Uh Oh… Not Home Yet!

I knew today would be a long day, but even I am surprised at what has happened…

You know from this blog how I fare on trains. Well, you can officially add air-o-planes to that list.

I had no intentions of writing on the blog today. I thought after many long hours of flying I would be overjoyed to greet my family and check back in to my new apartment.

Instead, here I am, well after midnight, writing from JFK airport in NYC. I am numb with tiredness as I have been up for over 30 hours straight and I still have to make it through the night. Here’s how the day unfolded…

I was at the Pisa airport by 5:30 am. My flight was on the digital board but no check-in gate was listed for it yet. So I wrestled my suitcases to a seat and waited. For the next half-hour, I popped up and down like a jack-in-the-box checking that board. Finally the screen went blank and you could tell it was reloading. My 7:30am flight was the next to be updated.

The new screen unfolded from top to bottom and lo and behold, my flight and the two after it were completely gone. It had skipped to the 9 am and later flights. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Shades of the Florence train station started flashing through my brain.

So I went to the counter and asked. I no more got the question out of my mouth when an irate Italian man burst in front of me and started yelling at the girl behind the counter. She just stared at him and didn’t respond. I tried to say, “hey, I’m in line here,” but he completely ignored me. When his tirade was over he stormed off.

I got my bags checked and was sent to another counter to pay for the extra bag. Again, just as I handed my ticket to the clerk, a young Italian girl rushed in front of me like I wasn’t even standing there and started on a tirade of her own. The clerk ignored me and waited on her. I looked around to see if I had suddenly developed powers of invisibility without realizing it. Not so far as I could tell.

Oh well, I knew it was going to be a long day, so no sense starting off on the wrong foot by getting snippy. I went back to the first counter, got my boarding pass and made my way to the plane. Another ordeal. I am not fond of AirFrance. The planes are small so you have to take a bus way out on the tarmac and climb the metal stairs they roll up to the airplane door. But I got that done and settled in. The only thing I was worried about was if I had enough of a layover in Paris to change planes. That’s a whole ‘nuther mess.

Just as I thought we were going to get going, the airplane door re-opened, the stairs came back, and the pilot ran out. Great, now we’re going to be delayed. When the pilot returned, he made an announcement that we had to wait on paperwork to be cleared to take off. Then we sat.

Eventually someone came aboard with the paperwork and the door was closed again. But did we go? Nope, a few minutes passed and the door opened again. After a while, another announcement. The runway had been closed and we need to wait until it re-opens. I see emergency vehicles taking off all around. Turns out a plane running low on fuel had radioed in to make an emergency landing, so the runway was cleared. All told, we didn’t take off for an hour and a half after we boarded. I knew I was going to miss my next flight.

In Paris I had to line up in various queues and then take a train to a different terminal to find an AirFrance desk and get rescheduled. It took forever of course. And now I would be getting home at 10pm instead of 6pm. I had to let Ellyn know.

I found the food court and tried out the wi-fi – Paris “generously” gives you 15 minutes of free wi-fi and then you have to start an account and pay. I had to be very quick about sending the email. I sent it to all three of my kids and asked them to make sure Ellyn got the message. Then I had to log off and find a train to another terminal for my flight.

Once I found it, the boarding line was HUGE. I never saw so many people lined up to get on one plane! Evidently it is a massive, double-decker air bus. I got in the queue and was quickly growing tired of shuffling along pushing my heavy carryons. I was feeling faint when a clerk came and said the flight was delayed by half an hour, so we might as well go sit down. Everyone groaned and said they weren’t moving. I had to as I was wearing down. I had an assigned seat, so I didn’t figure it would matter if I was the last one to board.

When I did make my way onto the monster plane, someone was sitting in my seat. An attendant came over and checked our tickets. It was my seat. The man and woman got up and moved but they weren’t happy. I sat down, but soon the man was back saying, listen, do you have a problem sitting two rows up? I really want to sit here.

Evidently I would have had that row to myself and they wanted to sit with a seat between them for the long flight. Well, the other seat still left an open seat in the middle since there was just one of me, so I switched. Geez o pete! I got all rearranged and the girl in the window seat was exceptionally nice, so it really worked out for the best.

However, even though we had boarded a half hour late, there we sat. And sat. And sat.

The pilot came on and explained that the delays were due to necessary engine repairs that couldn’t be hurried. I was getting tired of sitting and we hadn’t even begun the nine-hour flight! The girl and I chatted to pass the time. An hour later we still hadn’t left. When we finally got into the air we were more than two hours behind schedule. This didn’t look good.

The flight was smooth enough and when things were quiet, I showed my connecting ticket to one of the attendants. “I hate to tell you this,” he said, “but you aren’t going to make that flight.” My heart sank. Not only was I going to have queue up and reschedule again, this time I had to get my checked luggage, go through customs and security again, and re-check the luggage. I was going to have to rent a cart.

When the plane landed at JFK it turned into a madhouse. More than 100 people on that flight alone were close to missing their connections and were breaking their necks to get off the plane. It didn’t do any good. You can’t collect your luggage and clear immigration and customs that fast. So I queued up again and again until I got to the luggage carousel. I looked at the rental carts and was astonished… it is $5 to unlock a cart! Wow.

People were jerking the carts not realizing you have to pay to unlock one. Others were running along the carousel trying to unloose bags from the mountains of luggage swirling around. I about got blindsided a dozen times. It was a zoo.

After about 40 minutes, the crowd had thinned out and the same luggage was going round and round again. I knew, sure as I was standing there, that my luggage had not made it on the plane. I went and found a girl with a list and told her mine was missing. She looked at my receipt and said at least one should be there. So we watched and searched for another 20 minutes before she would believe me. And of course she could do nothing about it. The procedure is that you report it when you get to your final destination then it will be tracked, located and delivered to you.

Fine. I’m so tired and hungry I could cry and I just want to get home. And I am not on that flight that Ellyn is expecting me on and she doesn’t know it. I still have to go through customs and queue up for rescheduling again before I can try to contact her.

Back in line with scores of unhappy souls dragging along in the same boat. When it is my turn, there are no flights left until late afternoon the next day. And the line I’m in doesn’t have a printer to give me a boarding pass. I have to go get in another line again to get the pass printed. “OK, I say, but what do I do with myself until late tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sorry,” says the girl. “All hotels are booked and we have nothing left.” I stared at her like she had two heads. “That can’t be true!” I protested. “Oh, but it is,” she replied.

I inquired who else I could ask and she sent me to a traveller aid desk. That girl confirmed that there were no hotel rooms to be had. The only choice left was to take a taxi into Manhattan and pay $500 a night, which the airline will not cover. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked, “sleep in the airport?”

“That’s your choice,” she said, “but this terminal is not open all night.” She pointed to a train across the street and said I would have to take it somewhere else. Oh, how encouraging, I thought… a train…

She finally suggested I try calling the motels that advertise free shuttle pickup as they are not on her list. I found the desk to do that and called every single one – about 20 of them. All sold out.Then I had a bright idea… either AirFrance or Delta was going to have to put me up in their lounge for the night. I took off to find another desk to put in that request.

No go. The lounges are inside the gate area and you can’t go into the gates until you have officially checked in for the flight and have a departing gate number. TSA regulations. And the gate number won’t be generated until a few hours before the flight tomorrow. The Delta lady looked at my ticket and said whoever booked that flight didn’t know what they were doing. Since I was going to have to spend the night in the airport, the least she could do was get me home sooner.

ImageIMG_3195So again I was rescheduled. Now I can fly out at 6am – but I have to go to Atlanta. And from Atlanta to Dayton Ohio, arriving at noon. Then she explained how to spend the night in the airport. Wind your way through overhead street bridges and take the train to terminal 4 – it is the one open all night. Find a place to sit where you can doze and then check in at the Delta desk at 4am. The gate will likely be in terminal 2 or 3, so take the train back there. Then fly to Atlanta, pick up a little breakfast during the 1.5 hour layover, change planes and fly to Dayton. Voila, you’re home – and it only took 51 hours!

And of course I still have to let Ellyn know I’m not on that 10pm flight and guess what – Internet is not free at JFK, either! I have to purchase a 24-hour pass on Boingo for $7.95 and set up an account to get online. I do and barely catch her before she left for the airport.

ImageSo here I am in a long hallway of terminal 4 full of tables and chairs, people dozing the best they can. Myself, I can’t get comfy. Mostly because of the added bonus – at the end of the hall here they are doing construction work in the off hours. Knocking down walls, sawing up new framework. Crazy noisy. And every 15 minutes the loudspeakers come on with flight announcements. Very restful…

ImageI’ve only got about 10 hours to go and I kinda got my second wind a little bit ago. So I”m blogging and taking photos and just figuring that adventure continues…

I’ll let you know when I get home – surely it will happen sometime. I think Tom  Hanks is the only one who really tried to live in an airport and that was in a movie. One I would probably appreciate watching again!

IMG_3201Now this guy was sleeping good – snoring loudly! The only thing was, he wasn’t a traveller – he was supposed to be working…

At one point his boss called him to see if he was through with his break. He said no and went right back to sleep!

Well, time to board the plane soon. I’ll let you know how it goes…

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jean Miller Ader
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 05:40:51

    Poor baby! I feel your pain. I think that’s why I only go to Omaha and fly on Southwest. Easy Scmezy. I’d be scared to death doing what you are doing. You get the bravery badge, Starr. I hope the rest of your journey goes smoothly and you are home safe and sound on time – well, on time as it stands now. *hugs*

    Reply

  2. Ellyn
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 08:54:00

    What a nightmare. Billy emailed me saying, “Wow- I guess the trip of a lifetime just doesn’t want to come to an end.” Boy, he got that one right. But as long as we get you home in one piece, that’s all that matters. I’m a little afraid of what you’re going to be like when I finally pick you up — twitchy, drooling, and slightly deranged? I guess we’ll see…

    Reply

  3. Paula
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 11:51:54

    Oh why are we surprised? But still can’t believe ALL of this went wrong. Domino effect I guess. By the time you read this I hope you are home, drools and all, a taco w/ extra cheese under your belt. And, having slept a good long while in your own bed! No, the adventure would not let go! Nothing ordinary about this trip!! Love and stuff!!!

    Reply

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