From the Journal: Prague to Grand Rapids

Here are notes from my journal entry that I wrote (mostly) in transit from Prague to Grand Rapids December 21 and 22:

Once again, travel days make for the best stories. And what a travel day… Flying at Christmas time, when the major European airports are all under a blanket of snow and ice.

I departed Brian and Steve’s flat around 7am Tuesday, getting to the airport around 8, for my 10am flight to Copenhagen. Check-in went just fine, and headed to my gate. It was a windy, snowy morning in Prague, so there were a lot of delays. The flight to Copenhagen kept getting pushed back. First, the plane was expected to arrive at the gate at 10:15, then 11:45, then 12:30. After that we stopped receiving updates about the flight. I was just pacing around, drinking vending machine coffee, reflecting how sad it is that vending machine coffee is better than most American coffee. Tensions in the airport were high. Delays and cancelations everywhere. Eventually the Copenhagen bound passengers were told they would be redirected somewhere in Poland, where they would then be directed to Copenhagen. Though the Copenhagen flight was canceled, the ticket screen still said the plane was expected at 11:45.

But there were two Chicago bound passengers who couldn’t do that, as we’d miss our Chicago connection out of Copenhagen. Myself and Christy, an American girl who’d been studying abroad for a semester, were told to go wait in the ticket transfer line. What a line. In the hour we were in line, we moved maybe 15 feet forwards. For a while we were the last in line. But eventually a big wave of other passengers showed up and got behind us. At least now I could look around smugly… Look at me, near the front of the line… haha!

Christy wasn’t as amused by the situation as I was. She was a whiner and complainer, prone to panicking. “What are we going to do?” “I have friends picking me up in Chicago…” “oh, why is the line so long, why isn’t the line moving?” I demonically amused myself by wondering aloud what was happening to our luggage. “I wonder if they put our luggage on that flight to Poland?” “I wonder if they just sent our luggage in some random pile… I bet even if we get on some random flight, they won’t get our luggage on it…” Or “Man, I sure am glad that I don’t have anything valuable in my bag!” Christy’s worries were raised to fever pitch. She had expensive presents and had even paid top dollar to check a second bag. I told her, there’s nothing to worry about, everyone’s in the same miserable situation – the only proper response to it all is to laugh! I thought it all was pretty amusing. Especially as everyone else in the airport was taking it all so seriously.

After all, I’d been riding Balkan trains! This is air travel in the EU – even if you miss your connection or something, you’ve got a ticket and they’ll just rebook your ticket on another flight. It’s not like a train that supposedly goes to one city, but kicks you off in a different city because it missed its connection – meaning you have to worry about finding other means of transport to get to your destination. And it’s not like there’s only one train connection between cities daily, or every other day or something… This is air travel – classy. Plus, I was laughing to myself thinking about how great of a story all this would end up being!

We were called over the loudspeaker to go to gate C-10. We rushed over there, thinking maybe they put us on a flight last minute or something. When we got to the gate, there was nobody at the desk. Apparently later in the day, there was a flight to Warsaw, and more passengers began to assemble. Some of them were going to Chicago as well. About an hour after we got to the desk, some airline employees finally arrived. They had our names on paper, so they were keyed in to our situation. But only Scandinavian Air could re-reoute our tickets for us, and there wasn’t anyone working at Scandinavian Air at the moment. After about a half hour, they got in contact with Scandinavian Air and we were booked to Warsaw, and then Chicago. Thankfully Christy was getting along with other Chicago bound passengers so I could run away. The total delay time for Prague was 6 hours. We were supposed to leave around 10am, we left around 4pm.

The plane made it to Warsaw, and after a long security check filled with complaining Americans (why is the line moving so slow?), I made it on board a very delayed flight to Chicago. Next to find my seat: 2B. Hmm, I thought, that’s pretty close to the front! But coach started at row 5, so I was a bit confused. Turns out that when they booked us on the flight, they put us in business class! It was like the first time I stayed in a decent hotel at a bike race, at the D.C. Hyatt. We got to the hotel room, and I couldn’t believe it – classy. I asked Mark, the team manager, where I’d be sleeping. What do you mean? He asked. I said, well, am I on the floor, in the bath tub, am I sharing a bed with you, how many guys are we getting in this room? Mark responded: Sven, this is the real deal. The race puts the teams up in hotels. It’s just you and I in here. You get that bed to yourself.

Flying business class was great! I got all sorts of goodies. A little cover for your eyes, a nice blanket and nice pillow, a pair of socks (my big wooly ones are better though), and a toothbrush. My chair reclined in all sorts of directions. Back, down, a little footrest that came up and out… The downside was that the airport was actually closed, but we would still fly – it would just take a little over an hour to deice the plane. I didn’t mind though, I was being served wine in business class! Once we got up in the air I got some meals too – first I’d eaten that day. Started out with hor’s douvres of salmon with mango chutney and “poultry mousse liver” with raspberry jam. The main course was dumplings and roast pork. All with a few glasses of wine, and some port afterwards. Amazing! How will I fly regular coach again?!About an hour before landing we were served “supper” of some silly little cheese things wrapped in ham, a kiwi/pineapple platter, and a veggie dish. Sadly, despite the added comfort, I still could barely sleep on the flight. Maybe 2 hours is my guess. It’s still hot and uncomfortable and miserable being in a plane for 10 hours, even if you are up near the front with leg room.

Got to Chicago, but I had missed my connection by about an hour. Probably the last one to GR tonight, I figured, as I went through customs and passport check. After a brief snag regarding “suspicious materials” in my bag (a kilo of turkish coffee,) I was on my way to find the United desk to see if I could book another ticket to GR for tomorrow morning. Alas, the airport is closed, and all the ticket stations are vacant. So it’ll be a sleepless night spent on uncomfortable airport benches with my luggage, waiting for the ticket stalls to open, in the hopes of rebooking my flight. Right now it’s 25 hours since leaving the flat in Prague…

From the next day (at this point my notes begin to be a bit spotty and less detailed):

It’s about 9am on Wednesday now, Chicago time. 4pm back in Prague. At 4am today the gates opened, so I was able to talk to the ticket people. Almost all the flights to GR today are fully booked, so I’m on standby until the flight at 6pm, on which I have a seat reserved. I didn’t get on the first flight to GR at 9am, as only 3 seats were open and 13 people are on standby.

Haven’t eaten since first class meals. And before then was Monday evening in Prague. Graham would call what I’m doing my “masochistic ability to manage.” Starting to get hungry…. But oh… I hate buying food in the airport. So bloody expensive. I was going to get some chicken nuggets at McDonalds, but couldn’t because it’s still the breakfast menu, and they turned me away. I thought it was late in the day since I’d been up and wandering around since 3am, but it was only around 9.

Starting to get irritated by the airport. People in airports really irritate me. Lights, advertisements, airport announcements…

Chicago advertises that wifi is available throughout the airport, just connect to Boingo Hotspot. But you have to pay for it – $7 for a day of wifi. So wifi isn’t available, it’s available for purchase. I remember being really irked about that on my flight over here.

Next standby flight is at 11:20. I’m fairly high on the standby list, so I should be able to get on this one, I just need there to be maybe 2 or 3 seats open. If I get on this one, I think the total transit time from leaving the flat in Prague to getting off the plane in GR will be 36 hours.

Then finally, notes from after having gotten home:

Didn’t make the 11:20 flight. I got bumped back down on the standby list. I finally did manage to find an internet connection, as well. Boingo hotspot was worthless. But in one wing of the airport, somewhere between gates D, E and F there is a small hallway, where I found a T-Mobile connection that I could briefly connect with. The next standby flight was at 2:30, which I finally did make it on. I got lucky, too. There were only 3 open seats, and I was standby guy number 4. I debated just leaving and going to find the next standby flight (3:30) but thought I might as well stick it out. The 3rd standby guy never showed up, so I was able to get on. Ended up getting back around 6pm Michigan time, 41 hours after leaving Brian and Steve’s flat in Prague. A new record for me! Total time in Chicago airport: around 15 hours.

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