The Longest Day

Most of my trips to Germany are fairly routine, but my 2011 journey stands out in my mind. When my usual airline went bankrupt, I wanted to avoid the crowded East Coast airports of Philadelphia or Newark and decided to fly through Charlotte. I booked months in advance because I wanted to attend my dad’s 85th birthday.

The trouble began when dinner was served and they were out of chicken, decimating the usual choices of pasta or chicken down to one: pasta. I was not hungry at the time and declined the warmed-up pasta. That was a huge mistake. No sooner was dinner served that the captain announced that the plane could not proceed to Frankfurt because the de-icing sensor was defect and it was cold in Germany. Cold? It was mid-July!

Of course, our plane could not return to Charlotte post-haste because it was too heavy to land. We cruised over the Eastern United States for hours and it was after midnight when we finally entered Charlotte airport again. I quickly called my husband so he could contact my brother before he headed to Frankfurt (five minutes later and my brother would have departed). The language problem was another roadblock and I had to spell out what he should say on the phone.

What followed next was an exercise in stalling. Every half hour we were told that the problem would be solved very soon. We were instructed not to leave our gate area and the last restaurant nearby had closed for the night. Following the letter of the law, which demanded to supply food and water for the passengers, the airline offered bottled water and tiny bags of pretzels. Since when are pretzels a food group? They would only have upset my empty stomach, so I took a pass. Apparently, this airline was determined to starve me to death.

Tensions mounted. At 4 o’clock in the morning the flight was cancelled and we wait in line to rebook. Another hour later I received my marching orders with a hand shaky from hunger: a flight to Philadelphia (!) on the next afternoon, followed by a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. By then I was seriously considering to just get a flight back to Pittsburgh, but I thought how disappointed my dad would be if I could not attend his special day.

My next hurdle was finding a cheap hotel close to the airport for a quick snooze. I can’t lie down after eating, so breakfast had to wait until after my nap. I had not eaten for 18 hours when I finally walked into a Waffle House and all the employees greeted me with a cheerful “Good Morning!” That – and a wonderful waffle – restored my low spirits and I was ready to get going. In my sleep-deprived mind, however, I packed my medicine in my suitcase instead of my carry-on.

My flight to Frankfurt was delightful. I got to eat chicken with real silverware and had two seats to myself. I even got some sleep. However, the baggage carousel came to a shrieking halt without spitting out my suitcase. I dragged my carry-on to the lost-luggage desk and the agent said matter-of-factly, “Oh, that happens all the time on this route!” Really? This is business as usual?

He gave me 50 Euros, some travel necessities, and told me that another plane from Philadelphia was to arrive in an hour. An hour did not seem much to me after such a long time and I followed an employee through the bowels of Frankfurt airport. You can probably guess by now that my luggage did not make that flight either. Almost empty-handed, my brother and I finally headed to my parents’ house.

For the next few days, I called the airport and washed the two outfits I had with me. Finally after three days, a delivery van pulled up and the driver carried my suitcase into the house. I could have kissed him, that’s how happy I was. Now I could finally enjoy my stay without having to wear the same outfits over and over.

Such a disastrous trip could not end without a glitch. My plane back to Charlotte was in the air for an hour when a voice on the intercom asked, “Is there a doctor on board?”

I have no idea whether the sick passenger had pasta or chicken.

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