able to make the 9:40 train which gets me to the airport at 10:20, if everything goes well. Check-in for my flight closes at 10:30. Possibly, maybe, doable.

Thank goodness I actually gave myself plenty of time to get to the airport this time. I don’t typically do that.

Meanwhile, my other friend back in Prague–the only one awake at this ungodly hour before 10am on a Sunday– is taking instructions to check me in online or via phone, which I forgot to do. Checking in remotely for international flights to the US is not as easy as checking in for domestic flights. You have to call and they need to know EVERYTHING: passport number, address, visa number, DNA sequence (OK, not that one, but that’s coming next year, I believe).

Through this whole thing, my male friend, equipped with my passwords, PINs and confirmation codes, pretends to be me (aka a female) on the phone with the airline. And, he – mercifully – succeeds. Good. Even if I am late, I am already checked in.

The next problem: I have a bag to check. What do I do with that if I’m late for proper check-in?

This is where my blonder-than-blonde friend comes in. As I arrived back at London Bridge station an hour later, she was already waiting for me and decided to come with me to the airport with a plan: if they can’t check my bag because I’m late, she will take it home with her and give it to me next time she sees me. Not ideal, but better than not making my flight to New York.

This is the kind of situation when you realize how many unnecessary things one travels with. At the end of the day, there were only a few items in my bag I absolutely couldn’t do without.

The train was 5 minutes late and got us to Gatwick 5 minutes before they were closing check-in. We sprinted through the airport and arrived at the Continental check-in kiosk with exactly one minute to spare.

“Are you on that flight to Newark?” the rep asks.

“Yes,” I reply apologetically.

“No need to rush. It’s been delayed at least an hour.”

I breathe a sigh of relief. There is nothing like being blonde and lucky at the same time.

(Authentic blonde pictures taken in the cafe on the top of The Gherkin building, which is awesome! The problem is that you can only get in if you know someone who works in the building. Hint: Start hanging out with Swiss Re folks.)