Friday, August 8, 2014

The Thrill Is Gone

Map picture

The Thrill Is Gone

Once upon a time the mere experience of travelling across the Atlantic to new destinations was in, and of itself a really thrilling adventure, and it was something to look forward to. Sadly, those days are gone only to be replaced by a floating anxiety about having to tolerate all the indignities that attend air travel today.

That being said, days before our departure both of us were becoming a little nervous, but poor Lisa was afflicted the most. She went through days of extreme anxiety, while I tried to calmly and sagely explain that “it would all work out.” Well, damn if she was not right and I was wrong.

On Wednesday, we headed off to the airport for our 22 hour journey to the city of Copenhagen in Denmark. Believe it or not, it took almost an hour to “check in” because the guy at the counter did not know the airport code for Copenhagen, and thus our boarding passes and luggage tags were all wrong. It is not a simple matter to correct those items once printed, and when he tried to do so, he had our departure date to Copenhagen all wrong. He thought we were spending a night in Chicago and then going on, rather than having us go straight on.

Once that was all completed, neither Lisa nor I were 100% sure that our routing was correct, but most importantly he had messed up our luggage tags so many times, and then in the end forgot to attach the “Priority” tags, that for all we knew our bags were going to Istanbul.

Finally out of excuses, we both approached the TSA screening with some anxiety, even though on both of our boarding passes it clearly stated that we were TSA “PRE-CHECK,” that should have insured a pretty painless screening. In reality, Kansas City is not setup for “Pre-Check” services so the only benefit I received was that I could leave my shoes on. Otherwise, it was the same rushed experience, but for me it was no more obnoxious than normal. When I finished the line, I looked behind to find Lisa, and found that she had been directed over to a personal screening area because with her metal knees, she could not go through the metal detector without setting off the alarm. Two TSA employees immediately descended on her. The first went off to tear into her carry-on items, while the other – well “the other” was a piece of work. She had been enjoying her donut when the call came, and she reluctantly put it up with a look of relish on her face at the coming encounter. She could not have weighed less than 350 lbs. and could barely waddle across the floor towards poor Lisa, who looked to the woman like Lisa was a slab of beef in a meat market. The big woman had a mean glean in her eye and as she “snapped” on her latex gloves, you could see that she was going to enjoy every minute of this “pat down.” I looked on from outside the screening area at this tragic play unfolding and could do nothing. Poor Lisa was stressed to say the least, and all I can tell you was that the screener was “extremely” thorough and there was no doubt that she was enjoying the “encounter.” Because of her extreme size, she could not reach around Lisa, and so she had to slowly circle to reach her victim, and when it came to bending down to inspect Lisa’s legs, why she could get only so far down; at which point Lisa had to sit down and put her feet up in the air so the woman could reach her knees and feet. I kept thinking to myself two things: “where do they find these people” and secondly “how in the world have we gotten into this mess?”

Shaken and embarrassed, Lisa was finally let go, and if her anxiety was high before, it was not out the top. The agent meanwhile went back to her donut and to await the next female victim. It took some time, but eventually we laughed because as I convinced Lisa, our crisis is out of the way – what else could go wrong. Those were famous last words.

The time comes to board our first flight, and I present my boarding pass first, with Lisa right next behind me in line. By the time, I got to the aircraft and turned around to help her lift her bag into the overhead – there was no Lisa, just a steady and relentless surging mass of people anxious to grab space in the overhead bins. Like a deranged salmon swimming upstream, I tried to exit the aircraft to find Lisa, but I was told that if I did so, I would not be allowed back on board. So I was stuck trying to figure out what in the world could have gone wrong now. Finally, Lisa is the last person to board and one look told me that she was close to losing it. With some effort, I finally got her to explain that they had taken her carry­-on bag and insisted it be checked to Copenhagen. “Why?” was my question? We had never had that problem before. We each carried a standard roller board. In addition, Lisa had a purse, and I had a small bag containing my CPAP breathing equipment. What was different about this trip was the fact that we had one addition small bag that contained some of the medicine for our 90 day trip. The gate agent was claiming that this was too many bags, and so one of them had to be checked.

Now a couple of things to understand: we have a house rule that only items that cannot be checked are put into carry-on. What is in the bags we carry is considered essential. By way of example, cameras, medicine, laptop, iPads, money, etc. To let one of those bags out of our possession is a BIG DEAL. What are the chances that a bag with a nice camera in it will go through Chicago get transferred to SAS air and that it will arrive into Copenhagen? You can answer the question for yourself. In addition, we had carefully checked in advance the baggage policy of every airline we were flying, and both my CPAP machine and Lisa’s purse were excluded items. This was a disaster in the making--BIG TIME. Once everyone was seated the gate agent came to the cabin door and I ran to her to see if I could reason some sense into her. She finally threw up her hands and said “if you can find a place to put that bag in the cabin, I will get it for you.” Thinking she had me, I ran to our overhead and pulled out a small bag, located the owner, and asked permission to put it under out seat. He agreed, and then I went back to the agent, who reluctantly had one of the line agents go and locate Lisa’s bag and bring it to me. Just before the door closed, she once again boarded the aircraft and gave me a big speech in front of everyone about how she was breaking every regulation in the book, and that if an FAA inspector should see this, the airline would be fined. She admonished me to solve this problem before we tried to board our SAS flight later that evening because we would have this problem all over again.

Seeing how many bags most people manage to carry onto an airplane, I just could not imagine what was driving this agent. I asked the cabin attendant, and she did not know the answer, but she agreed to go look it up when she had time and get back to me. When she did it appears that “Republic Airlines” does not recognize a CPAP device as an excluded item, and that was the problem. Whoa----Republic Airlines? We were flying American Airlines to Chicago, holding American Tickets, flying on an aircraft painted in American colors, BUT being operated by Republic. No, we had not checked the policy of Republic on cabin bags.

Our flight to Chicago was over an hour late, but that did not matter because we had allowed on purpose a 5 hour layover. During dinner, we decided to ignore the lady’s suggestions for the simple reason: we had already looked into the policies of SAS and could see no problem.

After a quick airport style dinner in Chicago, we had to change to the international terminal, which meant that once again we had to go through the TSA screening. The lines were many and breathtakingly long. Here, however, there were no fat ladies lying in wait for Lisa and because they had the newer screening machines, we both sailed through without incident. By the time it came around to boarding our 10pm flight to Copenhagen, we both literally fell asleep in our seats and stayed that way until they awakened us for breakfast.

We arrived into Copenhagen around 2pm and when we reached our hotel at 3, we both fell asleep. A quick dinner and then back to bed- we just do not handle these time changes too well anymore. We awoke this morning to a beautiful day. DSC00654Temperature around 73 degrees and sunny skies; so we walked around some this morning, got lunch, and now we are getting ready for an early departure tomorrow.

As incredible as this may sound, we flew 9 hours East to Copenhagen just so we could catch a flight tomorrow that will take us 6 hours back to the West to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland (and no, I do not yet know how to spell it!).

So wish us luck on another “thrilling” day travelling by air, and by the next time I write, hopefully we will finally have found our ship.


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