Circumstances were favorable to give up my United Airlines LHR-LAX seat to Los Angeles yesterday when an oversold flight created havoc at the gate. A line of family passengers were trying to get seats together on the aircraft and others were simply trying to get a flight to the USA. There was a call for volunteers to fly a different flight. My luck was to have no major commitments, extra clothes packed in my carry-on backpack and favorable weather conditions to make a day walking around London a pleasurable experience. Last time I did an overnight in London, I walked for hours in the pouring rain on a day last September when it rained about 5cm/2in in London and the streets flooded.
What I did not know was the compensation would be so low at $400 for my seat. I commented to the agent that I used to get $600 for giving up my United seats 15 years ago. He stated those days of $600 to $1,000 vouchers are gone. Anyway, $400 for another ticket to Europe is a good rebate on my current $575 Stavanger, Norway SVG – San Francisco SFO round trip ticket with a July departure. That was quite a deal and it took me months to find (booked in April, before all the insane fare drops to Europe of the past two months).
Those people working the desks at United Airlines Additional Services Terminal 2 are hopefully paid well for all the passenger aggravation they are subjected to from angry flyers and want-to-be flyers. In the time I stood in line waiting for my Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow voucher, LHR Hoppa airport shuttle bus vouchers and a rebooked flight directly from LHR to San Francisco, I heard a guy going on about how Expedia ruined his trip by not notifying him the UA flight was canceled. A good agent response was he should sign up for United alerts and he would have been notified by United Airlines of the cancellation, even with his Expedia.com booking. Then there was the couple where the woman was having a fit about having spent three hours on the phone to get an Economy Plus seat and a flight change had her back in regular economy.
And the security lines at LHR can fund the poor of Europe and Africa in toiletries with nearly every passenger having to discard large liquids and gels in their carry-on bags. I recall last year when I was flying Air France LHR-CDG when a woman had to toss probably a $1,000 or more in cosmetics when her entire carry-on bag was loaded with toiletries and make-up.
London on a 22 hour transit stop
One of the features I often point out with airfare deals is the opportunity to get an overnight for free in some international city. KLM will drop you in Amsterdam, Air France in Paris, SAS in Copenhagen, Aer Lingus in Dublin, Iberia in Madrid and so on.
I am catching my flight to SFO in one hour, so not enough time to write up my London photo adventure today. What I decided on the fly was to spend 9 hours from the time I left LHR to London city center and walk around the city to show many of the sights one can see in an afternoon/evening in London. I covered many miles and my legs are so sore that I look forward to chilling on a plane for 10 hours today.
In summary, I went to the London Heathrow Underground and purchased an Oyster Card with 15 GBP credit for 20 GBP (Oyster Card is reduced fare debit card and costs 5 GBP). By 2:30pm I was in central London at Green Park tube station, went shopping at Sainsbury for lunch and beer, and ate lunch in Green Park surrounded by hundreds of other locals and tourists lounging in the park.
After filling my stomach, I walked to Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Downing Street, Horse Guards, Trafalgar Square, quickly walked through the National Gallery, Leicester Square, watched street performers and saw plenty of West End theaters, Carnaby Street shopping, Regent Street shopping, Oxford Street Shopping, a walk through the Middle Eastern streets and residences of May Fair, into Hyde Park for another beer and lunch leftovers dinner, a walk to the Princess Diana Memorial, then over to Knightsbridge for Harvey Nichols and Harrods before taking the Piccadilly Line at Knightsbridge Station back to Heathrow.
I did not actually shop anywhere except Sainsbury’s for food and beer. The people watching was amazing. London is probably the most cosmopolitan city in the world in summer with people in every kind of dress speaking every kind of language.
I’ll write up a walking tour photo essay of London this week.
Crowds watching the changing of the horse guards. London is a vibrant tourist destination in summer. The main problem though are the crowds make it difficult to get a view of many of the sights. Come in winter and you can be up front watching many of these same spectacles without nearly the effort it takes in summer.
My entire stay in London cost about 32 GBP or around $40 USD and I have a $400 USD United voucher in my pocket.
That is a great end to my July 2016 European Vacation. I will be back again in six weeks.