Skip this if airport sagas bore you. I couldn't resist writing this up, if only for the record and for a sense of resolution. This is a lightly edited version of a narrative I threw together last night.
Last week was the final week of classes of fall term at the college where I teach --an even crazier week than usual in a semester with a severe lack of contemplative spaces, not to mention lack of sleep. (You've probably also noticed the lack of blogging, and the superficial blogging when I have managed to post. Not unrelated to the lack of contemplative time.) It was also an intense week at church with extra pastoral care plus a meeting of the diocesan committee I chair. And did I mention that our department at school is in a search and during this very same week we had to review our interview notes from eighteen short interviews and rank the top ten candidates? And that the dry cleaner forgot to clean the two items of clothing I absolutely needed for the dress-up part of my trip and went to pick up on Thursday, and that I had to get them to do the job between Thursday evening and Friday morning? There was also the matter of finding a cat-sitter. That's the prelude.
As I mentioned in the comments section in the guess-the destination post below, I was scheduled to leave Friday for Istanbul, not because I am a rich jet-setter, which I am not, but because I am an impoverished college prof and church mouse who loves her only sibling, who happens to live overseas and who turned 65 on Saturday.
Part of what I wrote in that comments section: My one and only brother, who is somewhat older than I, is celebrating his 65th birthday tomorrow. He lives in Rome, his beloved lives in Istanbul, and she's throwing the party. I've never been to Istanbul. Turkish Airlines had cheap tickets. I don't have to pay for my housing there. My students (except for a few late ones who are turning in their work via internet) have finished their research papers and I can read them on the plane and early next week, and we are required to turn in end of semester grades online anyway. So I'm going.
...I hope to blog since I'll be staying in a place with WiFi. I saw that themethatisme visited Istanbul recently (it's on his blog for late Oct., or a memory of it) but not sure what the purpose of the visit was. (Note: a quick check of TheMe's blog, the first blog read since my arrival, tells me that his beloved has been in hospital, and I am sending prayers this very minute.) If it was something Anglican, I'd love to know. Actually, even if it wasn't something Anglican. And yes of course I will do a little research-tourism in the land of Orthodox churches and mosques and Sufi mystics' dwellings. I hear Istanbul is also a very happenin' place -- and beautiful. I can't quite believe I'm going...
I usually fly out of the Greensboro airport, which is 10 or 15 minutes' drive from where I live, but had to fly out of Raleigh-Durham airport this time because a) I was flying JetBlue and b) I was going to New York's JFK airport in order to catch my Turkish Airlines flight. I had to drive myself there and park in the far lot for the usual budgetary reasons; no way to find a ride even after offers of a small paid student job to the little darlings; no one had the time. I drove a little above the speed limit, phoned JetBlue from the car when I started running late and tried to see if they could put me through to the check-in counter or the gate, but they don't do such things. Soon after I parked in the far lot the shuttle bus drove off and I had to wait for the next one, and at the airport there were no skycaps (for you Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis and others unused to U.S. English, that's an airport baggage porter) despite what the nice JetBlue lady on the phone had said. I don't usually use skycaps, but I was trying to shave minutes off the time between me and the plane's departure.
So I missed my JetBlue flight due to a confluence of various events and my own fault. Which led me to taking a Delta flight (not the next flight, which was grounded for mechanical problems and they told me was a bad idea, but the following one) for which I had to pay extra money and before which they selected me for extra screening, doubtless because I was a weeping dark-eyebrowed out-of-breath tan-skinned passenger who checked in under changed airplane circumstances.
photo courtesy of blogger oldcowhand
So I went through the frisking and searching of all my carry-ons by a polite and efficient woman who then wrote I am not sure what in her notebook, and walked to the gate, where I sat, opened the computer, and checked in to the Turkish Airlines flight online (thank you, airport WiFi) just in case I still made it, getting all my magic boarding pass and security numbers.
We boarded the plane. Whereupon the plane sat on the ground for an hour because there was weather in New York. I began to pray for the Istanbul flight to take off late due to that very same weather, but the weather in New York wasn't really that bad.
By the time we landed in NY my flight to Istanbul had left (this is all still Friday) AND Delta had managed to lose my suitcase between Raleigh-Durham and JFK.
I then spent nearly three hours in the bowels of JFK trying to call 1) Turkish Airlines, to find out if the plane had in fact left (there were only Delta flight monitor screens where I was and I couldn't leave that terminal because I was waiting for my suitcase at the conveyor belt) and whether I could re-book for the following day (it took me nearly forty minutes and at least four calls till I reached a real person, at which point the first thing I said was "PLEASE don't hang up on me!") and 2) friends and cousins in Manhattan, to find out if I could beg a bed for the night -- and then, of course, standing on line at the Delta lost-baggage place once it was clear my luggage (and that of seven other people on the RDU to JFK flight) was not going to show up on the conveyor belt.
One of the four folks I had phoned about housing called me back (with bad cell phone reception because I was still semi-underground at JFK) and said sure, come on over. By then it was close to 10 p.m. and I was in front of the lost baggage claim counter at last. I told them please NOT to deliver the suitcase anywhere when it arrived after midnight (they located the suitcase but it wasn't at JFK) since I had to fly out of the country the next day, and we agreed I would pick up the suitcase at Terminal Three. Nice woman, heartwarming New York accent, gave me directions to get into Manhattan should I decide not to take a cab. I was at the end of the line of the people with lost luggage (of course) so we had a chance to chat a bit and she was grateful I didn't yell at her; well of course I didn't, it wasn't her fault that the airline lost the bag. So I didn't burst out crying at that counter.
I had forgotten what an inefficient madhouse JFK is --I will never allow such a short time between flights; 2 hours will not do it! Especially in the winter and with the second flight being an international one. Very, very stupid of me and by then I was of course kicking myself and had burst out crying at two airline counters (JetBlue, which laughed at me and was mostly unhelpful --too bad because I'd previously had good JetBlue experiences and on top of that they did leave on time; if they'd been delayed as Delta was I wouldn't have missed the planes; but I digress-- and Delta, which was sympathetic and helpful at least that day; the next day is another story) since it was clear my whole trip was going to be messed up. And that I was soon going to be writing in run-on sentences.
So I left JFK, with no suitcase but with my heavy (computer, stack of student papers, and a few small things e.g. makeup kit, camera) carry-on and had to decide whether to take a cab or the Air Train plus two subway lines. I was so exhausted I opted for the cab, thus spending all my Istanbul cab money, fifty dollars, but we got to Manhattan very fast (between half an hour and forty-five minutes), even before my friend Verena got home. She was out on the town with Lidia Bastianich of television cooking fame, at Cirque du Soleil and at the restaurant (Lidia's, that is).
I also had my asthma inhaler with me, a precaution I always take in case I run into something or someone allergifying, and used it at Verena's since I am allergic to her two cats (I knew this already, having stayed in this household before), Mootz (sp? Slovenian for "cat"), a big white fellow, and Mimi, a scaredy-cat shy black cat lady. Of course I had no suitcase with me, so I borrowed sleepwear and toothpaste and zonked out very fast, after a small 11 p.m. supper because of course I had had nothing to eat since early lunch (just before I drove myself to RDU airport) except for Delta Airlines' delicious artificial-orange cheese and crackers. My host and I laughed at the unexpected slumber party and she gave me a huge loaf of her mother's famous cranberry bread to take to my brother, who happens to be her former boss of many years ago. The bread had arrived fresh from Boston that day by Priority Mail.
The next morning was Saturday, though I had completely forgotten what day of the week it was, and I was re-booked (hadn't yet paid the supplement, which they said they wouldn't take till I showed up at the ticket desk at JFK) on Turkish Airlines for the very same flight 24 hours later and of course was missing the big 65th birthday bash for my brother, though not the day-after open house for the internationals, a.k.a. the guests from out of town (mostly Paris and Rome, and one from the U.K.). I told you this episode was making me use run-on sentences.
Verena had to leave for work early because Saturday is a work day and for her; she has Mondays off, which she likes since it is better for running errands. She's a reporter at the city desk of the Associated Press and had to write an article on the Marx Brothers' former residence. I slept, corrected and graded some of the student papers, mailed the corrected ones to myself from the post office across the street (ah, real cities,where unlike Greensboro you don't have to jump into a car to do everything), called a friend, and walked a bit. (Verena lives near Central Park and Lincoln Center, though I didn't really have time for a real walk in the Park as I had hoped because I was watching the clock to get back to the airport.)
Earlier I decided it was time to frequent the Evil Starbucks, which was having a crowded New York City morning and where I had an orange juice and a Tall Soy Mocha and a bran muffin and sat and corrected papers, amid all the Saturday morning NYC people reading their newspapers and then had a conversation with a man who turns out to be an active member of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, one of NYC's progressive and lively Jewish congregations, where I know a few folks. So we exchanged cards and smiles. ("Don't let the banker thing scare you," he said apologetically.) I was still miserable about missing the flight but trying to enjoy the fact that I had an unexpected stop in one of my favorite cities. I love New York at the holiday season; the small white lights on the trees were beautiful, street stands were stacked with evergreen wreaths, and the city had that Saturday winter morning feel -- though with mild weather, scarily mild but pleasant.
Then off to the airport I went, this time by subway, through Queens and still reading student papers, and then on to the Air Train and thence to Terminal Three, where Delta was supposed to be holding my bag. (They had asked me what flight I was taking overseas and I had told them, but I'd made very clear and they'd made very clear that the bag would be waiting at Terminal Three.) There Customer Service Hell kicked in and the young woman at the counter said, and I quote, "What do you want?" in greeting. (Think of that sentence said in the least pleasant way. No Hello, no How may I help you?, not even a Next in line! Just What do you want?)
Gee, I wanted my suitcase. I had the paperwork with the little numbers on it. I handed it over. The young woman disappeared into the back, not seeming very happy with her job, and she returned saying the suitcase wasn't there. I could just feel the blood pressure rising again. After a while she poked around in her computer and said "They sent it to Turkish Airlines." At first this seemed like good news, a pleasant surprise, though it was NOT what I had asked for.
So off to Terminal One I went. I got to the ticket desk at Turkish Airlines, where the Real Person I had spoken to the previous night was there as promised. Tap-tap-tap into her computer she went, and tap-tap-tap some more, and she announced to me that although yesterday (Friday night) she had told me the re-booking surcharge would be $150, it was actually now over $400 because today (Saturday that is) was the beginning of the holiday travel season when everything was more expensive.
So that was the third time I started crying at an airline counter.
But what could I do, I wasn't going to give up this trip to see my only brother even if I was a day late for his 65th birthday. (I forgot to mention that all this time on the road I'd been text-messaging him to let him know the latest, until the hour became too late since Istanbul is seven hours ahead of Eastern U.S. time and I didn't want to wake him with the little message signal beeps on his cell phone.) I pulled out my credit card, which is really a debit card and therefore is limited to what I have in the bank, which is never much, and hoped there was enough money left in the bank to get me on the plane. Out went the last of my December money, and gone were the savings on my cheap flight.
Then I had to go to the other Turkish Airlines counter, the check-in one around the corner (sans suitcase, still; the ticketing people said the check-in people would know), and finally I had my boarding pass in my hot little hands and plenty of time to go through security.
And what about the suitcase? We don't have the suitcase, said Turkish Airlines. Unlike Delta, they were nice, helpful, and efficient, and they set their computers and humans on the trail of the lost suitcase. They also sent me to talk to Delta again. But I can't go back to Terminal Three, I wailed politely, I was just there and I know it's not there and they sent me here!
There is a Delta representative at the Air France counter, said Turkish Airlines. Go over there. So I went, not too far away, and decided maybe if I started speaking French things would go better. So I explained my situation in French, and the Air France person was very nice, which may also have had to do with the fact that I was all calm and polite (having taken several deep breaths; also I tend to be calm in French) but she wasn't the person who could help me, so I had to switch back into English. And back we were in the hands of Delta.
Delta was no help, though I had them write down the little numbers from the first form (from the previous night at the lost luggage counter) and the new form (which they had given me at Terminal Three) and the original luggage form (which I was hanging onto for dear life -- this is the original sticker they put on your boarding pass holder).
I went back to Turkish Airlines. By then it was close maybe 4:45 or 5:00 p.m.The flight was leaving at 6:45 p.m.
Finally Turkish and Delta both said they had no idea where the bag was, though there was a search on for it. They said I should listen for an announcement here in the terminal (as if you could distinguish what the hell people are saying on those loudspeakers amid the general din), I told them I was boarding that Turkish Airlines plane, bag or no bag, and I decided it was time for some food since the last bite was five or six hours earlier at the Evil Starbucks. I didn't want to clear security yet because I was listening for the announcement about the missing suitcase.
I found a small eatery there in the international terminal and was very tempted by the wine (it was some kind of cafe-wine bar) but decided that it was not a good idea to drink while upset or on a semi-empty stomach, so I did the reasonable thing and went for hydration and protein: bottled water and a small yogurt.
Still no suitcase announcement. So into the security line I went, no extra check-up from the TSA this time but the usual craziness with the shoes and the computer and the take off your coat and jacket routine -- and the complaining upper-money-echelon Brit with the Louis Vuitton bag and the Islamic-scarf-clad older woman with six carry-ons and her son watching her from the other side of the security glass barrier to help her along because she didn't speak any English and couldn't understand the TSA people... and to our gates we went.
Around the time they were about to call my flight I went up to the desk at the gate and I said, you know, there's this lost suitcase, and neither Delta nor Turkish Airlines has my Istanbul address, and it seems to me it would be a good idea for us to have one more conversation about the suitcase BEFORE I board this flight, since the suitcase is obviously here and I am soon not going to be. At first the counter people were not so sure, but then a very smart efficient young Turkish man appeared (I am so far thoroughly impressed with every Turk from Turkish Airlines I have met) who understood what was going on and put the word through via his walkie-talkie and his online elves to whatever airport divinities exist somewhere. He said as far as he knew the luggage wasn't on the plane, but to check when I got to Istanbul, just in case.
So I boarded the plane, luggage-less but of course with the heavy carry-on, which in addition to the aforementioned objects also included my pocket-size copy of the Book of Common Prayer (which I have never been so happy to have with me; I do always have it in my carry-on), Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul, which I hadn't started reading yet, and my friend Derek's Blue Guide to Istanbul.
Well, at least I was on the plane to Istanbul.
The flight was one of the best I've ever had. The nearly nine hours passed quickly (I was asleep for at least three of them), I read Evening Prayer, supper was delicious (that's right, I did say that about airplane food), and I listened to the music of the Turkish-language cabin announcements (there were also recorded British-English ones) and people-watched, discreetly. Breakfast came soon after I woke up and I conversed for an hour with my neighbor, a Turkish Navy man (he told me; he and his two colleagues were traveling together and obviously good buddies, but they weren't in uniform) who was an engineer on his way back from a work trip to San Diego. He had studied engineering at the University of New Hampshire some years back. We talked about religion, education, tolerance, history, Islam, pluralism, and various parts of the U.S. and Turkey. I also learned the Turkish word for Jerusalem, which is Kudüs. I had forgotten that the Arabic word for Jerusalem is Al-Quds, a similar word, so it took us five minutes before I could figure out that he was asking me whether I had ever been to Jerusalem.
The landing was smooth. Passport check involved buying a visa, which you don't have to get in advance when you go to Turkey these days. There was absolutely no customs check. After changing some money (I did have some cash on me) and a quick look at the baggage conveyor belt, I decided it was time for a little visit to the missing baggage counter,where I apologized for my lack of Turkish (when I do this here, people shrug and begin to speak English, which the whole travel and tourist industry seems to know) and proferred the various pieces of paper with magic numbers on them.
Ah, the counter people said. Go over to Delta.
And there, near the Havaş transport and travel company sign with many airline signs, was my bag, shipped to Istanbul by some mysterious route by the Delta people and bearing many new tags and a little sticker from the TSA.
And that is how I was reunited with my suitcase.
Then it was time to take either a cab or the shuttle (a big bus like a city bus) into Taksim Square, and given the choice between two very different costs, I plunked myself on the bus queue.
Forty-five minutes later we were in downtown Istanbul, after crossing the Golden Horn.
A little more suitcase-lugging later, after dropping the bags at the hotel where I was staying for just one night (the rest of the stay is at home c/o my brother's partner, but she and my brother were putting me up at a neigboring hotel for the party weekend because their guest room was already full) and without changing the clothes in which I had traveled for 48 hours, I landed on the apartment doorstep.
The view of the Bosphorus was breathtaking.
In the afternoon I had a nap on one of the living-room couches (my brother napped on another couch -- they were up dancing till all hours the night before) and later in the evening the remaining international visitors (the ones I really wanted to see anyway since they are the old friends of my brother's whom I know best and one is also a family friend from Paris with whom I have my own friendship) had Turkish hors d'oeuvres followed by a jolly pasta meal cooked by two of the visiting Italian men who are each other's brothers-in-law.
The foodie saga will continue.
My brother flew back to Rome yesterday because he has to work. (He'll be back on the weekend, we hope.) His beloved and I went out to dinner last night at a superb kebab restaurant with the remaining visitors, a French couple and an Italian couple. The gentlemen paid with their American Express cards.
Visits to churches and mosques will follow.
There are more student papers to correct.
Tonight I am staying home and eating leftovers.
I am slowly catching up on sleep.