Monday, January 23, 2006

My air travel experience

Air Travel

O.K., part of this is going to sound embellished, but it’s not. Sometimes things just never go right no matter how much you wish and try to ensure things go as planned.

I was planning on visiting Egypt on a tour that includes 7 days and nights on a Nile cruise and two days in Cairo at the start of the tour and at the end of the tour (four days total in Cairo).

I happened to be flying El Al because I had a credit from an unused purchased ticket. Mistake number one: never, ever fly El Al to an Arab country. It raises suspicions like Richard Simmons at a Republican convention.

I arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport three hours before my flight only to find out shortly before boarding time that the flight was postponed and eventually cancelled, as were all flights in and out of Toronto due to a winter storm (my flight was Boston-Toronto-Tel Aviv-Cairo). I quickly rushed to the check-in counter at American Eagle and they got me booked on a flight going to New York’s JFK, only it was now boarding, which meant I had to go back through security before I could reach my gate, and, of course, security wanted to do extra security checks with me. FYI, this was the first of many.

Oh by the way, the man behind the counter and American Eagle said my checked-in luggage would be forwarded with no problems.

I rush to the gate, heart pounding, gasping for air and the man behind the counter said he just took me off the list because I did not show in time. I must have given him a look that he read very clearly, because he got me on the flight.

I get to New York’s JFK and I have a five hour lay over, who knew I would need every last minute of that time.

I go to El Al’s check-in counter and stand in line with Hasidic Jews all around with enough luggage to supply an entire family of four for a two year around the world excursion. I reach the security check and the man asks me many questions, including, “Why did you choose El Al to go to Egypt?”, I had a very bad feeling from that question and it was pretty much substantiated for the rest of my air transportation excursions.

This man walks with me to the El Al counter and the woman says my flight is not until the evening; this check in is for the 6:00 PM flight. So I need to wait for the evening check-in.

I return two hours later and proceed to the check-in line again. This time they put me quickly to the check-in counter and then lead me to the security check area. I am told I have been chosen to go through a special check processing and they wanted to hold my luggage until 30 minutes before the flight leaves. What choice did I have?

I return two hours later only to be groped, have air blown up my ass and wait even longer for them to go through my luggage like a nervous mother making sure her son has packed enough underwear..

A few other people are also being searched, like me, and are asked to wait before we all head to the proper gate, escorted by an El Al employee. One person is leaving and has three friends saying goodbye. As we are beginning to finally head to the gate, she says her goodbyes, one at a time, with words and hugs. She finally says goodbye to her boyfriend and takes a very long time while the rest of us are just standing around trying to be gracious and allowing her the time needed. The El Al employee begins to ask for this passenger to please hurry it along, at which time the woman snaps back and continues to say her goodbyes. I begin to walk and finally the El Al employee tells her she must join us or she will not be aloud on the flight.

We are rushed to the gate and are let in front of all those boarding the plane.

O.K., just El Al’s way of protecting the passengers, I get it. I arrive in Tel Aviv nine and half hours later and meet a nice El Al representative who escorts me to the transfer center (she had been waiting for me) and once processed, escorts me to the gate for my Cairo flight.

I arrive in Cairo an hour and a half later and proceed to go through immigration and passport center. Once through, I wait for my luggage. I wait, I wait, I wait and yes, I wait. It is obvious by about an hour or so later that my luggage was not diverted as the American Eagle person told me. Unfortunately my Insight Tour’s person and another person who booked the tour had to wait for me through all of this. We meet the El Al representative and file a missing luggage report.

I now head to the hotel in Cairo, Cairo Marriott with no clothes, no razors, no electric beard trimmer, no fresh underwear and no sandals for the trips in the dessert. I take it in stride and purchase some needed supplies at the hotel after meeting Wendy, who arrived a few hours earlier.

My luggage doesn’t arrive the next day and I am now heading to Luxor, via Petroleum Air Services (no joking) and embark on a seven day and night cruise along the Nile. I know this means that my luggage, if it arrives, will not be sent down to the Nile River Valley, hence, no clothes or other necessities for the bulk of my trip.

Sure enough, when we arrive on our return flight from Luxor seven days later, my luggage is in Cairo. I have to go with an Insight guide and a Cairo Airport representative through hallways, alleys and stairs to reach the office for the airport. It is in a dingy place that looks like it gets very hot in the summer. The office is crowded and the computers and printers are from the early nineties. After the Insight person talks with the airport person, we finally walk back through the airport and go out of the building and over to where Egyptians are returning from Mecca. There are hordes of people waiting to receive their families, many bringing back many things from their pilgrimage. I felt honored to be able to witness this event, which will happen for many days to come. Families wave and cry and kiss and hug each other. Some in Galabiyya, others in western clothes, continue to stream out of the airport. I continue to view this while the two guys go to retrieve my luggage. I even hear people making that “lalalalalala” sound.

Finally the men return and I am told I should tip the Cairo Airport guy, which I did (twenty Egyptian pounds). This means I only have my luggage for one full day before returning home after what has turned out to be a very lovely trip in Egypt, even though I had no clothes and other necessities, except for what I was able to purchase.

On Sunday night I return to the Cairo airport to go home. I am once again in an El Al check-in and go through my story once more. I have an El Al credit because I was going to visit Israel, but my friend cancelled and so I decided to go to Egypt instead. I had to show proof of this tour and I am once again chosen for special search. I am led to a room surrounded by cloth walls and many machines to check baggage, etc. After over an hour of waiting, I am asked to open my luggage and bags and I am then brought to another area where I am scanned from head to toe by a gentleman. The contents of my luggage and bags are emptied into bins, separated by electronics, toiletries and clothes. The bins are put in an X-ray machine and eventually returned to me, allowing ME to repack everything. A woman comes in and hands me a paper saying they have to withhold something. She shows me and it is the cord to my electric beard trimmer. I ask why until they tell me they were not able to test it since it is a US plug and not a 220 plug. I tell them I have an adapter and they test it and return it to me, allowing me to pack it into my check-in bag. Once I am done I am led to the gate where they have all ready boarded people on.

I arrive in Tel Aviv and I have a ten-hour lay over. That’s right, ten hours. There are two flights before mine but they are full and they cannot put in on standby. I go to the center of the Tel Aviv airport and try to get some sleep, but basically it is impossible. It is now past midnight and I have not slept in over 17 hours, or taken a shower either. I try to amuse myself by reviewing my photos of the trip on my laptop as well as walking around, buying an orange juice and people watching. Occasionally I fall asleep only to wake myself from snoring, attractive. Oh I forgot, I have been sick since the Nile river portion of my trip, so I have to run to the men’s room very regularly as well as dealing with stomach pains.

My flight is finally put up and the gate is listed, so I proceed to that area, which is cold and I begin to shiver. I try to take a nap, but to no avail. It is now around 9:00 AM and I have not slept for more than 27 hours, short of a 10 minute nap hear or there.

Finally it is time to board the plane and I am asked to step aside, there seems to be a problem with my boarding pass. After a few moments they give me my pass and state there is something wrong with my luggage, but refuse to tell me more… I am so tired I barely register it until halfway on the flight.

I have a window seat, which means I cannot get up very easily to stretch my legs or go to the bathroom, of which I have to do quite regularly. To top it off, it is a plane full of college kids who decide my row is the best area to congregate in, which means I not only have two people to ask to move, but another 8 who are standing in the aisle. I am feeling very claustrophobic but try to avoid it by walking about the plane. But every time I go into the bathroom, the seat belt sign comes on because we hit turbulence.

I also try to sleep, but inevitably wake myself up from snoring, or being awoken by the flight attendant or someone laughing loudly or hitting my seat. I probably get less than one hour’s sleep from an 11-hour flight.

My connecting flight leaves in two and half hours upon landing, more than enough time to catch my flight home.

I reach New York City and find that my luggage is not on the plane, again. It takes over an hour and a half to realize this because the flight was so large it took the airline a very long time to unload all of the luggage. I ask the El Al employees and they tell me to fill out a missing luggage report (which of course they do not have). I go to the arrivals counter and ask them about my connecting flight and my missing luggage. The woman said I needed to talk to American Airlines about my missing luggage but that I also had plenty of time to catch my connecting flight. They tell me to go upstairs to file a report and meet my connecting flight.

I go upstairs and there is nothing in relation to missing luggage and no one or nothing to indicate what to do or where to go for my connecting flight. I finally realize I need to go to the American Airlines counter for my flight, which is in a completely different terminal, the problem is none of the projectors indicating departures list my flight, but the flights that are listed are leaving at 5:30 PM, so I thought I had time.

I finally talk with someone who tells me American Airlines are in terminal 8/9. I ride the Airtrain until I reach terminal 8/9 and I proceed to the American Airlines counter. After standing in line for 15 minutes I am told this is the electronics check-in, I need to go around the corner for regular check-ins. There was nothing anywhere to indicate it was electronic check-in only or that there were even other booking agents for American Airlines. All other electronic check-in areas I have seen have computers and printers, not people handling the ticketing.

I proceed to the other side and stand in line with over 10 people in front of me and only three agents working. Of course it is slow, people are buying tickets, getting their boarding passes and everyone seems to have issues while at the counters. I finally ask an American Airlines person who is walking around about my flight and she states, “It is too late for the 6:00 PM flight” and continues on without offering any kind of help or assistance. I ask another person and she is just as helpful. No one seems to be willing to help me or give me some answers. The answer I hear all night is it is this person or that carrier who needs to do this and that.

I have to go back on the Airtrain, back to Terminal 4 where El Al is and tell them about my missing the connecting flight. It has now been well over 40 hours since I have slept in a bed and had a shower. I proceed to a ticket counter at El Al and the man tells me I need to talk with the arrivals person downstairs. I told him I did and that is why I missed my connecting flight; this person gave me incorrect information.

I go back downstairs and wait for over 20 minutes for a person who never shows. I go back up stairs and talk to the same ticket agent and ask him if I can talk to the manager. The manager comes over and begins to tell me the only last flight that night is with Alaska Air and it will be leaving in 10 minutes, not enough time for me to catch it. At this point I hear about every other word because I am so tired and am close to being in a coma. I look at the woman and man in such a desperate way and ask “what am I to do?” that they make some phone calls.

I am given a room at the Holiday Inn (cheapest in town) at the airport and offer to pay my dinner and breakfast. I need to take the Airtrain to Terminal C, go to the call box for airport hotels and request the van to pick me up. I get on the Airtrain and start riding it. The announcement says it stops at EVERY terminal, so I just wait until I hear Terminal C. We are at terminal 4; I then hear 5/6, 8/9, then 4 again. I had somehow not heard the other terminals, maybe I fell asleep, so I stay on the train and listen to the terminals. It goes from 8/9 to 7, then 6/5, then 4, then 3/2, then 1, then back to 8/9. I read the map and realize I have to get off at terminal 8/9 and then catch another train to terminal C. Of course no one tells me this from the get go.

I finally reach the Terminal C and proceed out to the area where the buses from the hotels pick up and drop off. I am only wearing a light spring jack with a short-sleeved shirt, I was not expecting to have to be out in 20 degree weather. I walk through an Avis rental space and head out to the buses, yet I can’t get to them because there is a 15-foot fence blocking me from going any further. I turn around, remember in a very comatose state and freezing, and go back through the Avis rental place and take a left to where the buses are. There was no sign to indicate that was the direction I should have gone, but why should there be? I am now exhausted, freezing and I can barely read the words on the buses because my eyes are so wet and tired. Even the slap of the cold on my face does not wake me up. There are four buses, none for Holiday Inn, so I go back into the building where I find the phones and I make the call.

A woman answers at Holiday Inn and I tell her I need a shuttle and she responds, you need a shuttle? Of which I say yes, but she doesn’t hear me and hangs up. I call back and this time she hears me and I wait for my bus. The bus arrives about 10 minutes later, but I only caught it because I guy walking by asked me which bus I was waiting for and he points to the bus with a different name on it, not Holiday Inn and I have to open the door myself, get in and close it myself. The driver says something, but I can’t understand him so I just collapse and ignore him. A woman comes and he quickly jumps out of the van and opens the back door to put her luggage in (he puts it in the van, not her) and helps her into the van and closes the door behind her.

We arrive at the hotel and I hand them the voucher El Al gave me and find out the free breakfast that I was given is no good because Holiday Inn does not start breakfast until 6:00 AM and I need to be at the airport by 5:30 AM to catch my 7:15 AM flight to San Francisco. I grab a newspaper and head upstairs to get settled. Once I see what is available to eat (no room service) I go downstairs to eat some dinner.

I go to an Italian restaurant where the host actually speaks Italian, or has a nice fake accent anyway. It is a nicely appointed restaurant with candles at each table and a view of the Japanese garden outside (i.e. Japanese garden consists of small rhododendrons and a couple of miniature maple trees and some white rocks). I order the pasta and get the salad bar. I start to read the newspaper and open it up on my table and decide to get my salad after I gave my order to the waiter. As I am getting my salad, a man says something and I turn around and my newspaper is on fire. I just turn back and continue to get my salad.

I eat my dinner and return to my room to finally get some sleep. It is now around 11:00 PM and I haven’t slept or had a shower in over 45 hours.

It is 1:00 AM and I awaken with a Charlie horse in my right leg that is so painful that I scream out so loudly that someone calls security and they knock on my door to make sure everything is all right. I go back to sleep and awake with a very sore leg that I can only use with a severe limp.

I take my shower, get packed and catch the 5:30 AM shuttle to Terminal 8/9. Of course I enter one end of the terminal and the ticket agents are at the other end. I am carrying my backpack (20 pounds) and another bag and I am moving very slowly because of the Charlie horse in my right leg (I got one the day before in Cairo in my left leg). I have to enter those cattle aisles and I hobble along and wait for my turn. Once I get in line the woman tells me to go to the furthest ticket agent possible to check-in.

I reach the check-in person and ask for an aisle seat; once processed, she tells me my flight is in terminal 9, I am currently in terminal 8. I begin my long trek to terminal 9, with my 20 pound backpack, bag in hand and limping (just call me gumpy) along at a pace that a 90 year old in a wheel chair passed me, self propelled by one of her dragging feet.

After four hallways and two stairs, I reach security and I have to walk way down to the other side of the room and go through another cattle line only to be told to go the other end because I have been chosen for a special security check, I am not kidding. I gimp along and reach the line for special processing. I stand and wait, wait and wait to finally be, once more, groped and felt up without so much as a drink or a ‘how do you do’.

I reach my terminal and notice there were a few little sparrows flying around the terminal, they must have somehow gotten in. I choose an area away from the counter in order to continue to walk to try and stretch my leg and hopefully reduce the pain in the leg from the Charlie horse earlier that morning. An adorable Asian boy runs after the sparrows to keep himself entertained and I occasionally get up to stretch my leg. I look down at one point and notice a white spot on my shirt. I touch it to brush it off and it sticks to my fingers; yup, you guessed it, it is bird poop and it hit my shirt, or so I thought. After I went to the men’s room to clean my shirt. I wash my hand and proceed to run my fingers through my hair as a quick brush and feel a wetness that didn’t feel right. The bird had pooped on my head and the stuff on my shirt was just a small bit that fell from my head. I wash my hair and hands with the gel soap and finally get presentable to take a flight home.

I get on the plane and on the up-side it is an all-male flight attendant crew but I have to pay for any food, the guy sitting next to me is watching a portable movie of the Wedding Crashers and laughing all the time, constantly opening and closing the window and the flight is expected to be all turbulence for the entire flight.

I’ll let you know once I get home if anything else happens. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if something else happens, not one bit.


eurydike said...

Your photography is exquisite. I am a photographer as well, and would love to know what camera, lenses etc. that you use.


eurydike said...

Your photography is exquisite. I am a photographer as well, and would love to know what camera, lenses etc. that you use.


eurydike said...

Your photography is exquisite. I am a photographer as well, and would love to know what camera, lenses etc. that you use.