Thursday, January 3, 2013

Travel Karma

Overall, I have been extremely fortunate in regards to my travel luck.  I realize that by saying that I'm automatically cursing myself from here on out but whatever.  Most of the time I make my connections, most of the time the flights are smooth and uneventful and most of the time my luggage actually travels along with me for the duration of my trip.  But every once in a while the travel gods are in the tub and not paying attention to my prayers.  Case in point was one of my trips to Germany.  Oof.

Of course, I barely made it there in the first place. All of the direct flights were sold out so I was stuck going through my third least favorite airport of all time: Dulles. Philadelphia and O'Hare hold the number one and two spots, respectively. So I get to the airport the requisite two hours before my flight and go to the gate to get a coffee and wait. I get online and see that there's bad weather over Dulles and that flights are being delayed up to two hours departing but only fifteen minutes coming in. Fine. Just get me there and then I'll worry about connecting to Frankfurt. We board the plane and then……..nothing. We sit. And wait. And wait. And then? We wait some more. To their credit, the flight crew was very informative with constant updates on the situation in Dulles, bringing water around, playing a movie to help pass the time and offering the chance to get off to rebook the flight at a later time at around the one-hour mark to anyone who wanted to. There was a lot of grumbling around me and being nasty to the crew but honestly, what were they supposed to do? I thought they handled everything beautifully. And my butt wasn't going anywhere. Even if I was the only one left on that plane, I was bound and determined to get to Dulles come hell or high water. 

Tragically, the high water won this round and just after the two hour mark it was announced that all flights into Dulles were a no-go. So I grabbed my stuff and trudged back out to try to rebook for as soon as possible. While I was waiting in line along with the rest of the natural world, I whipped out my cell phone and managed to get through to a very nice lady on United's reservation line. She was really sweet and got me booked on the next earliest flight which was at this point fourteen hours later, at eleven in the morning. Well, what are ya gonna do? She gets me all set and thanks me for being so nice.  Poor thing. I imagine people have been screaming at her all day because clearly it's her fault that Dulles has crappy weather in a perma-cloud over it.  So I get out of line, call the roommate ("Surprise! I'm still here!"), grab my bags and go home. The next day, I'm back at the airport yet again. There's some challenges with my check-in due to being rebooked but they get it all straightened out. They can't check me in all the way through, though. But say that I'll have no trouble once I get there and to just get my boarding pass at the gate for my connecting flight. Fine. Again, they're very nice and even get me in an exit row in the aisle seat so I'm happy. My happiness quickly goes away when I get to the gate and see that my flight is already delayed an hour due to mechanical difficulties.

Le sigh.

Fine. Whatever. Two hours seems to be the magic number with me and flights since it was a little over that when we finally started boarding. By now I'm a little panicked since if we land on time I'll only have approximately fifteen minutes to get to my next gate and make my connection. I call Lufthansa to see what can be done and am told that if I don't have my boarding pass two hours prior to my flight that I can't board the plane anyways. I explain the whole Dulles-flight cancellations-can't print boarding pass on this end-mechanical delay situation and that I'll be in the air when the two hours rolls but she says tough, that even if I make it to the gate I won't be allowed on the plane. 

To recap my mental state at this point in the game, I'm tired, I'm frustrated, I'm trying not to be snippy with anyone and keep a positive attitude but now I'm starting to get a little teary. I call my boss who tells me that what I was just told is a bunch of hooey and that it's the official company line but that if I make it to the gate I won't have any problems. A nice gentleman standing behind me who overhears my panicked conversation tells me that he used to work for the airline industry for many years and confirms that it's just what they have to say but that if I make it it won't be a problem and that they'll know I'm coming and might even be able to wait a few minutes for me. Thus calmed, I board the plane. And proceed to ratchet my anxiety back up to a critical level almost immediately as we just sit on the runway for oh, I don't know, a thousand years? Now I know that my luggage will never make it in time for the connecting flight but I'm okay with that, I just want my body on that plane. The luggage will make its way over later. We finally take off as I've started doing deep-breathing exercises to clear the black spots in front of my eyes and the gentleman sitting next to me is giving me funny looks. By the time we touch down in detested Dulles, I have reached a Zen-like level of calm and may actually have been levitating a few inches. Because I have accepted the fact that as I now have 90 seconds to make my next flight, there is simply no way in hell that that is going to happen. The crew announces that everyone who does not have an international connection to make should please stay seated so that the rest of us can zip off the plane and hopefully make at least a few of our flights. I grab my stuff and race off, hoping against hope that my flight was delayed which of course it was……..not. It must have departed just as we touched down.


Okay, off to Customer Service. I try the calling thing again and the nice lady tried very hard but all the flights going out for the rest of the day were booked solid and she couldn't help me out until the next day. But she did say that the people at the airport might be able to work some magic and to stay in line. I thanked her and started deep breathing again. I'm sorry to say that by the time I got to the front of the line I had some tears going. I apologized for my blubbering and tried to nutshell what I had been through over the course of the last 36 hours. I think the Customer Service representative was just glad to see someone crying rather than screaming or cursing at her. Which, 1. None of this was the airlines fault. Weather? Out of their control. Mechanical difficulties? I, personally, would prefer to wait for them to actually fix the plane I'm going to be on rather than send it on with fingers crossed. Missing connection? I'm sure the people onboard were thrilled to actually get an on-time departure out of Dulles. And 2. Screaming and abusing the people who you want to help you is not the way to get things done. 

But I simply had too much bubbling up inside, anxiety and frustration and adrenaline and impatience and disbelief, to just keep swallowing it. And so I cried. Not a big weeping ugly cry, but I couldn't keep the tears from streaming down my face as I furiously wiped them away and tried to explain around the occasional hitching breath that it was really really important that I get to Frankfurt as soon as humanly possible. The extremely nice and patient lady got me a confirmed seat on a full flight (how, I don't know) and protected a seat for me on the next flight out after that, just in case. She even put in a personal call to make sure that my baggage would make it onto the new flight. I thanked her profusely and damply wandered off to my new gate. I got into the huge line that had already formed there and got a seat assignment which the nice but clearly harried and stressed man at the gate graciously made an aisle seat. When I finally boarded and sat down, I took a deep shuddering breath and began to seriously work at calming myself down. At least I was on a plane now. A plane that would actually, hopefully, take me to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, I was so jumped up that I didn't get much sleep which was doubly bad since I hadn't gotten much sleep for the last two nights so I was already running at quite a deficit. We landed safely in Frankfurt and I toddled on down to baggage claim. I waited until the conveyor belt stopped moving before resigning myself to the fact that my luggage had not made it onto the plane.

Again, sigh.

No tears, no hyperventilating this time. Just resignation. I shuffled over to Customer Service and a "sprechen sie English?" later was speaking with yet another nice gentleman about my bag which, naturally, was nowhere in the system so he couldn't even tell if it had left Dulles yet. Of course. He had me check another baggage carousel just in case and then back to the original one since it looked like a few more bags might come out. Nada to both. By the time I got back to him, he had finished the report and gave me all the info I needed to check back later on and tried to cheer me up by letting me know that only 1 in 52,000 bags were ever permanently lost. Considering the way my luck was running, I couldn't take much comfort in that. I wanted to ask when the last bag was permanently lost so I could calculate some odds but then decided that I probably didn't really want to know if they were statistically due for another one. 

I headed outside, thinking that the silver lining here was that I only had my small carry-on bag to drag along and how nice that was for a change. Gotta stay positive, you know. I positioned myself directly in the middle of where the shuttle to the hotel would pick up and start watching for it. Did you know that sometimes the shuttles will change routes midway through the day? Because they do. So despite the fact that one pulled up clearly stating that it was headed to Mannheim, the driver changed the sign to say Heidelberg and then pulled out. I found this out when it was almost ten minutes after the driver should have been there and I asked the new Mannheim driver if he knew where the Heidelberg shuttle was. I was curtly informed that he had switched destinations and left already and that I would have to wait another hour for him to come back. "Oh hell, no" I thought. Pissed off and yet again fighting back tears, I decided to try my hand at the train. I went down to the station and bought a ticket. I was then informed that I had exactly five minutes to catch the train or I would have to wait 45 minutes for the next one. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate running? Well I do. But I did. I was NOT missing that train. Oh, hell no. I can only take so much. I sprinted through the station dragging my bag behind me and I by God made that train with a full minute to spare. I flung myself in a seat, panting and gasping and clutching the stitch in my chest and tried desperately to catch my breath and relax a bit but since I had to make a connection and I wasn't familiar with this particular line I didn't want to fall asleep and end up on the other end of the country by mistake. I found my connection, leapt off the train (as in Ireland, they don't give you much of a chance to get on or off) and searched for the next platform. Of course, I only had a few minutes to get to it and it involved going down a flight of stairs, through an underground tunnel, back up a flight of stairs and running (again) down the platform and throwing myself on the train this time with only seconds to spare. You think I'm kidding. I assure you that I am not.  A short while later I squeezed out of the throng of people on the train and collapsed into a cab just outside the station. Another few minutes and I was at the hotel. Where they promptly informed me I did not have a reservation.

I hate my life.

Turns out, the reservation was made under a different guide's name so we got it straightened out pretty quickly. Plus I think I was looking pretty crazed and dangerous at this point. I'm sure that helped hasten the check-in process along. I hauled myself up to my room and immediately got into the shower. I turned it up as hot as I could stand and just stood there under the beating water and let it wash away the last two days. I squished an entire tube of body wash out, turned myself into a giant soapsud monster and washed my hair twice before clambering out into the steamy bathroom. I wrapped a fluffy white towel around my head and toweled off with a second one. I slid into a robe and laid down on the bed for a quick catnap. Thirty minutes later I was human again. I pulled on my jeans and polo, now permanently in the shape of my body after being worn for two days straight, scooped my damp hair back into a loose ponytail, called my co-guide Goliath to let him know I was actually in the country and went to work. And even though I called later on in the day and was told that they still had no clue where my bag was, it miraculously appeared early that evening and was brought up to my room. Joy! So even though it was a terrible two days, it all ended well and I'm glad that I got all that bad luck out of the way at the front end because the rest of my time in Germany was lovely. All I can think of is I must have pissed off some old gypsy woman or something before I left home.  I can only assume that having met more than a full year's quota of nasty travel mishaps my airline karma is now at an all-time high and I should be in the clear for the foreseeable future.  Hopefully.

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