Have you ever seen one of those movies where the main character has had to move heaven and Earth to get to their final destination? By this, I mean find any mode of transportation to get them to that place they just had to be at by the end of the movie or the plot would go to the waste side? Well, this last trip that I took was a close runner up to that. I will post some photos and share a little bit about the time spent in Poland later, today I want to share my travel story.
Last Saturday morning I began my journey to Poland. My first flight was scheduled to leave at 11:10am. So, naturally I thought if I left my house by 9:30am I would have plenty of time to get there, print my boarding passes, and start my journey. That, my dear readers, was my first fatal assumption. For leaving at 9:30 did not assure me the necessary time for two reasons, first I didn't factor in the time my family would take in saying their goodbyes and second I didn't fully factor in the amount of other travelers (honestly, this airport is NEVER busy, but that day it was...go figure.) also leaving that day.
THE FLIGHT THERE
I get to the United ticketing counter and tell the lady I need boarding passes for all legs of my international flight and she instantly goes off saying I didn't have enough time. (At that point I had about 45 minutes.) Despite this, she goes ahead and starts with my tickets. I grab them and head to TSA for my "pat down" and screening, only to realize she didn't give me 2 of the 5 tickets. So I leave the line and go back to get my tickets, but have to track down a counter person as they were all gone. Seriously, who just walks away from their counter?! However, crisis averted, ticket lady found, tickets are printed and with in a few minutes I get through security and head up to the gate. Phew...
Once boarded I quickly realize that the nice older lady seated next to me is really named "Chatty Cathy," as she talked my ear off. She, in case you wondered, was headed to Boston to meet her great-grandson, who was just recently born. Although she was excited for this she was worried about leaving her home to her son, his wife, and their children because the linens wouldn't be laundered when she got home. Her son, who works for the government in intelligence, was only in for the weekend, you see. Her husband was a Philosophy professor at the local College and she worked for the Peace Corps in her day. Yes, in a 25 minute connecting flight I was able to learn all that. I hope she enjoyed meeting her first great-grandson and that her linens are laundered.
I get off at O'Hare and proceed to my next connector to Detroit. I had an almost 2 hour lay over, so there shouldn't have been any issues, right? WRONG! The Detroit leg was delayed three times. Once they announced the third delay I went to the counter and let them know that I was to take a connector from Detroit to Frankfurt and I was afraid I would miss it. At that time, the Detroit flight got delayed again because they had to wait for a different plane, the breakdown was unfixable. The kind counter attendant gave me a direct ticket from O'Hare to Frankfurt, the catch - a five hour wait! But hey, it is what it is and I will still make the Frankfurt connector if all goes well. (Fingers crossed as there is exactly a one hour layover.)
After a dinner and finishing a 300 page book, I board the plane to Frankfurt and find that I am in the middle seat of an 8 hour flight, my luck! Seated to the right of me was a man who does the NY Times Crossword puzzle for fun (EEK!) and to my left was a 50-something woman from St. Paul who was just recently divorced and was headed to Istanbul for a personal vacation. (I mean, why not, all woman do that when recently dumped for a younger, blonder version of themselves, right?) It was a good talk, she is a Finance officer for 3M and holds a Master's in Business, has two daughters in college and though she has lived in the US for 30 years, is actually a German citizen. Me, I watched the new Footloose and the original. The original is still better.
I get to Germany ( 30 minutes early!) and awestruck is not the word I would use. I mean, I saw the airport, not exactly awe inspiring. Now, after many hours in a plane I am herded towards customs (which went surprisingly fast) then onto the security screening. I know this is protocol, but sometimes I wonder if it is too much. All seems to be going well especially when the non-English speaking airport worker sends me into the business class/first class line (because apparently paying more for a ticket does have many perks). This line is a third of the length and is moving quite quickly. Finally, my fortune has changed. I get up to the line start removing my laptop to place in a bin and they shut the terminal down! SHUT IT DOWN! Why? A suspicious item in the bag of the guy in front of me. UGH>>>GRRRR! All of us were herded out of the terminal placed in the waiting area for 45 minutes before being let back in. After being thrown into the airport equivalent of a mosh pit we are all sent back to the single-file, zig-zag, lines. Sadly, my non-English speaking guy isn't there and I have to go to the normal security area. I get out of security with 15 minutes to go. I thought I was going to cry I was so excited. But...........
Frankfurt doesn't board planes at the gate. No, they send you on trolleys to the planes which may or may not be on the other side of the airport. So, I get to the gate and hand over my ticket and the lady told me I had missed the boarding window. By this time, I was coming unglued. However, so as not to cause an international upraising, I asked her to get me another flight to Katowice. She did, four hours later. So, what did I do? What any good tourist would do. I went shopping. OK, put those smiles away. All I got was a power cord converter so that I could turn on my computer and access the Internet. Missing the connector meant I was also going to miss my taxi to my final destination. I also got lunch. Have you ever tried to order food at a place that doesn't speak English? Yeah, I got some strange sandwich, though it looked amazing and smelled the same, it was unpalatable. I know, picky American.
Fast forward four hours and a good nap later, I am on the connector to Katowice. I think this is the best plane I have ever been on. No, seriously, it was! Why? The food! LOVED my pasta salad. (That and it was the only thing edible that I had had since my lunch at O'Hare.) I deplane and I have a driver waiting for me with a sign. I wish I would have remembered to take a picture as I felt so important! (Yes, this is where you can laugh at me!)
THE RETURN FLIGHT
If I thought there was going to be an easy button for this trip, I should have known it was only in the work that I had done while there. I do believe I have become an experienced traveler. Not due to the amount of travel, but due to the amount of chaos while traveling.
We (me and five of my colleagues - two bound for Spain, one for Luxembourg, and two others for the US.) leave the hotel at 4:00am for our 6:30am flight. We get to the Katowice airport and I go to the ticket counter to have my tickets printed. I should have realized something was off the minute she looked at me funny. I smiled real pretty, handed her my passport and itinerary and she says, "Newark?" and I say, no, "Munich." Then she repeated herself and knowing that I really shouldn't argue, chose at that time to pick my battle and acquiesced. She made my put my bag on the conveyor and when I went pull it back off gave me the look of death. I informed her that it was a carry-on (I can pack like a pro...I travel only with a carry-on) she said no, that I had to check my bag. Worry and anxiety instantly set in. I mean, what if it should get lost? I should have known that was the least of my worries. We all board the plane to Munich and all is happy, despite the little voice in my head freaking out about the luggage.
Once in Munich the real fun begins. This is where the stuff Hollywood writers build great suspense from and hook their viewers with the "it never happens in real life" kind of dialogue. We get off at one side of the airport and take a trolley to another. Once there, we all split to our final destinations, for me that would be the US. We get to the security checkpoint for Newark and I hand the ever-polite security agent my passport and begin the grilling. I just love snark in the morning, it makes for a great day. "Why were you in the country?" "Did you go anywhere other than your stated destination?" "Did you pack your bag?" Did anyone touch your bag?" Of course, outside of saying for work, all answers were no. Seriously, do not give these people fuel. They don't need to know that I toured the Polish landscape, packed my bag minutes before racing out of the hotel, or that yes, several people touched my luggage, after all how do you think they thing gets on the plane - DUH! Anyway, she asks for my luggage tag and types in the computer, looks at me, and says something in German to another officer, who replies in a haste manner, then she looks at me again, stamps my passport and tells me to go to the ticketing counter. Yep, here we go again.
I get to my gate, go to the counter, hand the agent my passport and he types in the computer, looks at me, (by this time I am forming a complex, why do so many people look at me???) and asks where I am going. I tell him Newark, NJ and pull out my itinerary and point to the plane number. He yells over to the next counter and has the girl come over. Being the naturally curious person I am ask what is going on. He informs me it is nothing to worry about they just have to confirm my flights. Um, OK, but I already did that, that is why my itinerary says, "CONFIRMED" next to each leg. Next, I ask about my luggage. In which he tells me he can't tell me anything until he confirms my flights. (And people wonder why I cram EVERYTHING into a carry-on.) Anyhow, 5 minutes pass, then 10, then 15, and I start to get worried. So, I ask again. This is when he informs me that my travel profile is not in the computer. Outside of whining,throwing a temper tantrum,and demanding to see the American Embassy I calmly ask him to get me on the plane. In which, he kindly replied, I cannot, but she can. Well, of course, the minute you need something done right, you should go to a woman, right? No, in this case it was the fact she was his boss and had more clearance in these matters. I didn't care, I just wanted to get to Newark. She worked her magic, recreated my itinerary,and printed me off my passes. Oh, and yes, my luggage was on the plane. Thank you, kind sir.
I procured a window seat for the trip home. It was great, except I slept most of it and when I wasn't sleeping I was being talked to by the 40-something AMD Processor salesman out of Austin, Texas who had just spent the week in Kiev and Moscow. He was anxious to get home because it was his daughter's 16th birthday, she had just gotten a Honda Civic and all she really wanted to do was go out to dance with her family. He made $200k last year, and wasn't bragging (uh-huh) but wanted to let me know that if I keep my goals and ambitions high enough, not only would I have more stamps in my passport, I would also make more money. He also aired all his dirty laundry, gave me marriage advice, child advice, and future career advice. He recommended a couple of self help books, which darn it all, I failed to write down, and wished me continued success in life. Man I love sales men, they just NEVER know when to turn it off. Oh well, it passed time and I know that I will definitely be getting ear buds before I take another flight to ANYWHERE!
The plane home took longer; probably because we were farther east or something? I don't know, I am geographically challenged afterall. There is one thing that can be said about the US, no one, and I mean no one, does customs like we do. If there was a manual, and frankly, I am sure there is, these people follow it to the T no matter which airport you return to. I got lucky enough to have "Butch" as my customs agent. Such a kind fellow he was. He asked me a lot of questions about the town I live in and being the history buff that I am, I wooed him with all my knowledge, then kindly invited him to the Hoosier state for a fun-filled family vacation. He laughed at me. Hey, don't they all? Once getting through customs my colleagues and I split, as one was headed to Atlanta and the other to Detroit, me I was headed back to Chicago O'Hare.
I read the prompter directly after customs and it said my flight was on time. I was beginning to think that luck was on my side. I should NEVER think this way, EVER! By the time I got to the wing that my plane was to depart from the prompter said that my flight was cancelled - CANCELLED! I, again, chose this opportunity to keep my anger, frustration, and tears on the inside. Heaven knows, I didn't need to create a scene. I ask the nice lady at the front of the entrance where I can go to get a new ticket. After being given directions, that any person could get confused following, I find the counter. I stand in line only to be told I need to go to yet another counter. (I LOVE the amount of and quality of signs in an airport.) Once at the correct counter I ask the lady some very rational questions. The first being, "why is the flight cancelled?" In which, I was informed that the Midwest had received some awful weather during the night and morning hours and that O'Hare stopped all flights. Oh, great city of Chicago, how much I loathed you at that time. My next question was also a very good one, at least I thought so. "Can you get me a connector to Detroit, Toledo, Indianapolis, Midway, or any other airport in a 250 mile radius of my final destination?" She looked at me, smiled, rolled her eyes, and kindly told me she will put me on the noon flight to O'Hare. (It was 2:00pm at this time.) Before I lost all sense of right and wrong she did explain that the noon flight was not for the following day, but rather the noon flight that was currently running on a 4 hour delay! Praise the Lord, I was going home. Needless to say, I took it!
I got to experience yet another first with security at this airport. I'm beginning to think people like to touch my person and my personal belongings. I had to take my suitcase to another area (because the viewer thought he saw something) and the TSA agent promptly began unpacking my ever-organized luggage and testing it for explosives. I mean, come on people, the blasted thing was in the belly of a plane since Poland! Naturally I passed all the tests with flying colors and was sent on my way. Oh, before I forget, TSA agents do not joke, laugh, or have a good time. They do not answer questions and do not feel the need to explain what they are doing. You are merely a product of their job. I think they need to rotate these people. I fear many of them are going to need counseling in the future. :D
I wait the next couple of hours in a fairly crowded gate area sitting next to a lady who had a complete mobile office and felt that anyone who invaded her space, as in sat next to her, was to be the next victim of her incessant speaking at the top of her voice until they moved. It worked! Lter, I get on the plane and proceed to my seat only to be stopped by the flight steward, Carter. He asked me if I'd like to move up to business class, because the seats were more expensive. I told him that I didn't pay for it. He told me that it was OK, that the flight wasn't full and that I could move up. Hey, I'm not going to argue, leg room is leg room. About 10 minutes pass and no one else got on board. I started to freak out that the flight got cancelled, but low and behold, this flight was only going to have four people on it. (Due to all the cancellations and delays.) The stewardess, Melinda, started the safety protocol, and had to come back to show me everything since I was behind the first class curtain. She got half way through it and just told me to come up to first class! (SQUEEEE!) I felt bad for Carter though, he didn't have anyone to wait on, but hey, if the flight gets to Chicago on time, I will have 25 minutes to get onto my last plane. Yeah for me!
However, we sit in the plane for about 30 minutes before we begin to taxi. Once we get out to the cross roads to the run way, we just sit, and sit, and sit. About 30 more minutes pass and the pilot gets on and says that we have to return to the gate due to mechanical issues. Just what I needed, another missed connector. Oh well, by this time, I am sure I will find something else, if not I could just rent a car and drive home. After all, Chicago isn't that far from here. The captain, Mike, gets out once we return to the gate and asks the four of us what our final destinations are. The two ladies in front where headed to St. Louis and the guy was headed to Chicago, me, Indiana. The pilot said he'd be back. He came and let the ladies know that they were still going to make it in time for their final flight, but that I had missed mine. (Well, duh! - I kept that to myself.) But he said that he would see if I could get a standby to Indy and that he would get me home from there. I was so happy to hear that! Needless to say I called my hubby and let him know my good fortune. During this time a mechanic came on board and I would assume a programmer because he took a laptop, hooked it up and proceeded to work on the plane. (No, I wasn't worried...by this time, there wasn't much more that could have bothered me. Worst case, I drive home from New Jersey!) About 10 minutes into the repairs a gate agent comes on board and tells the flight crew that they were going to fill the plane and true to their word people just started piling in. With no boarding passes, they were just instructed to find a seat and sit. Of course, no one got the other two first class seats. I felt like royalty.
Melinda and Carter got to wait on an almost full plane and all I can tell you is that first class really does get better treatment. A steamy cloth, a goody box, anything you wanted to drink and at no limit, I mean that was the life. Too bad I was too tired to enjoy it all. The captain asked Melinda to have me stay seated once the plane stopped, so I did. Once we got off the plane he had the gate agent put me on standby, we walked to the next terminal, the one bound for Indy, and waited. I was so thankful to have someone with an inside scoop of the airline industry on my side. I got the standby and as I was boarding the plane I saw the pilot. Not in the cabin where I thought he should be, but as a passenger on the plane. Me in all my haste to get home forgot to ask him if he was actually flying the plane. Oh well, perhaps he's flying the plane home. Nope, another small detail I overlooked. There was no final flight, the pilot happens to live just a 30 minutes south of me and by making sure I go home, he was going to drive me to the city where my hubby could pick me up.
Ah, the life of a traveler. All I can say is that, the pilot was a savior as well as being kind and courteous. We had a delightful conversation on the way home and I learned a lot about the airline industry and planes in general. However, I am certain that this post is long enough and I will spare you all the details. Just know that I got home safe and sound and that my travels were certainly adventurous.