Our European Odyssey

This blog covered our month-long trip to Eastern Europe -- specifically the countries of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

"Airport" Isn't a Four-Letter Word, but it Should be

Everything we write here is the complete truth. Although in composite, it may seem a bit far-fetched, each of these events did happen as described. Please bear with us as we do a bit of venting.

After spending one last interesting night in a hostel, we awoke Thursday morning to fly home. (Well, the hostel wasn't that interesting, but the owner was. He was a bit more concerned with being your friend than running a business. We almost had to beg him to take our payment for the night.)

We had just discovered the previous night that our nonstop flight from New York's JFK airport to St. Louis had been changed to a flight from JFK to Cincinnati and then a flight from Cincinnati to St. Louis, with an hour-later arrival. This change meant that our already-long travel day became even longer (approximately 22 hours from the time we left the hostel to our arrival at Andrea's parents' house.)

In Budapest, we spent a little more than an hour in transit to the airport, including walking to the subway, taking the subway and then taking a bus. At Budapest's Ferihegy Airport, we waited about an hour in line to check in. We got directed to a line that was stuck in neutral. The cause of the neutrality was the Hungarian Olymipic fencing team checking in for the same flight. It seems that it takes a while getting security checks done when you are checking bags full of swords...

After clearing check-in, we passed the 30 minutes until boarding by chatting with an Orthodox Jewish man from Brooklyn. We sure have met some interesting people on this trip. We don't encounter people like them much in rural Missouri.

The flight to New York was as nice as a 9½-hour flight can be. We were served lunch, snacks, a sandwich and drinks in the course of the flight. We were also shown two movies, "Walk the Line" and "Ice Age," which helped to pass the time nicely. Malev Airlines (Hungary's national carrier) was great both times we flew with it. We got plenty of food, and the crew was very friendly by Eastern European standards. The check-in process, however, was slow and torturous for both flights. (Not that U.S. carriers do any better, though, as we will soon describe.)

After arriving at JFK at 3:30 p.m. EST, we had two hours till our flight left for Cincinnati, and we needed every minute of it. We cleared customs in about 30 minutes, including rechecking our luggage. Leaving customs, we were directed to Terminal 2 for our connecting Delta flight. We hurried through corridor after corridor to get to the Air Train, which transports people to other terminals. JFK is apparently going through some kind of monumental construction because they have these detours that take you through never-ending hallways just to go to the next room.

Upon arriving at Terminal 2 and finding it completely deserted, we discovered that we needed to go to Terminal 3 instead. It was right next door, but when we opened the door, we stepped into mass chaos. There were hundreds of people standing in a lobby area -- some waiting to go through security, some to check in, some to check bags and some trying to get information about the flights they were missing by waiting in line. All of the lines joined into a massive jumble with no apparent end. No one was certain which line was the correct one. One employee was directing people to the "correct" lines and answering questions from the masses.

We were directed to a relatively short line because we had already checked our bags. After standing there for a bit, we were directed to another line. The woman checked our itinerary and told us that because our flight to St. Lous had been changed, we would need to be reissued tickets. Of course, that required moving to another longer, slower-moving line.

After standing there and not moving for 10 minutes, Jake got impatient and decided to try the initial short line we were directed to. What do you know, that was the correct line after all. Unfortunately, Andrea had stayed in the previous line to save our place. Jake waved frantically to get her attention, and thankfully, she saw him. After Andrea wound her way through the maze of people, we were able to check in and get our new tickets.

With that task complete, we went to stand in line for the security check. It was now 5 p.m., and our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:30. After explaining our predicament to a passing security guard, he said to cut to the front of the line. However, at the front were 20 other people with 5:30 flights who were also trying to cut in line. We were thankfully able to get through security in about 10 minutes.

Once we were through that chaotic mess, we arrived at the gate just in time for the final boarding call. We had just made our flight.

On board, we settled down for a nice wait before takeoff. The place was 15th in line to take off with an expected 30-minute wait. We were up to seventh in line when the skies opened up and it began to pour. The rain was accompanied by large wind gusts (The captain said 50 mph.), which meant no planes could take off. Thankfully, the rain passed in 15 minutes, and planes began to take off again. Our plane finally lifted off the tarmac at 6:30 (an hour later than scheduled), which meant we were expected to arrive in Cincinnati at 8:15 instead of 8.

We should now mention that when our flight itinerary was changed without our knowledge, the layover in Cincinnati was only 30 minutes. We were supposed to arrive at 8 and leave for St. Louis at 8:30 -- not much time to catch a flight. And now we were down to 15 minutes tops.

When we landed at 8:15, we got off the plane as quickly as we could and started running through the airport, following the signs to Terminal C. Come to find out, Terminal C is in another building, and we had to take a shuttle there. It was one intense shuttle ride. When we got to the terminal, we sprinted to our gate, where an airport employee smiled and said: "St. Louis? We've been waiting for you." We let her know that there were more people behind us and then took our seats with sighs of relief. We really thought we'd be spending the night in Cincinnati.

We landed on time in St. Louis, and our moms were there to drive us home. (Miraculously, our bags made it, too.) By the time we got to Andrea's parents' house in Mexico, we'd been awake for about 25 hours. We got to bed shortly before midnight but woke up at 6 a.m., unable to go back to sleep. We guess the time difference will affect us for a little while. Luckily, we haven't been too tired (yet) and hope the jet lag doesn't get to us.

After taking care of some errands yesterday and preparing a slide show of our travels, we enjoyed swimming and a barbecue at Jake's parents' home last night. (It was a birthday celebration for Jake's nephew Brit, who just turned 7.)

Today we're moving to our new apartment in Edwardsville with the help of Jake's parents, Andrea's mom and Jake's nephew Cayce. They're calling for rain, and we very much hope they're wrong.

3 Comments:

At 3:23 PM, June 17, 2006, Anonymous Lora said...

Wow, what an end to the trip! I was on a flight last week that was delayed 90 minutes, and that was irritating enough -- I can't imagine the hassles you had to go through ...

Glad you made it back safely. Good luck with the move!

 
At 4:21 PM, June 17, 2006, Blogger Nichole said...

I would've blown a gasket, going that long with no sleep and dealing with all of that! It's a credit to the two of you that you handled it so well.

 
At 9:22 AM, June 19, 2006, Anonymous ginger said...

I had bad luck at the JFK airport, too. I thought I was going to throw up on the plane because it was really hot on there, and we had to wait in the plane for 2 hours before we could take off. Not quite as bad as yours, thankfully. Glad to know you got back safe and sound!

ginger

 

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