(No copyright infringement intended with above image and video)
For Zoe Arielle, Zachary, My Mom and Dad……
You’re probably thinking, where the heck have you been the last 3 months, Lisa?
Not gonna talk about that today. I will talk about what I was doing exactly 20 years ago, but I probably should add some back story, whether you’re a new reader of my blog or you’ve read previous blogs of mine.
For most of my working life, I did customer service, as a job. I had been employed for over 4 years with CVN/QVC (QVC bought CVN in 1989) and in Fall of 1992, when 9 months pregnant with Zach, I moved, lost a job (was laid off) and had him in a 2 1/2 week period of time.
For the first 2 1/2 years after Zachary was born, I did childcare. It allowed me to work full time and be with him. The first year, I was a nanny. The 18 months after that, I worked in a home daycare.
In 1995, I decided to go back to working in customer service. I missed having a job with benefits. So I ended up getting a full-time job at Carlson Marketing Group, on the account for British Airways where we managed their Frequent Traveller Programme for the U.S. (brit speak for frequent flyer program).
I had amazing skills of getting really interesting jobs in “white collar offices” and/or large companies, based in Minneapolis, for below “blue collar” pay. Even though most of my working life, the benefits at any company I worked at, were good. I was paying almost 50% of my income at the time, in rent for a 1 bedroom apartment that Zachary and I lived in and I grossed $30 too much for food stamps.
The irony of the above, will become relevant in a few paragraphs, please be patient with me.
But life at that time, for the most part, was lovely. Zach and I did ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) in the evenings, twice a week and I had facilitated for the last year, a single parent support group for over a year at that time, at my local YMCA.And I was really good with money, then. And my parents helped out with automobile related issues, which helped.
Working on British Airways for CMG, for the most part, was a great job. And I had amazing communication skills, which was needed, given the diversity of their clientele. We had to deal with celebrities, heads of Fortune 100 companies and obviously their staff. And while BA was a demanding client, they treated us well.
In late Spring of 1996, BA had a contest for us, not saying the specifics of it, about excellence in customer service. Because I had so many letters of gratitude from customers, I decided to enter. So I sent about a dozen letters in. And didn’t think anymore about it.
What I won, when I found out, a few weeks later, was a trip to London. Okay, that’s AWESOME.Because at that time, other than being in every state you could drive through between Minnesota, out east to New Jersey, as well as flying to New York, a couple of times and one trip to Florida, when I was 15, I had NEVER been out of the country.
However, this was to be in a video for training purposes. At that time, that was a little less awesome, if I’m going be honest, as this was 5 1 /2 years before I had my gastric bypass and I wasn’t happy with my weight. And I certainly didn’t love being photographed, let alone the thought of being in a video that many people would see. But to get paid to go to London, as a 26 year old single mother??? I’m not going to decline it.
We were to leave less than two weeks from the time we were notified. Because there was a government shut down at the time, we had to get our passports the day we departed.
Okay.. Enough back story… Here we go…..
***Thursday/June 6th, 1996***
It’s early morning and I leave my apartment dressed in business attire, to drive and park at the airport parking lot of Minneapolis/St.Paul International. Both British Airways and CMG were picking up all the expenses related to the trip and I had dropped Zachary off at my parents, the night before. He was 3 1/2 years old at the time, and I had not yet been away from him any longer than 24 hours.
My co-worker who also won, met me at the airport and we flew together from Minneapolis to O’Hare on Northwest. I can’t remember all of the terminals, now, other than British Airways was in terminal 5, and Northwest’s terminal didn’t have lockers, so we had to go to I think terminal 3, to drop our luggage off and then took a cab to the Kluczynski Federal Building.
We arrive and because this was post OKC bombing, security was tight. And when make it to the same day passport office, it seemed like there a bazillion other people in line waiting to be taken care of.
We get helped and then are told to come back after lunch, to pick up our passports. So my co-worker and I go to a really cool bar and grill, and the television is on, specifically the news. It’s showing Princess Diana, not terribly far from us, as she was in town for breast cancer awareness.
So not only am I going to London and getting paid for it, but I manage to be in Chicago at the same time as Princess Diana was !!! This is getting more awesome by the minute.
So we get done with lunch and then things get a little nerve wracking. Our passports are taking forever, by the time we get them, we quickly grab a cab to get back to O’Hare, there is so much traffic on Edens Expressway, as well as our moronic cabdriver had to stop and get gas that we are risk of missing our flight.
By the time we get to terminal “whatever” to pick up our luggage, get to terminal 5, we have a little over an hour before a flight is to depart and as we check in, they are already starting to board. Because we were on business for BA, we were flying Club World, which just had been renovated, as BA did a rebranding of sorts, in 1996. It’s beautiful and the seats are HUGE.
I get seated away from co-worker, who was kind of on the annoying side, thank goodness and am in awe of where I am. That soon changes when a flight attendant who knew me by name, approached me. “Miss Kasen, I have something for you. You left your return ticket on your flight into Chicago, so we called your employer and here you go”. I thank her, but now I am still an awe, but feeling like the biggest IDIOT, in the whole world.
Shortly after, as I had the window seat, the passenger next to me, gets seated. He’s a nice older British gentleman, and while were getting acquainted, he gasps, pointing out, “Look, there’s Princess Diana!!!”.
So now I’m doubly in awe, still kind of feeling like an idiot, though, as not only am in Chicago at the same time as Princess Di, I’m actually at the same airport.
FIVE minutes later she boards the plane. I can’t remember what the plane was, I think it was 767, not sure. I know the makeup of the plane was cockpit, First, Club World, galley, where we boarded, another Club World and then Economy. However because I was in the back row of Club World, in front of the galley, I was the very FIRST passenger she saw and she made eye contact with.
OH MY GOD!!! I HAVE NOW SEEN PRINCESS DIANA WITH MY VERY OWN EYES AND HAVE MADE EYE CONTACT AND I LOOK LIKE A WHITE PURPLE SPOTTED COW!!!
As gorgeous as she ever was in photographs, she’s just as, if not more so, stunning in person. She’s traveling with a body double who’s dressed identical to her. And with a fairly large entourage who was seated in my section of Club World. We are offered a glass of champagne, once they are all seated (which I declined).
As the flight starts to depart, there’s a lot of fanfare so to speak. There’s a ton of security and as well as the press on the ground. In my case, I had a slight fear of flying, but thought that this flight with Princess Diana on it, would have to be probably one of the safest flights in the world.
There was some unspoken agreement that no passenger would speak to her. She did come back to my section of Club World, to speak with people who she was traveling with (I did check the flight manifest, when I got back to work, as I had access and she was in First, basically by herself and one other couple).
We had like a 5 course dinner. As well as for First and Club World (sorry, I should probably reiterate, BA called First Class, just First, Club World was business class and I forgot the catchy name for economy, at the time) had access to “raid the larder” which was set up in the galley behind me, which was a buffet, in case one got hungry.
I was too excited to eat anything more than dinner. Not to mention, that nice British chap, seated next to me, pretty much fell asleep from the time the flight departed, until we arrived early Friday morning in London. Because the seats extended out, it was hard to leave mine, without disturbing him. I think I went to the bathroom only once, right before we arrived, to freshen up. I was too busy Princess Diana watching, the whole entire night.
Our flight arrived like 40 minutes ahead of schedule. They were brilliant in the fact that Princess Diana and her entourage, were not only the last to board, but they were the last to exit the plane. So everyone then, knew she was on our flight. I smiled in awe at her, one last time, when exiting the plane and got fast tracked through customs. Got my luggage in amazingly short time.Then shortly after that, took a shuttle to Forte Crest which was the hotel I was staying near Heathrow.
Well now, I realize, I’m talking more about the trip, then just my flight, exactly 20 years ago, feel free not to finish reading or take your chances, as it is an interesting story.
That’s actually true and not fictional, which I can’t get over, to this very day!!!
This is the awesome thing that I didn’t know as this was my first (and ONLY) business trip. When you get into town, you can check in immediately. We were only scheduled to work for 4 hours, the next day, in the afternoon to film the video. However, while it was 7 a.m when I was checking into my hotel in London, it was only 1 a.m in Minneapolis, so I had like 6 hours to kill before I could call ALMOST EVERYBODY, but especially my Mom and Dad, to tell them about my absolutely AMAZING flight to London, with Princess Diana being on my flight!!!
I take a shower once I get to the hotel, change into more casual clothes and decide to go exploring London. Which I don’t find out, until I’m there, is about 30 miles away from Heathrow, which I go through to get there. I get to central London and take a double decker bus. London is extraordinarily beautiful. I have some extra money, as my parents gave me $400, that I could go to Paris, if I wanted, or to have some extra money, as some things couldn’t get expensed, until I returned.As Sunday would also be a day that I could do what I want, I was only working that Saturday afternoon, so I had planned on going to Paris on Sunday.
I get back to my hotel at 3 p.m. on Friday (6-7-96). I decide to call my Dad at work (he had his own business, that I would occasionally and my sisters worked for him, in transportation and my Mom was with Zachary) tell him about my trip so far and was happy that Zachary was doing great.
After calling my best friend at the time, to tell her, then I decide to get room service for an early dinner and they would say in the U.K, I was all knackered out. I fell asleep for like the next 10 hours, but woke up in plenty of time, to make sure I was ready, when getting picked up by someone who was employed at British Airways, to take us to the venue, outside of London, to film the video.
Other than remember some famous guy from the BBC, who was cute, I don’t remember that much about making the video (and I couldn’t bear to see it, truthfully, when it was released) . I remember after we were done, as there was 3 of us (they also had a male customer service representative from Florida, where they subcontracted their South American Frequent Traveller Programme), my co-worker in addition to appallingly badmouthing CMG, made arrangements to meet the grandaughter of a customer from Liverpool at our hotel. I explored Central London with the cute guy from Florida, such as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Hard Rock Cafe, but we ate at back at the Forte Crest for dinner on Saturday night. As long as we ate at the hotel, it would be automatically paid for by British Airways, if I ate outside of it , I’d have to expense it back to CMG, when I came back.
It bears mentioning that the weekend I was in London was during the Euro 1996. So London was super busy . And because of that, the concierge at my hotel, couldn’t book a professional guided sight seeing day trip to Paris. So I ended up taking the Eurostar (the “chunnel”) the next day to Paris, which was about a 3 1/2 hours trip.
While I was seated next to a guy from Turkey on my way to Paris, who was awesome, the English Countryside was awesome, going under the English Channel was awesome, but I was kind of tired. And I really missed Zachary.
Also I didn’t get into Paris, until like 3 p.m. On a Sunday. And they aren’t kidding when they say Parisians for the most part, don’t like “tres grosse Americanes”. It was uncomfortable. So yeah I got to see with my own eyes, Place du Concorde, the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe and Versailles (well their exteriors, didn’t have the time or patience to actually go in them) with my own eyes, I was tired. And I was kind of upset with attitude, so much other than buying a ticket to SEE Paris, didn’t spend one single franc IN Paris. I remember fighting with my very french cab driver because my French wasn’t so good. I thought it was fascinating though on my way back to Gard du Nord, that I saw a prostitute fighting with someone in the middle of the street and that Paris, like London, has no windows screens. Even though they do have bugs, there.
I actually returned early to London. I spent twice as long as getting to and from Paris, as I did in it. Ate something one I got back to my hotel, late that night, and had to get ready for an early flight departing out of Gatwick to Pittsburgh, early Monday morning.
My co-worker, who was starting to make me feel like a very annoyed genius, had a great idea of eating breakfast at the hotel to save money. There’s construction at Gatwick, and by the time we go to check in, we miss the chance to board. And while the check in lady, at British Airways at Gatwick was lovely, it was embarrassing as my co-worker was quite abrasive to her, which made us look even more unprofessional.
We get re-booked, luckily on a flight the same day, but departing Heathrow to O’Hare instead, still in Club World, which I was shocked because if I was that agent, I would’ve put us in Economy, if not the baggage compartment.
So we get to Heathrow and check in. When we go through security, my co-worker thinks it’s hilarious to tell the nice handsome male security guard that I have a bomb in my bag, in country that’s prone to a lot of terrorists attacks. So that requires him pulling us both out of queue, him getting female security guard to search me and my possessions. I then kind of lose it with my co-worker and tell him he’s a “%$#( idiot”, which the guard reiterates sternly to him, and we’re lucky we didn’t get in anymore trouble than that.
By the time we get back to Minneapolis, it’s mid Monday evening. I miss my son terribly. I get in my car, which I actually kiss the driver side of the door (which had a lipstick stain that couldn’t be removed) as between planes, cabs, shuttles and the Tube, I never want to take any form of public transportation again and go to my Mom and Dad’s house and get my son, who I’m ecstatic to be back with and we go home.
I understand this was way more than just talking about that time I went to London, as a 26 year old single mother of 1, exactly 20 years ago.
When people ask me though, what’s the best things/most exciting things that’s ever happened to me, if I would name the top 3 things, it goes like this. My children are tied for #1. My flight to London with Princess Diana on the same plane is #2. I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to what I thought 10 years ago, in Summer of 2006, where I had by then, Zoe and Zach, was thin and fit and even though I was so horribly sick, I still had hope that things would get better as being #3. And I’d launch a successful business, and be able to do what I wanted for work as well as provide nicely for my children, who were and still are, of course the loves of my life.
Not sorry for feeling like a 6 hour flight with Princess Diana beating out 6 1/2 years of being thin. But not going to lie and say that there wasn’t some good things about being thin, either. After being bullied for being heavy all my life.
More people can say they lost weight than can say they shared a flight with Princess Diana or seen her in person. I was devastated when she died 14 months later. But understood as I saw the intense press scrutiny, at least a little bit, with my very own eyes.
So what I’ve been up to lately (not much) and why I’m so stuck in the past, whether it be 20 years ago or 10 years ago, still will be again discussed in future blogs.
Sorry this was so terribly wordy…..And I apologize to those who may be triggered my weight talk.
p.s. I forgot to add that I talked to quite a few celebrities when I worked on BA at CMG. Miss Joan Collins, being one of them. Let’s just say she wasn’t acting in Dynasty, she’s quite the witch….
p.s.s. If the title alone of the blog threw you, BA 296 is British Airways flight from Chicago O’hare (airport code “ORD”) to London Heathrow (airport code “LHR”)..
p.s.s.s. It probably will also be shocking that because we dealed with the elite, I could politely hold my own with customer’s who while rich or better yet rich and famous, would make one miserable if they thought their frequent flyer account was off by 1,000 miles. I read the Wall Street Journal. I knew almost every airport code, globally, made myself familiar with almost everything international and had memorized the frequent flyer programs of BA’s Top THIRTY competitors. I could politely say to the CFO at Goldman Sachs that it was just the same for an upgrade from Club to First on Emirates from London to Dubai, like it was on British Airways. And this was before I had my own personal computer at home, to study, anything. We had no such thing as intranet, like I did at UHG.
As always, same rules apply, comments that are triggering to others, and me included, as it took a lot of effort, to write this, will NOT be approved. Thanks!!!