Air travel. Are you the type to avoid airplanes at all costs? Or, are you the type of adventurer that likes to hop on a cylindrical beast with wings from time to time just to get out of dodge?
I have been traveling in airplanes since I was a child, but my first flight alone was at age 11 when I went to visit my grandfather in California. I sat next to a businessman who happened to have about six to eight oranges in his briefcase. He noticed me watching the orange orbs roll around in the shallow leather case and asked, “Do you know why its good to have oranges when you travel?”
“It’s to prevent scurvy. Do you knowwhat scurvy is?” I shook myhead.
When I got off the plane I said, “Granddaddy, did you know that eating oranges prevents scurvy?”
“Who told you that?”
“This man on the plane. He had oranges in his case.” He laughed and proceeded to tell me about ships, scurvy and my naivete.
Traveling abroad has its ups and downs. It can leave you in a discombobulated sleep pattern that takes days to remedy. It also makes you feel like you’ve lost days of your life–and you may have. It can upset your stomach or make you dehydrated. It can also be glorious knowing you will end up in a completely foreign place once you land. If you haven’t traveled abroad before, feel free to send me some questions, and I’ll be happy to give you my thoughts. Here below is how it went for me:
11:30 a.m. I happen to be looking at my itinerary while grabbing a quick coffee at Starbucks. In the fine print, I see that I am supposed to be at the airport three and one half hours before my flight. WHAT???? I knew that was absolutely impossible for me, so I gave Aer Lingus a call. Can I check in early on line or over the phone? Can they just “know” that I am coming? I proceed through your basic computerized maze to get to the right person, thankfully a shorter maze than most, and the hold time not too bad. I tell the nice man on the other end of the line that there is no way on God’s green earth that I can be there that early and if he could help me. He laughed and said, “No no. You’re fine. How early were you planning on arriving at the airport?”
“Two hours before.”
“That would be fine. You just don’t want to get there less than 45 minutes before. On the other hand, when you’re coming back from Italy, you’ll want to be there that early. It’s harder to get into the U.S. than leave it.” I thanked him and hung up.
A gentleman sitting next to me also assures me that I will be fine, and confirms the return flight information. He is a lawyer and flys abroad often, particularly to Europe. We chat and I give him my card.
12:00 p.m. Packing like a crazy mad person.
1:00 p.m. Still packing like a crazy mad person.
2:00 p.m. I think I’m going to make it, but I look like utter crap.
3:15 p.m. I’m out the door.
3:45 p.m. Finally, for the love of God, I am out of traffic and almost at the terminal.
4:00 p.m. I approach the Aer Lingus counter. “I just need your passport,” the petite brunette says to me as I’m scrolling around on my iPhone screen looking for my confirmation number.
“Oh. Okay,” I say, pulling out my passport. She tells me that I can carry on two bags. One is a “carry on” and the other a “personal item.” She gives me the my boarding passes and explains to me that my large bag is checked from JFK to Milan, so I won’t have to recheck it. I eye her coyly. “How are you with baggage?” I ask.
“I trust the Irish for some reason,” I say back to her. “But what about Milan? I just had a friend deal with lost luggage there.”
“I don’t know Italy well,” she muses. Fair enough. I’ll just have to take risks like always. They take my bag at another station after it’s been all labeled and weighed. They then tell me where to go.
“Down the stairs and to the left.”
4:30 p.m. I’m already feeling like I’ve left the U.S. The terminal is unusually quiet. There’s a good bit of activity around the pub in front of the Aer Lingus gate with plenty of Guinness on the bar. I buy my duty free, which I’ll pick up in the breeze-way and go to the pub for some food. Who knows? It’s fairly probable that the food on the plane will suck and I’ll starve. I get a sandwich, call my sister and we discuss my personal life–the conversation feels incredibly one-sided. I pray I’m not a one-way street.
5:10 p.m. I hang up with my sister and while I’m paying my bill, I hear, “Dublin!?!?” A man from Aer Lingus has personally come over to the pub and is calling out, “Anyone here going to Dublin? We’re boarding.” Really? I thought. They must have to do this often. The Paddy’s in the bar must drink a bit too much at times and miss their flights. Or, maybe this is just the common courtesy. I don’t know.
5:15 p.m. I board the plane, sending last texts and then… black-out. No more iPhone for one month. I’m feeling withdrawal moments after I see the little white apple on the black screen.
I notice how spacious and clean the plane is. I get a pillow and a blanket. I luckout and have no one sitting next to me. There’s TV, movies, games, all with a remote (my gentlemen readers willbe pleased). I don’t have to pay for my movie. Awesome! The food will probably still suck.
5:45 p.m. TAKE OFFf!!!!!
6:15 p.m. I watch Russell Crowe in State of Play. The stewardesses—no there are no men as stewards on board—dressed in their green uniforms flutter about like buttoned-up exotic birds with a smile. I smile back. New York City begins to let go of me a bit.
7:00 p.m. Dinner is served. I even got wine with dinner. $8. The meal was actually decent, with well cooked rice, a great cheesecake, real butter for the bread and dressing from Kraft with no High Fructose Corn Syrup. (Hello?….Obviously you can make it, Kraft, so quit holding out on the goods in the U.S.)
All of a sudden, a lovely green bird is standing over me offering me coffee. I then realize the purpose for the extra cup on the tray and little serving of milk. She offers me a cup. “Yes, please,” I answer, still smiling from the decent cheesecake.
It’s probably a mistake to drink coffee. It will keep me up. But then again, I want to experience everything on this flight. I want to know if they make good coffee or not? The birds fly about with coffee and tea for everyone for some time, and then everyone rests. Welcome to down time.
8:00 p.m. Duty free sales cart. A good time for the loo.
9:30 p.m. Please, God. Help me sleep–damn coffee.
Ummmm….What time is it? I’m in Dublin. It’s black outside. They say it’s
4:45 a.m. Okay. We’ll go with that.
5:00 a.m. The air bridge isn’t working. We wait as the captain says they are calling some airport engineers. They arrive in
two cars, a station wagon and some small European whatchamacalit. Someone woke them up, I’m sure. Ten minutes later I am exiting the plane and greeted by GIANT Vodaphone images along the air bridge.
5:45 a.m. So, it just so happens you can’t take liquids again on a connecting flight, even if they’re “duty free” liquids from the previous airport and plane. The blunt girl behind the airport counter says, “They should have told you that in NY. They just wanted to get your money. You’ll have to buy a bag and check it. Or, you’ll have to dump it.” Sucks for me. I begin soliciting travelers in the airport. “Want to buy a bottle of scotch?”
6:00 a.m. I finally find a Scotch buyer. An American? Dunno. Not sure. Anyway, she has a duty free scotch as well in a bag. We talk. She buys the bottle from me for $20, making back 1/2 my money. Her grandfather would now get two bottles of scotch for his 90th birthday instead of one. “Same thing happened to me the first time I bought duty free going to France,” she said.
6:45 a.m. I fall down a set of stairs in the airport going to my gate. Nothing is broken. I can walk, but I am in serious pain. I have a feeling that I’ll be bruised for two weeks out of the trip now. Thank goodness there will be no bathing suits required. They bring me to the plane’s air bridge by elevator. I can’t get down another set of steps without serious pain.
7:20 a.m. TAKE OFF!!!!!
7:25 a.m. Sleep. And, no, I don’t want water, or soda, or coffee, or pastry… Sleep.
10:00 a.m. Welcome to Milan! It takes me a while to figure out what to say to someone to ask how to get to my friend’s home. I am SUPPOSED to take a train, and now they said a bus and then a train. A man with a non-profit organization says that with my hurt leg, I should take a taxi, especially with all my luggage. Good call. I find taxi.
10:25 a.m. I peer through the taxi windows looking at Milan for the first time. From ancient streets and buildings to the local graffiti fare, I decide I like it.
11:00 a.m. I arrive at my friends apartment in Milan. I meet Federica Campari, a Milanese grad student and Francesco’s sister. She and friends are struggling to finish their final reports for a test in Engineering. We chat a bit and then… “Do you mind if I… I think I’ll… Just going to lie down here… Just rest a bit… need… need…” as my shoes come off and my head hits the pillow, “sleeeeep.”