Tag Archives: Airline 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.

Frankfurt to Axum

The next day, Ingrid left on the train to go home to the Netherlands, and I stayed at the hotel and sat in the breakfast bar for hours catching up on work, emails, and blog posts.  Then I caught a cab to the airport.  On the way, the cabbie and I both had a laugh at this doggie on a bike:

At the airport, I splurged and spent $1 a minute to call my mom.  Phone service was by far the most complicated, difficult aspect of going abroad.  I must have research 10 different options, and none of them were good.  In the end I paid $40 for a month of unlimited texting, $1  minute calling, and 1 GB of data with ATT.  Unfortunately, the texting didn’t work.  I would send a text and not hear back from the recipient for four days, when they would say, “Just got your text!”  There was no data in Ethiopia, let alone texting or calling.  So I let the plan drop at the end of the month.

My mother and I spoke for 10 minutes.  She’s never been much of a phone talker, and at 82, I think she still believes that international calls cost hundreds of dollars.  As I said goodbye, she started to cry.  I felt terrible, but what could I do?  I told her that the UK was a lot more dangerous than Ethiopia and hoped she would forget that by the time I got to the UK 10 days later.

Flying to Ethiopia from the global north is arduous.  There is no option but overnight flights arriving in Addis at 6:00am.  I’ve already written about all the flights and jeep rides it took to get from Europe to the refugee camps in northern Ethiopia. There were so many “Huh?” moments along the way.

On the flight from Frankfurt to Ethiopia, I shared my row with an Eritrean guy who now lives in Canada who was going back to visit his sister, who he hadn’t seen in 12 years.  I felt rude, but I smiled as I donned my sleep mask and told him I wanted to get some shut eye.  He smiled back and said, “I don’t think I will sleep all night; I am so excited.”

When the plane landed, everyone applauded.

“I didn’t get a visa before coming,” blurted out my seat mate.  “I’m sure they’ll give me one on arrival.”

I smiled but had serious doubts.  When I told Maki, our country director, this story, she groaned and put her face in her hands.  “They won’t have let him in,” she said.  “They’ll send him back.  Oh, why do people do that?  I think they believe their chances are better in person, but they’re definitely not.”

On our flight to Axum, the flight attendant offered a tray of plastic cups with clear, brown, and yellowish beverages.  I reached for the clear one and she said anxiously, “That’s water!”

“Yes, I know,” I replied.  Could she just not imagine that someone would choose water over a free coke or beer?  She came back a minute later with a tray of muffins wrapped in plastic.  When I said no thanks, she exclaimed, “Why not!?”  I said I didn’t like sweet snacks, and she looked at me like I was nuts.

Maki was seated in a different row.  I looked around and noticed the other passengers were eating their muffins with their fingers.  I have eaten with my fingers in Ethiopian restaurants many times but hadn’t realized they eat everything with their fingers.

I flipped through the inflight magazine.  The flight attendants were all as beautiful as the one in this ad.

Because of Ethiopia … what?  I had no idea what this was advertising or why these blokes were drinking out of laboratory beakers.

I assume this guy must be a famous marathon runner.

I often get passionate about packaging, especially when it involves gusseted stitched sacks.

I wasn’t going to learn Amharic on this flight, but I could pretend to try.

Here’s Ethiopian Air’s route map.

I found this sign in the bathroom puzzling.

Isn’t poop solid waste?

I was so entertained, the flight went fast and we soon landed in Axum.

Welcome, Now Go Away

This is a series of posts about spending the summer abroad that starts here.

Greetings from Copenhagen!  Obviously I got here, and the journey was pretty smooth.

My flight to London from Minneapolis was sold out.  There were only two open seats, in the last row.  I was in the second-to-last row with a guy who introduced himself to me as Chuck.  “Chatty Chuck,” I immediately dubbed him in my head.  I flagged down a flight attendant and asked if Chuck or I could move to the empty row but she explained they were reserved for the flight crew.  I felt rude as I donned my earplugs and sleep mask while Chuck chatted away, but within minutes I was sound asleep.  When I woke after the plane leveled off, Chuck was in the back row.  “They said they wouldn’t need these after all,” he reported excitedly. I flopped down across two seats of heavenly sleeping comfort.

Now, two seats on an airplane are still not much room.  I’m 5’ 3” and still had to assume a fetal position.  But I was horizontal.  And I had my full-sized feather pillow, which gave me something soft to rest my head on instead of the arm rest.

It was the best sleep over I’ve ever had.  I woke the next morning at 11:30 London time, a half hour before arrival, and slugged down two cups of coffee.

My vertigo was gone.  My mother, a neurobiologist in her mind, had predicted, “that thing—you know, that airplane pressure thing,” might make it go and I had snickered but maybe she was on to something.  Now doctors could just prescribe a trans-Atlantic flight for vertigo.

One of my fears was that, because my trip is so long, border control at Heathrow might think I was entering the UK to stay.  I had an envelope with financial documents to prove I had assets in the US—a property, savings, a job to return to.  But the agent asked to see proof of my onward flight to Copenhagen.  When I checked in, the SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) website had promised to send my boarding pass via text “right away,” but it never materialized.

I was explaining this to the agent.  She looked annoyed and bored.  Imagine all the lame stories they must hear.  Typical of an immigration hall, there were signs saying, “The use of Mobile Phones is Expressly Forbidden in this Area.”  I asked permission to use mine so I could show an email with the flight confirmation.  She sighed and said yes, as though that was the most obvious thing in the world and why hadn’t I done it already?  The email wouldn’t load.  She rolled her eyes and said as though speaking to a very naughty five year old, “Madam, I will make a special allowance this time.  But in future, I strongly suggest you do not rely so heavily on technology.”

“But I don’t have a printer at home….”  She stamped my passport by way of saying, “Don’t Care!  Next!” and away I went.  In my passport was stamped this friendly message, “No work or recourse to public funds.”

I wonder what we stamp in visitors’ passports when they enter the US?  If anyone knows, please share.  Since I couldn’t go on the dole in England, I would just have to move on to Copenhagen.  But first I had to get my luggage, check back in, go through security, and hang out at Heathrow for five hours.

To my dismay, there was a five-inch-long gash in my suitcase.  I had been lucky enough to find an “It” bag, the lightest bag in the world, on sale at TJ Maxx. The Delta agent was very solicitous, giving me a claim number, telling me to register it online asap, and fruitlessly trying to tape up the gash with tape that immediately fell off.  As long as the gash doesn’t lengthen, I should be okay.  I’ve got some duct tape in my bag I packed to mend mosquito netting in Ethiopia.  I am keeping my expectations for the claim—for instance if Delta even responds to it within six months—very low.

Herding Cats

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

My post about overbooked flights coincided with the story of that guy who was dragged off the United Airlines flight. My bumping experience was different, to say the least.

Flying from Minneapolis to London, Delta picked me out of the crowd at the gate and told me I had to give up my seat.  I started to protest, when the gate agent said, “We’ll put you on another flight that leaves an hour from now … it gets into Heathrow an hour earlier,” she added in a low voice.  “And we’ll give you a $750 voucher.”  Still, my reflex was to open my mouth and complain but something stopped me.  “And we’ll seat you in first class,” she added.

“Um, okay?!” I said.  My luggage went with the first flight but that turned out okay, because I was staying on a farm in a remote village called Oddington.  If my bag had come with me, I would have had to schlep it on and off several trains and buses.  This way, the airline delivered it the farmhouse door the next morning.

You are probably thinking this story belongs with those mythical tales about unicorns, but it really happened.

I stood by the border agent’s booth in Belize for 30 minutes.  She granted me permission to use my phone to try to contact the tour leader, Mark.  I tried a text, then phoning, which later cost me $15, and I got voice mail.  I tried an email but my phone or the connection was too slow for it to send.

Two drunk Canadian women in their 50s came through and noticed me standing there.  I explained the sitch.  “We’re staying at the Funky Dodo Hostel,” one whispered loudly, six inches from the border agent.  “Tell her you’re staying there.” She fumbled in her purse and pulled out the address and loudly “whispered” it while looking in my direction with unfocused eyes.  The people behind her in line were getting irritated.  She repeated the address several times, then shambled away with her friend.

The border agent and I smirked at each other.  She made me sweat another 10 minutes, then led me over to another booth where second agent flipped through my passport, stamped it in the most bored, sarcastic way, and let me in.

It was a rookie mistake.  This was Mark’s first time leading an international trip, and someone at Wilderness Inquiry should have trained him on it. It wasn’t his fault.  But I should have known. Each of the nine other members of my group was similarly detained, so Mark had been waiting in the arrivals hall for four or five hours.

Well, we were finally all here.  The arrivals hall was chaotic.  The Belize airport was built in sleepier times, and now Belize is a hot tourist destination so it’s just too small.

Mark kept trying to round us up and get us into our 12-passenger Ford Econoline rental van.  This was complicated by the fact that we had a deaf woman among us, Trudy.  Trudy was a firecracker—in her 70s, maybe 5’ tall, divorced with four grown children, retired—she had traveled with Wilderness Inquiry to Peru, Australia, and New Zealand.  As I’ve written, WI’s thing is inclusion, which is great, but Trudy was all over that airport checking out the gift shops. Mark would yell after her, realize that was pointless, then yell at her interpreter, Emily, who was also with us on the trip.  Then Emily would march after Trudy and sign furiously.  There were others who ignored Mark throughout the trip.  Today was the first of many times we would wait for them in the van.  That sounds worse than it was; we were a pretty easy going group.  After all, we were on vacation.

At last, we were all gathered in the Econoline with our luggage and on our way to the Crystal Paradise Resort, 70 miles from Belize City and only about 13 miles from the Guatemalan border.  This would position us for the crossing into Guatemala and on to Tikal the following day.

Hail Mary

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

I was waiting at the Catania, Sicily airport for my flight to Malta.

I have the oldest iPhone and I am slowly becoming unable to do things with it. I tried to download Rick Steves’ free audio tours before I left but my operating system was too ancient.  Videos take so long to load that I usually just give up.  And when I travel, I can only access the wireless in about every other airport.  It may not be my phone; I don’t know.  But I’ve just come to not expect a wireless connection and if I get one, I’m happy.

So when I saw “Marco’s wireless” and other hot spots pop up, I was tempted to try freeloading.  I once got into a wireless network in London named “Anna” by using the password Anna1.  Everyone around me was on his or her phone, maybe because they were European and were just using 3G.  I was tempted to try Marco1 but decided it would be embarrassing if Marco caught me.  I didn’t want to do anything to risk getting to Malta.

One thing that is everywhere is that damn Samsung whistle tone, and I’m not the only one who finds it irritating.  People!  It’s not cool to force everyone around you to hear those 5 annoying notes (or any other cell sound, for that matter).  It doesn’t make you cool that you get a lot of notifications.  Everyone gets a lot of notifications.  But we have our phones set on silent or vibrate out of courtesy to others.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

On the flight to Malta, I had the aisle seat and a woman in her 20s sat by the window with no one in the middle.  Hurrah! My fellow passenger had purple hair, piercings, tattoos, and was wearing black from neck to sole. She was quite pudgy, and the tats on the back of her hands were almost swallowed in fat dimples.  She avoided eye contact so I read the Guardian, moaning inwardly about the still-shocking election news.

When the pilot announced we were preparing to land, my companion pulled out a crucifix.  Based on her appearance I thought it must have something to do with a heavy metal band she played in but, she began silently counting off the Hail Marys.  That’s Italian!

She looked over at me as if to say, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I did what I often do with fellow travelers who are terrified of flying, started a conversation about something—anything—unrelated to flying.  “Are you going to Malta for holiday?” I asked.  No, she was visiting her boyfriend who had gotten a job there.  We made small talk until the plane landed, uneventfully.  That was when the all the passengers except me broke out in loud applause and those I could see were made the sign of the cross.  My acquaintance slipped the crucifix back in her pocket and we wished each other a nice visit.

I’ve seen passengers applaud routine landings in Latin America but it was a first for me in Europe.

I bought a round-trip ticket for transportation from the airport to my hotel on Malta Transfer for €16.  The motherly woman at the desk instructed me to go upstairs, outside, to the left, and around the airport to find the van.  By the time I got outside I couldn’t remember if she’d said left or right so I wandered back and forth until I saw an unmarked van.  The driver told me to go to another ticket office.  There, they exchanged my ticket for another ticket, stamped it, and told me to go wait in a corner. A group of us slowly assembled, then a man in a uniform came along and told us to follow him.  He intrepidly led us about 30 feet to another van marked “MALTA TRANSFER.”

In 20 minutes I was dropped in a square.  “You go down a few steps, there—around the corner—and you will find your hotel,” said my driver.

Here are the few steps:

valetta-steps

It Could Have Been Worse

This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

I’ve already written some about Malta—all the planning it took to get there, the fact that the thing that sparked my interest in going there, the Hal Soflieni Hypogeum, turned out to be closed for renovation; waking up to the US election results, and visiting the immigration office to (half-jokingly) see if I could claim political asylum.

But before I leave Rome, check out this photo that’s now my login screen.

roma-desktop

Up til now, the screens have all been nature scenes.  I’ve been writing about Rome; does Microsoft somehow know that, and tailor its screen art to me?  Why?  The image isn’t for sale.  I know the mega tech companies are harvesting my data all the time, but it’s creepy when it’s this blatant. When I begin to write about Malta, we’ll see if they throw up a photo from there.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

I’ve also written about the adventure of booking a flight on Ryanair.  I had never flown Ryanair that I remembered.  I don’t have any problem with their business model—sell the cheapest flights; make profit on the extras.  I was curious how the actual flight experience would be.

The first thing I noted was that the seats were roomier and cushier than on US airlines. What the ? I had expected them to be even more cramped, if that was possible.  Maybe these flights were the exception, or maybe we were on ancient planes.

The main difference between a Ryanair flight and other flights I’ve been on is the advertising.  There were ads on the seatback, in my face, and on the overhead bins—promoting—what else?  Ryanair vacations.

Food and drink was for sale only, and then there was the cart with perfumes and watches and other luxury goods.

Who books a €50 cheapo flight on Ryanair, then buys a €200 1-ounce bottle of Dior Poison on board?  No one, on any flight I’ve ever been on.  But people must do it.  This stuff is shilled by all airlines, but on other airlines it’s done once, half-heartedly, as though the flight attendants are embarrassed to do it.  On Ryanair they walked up and down the aisles repeatedly throughout the flight and are very assertive.  Maybe they’re on commission?

My flight from Rome to Catania was an hour late taking off. There was no explanation.  After we took off the pilot said casually, “Sorry about that delay; it’ll put us into Catania about an hour and a half past schedule.”

My connection was tight.  I flagged down a flight attendant and made what I thought was a reasonable request.  I was mid-plane.  Could they let me off first when we landed, so I could run to catch my next Ryanair flight?  She looked puzzled, as though no one had ever asked anything like this before.  She examined my boarding passes, then shook her head.  “No, we can’t make a special exception for you.” As if I was trying to scam her.

“All Ryanair flights are separate, so you’ll have to claim your bag in Catania, check in again, and go through security again.”

“You’re going to miss your next flight no matter what.” She gave me an unsympathetic smile and abruptly walked away.

My heart started pounding and my thoughts racing withthe What Ifs?  What if there wasn’t another flight to Malta that day?  What if there was, but Ryanair didn’t take responsibility for me missing the first one and made me pay again?  What if they charged me a million dollars?  What if I never got to Malta?  What if I never got to Spain to meet Lynn?

In the end, my second flight was also over an hour late so I had no trouble catching it.

It could have been worse.  I could have been in this prison bus waiting to board that flight you never want to be on.  It’s painted all black.  Really?  Was that necessary?  Seems a little melodramatic and trite at the same time.

air-con