Direct Flights Are For Pansies

I have flown.

The longest flight I've ever been on was 14 hours, Sydney to LA. Fourteen hours was four hours too much. After three movies, a book, four jogs up and down the aisles, twenty jumping jacks in the bathroom (twice), and lots of sleeping, we were still somewhere randomly over the Pacific. A different take on the term "cabin fever."

The longest single journey I've been on, first airport to final airport, was 36 hours. I started in Seattle and had a 10 hour layover in Amsterdam before continuing on to Cape Town, jumper flights not included. By the end I had forgotten what normal life was supposed to look like, because the world only consisted of stewards and beverage service and departure boards.

But the prize for the most endlessly complex itinerary that I've ever pieced together was my attempt to fly from the US to Prague to the UK and back again. I could have been soft. I could have bought three tickets. Instead I had eleven.

Flight #1: Denver to Atlanta. Uneventful. Yeah!

Flight #2: Atlanta to Paris on AirFrance, possibly the best flight I've ever taken. Amazing food. A cute steward with a French accent. Video feed from cameras mounted all over the outside of the plane. Spiral staircase. Ability to play games with other passengers via the video system. Cute steward...did I mention the cute steward? Yes, AirFrance. Yes.

Except...AirFrance was late getting into Paris, which was apparently quite usual for that route, and I had another connecting flight. The staff nonchalantly put me in a van and drove me out to my plane somewhere in the hinterlands of the tarmac. That's when I discovered that all of the other passengers for that flight, ALL of them, had been waiting in a bus next to the plane until I arrived. Once I pulled up, they finally opened the doors on the bus. I lingered in the van, grateful for the shaded windows, until most of the other passengers had boarded. Sometimes it's good to avoid the limelight.

Flight #3: Paris to Birmingham, UK. Here I had to change airlines, which meant going through customs, reclaiming my bag, rechecking my bag, and going back through customs again - fab. On my entry form I wrote, "Duration of time in the UK: two hours."

"Two hours?" the customs official asked. More customs officials came over to have a look. It must have raised some red flags. "Not much of a vacation, is it?" said one of them.

Considering how narrowly I made the last flight, I was unsurprised, but crestfallen, to learn that my bag had not made it past Paris. Ate a Magnum bar to ease my pain, then went all out crazy, bought some makeup, and marched into the restroom with purpose. I might not have luggage, but I was going to not have luggage and look good, darn it.

Flight #4: A cheap hopper flight to Prague. The plane was stripped down to the metal bolts. I'm amazed they gave us pressurized cabin air for free. I had already paid to check my non-existent bag. Bitterness ensued.

Once in Prague, AirFrance gave me a consolation bag...survival kit consisting of a toothbrush (which I already had - ALWAYS CARRY A TOOTHBRUSH IN CARRY ON, PEOPLE!), some other random toiletries, and a sized XXXL white T-shirt emblazoned with AIRFRANCE!

I guess I could have used a sharpie to write on the shirt "LOST MY BAG!" and then worn it around as an explanation to the world about why I was gradually transforming into a hobo. But in two days, AirFrance came through, delivering my bag right to the door of my apartment in Prague. Aw. You're forgiven now, cute-steward-hiring airline.

Flight #5: Prague to London on British Airways. Cancelled due to a British Airways strike. BA made a quick recovery, hired another plane, and got me to London on the right day, if a little late. They even used British Airways-stamped napkins aboard just to complete the illusion.

Flight #6: London to Glasgow. Nearly missed it. This was entirely my fault. I should have taken an earlier bus. If it hadn't been for the massive backpack pinning me to one spot, I would have worn out the floor on the tube train pacing back and forth. It's a long, long ride from London city center to Heathrow, especially when your plane's engine is revving.

Flight #7: And then a volcano erupted.

This was in 2010, when some fireball in Iceland threw up a plume of ash that shut down all of Europe's airspace. The entire continent came to a standstill. People were trapped wherever they happened to be. Hotels started charging double, then triple; rental cars were sold out; train and bus stations had queues that stretched for blocks. No one could travel.

I was extremely blessed to be visiting a friend in Scotland at the time, and she very very kindly put me up for the duration. I preemptively rescheduled my flight. (The airline would not officially cancel it until just a few hours before, optimistic that airspace would open anytime.) While faint news of the ensuing chaos drifted in from time to time, we enjoyed an extended visit under sunny skies, Scotland being one of the few places that was not choked by a dark cloud of ash.

God looked out for me big time. I'm constantly amazed how reliably he is when these kinds of things happen. I always run around in a panic until I finally get it through my thick head that he's still got everything under control. "Oh, right," I'll say. "You can do that. Cool."

Flight #7: (finally) Glasgow to Amsterdam. Stared in a daze at some tulips for sale. That's all I can remember.

Flight #8: Amsterdam to...geez, I don't even know. New York or Chicago, some big hazy airport with planes that looked like Tylenols. It's getting worse now. I'm losing touch with reality. I think I've taken enough connecting flights to bend the universal fabric. Am I travelling east instead of west, also back in time? Is that a dinosaur in the clouds? I don't even...

Flight #9: Somewhere to Denver. If I fled from the airport now, I have friends here who can take me in. Am sorely tempted.

Flight #10: Denver to Salt Lake City. Cancelled due to weather. I'm shuffled onto a different flight. I think Salt Lake City happened at some point, but can't be certain.

Flight #11: Salt Lake City to Portland. And for the grand finale, NOTHING EVENTFUL HAPPENED. No lost bags, no strikes, no volcanoes, no storms. Can such a thing be? Also, did I just get through eleven flights without sitting for five hours on the tarmac somewhere? (This happened to me on a different trip.) Holy cow. I don't even remember what real ground feels like anymore.

After this I vowed I would not fly again for a long, looong time. I kept good on my vow. It lasted for a whole eighteen months. But I'm excited about flying again now, because now I have this:


Brett Minor said...

I would have gone crazy. My worst flight experience wasn't horrible it just took forever. I boarded a plane with my 5 and 8 year old going from Chicago to San Juan. This is typically a four hour flight.

As we boarded the plane a storm erupted. The plane sat on the tarmac for six hours before the skies were clear enough to take off. There was no mean being served because it was only a four hour flight during a time when a meal wasn't necessary. But due to the delay, we were on the plane long enough that we should have eaten 2 meals.

Since they hadn't planned for a meal, there was no food available and we were not allowed off the plane. It was a long day.

Kt said...

That does sound bad. I've never had to herd little ones along with me, and I'm sure that adds - no, heaps - more stress onto an already stressful ordeal.

My rule of thumb now is to always ALWAYS carry food with me, usually at least enough for one meal. Little things, high energy things. Water too, like I'm going into a desert. It's paid off.

DWei said...

Oh wow, none of my inflight experiences have been this uh, interesting.

I tend to sleep a lot on the flights so that makes them seem shorter I guess.

Kt said...

Yeah, sleeping is definitely the best strategy for any flight less than four hours.

After that, you only WISH you were asleep.