I'm due to fly Orlando to Manchester next Sunday evening and the likelihood of that flight landing anywhere in the UK is up there with Leeds winning automatic promotion. Possible but still inducing several sleepless nights.
Ignoring the irony of air pollution causing chaos for the airline industry, I thought this was my only concern surrounding my return trip home. I found out today that this was not the case.
At the start of a cruise and after the formalities have been completed at the port of embarkation, you get a 'sailing card' which is a multifunction card and one to be treated with even more care than a platinum credit card. When you get on or off a modern cruise ship, you have to use this sailing card to prove who you are and that you have the right to be leaving or boarding that specific ship at each destination along the route. This card is also used on board for all purchases from bling and perfume from the duty free shop to ordering drinks by the pool. When you add in needing it as your stateroom 'key', then you can see its value and how you must sleep with it under your pillow.
This has many benefits for the cruise company too as not only does it make it very easy for them to know who is still on shore when the ship needs to leave but it also encourages the passengers to 'spend freely' during the cruise as no cash is needed. The final bill is slid under your door in the early hours of your departure morning and as it is linked to your credit card account, there is nothing for you to do except weep bitterly, tear that pearl necklace from your good lady's sunburned neck and try and sell it to the first startled Croatian crew member you come across who probably couldn't afford it in your lifetime, never mind his.
Anyway all this background info takes me back to our disembarkation this morning when my card was scanned by the gangway reader and the big bulb on top switched from a 'goodbye and please come cruise with us again' green to a 'this guy is probably on a watch list so detain him immediately' red.
We were led off the ship and, bypassing the lines at the immigration desks, we ended up in an office where everyone was wearing blue latex gloves. My sphincter contracted involuntarily and I regretted having a big breakfast just an hour earlier. But it was all good and although I'm not sure why I was singled out (maybe it was due to my remaining in the US for another week after the cruise ended), I was just asked a few questions and I knew I'd be out of there in a few minutes.
Then I casually talked to the agent about the volcano news in Europe and that although the I-94 Immigration form in my passport was stamped for 180 days and would expire 2 days after my flight next Sunday, I said I hoped those 2 days would be enough. She said that despite the unusual circumstances (the volcano erupting), I still HAD to leave the US when the 180 days were up. They didn't care where I went to, as long as it was out of the US and if I didn't leave by then, I would lose my visa and probably never be issued another one !!
Oh wonderful. I was thinking, Canada ? Cuba ? Mexico ?
I had to try something, anything.
"Could you extend my departure date by a week or so ?"
"But when I've gone on a cruise before, my passport has been taken and returned to me at the end with a new I-94 form in it for another 180 days, so........"
"Well you've just been on a 'closed cruise' so we didn't need your passport."
By now I was fluttering my eyelashes, slowly licking my lips and after removing my t-shirt, was suggestively rubbing my fingers around my nipples in a last ditch effort to get her to change her mind.
Something must've tripped her trigger as without another word, she suddenly said she would give me an extra month on my I-94 so now I can be here till the end of May. This gives me breathing space in case my flight doesn't take off on time next Sunday but it was so weird to not even think I HAD a visa problem until a few seconds before it was sorted. That's my sort of problem !
Now the only cloud on the horizon is the cloud on the horizon.
Easter is over and the last thing I need is an Ash Sunday.