Tag Archives: Air Travel

The People

Terminal One, Addis Ababa Airport.  There seemed to be a few issues; the sign here says, “We are under a major and complete roof maintenance.  We sincerely apologize for the inconveniences caused due to any leakage that may occur during the rainy season.”

There was a half-hearted security check.  I think a camel could have walked through and they wouldn’t have cared.  Then it was up the elevator—no, cancel that.  There was no way I was taking an elevator in Ethiopia.  I chugged up the stairs and assessed my options.  I had less than an hour before my flight left, and no souvenirs.  I ran into the biggest shop I could see and after making sure they took credit cards, started throwing bags of coffee and wood carvings into a basket.  For good measure, I bought a necklace made of old Ethiopian coins with the image of Haile Selassie on them which weighed about five pounds.

Sated, I took a seat in the vast hall that served as a waiting area and people watched.  There was a line of a hundred people shuffling toward the gates.  There were people wearing turbans and fezzes and long flowing robes and skin-tight jeans.  There was a big group of white Americans taking home their adopted Ethiopian kids.  There were missionaries and mercenaries and every kind of misfit.

An Asian woman sat next to me and started telling me her life story.  She was Philippina and had been working in Brazil for the last eight years.  She loved Brazil but for family reasons it was time to go back home, so here she was transiting through Ethiopia.

My sore throat had turned into a full-blown head and chest cold.  I was blowing my nose and coughing my lungs out so I just nodded as she talked on and on.  Suddenly she stood up, wished me “good luck” (for what?) and went to join the queue.

An extremely large black woman sat down next.  Everything she wore, from her shoes to an elaborate hat, was bedazzled with sequins and rhinestones and feathers.  I didn’t catch where she was coming from but she had a French accent and was headed to Paris.

After she left a tall white guy sat next to me.  He was quite attractive and had what at first sounded like a British accent.  “I’m taking my mother home to South Africa,” he said, “from Sheffield.”  That explained that his accent sounded more British than South African, if he had lived in Sheffield for a long time.

“Oh, that’s nice,” I said.  “She misses the home country?”

“Aw, no, she’s dead.  I’m taking her body home for burial.”

He had a large duffel bag and I almost made a joke and asked if his mother was in it but I caught myself.  He started to tear up, then stood abruptly and walked off to join the line.

On the plane to London.  Whoopee, it was less than half full and I looked forward to stretching myself out across all three seats, especially since a small boy behind me kept kicking my seat.  I believe in being direct, so I stood up and turned around to talk to the mother.  She had already moved to another row and left him and his sister sitting there on their own.

“Don’t kick my seat,” I said with a smile.  They looked at me as though they didn’t understand English. I would guess they were Pakistani. I sat down again and he continued kicking.  Then I heard the sister tell him in very plain British English, “Don’t kick the lady’s seat, Russell!” He stopped.  Good girl.

Before I could lie down, a woman in what appeared to be Ghanaian dress sat down in the aisle seat.  “I will sit here,” she informed me.  Damn.  I tried blowing my nose and coughing extra hard.  She not only failed to be repelled, she propped her feet up on the middle seat.  Half way through the eight hour flight I nodded off and my hand fell onto her foot.  She glared at me as though I was a pervert.

Is it me?  Is it people?  Is it travel?

Terminal One

In Shire, I said good bye to Maki and thanked her for everything.  I know it’s a lot of work to host a visitor from HQ, and having worked with her from afar on proposals, I knew how busy she already was.

I hopped back into the Landcruiser and we were off to Axum, from whence I flew to Addis Ababa.  There was a woman in front of me across the aisle who had clearly never buckled a seat belt before, and the flight attendant patiently did it for her.  Directly across, a woman started donning gold jewelry as soon as the flight took off.  I don’t mean delicate, little things, I mean giant, chunky bracelets, necklaces, a pair of earrings that looked like they weighed an ounce each, and some kind of headdress.  I wondered if she was flying to some international destination and this was her way of taking assets out of Ethiopia and getting around some limit on taking cash out of the country.  But maybe not.  When she was done, she looked at her teenaged son, who nodded briefly.  He obviously had not given her the feedback she wanted, because she leaned over and smiled at me.  I smiled and nodded vigorously and she sat back, satisfied.

I was on the aisle and a young man was next to me at the window.  I had brought my stupid feather pillow that I carry all over the world with me.  I can’t remember why I had it with me in the cabin instead of stuffed into my suitcase.  It had a sateen pillow case.  My seatmate kept looking surreptitiously at it.  It used to be that men stared surreptitiously at my boobs.  Now they stare at my pillow.  I could tell he really wanted to touch it and finally his hand crept over as he sought my permission by making eye contact.  I nodded.  He stroked he sateen.  “Good material,” he said. I asked if he was in the fabric business or a tailor or something but he got all flustered and retreated to looking out the window.

We arrived in Addis at about 7:30pm.  My onward flight to Heathrow wouldn’t leave until 1:15am.  When I had arrived the previous week I had noticed the little shops that sold fly swatters and other trinkets and thought I would check them out when I departed, but they were closed.  There was one restaurant with an overpriced menu.  They only took cash, and there were no ATMs.  After counting and recounting the grubby handful of birr I had left, I ordered fries and a beer and sat down to watch China Global Television Network, which had news about world events on a loop.  The food took half an hour to arrive, but what did I care, I had six hours to kill in this place with no shops, no ATMs, no wireless.  Worst of all, I didn’t have a book.

I ate as slowly as I could and managed to make it to midnight without nodding off into my fries.  It took another half an hour to find someone I could pay.

I went to the bathroom and found more evidence of Chinese world domination.

At least it wasn’t called Golden Shower.

I took my time going to the security area, where a big guard looked at my ticket and said, “No London.”

“Wha…at?” was all I could stammer.

“No London.  Terminal One for London.”

I hadn’t even known there was a Terminal One.  After receiving conflicting directions from half a dozen uniformed people, I stepped out into the night with my purple suitcase, feeling very conspicuous.  It was inky dark.  There were no street lights, no sidewalk, no signs.  The only people around were men lounging against cars.  I walked for at least three city blocks, with each step convinced there was no Terminal One or that if there was, I would never find it.  I started to panic; tears welled up; I called myself an idiot.

Then I turned a corner and there it was, lit up like Las Vegas.

Inside, there were a hundred shops and restaurants, each with “free wireless” if you bought something.

Auf Wiedersehen

Greetings from Salzurg, Austria.  I am sitting in the breakfast lounge at Pension Elizabeth, where Abba is playing on a loop, the Internet is super slow, and the hotel staff are having some kind of meeting with a salesperson at the next table.

I’ll leave for the airport in a few hours to fly to Ethiopia, where I’m told I’ll have no Internet.  I would love to say I’m going to write enough posts to take you along with me, but that’s a fairy dream.  Complications are following me, and I can’t say I’ve really had one day off since I left 11 days ago.

I’ve got 200 emails in my work inbox.  The June 1 payment from my renters back home hasn’t shown up in my checking account.  I am getting texts and phone calls from someone who needs to know something about the sale of my condo and I have no idea who they’re from or what they’re about.

The most “exciting” complication happened when I flew from Copenhagen to Amsterdam.  I received a reminder from Expedia the night before to check in.  Norwegian Air’s website didn’t recognize the routing number but I got a message that said, “Don’t Worry! We’re still working on our website.”  Really?  Did Norway just get the Internet?

The train to the airport the next day left late and stopped twice to let other trains go by in the other direction.  In general, I think this is good, but not when it keeps you standing still for 20 minutes at a time. Finally, we were told to get off and take another train.  I had, as they always advise you, allowed plenty of time to get to the airport early but got there about an hour before my flight was to leave.

And Norwegian Air had no record of the flight.

It’s a long story, but I ran from one terminal to another, then back again, then back in the other direction, and was quoted up to $800 for a new ticket.  I did all this with my big bag full of books, since I hadn’t been able to check it.

In the end, I was lucky to get the last seat on a Scandinavian Airlines flight for $406.  Expedia says their records show I took the Norwegian flight.  They are telling me to call Norwegian Air id I still think there is a problem.  Call?—as in make an international call that will cost me $1 a minute to sit on hold?  I protested, but Expedia hasn’t responded.  If anyone has advice to doing battle with Expedia, please let me know.

Four hundred bucks is a lot of money to lose, but also in the mad rushing around in the airport, I must have dropped my bag on my foot.  Once I arrived in the Netherlands and took my socks off at my friend’s house, I saw an alarming gold-ball sized green swelling on the top of my left foot.  I immediately thought of the American journalist Miles O’Brien, who had a freak accident where something fell on his arm.  The incident seemed mild, but it caused something called Acute Compartment Syndrome.  He had to have his arm amputated.  Boy, is he good looking—you really should check out that article.

My foot swelling went down that night, but my whole foot has been black and blue for a week.  I showed it to my friend and we went down a check list: it’s not numb.  I can bend my toes.  It’s tender to the touch but not painful to walk.  The swelling is gone.

Good to go to Ethiopia, right!?

Other than the potentially fatal foot injury, $406 loss, and the nonstop rain that follows me everywhere, I’ve had a great time so far.

Okay, I’m off to bring the rain to Ethiopia.

I’ll write more when I get to Cornwall, England in a week or so.

No Entry

This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.

I was on the plane ready to take off for my big wilderness adventure.

After the gate agents’ repeated threats, no one’s carry on was taken away to the hold.  I settled into my seat with the New York Times crossword puzzle, relieved to be seated next to an elderly couple who were reading paper books.  Hurrah!  No screens in my face or endless cha-Cha-cha-Cha of someone’s music leaking out of their ear buds.

I had grabbed a couple extra newspapers at work and kept out a Sunday edition, which I expected to absorb my attention all the way to Belize City.  In case you aren’t a crossword geek, the NYT puzzles get harder as the week progresses. Saturday is the hardest, but Sunday is super sized and also very difficult.  I had been pretty pleased with myself when I’d managed to finish it the previous Sunday.

Oh. No.  I somehow now had last week’s puzzle—the one I’d already solved. I must have picked up a duplicate version at work by mistake.

“Ooh, Sunday,” commented the man next to me.  I didn’t tell him I’d already solved it.  I filled it in at lighting speed and I could feel him looking over surreptitiously; probably thinking I was a genius.  Well, let someone think that, for once, I thought.

Done with the crossword in 15 minutes.  Two hours to kill with nothing to read but the in-flight magazine, which featured a story about John Legend. I had heard of him, and I didn’t even know why because I couldn’t name any of his songs.

I glanced across the aisle and the man sitting one row ahead of me was readying pie charts for a presentation of … a merger? … of two companies called Dermocell and Norodaq.  Undoubtedly they make pharmaceuticals for problems I don’t know I have yet.  His wife and kids were sitting next to and across the aisle from him and kept interrupting him to ask him questions.  I wondered where they were going—it was too early for spring break.  Maybe he was taking them along on a business trip that happened to be taking place in Orlando.  He seemed utterly uninterested in anything but his pie charts.

The flight attendants came by to offer snacks and drinks.  I could hear the closest one six rows away, “Coffee, tea, soft drinks?  Pretzels, nuts, yogurt balls?”

Yogurt balls?  They had said something during the announcements about “exciting new snacks.” These must be them—I started to feel excited.  Yogurt balls sounded intriguing.  She progressed excruciatingly slowly down the aisle, repeating her snack and drink mantra.

Finally, I got to request my usual Diet Coke and … yogurt balls.  She looked at me funny but handed it over. It was just a yogurt bar!  Then I heard her answering another passenger’s question after she’d moved on, and realized she had an eastern European accent which rendered “bars” as “balls.”

Still, yogurt bars made a nice change from nuts and pretzels.  Nature Box was the brand.  I looked at the ingredient list, which took up most of the wrapper.

Rolled Oats, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Greek Yogurt Flavored Coating (sugar, palm kernel oil, nonfat dry milk, Greek yogurt powder [nonfat milk solids, cultures, lactic acid, natural flavor], lactic acid, soy lecithin, natural flavor), Rice Crisps (rice flour, rice bran, raisin juice concentrate, honey, salt), Chicory Root Fiber, Organic Cane Sugar, Almonds, Glycerin, Sunflower Seeds, Apples, High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Cinnamon, Natural Flavor, Sea Salt.

For Christ’s sake!  Six sweeteners?

Anne, you will not be a purist.  You are on vacation, I told myself.

It was delicious.

Sun! Heat!  We walked down the wobbly stairs from the plane, crossed the tarmac, and joined the long immigration line.  Fortunately there was reading material to keep us occupied, in the form of warnings about Zika and Chikungunya.

At the glass booth, the usual serious-faced border agent asked, “What’s the address of your hotel?”

“I’m with a tour,” I said. “The leader has the address.”

“No entry without an address,” she huffed, and turned to the next person.

Carry On and Keep Calm

This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.

We would be moving around a lot on this trip, so I was determined to take only a carry on.  This was a good call because if I had brought my regular bag I would have been trying to cram it into the back of a van with the 10 carry ons of my fellow travelers, and I would have lost the unspoken competition for who could travel with the least stuff.

Checking the baggage restrictions, I was remembered that the free checked bag on international flights doesn’t always mean “international.”  I went to Canada a few years ago and they wanted $50 to check my bag.

“But this is an international flight,” I protested.

“No,” said the smiling ticket agent.  “Canada isn’t international.”

I think Canada might have something to say about that, but I had no choice but to fork over my credit card. I have to give Delta credit for clarifying things.  Instead of using the term “International,” they now list the fees by regions—checking a bag to Central America would be $25 each way.

I hadn’t traveled with only a carry on for years, so standing in the security line I suddenly had a start—I had been so focused on packing the right rain and sun gear that I’d forgotten about the limit on liquids and gels. Crap!  As we inched forward I took out my cosmetics bag and triaged the confiscatable items.  Obviously, toothpaste, then the wrinkle-reducing miracle face cream, then sunscreen were priorities. I could jettison the bug spray, shampoo, and five other gels and liquids I was carrying if forced, but I quickly distributed things among my carry on, purse, and vest pockets, thinking maybe they wouldn’t figure out they were all from one person.

I went through, no problem.  Should I feel good or scared about that?  I choose good.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport used to be the headquarters of Northwest Orient Airlines, which became Northwest, which became Delta, which moved to Atlanta where labor is cheaper.  It’s still a hub, but now we have this sprawling infrastructure without the cash flow to support it.  When people describe an ostentatious new house as, “cold and cavernous like an airport hangar,” that is not a compliment. MSP is pretty much like that—gigantic, soulless, with moving walkways that go forever, off-white walls that need new paint with billboards that proclaim, “America’s Leading Source for B to B Online Storage Solutions, in White Bear Lake, Minnesota!”

The main terminal used to be named Lindbergh, and the charter terminal was called the Humphrey.  The names were changed a few years ago to the scintillating, “One” and “Two.”  Charles Lindbergh was an anti-Semite who thought Hitler was on to something, but he was also the first person to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, which was a big deal in 1927.  Hubert Humphrey fought anti-Semitism as Minneapolis mayor in the 40s, and became Vice President under Lyndon Johnson.  Parents used to have to explain who Lindbergh and Humphrey were, which provided a little civics or history lesson while waiting at the airport. One and Two don’t pique any curious questions, but I guess they’re very, very clear.

There is Gate G, where the international flights depart.  They must have gotten a grant to redo it. It’s stuffed with shops and bars and there’re sparkly tile and mirrors and colored lights.  And of course the ubiquitous iPads at every seat—because for about five minutes five years ago, that was the state of the art thing to do—force people to order lousy food on them instead of from a real person.

There, I’ve had my say about MSP.  My opinion was reinforced when I connected through Atlanta.  What a beautiful airport.  I had to walk from one end to the other.  Some people might complain about that, but I am always glad for an opportunity to get my blood pumping.  There were all sorts of artworks and tributes to historical figures on the walls—none of which I read but I like to know it’s there.