Saturday, January 15, 2011
As I'm packing for my upcoming vacation (No, I'm not taking as much as you see in the picture--my suitcase WILL close), I wonder what airport adventures await.
My relationship with airports has always been ambivalent. On one hand, they make me vaguely nervous. Will my flight be on time? Will I make my connection? Will my luggage arrive? On the other hand, I find airports fascinating. All those people coming and going. Thousands of stories.
I grade airports by whether they have a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Shop. Newark and
Atlanta get A's. I hope Miami has a Ben and Jerry's because I have a long layover there.
My strangest adventures have taken place at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. I love Paris, the airport not so much.
A few years ago a friend and I went to a writing workshop in Provence. We landed in Paris on a sunny morning. As we walked to the bus that would take us from the tarmac to the terminal, I breathed in the fresh summer air. Then, with my suitcase trailing behind me, I stepped onto the bus, caught the wheels of the suitcase on the step and pitched headlong onto the floor. I heard gasps. Someone helped me to my feet and my friend cried, “Are you all right?”
“Fine,” I muttered, relieved my glasses hadn’t broken. Unfortunately, my nose had.
An Air France attendant led my friend and me through the airport—the very long airport—to the doctor’s office. Rather than drag our suitcases, we loaded them onto a cart, which my friend proceeded to push onto a moving walkway. No one told us carts are not made for such walkways. As we reached the end, the cart lost traction, rolled over and knocked me down, and as I fell on the cart, the people on the walk behind me fell on me. Now I had a cut on my arm to go along with the nose that was rapidly turning black and blue.
The airport doctor pronounced me lucky because my nose was broken only on one side and no surgery was needed. He cleaned off my arm and suggested I take a pain killer, and we went on our way. Of course, we missed our connection to Nice, but that’s another story.
I am sure I’m one of the few people—perhaps the only person--who can boast that I broke my nose in the Paris airport.
A year later, I was once again at Charles de Gaulle. I arrived early, with plenty of time to make my flight to Houston. Or so I thought. As I headed for the counter to get a boarding pass, a uniformed woman gestured me aside. “Get back,” she ordered. “We’re evacuating.” Someone had reported an unattended suitcase, I learned, as I stood in the crowd. Why didn’t they move us outside? Weren’t we in danger here? Within a few minutes, I heard a pop. Security had blown up the suitcase. Now the huge crowd of evacuees shoved their way to the counters. Being a little, rather oldish lady, I ended up at the back of the line.
At security I was again at the rear. The line inched along. I watched the hands of the clock creep toward departure time. Finally, I went through the x-ray. Home free, I thought.
No such luck. It was random-security-check time. Stern-faced security personnel patted me down, opened my suitcase, dug through my purse and finally let me pass. Holding my shoes in one hand, I raced through the concourse and arrived at the gate just as it closed.
Out of breath, I stuck out my boarding pass.
“Door’s closed,” the gate attendant said.
“But the plane’s still on the ground,” I protested.
"You’re too late.”
“It’s because they evacuated the terminal,” I explained.
“Not our fault. You should have gotten here earlier,” she said, with a sneer.
“But I was early. They evacuated—“
“You can’t get on,” she repeated. “Go to the Air France office and book another flight.”
At least I wasn’t the only one who was refused access to the plane. Several other would-be passengers hovered at the gate. The attendant signaled another Air France employee. “She’ll take you to the office."
The woman took off as if she were running a marathon. I couldn’t keep up, nor could the woman hurrying along next to me. Within a few minutes, we lost sight of our guide.
Did anyone know the location of the Air France office? Nope. We asked and asked, until finally someone pointed us toward their counter. There I met with an Air France attendant as unhelpful as the others I’d encountered. Although others who had missed our plane because their connecting flights were late were booked on flights, my “case” was different; according to Air France regulations, evacuation of a terminal did not count as a good reason for tardiness. Finally I burst into tears. To this day I’m not sure if they were real or I was faking, but my sobs worked. The lady relented and put me on the same flight—Houston via Atlanta--as the woman I’d gotten lost with. Since we had several hours before the plane left, we decided to have lunch.
We located a café, ordered and sat down. “Well, since we’ve been through so much together, I think we should introduce ourselves,” she said.
She burst out laughing. When she could catch her breath, she said. “I’m Louise.”
This was a friendship destined to be.
But, I don’t ever plan to fly through Paris again.
For this trip, my Kindle is loaded with books I've been intending to read, my suitcase will soon be packed with clothes for three different climates, my camera and my Scrabble dictionary (My sister and I play Scrabble for $2 a game when we travel together--so far, I'm ahead) I'm hoping to make it to South America and back without any fuss or bother.
On the other hand, what would a trip be without an adventure or two?