It’s hard to believe I started the blog a year ago today. Not to get all 15 year-old emo on you, but it’s been a really amazing and gratifying experience. I’ve been able to bond with new and old friends over shared flying catastrophes as well as get some serious anxiety off my chest. So thanks, all. Cheapest therapy yet.
In honor of the one-year mark, I am finally going to recount a story I’ve been hinting at for a while now–the trip home from studying abroad in 2004…brace yourself.
Trip type: Personal
Child, child, have patience and belief, for life is many days, and each present hour will pass away.
-Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
On a couple of occasions whilst trapped in some travel nightmare or another, I’ve had the distinct fear that I’m never going to get home again. I know it’s irrational and completely brought on by the current stress, but I can’t help it. There’s this point where you’re sitting on a plane/in an airport/at security and you just feel completely defeated–like all the travel gods are conspiring to keep you from your destination.
I have never felt this more acutely than on my way home from studying abroad in 2004. It was late June in Paris, hot and sticky, and I hadn’t been home since March. Although my time in France had been nothing short of magical, I was ready to go home.
My father had come to Paris to collect me (my parents joked that if they didn’t physically retrieve me I wouldn’t ever come home) and it had been the perfect close to my travels as I got to spend a week showing off the city I had come to love. But now we were homeward bound.
Things got off to a bad start right at Charles de Gaulle. As mentioned in my post on this airport, it is perpetually under construction and, despite Paris being a huge tourist attraction, nobody really wants to help you. So my dad and I wandered around until we found the temporary relocation of the KLM desk. Although we wouldn’t know until we were stateside that our bags had been mis-routed, the KLM agent was new to the job and not instilling a whole lot of confidence, especially when we knew this was only the first of our three legs. She consistently re-asked us our names and our final destination, even when our passports and boarding passes were in her hands…we should have known she was a harbinger of disaster.
Arriving late in Amsterdam (naturally), we had about ten minutes to make our connection. Which meant I had to run the entire length of the airport with my poor dad hauling our carry-ons behind me as I tried to stop the flight from departing without us (more color on this in my last post). Luckily, the door hadn’t yet closed and we made it on the flight. Things seemed to be looking up–everything would be better once we were in the US, right? If only we had known what was ahead…
We landed at JFK on time and had a couple of hours before our flight to Minnesota. We were herded to the international luggage carousels to collect our luggage before connecting to our domestic flight. We waited. And waited. And waited. No luggage. Finally realizing our bags were not coming, my dad and I went through Customs and straight to the Delta luggage services office. If you ever think you have a terrible job, you don’t. Livid as I was, I cooled down considerably after watching the poor woman running the office listen to some self-absorbed businessman go on for five minutes straight about how unacceptable it was that his luggage was lost and demanding $2,000 for a replacement suit. Oy. As if she was just going to give him a wad of cash and her sincere apology.
When we got our turn with Deb (I will always remember her name because I took special note to look at it after the jerk left in a huff), I was calmer but still completely riled up. Our two checked bags were missing and they held the wine and precious souvenirs I had collected over my stay. Luckily, Deb assured us that luggage is rarely “lost”, it’s usually just mis-routed. Indeed, our bags had been sent straight through to Minneapolis rather than following us.
With that crisis averted, we were sure it’d be smooth sailing. Oh how wrong we were.
There had been some issue with our tickets so we went up to Delta ticketing at JFK. The extremely unhelpful representative told us that our flight had been canceled due to weather and that he could potentially re-book us on a flight to MN from Laguardia, but we’d have to get over there right away as the flight was in 45 minutes. Then he ripped up our boarding passes. Ripped. Them. Up. Yes, our flight had been canceled, but shouldn’t we have some proof of our previous arrangements? Anxiety reaching Defcon 3.
But what was there to do? We hailed a taxi and got over to Laguardia. After re-checking in, we headed to our gate. By now we knew that there was some serious weather affecting all East Coast airports. In fact, every airport had been completely shut down for a few hours (including JFK, LGA, Newark, Reagan, Dulles and ATL) and flights were getting canceled left and right. Awesome news.
Our gate agent assured us our flight was going but we weren’t so confident when the flight next to us (to Detroit) boarded and then un-boarded with the flight ending up canceled. We did board though, and I let out a huge sigh of relief when we actually pushed back. Finally, I was going to get home!
Not so fast. During our boarding and beginning taxi, the airports were shut down again. As our pilot explained, however, if we went back to the terminal, we’d be in for the night so he wanted to wait it out on the Tarmac as that was our only shot of actually getting home. Thank goodness for a MN-based flight crew and some foresight on the part of the pilot to top off the fuel.
Three hours later we were still sitting on the Tarmac with no end in sight. My cell phone was dead as were our laptops and the mini-DVD player my dad had with him. We had pretty much nothing to do except try to remain calm. Not my forte.
FINALLY, after nearly four hours on the Tarmac, we got an update from the pilot. Apparently, airports had reopened and due to his air traffic control connections (is there a pilot frat?), we were going to get out. Better than that, because so many planes had to go back to the terminal after running low on fuel, we were going to be the second plane out of the entire East Coast. I’m pretty sure I cried when we took off. There was a whole lot of clapping.
Although I had convinced myself I was never going to get home, we did finally make it (and for all those shenanigans, we were only about seven hours late). My big bag did not (of course–god forbid something work out), but it was delivered to my parents’ house the next day and all the wine survived. Whew.
And this, my friends, is why I never make a connection. Direct flights only.
P.S. – you will all be delighted to know that after missing both our prior anniversaries due to work travel, I will be firmly planted on the ground here in MN come Thursday’s three-year mark. To the rest of our natural lives (and beyond), Intrepid E!