Mike and I are bleary-eyed and exhausted sitting aboard a Lufthansa jet waiting for takeoff to Frankfurt. From there, we’ll fly to Venice, then drive on to our final destination in Pula, Croatia, which will become our new home for over a year. But, as the saying goes, we are now a day late and a dollar short. (That’s about 6 kuna in Croatian currency.)
Leaving the U.S. for an extended period of time is not one of the simplest or easiest things to. A year’s worth of planning, a lifetime of dreaming and many sleepless nights have culminated into an adventure that’s already hit a few bumps along the way.
Yesterday was difficult. Saying good-bye to my daughter Marina and her husband Patrick and all of my friends and family left me teary-eyed and anxious. We crammed my daughter’s Honda Fit with four duffle suitcases and two backpacks full of a year’s worth of clothing and were on our way — early I might add. Tears at the airport saying good-bye to Marina and a vicious little dog barking loudly at us while we tried to move our massive amount of luggage were the only indications that the day may not go as well as we thought. Still we sailed through TSA Pre-check and arrived at our Jet Blue gate 2 1/2 hours early. Bam.
We were ready to go! Or were we? We waited and waited….and waited some more. At 4:34 p.m., which was boarding time, no gate attendant had arrived from Jet Blue to usher us on board. Rumors swirled that the plane heading over had had mechanical problems and would be late. The 5:30 flight time came and went when finally a ticketing agent arrives to say the plane will arrive to New Orleans at 6:45 p.m. While disappointed with the delay, we would still make our 11:30 p.m. connection at JFK International in New York. Maybe.
We boarded the plane at 7 p.m.. and sat on the runway as the plane revved its engines, taxied a bit, then stopped. It did this many times as we waited in darkness for some clue as to what was going on. Each rev of the engine meant we might take off. Or not. We had no clue because no one told us what was going on. At 8:15 p.m., the pilot informed us we were ready to go, a small mechanical issue had been resolved, and we were ready for takeoff. Let’s do this.
The jet starts its engines again, slowly coasts down the runway, then completely stops, again! The passengers sit in darkness waiting for an explanation or for something to happen with, again, no word from the pilot. More starting, more stopping. No planes in front of us to hold us up. A baby cries in the back of the plane. What the heck was going on? It’s almost 9 p.m. now, and we are close to losing our connection. I am frantic with worry. What is wrong with this plane? Why are we sitting here?!! WHY IS THERE NO WORD FROM THE PILOT? If we miss our connection, we miss a series of connections that bring us from Venice to Trieste to Pula. But of course, if something is wrong with the plane, do we really want to take off?
And that’s when the pilot floors the engine and we go speeding down the runway and take off. The pilot comes on the intercom, no explanation, just says we are on our way and should arrive at 11:17 p.m., still cutting it close but we should make our connection. The flight attendant assures us that she will call ahead to our TAP Portugal flight and have them hold the plane for us.
So we land at 11:17, grab our backpacks and run as fast as we can to the gate which is pretty far away. Just as we get there, the plane is coasting away from the gate. We are out of breath and out of luck. The plane is taking off. The TAP Portugal agents are nonchalant. No one called them to hold the plane, they say. We are mad, we say. Take it up with JetBlue, they say. So we head all the way back to the JetBlue counter where we are now at the end of a long line of people who have missed their connections to other flights. There is one agent taking her time with the first customer in line. It is 12:00 midnight, and I am tired and I am mad.
No announcement, no apologies, just one JetBlue agent joking around with the first customer in line. By 1 a.m. I am livid. I call the 1-800 number for the airline and fortunately get a nice agent who books us on a flight for the next day at 4 p.m. on a different airline, Lufthansa. It will take us through Frankfurt, then on to Venice. But she cannot help us with a hotel room; apparently only standing in the eternal line from hell will accomplish that. We wait some more. We are the last people in line at 1:30 a.m., then have to go to baggage claim, and wait another 15 minutes for our luggage, which no one can seem to locate.
We walk for ages with all of the luggage throughout the airport onto the Air Train and to the waiting area for the hotel shuttles. We wait for 20 minutes in the 30 degree NYC night air at 2:30 a.m. for our shuttle, then get to the hotel where there are more lines of displaced JetBlue customers. At 3:30 we finally are in our hotel room dazed and exhausted. We have made it to New York City.
So we sleep like rocks and wake up to restart our journey to Croatia. It’s going to be a better day, we hope. And it is. I sit aboard the Lufthansa jet with an orange juice and some pretzels with yesterday being the distant past. I’m a little rested. I’m happy. I’m not even upset that I missed my flight anymore. It’s part of traveling: the ups and downs and the stops and starts. As long as you are moving forward, you will get there. I think about the conversation with a man from Egypt we had at 2 a.m. at the hotel shuttle stop as we waited in the freezing night air. He had missed his flight to Istanbul and was still smiling as we commiserated on what a terrible experience the flight had been. Then we laughed together at the absurdity of the situation. So we hadn’t made our airline connection, but had made a human one. That’s what traveling is all about.
And we were alive. Whether we were cold or hot, rested or tired, angry or laughing, we were still alive and ready to move forward. It’s the little things sometimes.