Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Adjusting expectations

I should have been on a plane last night instead of in my bed in St. Petersburg!

But...I was glad to not be stranded in an airport somewhere.

It all started with the snow in Europe. As usual, I didn't pay much attention until I realized that it might affect me personally.

The timetable didn't show any changes, but when I got all the way through security and up to the check-in desk...2 hr delay. Okay, I'll deal with it. Then they asked if I was sure I wanted to check my bags all the way through. Were things THAT bad?

I weighed the consequences: a) get stuck in London for a few days with no change of clothes or b) have to lug my suitcase around everywhere and possibly recheck it during my increasingly short layover.

I decided I would rather be grubby and just buy whatever essentials I'd need if I got stuck. Computer cable+Kindle recharger in my suitcase could spell potential boredom and frustration if lost, but I just did not need my carry-on to be any heavier than it was.

Next stop: passport control. A very strange experience, this time around. read more/-

The ladies doing inspection are usually cold and serious, but not rude. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but this particular officer was not happy with me.

I stepped into the booth and slid my passport across the counter, with my boarding pass, migration card, and exit visa tucked neatly inside.

She GLARED at me. I stared back, waiting for instructions.

"Passport. Boarding pass. Migration card."

I took them out and lined them up on the counter, in that order, plus my exit visa. There was no way anything was missing or out of order.

She glared again and then finally took them and starting inspecting everything. Boy, was I glad to get out of that chamber!

I'm still stumped as to what the problem was. The way I said hello? The fact that I was wearing glasses? The wrong counter?

3 hours until boarding. Ugh. I stalled by sitting for a bit, then getting a snack, then taking a snooze near the boarding area, with my alarm on so I wouldn't miss boarding. I pondered how much I hate traveling alone and wished for a companion.

I woke up and the marquee now said "Frankfurt" instead of "London." I scouted around, found the new boarding area, and started to hover.

Why weren't we boarding yet?

Finally some representatives came out and told us the flight was cancelled. Everyone was hovering around with shouts of dismay and panic. I listened to the Russian and English exchanges at the same time, trying to hear where we could rebook our reservations so I could bolt over and get in line.

After it was clear nothing could be done that day, I headed back downstairs to do everything in reverse. First stop: passport control.

This was my favorite part: a guy writing "void" on my exit stamp with a ballpoint pen. He ignored my visa and I had to remind him that there was a stamp there, too.

Next, I got my luggage back.

Then I sat down to think about how to get home. It was so close, but heels+snow+suitcase meant that I probably needed someone to pick me up. 4-5 phone calls later, a friend was on his way.

Sort of. He had a few other stops to make, so I ended up waiting about 90 minutes. I stationed myself near the other passengers on my flight who were still asking questions. Maybe I would hear something useful. The closest I got was that we could call the next day after 11am.

It was interesting to observe how strangers bonded in this situation. Russians aren't particularly known for being friendly to strangers, but in this case I think that the "we vs. them" was the people/passengers vs. the airline. We must unite to demand action! Of course the "crisis" scenario added to the need for bonding, and before leaving I noticed a few Russians exchanging phone numbers and first names.

Meanwhile, there was a mother sitting with a number of children close in age. They weren't Russian; the discipline style (or lack thereof) was different. Maybe immigrants or refugees, or maybe just tourists. They were running around, so it took me awhile to figure out that there were four. I know it's rude to stare, but I love watching siblings interact. It looked like they were having a fun childhood. And the mom was brave for traveling alone.

A British woman had been prancing about in a fashionable outfit, commenting loudly on various topics (even before the flight got canceled). Now she broke away from her traveling companions to approach the children. "You're beautiful. You're all SO beautiful."

Weirdo, they might not even speak English, I thought.

Then a smile broke across the mother's face and she said something in reply.

"He's the little man, isn't he?" the British woman asked, gesturing to the oldest boy. The mother answered affirmatively. I was glad for her that someone was giving her positive feedback about her family.

Airports are interesting places...

Seven hours after I left, my friend was carrying my suitcase up to the fourth floor for me just as my mom was calling to suggest some alternate flight options.

So I have a new flight out on Thursday. Getting close to Christmas, but maybe travel conditions will be better by then.


  1. I'm glad you took such good notes! It was fun picturing it all....though, in my mind's eye you were in Moscow!

  2. Oh Liz I feel for you but glad you didn't get stranded. Thanks for sharing your story with us readers. :-))

  3. Merry Christmas, Liz! So did you ever make it home? My family is here for Christmas. I love it! It even snowed almost all day. Just flurries, but still -- snow is snow!

  4. Merry Christmas, Ruth! Yep, I made it. I hope you're having a fun time with family! It looks like everyone is going to be snowed in here.


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