Europe: The first 24 hours

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Travel
Tags: , ,

I’m going to pull a Tarantino now and take you back to when I first set off for Epic Eurotrip 2011. I know, I know, the Oktoberfest post is already up, but that was a flash of alcohol-soaked craziness that needed to come out when it did.

So, here we go.

September 8, 4 p.m. EST

It might have only been just over 60 minutes that we were stuck on that godforsaken tarmac on that stormy afternoon at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, but it felt like 12 lifetimes.

I had been in deep anticipation of this trip for several months, and though history has shown me time and again not to rely on airlines for solid info as far as departure and arrival times are concerned, I had high hopes.

But that all seemed hopeless as I sat there on the runway after we landed. We had taxied in, not 40 feet from the gate, and the captain came on the PA and informed everyone that we’d have to sit there for a while because of the danger of lightning. Ground and baggage crews couldn’t go onto the runway “in these conditions,” he said, because of a safety hazard.

This seemed like nothing particularly ominous at first, as no one had even seen any lightning since we landed, but the storm was persistent enough that it was definitely a possibility. Still, I looked outside from my window seat and wondered just why the hell the plane couldn’t pull up the remaining few yards to the jetway.

“Fuck,” I muttered to the couple next to me, “let me out the back and I’ll just walk the rest of the way from here. I have a flight to Copenhagen to catch.”

The lady laughed but the man remained stoic. He chuffed and muttered something about United Airlines being the Antichrist..

“Sorry folks, we’re not sure how long this is going to take, or how long we’ll be here, but we’ll keep you updated,” the captain said over the PA again.

“Jesus,” I grumbled. “This airport is a hub, and most of these people have connecting flights. How fucking hard can this be?!”

The minutes trickled on by, each of them more agonizing than the last. I tried not to think about it, tried to tell myself that everything was going to be OK, and that my trip plans wouldn’t have the dreaded monkey wrench thrown in to fuck with my day. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep any time soon, and my original plan was to soldier through the flight to Copenhagen and sleep when I finally arrived in Glasgow.

Forty-five minutes had gone by since we “arrived” in DC. No lightning. No ground crew. No de-boarding. Nothing.

I found myself fidgeting and experiencing frustration I couldn’t even begin to describe. This isn’t how it happens, I thought to myself. This can’t be. What the hell would happen if I missed my flight? What then? Would I spend the night in DC and be forced to rearrange plans, canceling reservations and re-scheduling everything I’d spent several weeks putting together?!

Granted, I do subscribe to the “it could always be worse” philosophy most of the time, but I also believe in Harold’s Law. This theory states quite simply, “Murphy was an optimist.”

Fast forward another 15 minutes, and the captain announced we’d be moving in to the jetway to finally escape out of the claustrophic environment that we’d all been stuck in for what seemed like an eternity. This garnered an applause from the passengers, but our joy would be short-lived.

After a few especially impatient travelers at the back of the plane tried to awkwardly push their way through a sea of people who just stood up to grab their belongings from the overhead bins, the captain’s voice — which was beginning to now sound like somewhere between claws on a chalkboard and a pig being eaten alive by chainsaw-wielding polar bears — got back on the PA.

“Aaaah, folks…” he began nervously, “…there seems to be a bit of a problem with the jetway. It may have been shorted out in this weather, or something…we’re not really sure. We’ll have the mechanics come take a look.”

Restraining myself somewhat, I brought my fist down half-speed on my tray table and loudly sighed. It was all I could do to not bum-rush the cabin, knock out the pilot and use his unconscious body as a footbridge to the jetway.

“Fuck this,” I said. “No one’s making their connections. Remind me never to fly this airline again.”

“We actually may have to get towed to a different gate,” the pilot went on. “Or, we could work something else out. Stay tuned.”

Not like we’re going anywhere, I thought. How much more of a captive audience could we be? I hadn’t eaten yet, was growing dehydrated and had been sharing the same air as 100 other people for the past six consecutive hours. I was tired already, and I still had the majority of my traveling ahead of me.

The mechanics working on the jetway turned out to be too slow, as I had feared, and the captain then informed all of us that they’d be unloading the plane out the rear and putting us all into some kind of huge mobile transport. This monstrosity looked like the wayward offspring of a trailer and a large construction vehicle, whatever the hell it was.

They herded us in like cattle into the transport, and I found a place to stand. Not sit, mind you, but stand, as a hundred other disgruntled passengers essentially pushed their way past me and whoever — and whatever — was in their way.

Anxiety began to creep over me, and the same questions rang out in my head — the flight to Copenhagen was going to leave without me. But then, what of the other people in the same boat on this flight? Would they really leave everyone behind? And the entire airport was temporarily stopped, it seemed, due to the same “lightning” issue we’d heard so much about by now.

The transport began moving after the pilots and the ground crew figured out where the hell to drop us all off. While it beat walking and wandering aimlessly around an active airfield, I wasn’t too impressed with the way things were being handled. We were nonchalantly herded like cattle from one place to the next, and no one seemed like they were in much of a rush to get us anywhere.

I wasn’t alone in my anxiety — a group of volunteer workers were on their way to South Africa. Two parents were on their way to Moscow to see their newborn granddaughter. A man from Copenhagen was weary from a week-long business trip and just wanted to make it back home in time to tuck his kids in that night.

So many stories of regular, ordinary people, all trapped in the same place at the same moment in time. It was enough to temporarily help me out of my state of panic; just thinking about how many people were in my exact same situation right then. My mind tends to wander when concepts like this begin to float my way, and the thoughts get so deep that I almost forget about whatever it is I’m dealing with at the time.

The transport finally reached a terminal and we were herded out again. Thank god, I thought. Now to dash through the airport like a madman and get to wherever the hell it is I need to be.

My glimmer of hope lasted about two seconds.

We weren’t being herded into a terminal — we were being led to another transport to take us somewhere else.

“International terminal?” a man in an official-looking outfit asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“In there,” he said and pointed to the door of the transport.

I exhaled and sat down inside, at this point feeling quite powerless. What the hell could I do now? Hurry up and wait seemed to be the only philosophy that was applicable here. I sat there with my luggage — a large backpack and a small tote bag — trying to think of the positives out of all this. Maybe I’ll be re-routed through somewhere else I’ve never been? And ye gods, I’m glad I didn’t check any luggage.

Another five minutes went by before the transport was on the runway with us inside, apparently on our way to the international terminal. It could’ve been the White House, for all I knew. My one thread of hope I had left here was desperately slipping by, but I tried to remain positive and not dwell too much on everything being absolutely perfect.

Nothing ever is. Nothing ever will be. There will be snags along the way, and sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

Once inside the terminal, I sprinted through the automatic doors and ran up to the flight arrivals/departure board.

I didn’t see my flight to Copenhagen. Shit.

The gate I had to go to was far. I knew this much. I was standing in D, and I had to be in B. Not just B, but B, gate 42.

A giant staircase lay in front of me, which was actually an escalator, but it was out of service. I thought of Mitch Hedberg’s one-liner: “An escalator cannot ever be ‘out of service.’ It can only become stairs. ‘Sorry for the convenience.'”

Another staircase. The group from South Africa was in front of me, politely trying to squeeze their way past anyone in the way. Much to my relief, I discovered this staircase was actually a functioning escalator, which helped me get to my destination quicker.

It still wasn’t helping me fly across the Atlantic any faster, though.

I tried not to think about that. I raced down the terminal corridor, past a flock of teenagers squealing over something they were watching on a cell phone, past a mother trying to text while pushing a stroller containing a genuine hellbeast of a screaming child, and past at least two coffee stands with people sitting lazily, enjoying a relaxing pre-takeoff ritual of caffeine and a Washington Post.

For a fleeting moment, I wished I was in their shoes.

But I kept going.

Gate 32. 33. 34. 35.

I could barely see far enough ahead to get any kind of glimpse of what I thought was 42, but all I saw was a cluster of people standing and facing the runway.

This was encouraging, I thought. But it was also 5:30; 10 minutes past when the plane to Denmark was supposed to be airborne. I hoped they were waiting. I didn’t care if I was the last one on the plane and faced the temporary embarrassment of being “that guy.”

Finally, there was gate B42. I ran up to it, breathing heavily and probably resembling an uncaged zoo animal at this point.

The gate was deserted, except for a nervous-looking attendant sitting at the front counter.

“Copenh–” I started, but stopped myself.

“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head sympathetically.

I unbuckled my pack, put my tote on the ground and set the pack next to it.

“Well, fuck.” I muttered to nobody in particular. I leaned against the counter, catching my breath, feeling utterly defeated.

“So, now what?” I asked the woman. “This was United’s fault, so what can you do to possibly help me?”

“It wasn’t United’s fault,” she said. “They had to wait for the lightning to let up so they could get the ground crews out there.”

“I know,” I said, “but after that, they nonchalantly carted us around across the airport with zero sense of urgency. I could’ve easily made it here before takeoff if they had shown a bit more concern about that.”

She paused, looking at me for a moment. They weren’t United, fortunately, but SAS — Scandinavian Airlines.

“I’ll see what I can do for you,” she finally said.

All I wanted at this point was a huge beer and an extremely oversized sandwich. I told her to please see what she could do for me while I walk over to the sandwich shop behind me to satiate my appetite and spike up my blood sugar. I felt like a dying moose that had just been run over by a semi while being forced to listen to Lady Gaga.

The gigantic fucking sandwich I managed to scarf down made me feel a little more human again — human enough to go have a coherent conversation with the lady at the desk without jumping over it and strangling her.

I was reasonably sure that for as bad as missing an international connection was, jail would probably be worse. Or at least that infamous back room at the airport where TSA blacks out the cameras and sends you to Guantanamo Bay after waterboarding you for suspiscion of terrorism.

I walked over to the desk.

“So what’s up?” I asked, non-confrontationally.

“Well,” the lady said, “there are no more direct flights from here to Copenhagen today, but we can re-route you through Munich, then Copenhagen, then to Glasgow. It would be two more planes after you land in Munich, or you could take a British Airways flight tomorrow morning to London, then find your own way to Glasgow from there.”

Naturally, I chose Option A. It seemed like a no-brainer.

“What time does the flight to Munich leave?” I asked.

“In about 20 minutes,” she said, pointing to the adjacent gate. “Just go over there with these boarding passes and you’ll be all set to go.”

She handed me all my paperwork, and I slipped it into a safe spot in the top compartment of my pack.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all, I thought. Hell, traveling is half about the adventure anyway; the unknown, the bumps in the road, the surprises you get along the way. This was not going to ruin my trip, or even get me started on the wrong foot. No way in hell! I refused to let this dampen my spirits. Feeling slightly rejuvenated, I went over to the line for boarding the plane to Munich.

Right as I stepped into line, a young German couple with two screaming children came and stood behind me. The screaming was that disgusting gargle-spit-shriek that young children often tend to emit when they have a nose full of snot. I ignored them.

Then the woman in front of me opened her mouth in a Texas drawl.

“Whut seat are yew?” she asked the kid in front of her.

“Ah dunno Ma,” he said, “ah thank dey only got fifty-two rows on thu err-plane. That ain’t shit, is it?”

“You shush yer mouth!” she said. “Remember whut ah said in Nashville — no embarrassin’ me this time!”

Suddenly, I craved Jager.

  1. gonzonl says:

    next up: Tarantino style massacre?

  2. gonzomd says:

    i hadn’t ruled it out around then

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