I am used to Americans nagging and pushing me at JFK airport, but I was hopeful on my flight to Miami this year. I was with one of my closest friends and felt like nothing could drag me down. Also, I was traveling with my $500+ electric guitar and looked like an absolute badass nobody should mess with.
All was going well when I was settled in the row my friend, an old lady, and I shared. My guitar was stowed, like directed by the flight attendant, in the baggage space above my row.
Interlude, my peace was disrupted when a Miamian Karen towered over me — while sitting at 5’2″ — attempting to put her hard case luggage on top of my guitar. When I asked her kindly what the hell she was doing, she responded by saying her seat was 10 rows behind but had no overhead cabin space. She told me to move my guitar because it’s too big. When I refused, she started yelling at me in Spanish. The old lady next to me was astonished. The friend I was traveling with, a Colombian, started yelling at her back.
There was a space in the overhead bin one row in front that was the perfect size for her suitcase. When a man sitting near us pointed that out, Miamian Karen said “see” and pushed me to put my guitar in the space clearly too small to fit it. When I refused, she started trying to move my guitar herself.
My row and I called the flight attendant, and the attendant immediately closed the cabin my guitar was in and told her to move her stuff elsewhere.
Hope she had a nice flight.
I would make the best of it, I told myself. Flying home from studying abroad in Nice, France, the cheapest flight option saw me hopscotching across Europe and the continental United States. “Home” was a four-day odyssey: six hours of trains, a night at an airport hotel, a transatlantic flight, another stay in an airport hotel, another flight to Minneapolis, a night with my uncle and finally a shuttle to Rochester, Minnesota. There I was to spend three weeks with my grandmother, mom, extended family and boyfriend, a long-awaited vacation after a hectic semester and a rewarding but exhausting foray into the French hospital system.
My dad had booked my flights fearing I wouldn’t have time to make it off the plane from Milan and through customs onto the daily 9:40 pm JetBlue flight from New York to Minneapolis. “Anabel, I know how these airports work,” he’d tell me — which he does, having long been a transatlantic commercial pilot himself. He even went so far as to check the arrival history for the Emirates flight I was on — “consistently late.”
He had emailed me my itinerary months in advance, and I hadn’t bothered to check exactly where I was staying. He’s usually brilliant about these things, being so savvy that I rarely thought twice about how I would get where I was going. But when I plugged the address into Uber, an hour and a half long drive popped up, followed by a fare four times what I had been expecting. My dad booked me a LaGuardia Airport hotel, and I had landed at John F. Kennedy Airport. Normally, I could deal with something like this, except this was also the moment my father chose to inform me that my beloved dog — Tippy, the Lhasa Apso my parents had gotten me in first grade and who is, by all accounts, my best friend — had gone to the vet in borderline kidney failure. After sobbing for the entire 90-minute drive, everything became morbidly worse when I discovered my hotel room overlooked a cemetery — and not just any cemetery, rather a massive swath of land where no less than 210,000 people are buried. God, I thought, am I going to have to pick a tombstone for Tippy?
I don’t understand how I keep getting myself into these travel fiascos —though at least this was mild, by my standards, but it all worked out in the end. My dog, being the stubborn creature, she is pulled through, I made it to Minnesota and I learned to double check everything — even my dad, the professional traveler.
Until you have been forced, by tyrannical airline weight restrictions, to transfer the contents of your luggage from one suitcase to another on the raw and gritty airport floor while two Air Canada workers watch with glee, until you accidentally drop that one pair of underwear that You should have thrown away three years ago but somehow never did and now every traveler walking past you on the floor now knows this about you, until you suffer the indignity of having your personal journal confiscated and read by an overzealous TSA agent on the presumption that it was a bomb, until you have achieved all of this, you have never known shame.
My journey to Greece was riddled with cancellations and delays and missed connections, beginning with my canceled flight out of Nashville the night before. The airline did rebook me fairly quickly to a layover flight via DC But while I was chilling at my empty gate in Dulles, they announced that my flight to Montreal was delayed, meaning I would miss my direct connection to Athens.
By then, I had become tempted to just get a flight back home — I was still in the US after all. But, I made it to Montreal, just with a later flight that would take me to Frankfurt before Athens. Of course, that flight was delayed. On top of that, a family of four had to be deplaned on the tarmac. Still, I thought I would make my next connection, but I did not. My surprise six hours in Germany was not the fun time it could’ve been. I had to re-enter security, where they thought I had explosives in my backpack. I eventually made it to the airport in Athens nearly twelve hours later than planned.
This was my first trip abroad, and I thought to myself, “at least my trip home cannot get any worse.” Worst it did–I ended up stuck in Germany for three days. Fun highlights: a humiliating attempt at getting a taxi, brushing my teeth with hand soap, a three-hour-long line to rebooked a flight that ended up being canceled. My final trip through the Frankfurt airport (the only stamps on my passport are four from here) saw every one of my three bags and my body went off through security, in addition to a random secondary security check waiting at the gate. Once I finally made it to Chicago, one flight away from home, another three-hour-long line through customs resulted in me running through O’Hare with untied shoes and five minutes to board. I finally got home in mid-July, but my suitcase is still lost in the ether.
Overall, my study abroad experience was overwhelmingly positive — including my COVID-19 test.