Thursday, December 24, 2009

Adventures in Germany: How I got home from Italy

Oh hey everyone,

So you might be wondering, “why didn’t Christine post on Friday like she said she would?” “Did she have a great dinner and fun last night with friends but just forget to post before bed?” Well I’m here to set the story straight, and boy is it a greaaaaat story (naht).

Friday evening, after a gorgeous hike/picture sesh/champagne popping party atop Piazzale Michaelangelo, and an overly delicious final dinner at Trattoria Casalinga, my friends and I set off for our apartments (and, of course Grom for one more gelato treat). To our wonder and surprise, it was snowing very heavily in Florence. In fact, the city hasn’t seen a snowstorm like we had in the past decade, so we’re told. This being said, flight concerns were more than prevalent in our minds. Still, we had our yankee swap, said our goodbyes, and set about packing the rest of our things. Then we checked our flights. Cancellations, delays, and the city of Florence in a state of emergency, resulting in no taxis or busses running to and from the airport. Obvious issue. I consider myself lucky because my flight was still listed as “on time” and, after a few hectic hours, I was arriving at the airport with my two huge bags, my carry on backpack, and my purse. Little did I know this was only the beginning of my interesting trip home.

I planted myself in the unmoving line of people for the Lufthansa check-in counter and waited. Meanwhile, I watched the departure screen as every flight changed from on time to cancelled…except mine. When my flight to Munich finally flashed a “check-in” symbol, everyone in line with me was astonished. Why weren’t we cancelled when everyone else was? We checked in, checked our bags (and didn’t pay any fees for overweight, so that’s a win) and got through security and to the boarding gate. It had stopped snowing at this point but the airport was a mess outside, as the Florentines really have no idea what to do in the snow. Pretty soon our flight was delayed an hour, only a small problem for someone like me, with a 5 hour layover in Munich. However, as time went on our 8:15 flight was pushed back to 9, 10, 12, and finally, when we were told that the airport was closing until it was cleaned up at 1, until 2. Now we had a problem, because with the 1 ½ hour flight to Munich, and my transfer flight home leaving at 3:15, I was left to simply pray for earlier departure or a delay.

A few hours and some free pizza later, I was boarding my plane to Munich, set to leave at 4:20. I had resigned all hope of making my transfer and simply hoped to catch the earliest available flight to Newark…or JFK, Boston, Philly, DC, anywhere really. As I arrived in Munich and called my dad, he informed me that my plane was fully boarded but still at the airport. I ran outside and spoke frantically to an employee who called inside, but it was too late. My plane had closed and pulled away, and on the bus ride to the terminals I actually watched it drive away. So not ok. I heaved a sigh, and a lot of tears, and joined my fellow travel friends in what proved to be a nearly 3 hour line for the service center. Throughout the line, the prognosis wasn’t good. With the snowstorm back home, the snow at Europe, and tons of travelers for the holidays, accommodating the hundreds of newly stranded students and getting us home asap was nearly impossible. At one point, they were telling us Thursday was our earliest chance to get home. This was not a fun treat.

My turn came at the desks and after about 45 minutes of my helper searching, my dad calling, and me half crying half hoping, I landed myself a flight to Frankfurt in the morning and then to JFK a few hours later. The airline put me in a free taxi to a hotel, with my new bff Kevin who provided lovely company. We were given a free stay at the hotel, had 3 course dinner that was so delicious, I got to take a shower and get some free internet to check back in (I’ve been running up quite a roaming phone bill with all of this mess), and slept for a good 7 hours (my first sleep since 10 am on Friday, so that was nice). And since then everything went pretty well. I woke up in the morning, met Erica for a few hours in the airport, and left on my plane to Frankfurt, arriving on time and waiting around until I could board my flight. Here’s where it gets great.

After waiting on my plane for 5 hours do to delays including 5843996 technical issues that were then fixed, followed by a long period of de-icing during which the de-icing truck clipped the wing of our plane, we were informed that the crew and captains has reached their maximum legal limit of working and could no longer fly us out that day. After waiting for a stand by crew they didn’t have, we were taken off the plane and busses back to the airport, where nobody working there knew what we were supposed to do. I ended up waiting in like for another few hours to get to the front and get a hotel voucher for one of the 15 nearby hotels they were putting us into randomly. I stood for 30 minutes outside in the freezing cold (I only had leggings throughout this whole ordeal) wrapped in a Lufthansa blanket waiting for the shuttle. Arriving at the hotel I was given a key, booked a shuttle back to the airport in the morning, got a wake-up call, and received a lunchbox for dinner. Only plus about this place: free wireless internet so I could touch back with the family and skype them.

The next morning (Monday, by the way, in case you’ve lost track) I went back to the airport, waited for my flights, and boarded the plane. Then they told us there would be a delay because since our flight was delayed to the next day, the airport had removed it from the records and our baggage records no longer existed. Since the USA requires that every piece of luggage belong to a passenger on the flight, the luggage had to all be removed off the plane, out of the containers, checked, and put back. They actually ended up doing this 3 times throughout Monday’s delay, for various reasons, and I knew it would be one miracle if my luggage arrived in JFK when I did, and another if nothing was broken in it. After doing this we pulled away from the gate…and moved 3 gates down back into park position. Honestly, this had to be impossible. They then told us that 12 passengers on the flight did not have correct passport numbers recorded or something like that, and it took however much extra time to get someone on board to find them, check their passports, and update the information so the USA would let us fly in. After all of this passport and luggage nonsense was done, to nobody’s surprise, the captain came on and told us that the crew had again reached their limit, and after the obviously non-existent standby crew failed to arrive, we were once again bussed back to the airport.

This time, however, we were not sent out to wait in line for hotel vouchers. We were told our flight was going to fly a few hours later in the night (it was about 5 and the flight was scheduled around 11). So, we were sent back into the airport, got food, and resigned ourselves to sitting outside our gate with everyone else on the flight. Soon we were the only passengers in the airport, and we just kept watching our delay get bigger and bigger, for reasons we were obviously not told of aside from the snow piling up outside. Eventually our flight just said “delayed” with no estimated departure time (though on the website there was) and soon after the monitor turned off altogether.

So there we were, sitting. They had boarded about half the passengers onto the plane, thinking we were going to leave, and so they were stuck there and I was thanking God that I was smart enough to not want to get on the plane any sooner than I had to. So we waited, and talked, and read, ate, and napped. We were given tomato, cheese, and butter sandwiches, hot dogs with no buns, and a huge tin barrel of soup that made us look and feel like refugees. After hours of delays, we boarded for real, and our flight took off after 3 days of delays, at about 4 am. Landing in JFK, waiting for my luggage, about 50 or so people, myself included, soon realized it wasn’t coming off the plane. Typical.

So here I sit, Christmas eve, in my newly painted, carpeted room with new bedding, sans luggage. No clothes, shoes, or Christmas presents. We were told it should be arriving on a plane to Newark today because, get this, it never left Florence. So let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we? But the good news remains: after approximately 3 days and 6 hours of traveling (12 hours of which I sat on a stationary plane) I am home safe and sound with my family.

So don’t worry, I’ll try to get pictures and video of my last nights in Florence, along with those from the airport, to you soon. They will hopefully come accompanied with my “reflections” post, and I will hopefully be able to report that I have my luggage back in my possession as well. Hope you enjoyed the story of my misery and adventures in the Frankfurt airport and beyond.

Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sprichst du deutsch?

What about Paris?