Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Terminal: 24-hour version*

Most of this post was written previously, but not yet posted. Something about not having the pictures ready… ;) I still don’t have the pictures ready, but I’m in the middle of the stupidest bout of jetlag induced insomnia yet (I say that every time. I always know the jetlag is going to be bad, and I’m always shocked by how bad it is. Apparently crossing eight time zones eastwards is more than my body can handle gracefully.) and I determined to do something “useful” after lying awake for many hours over the last few days. It’s currently 5:30am, and I’ve been awake since just after 2. Maybe I’ll add the pictures another day.

So, I had a really impressive flight home from my vacation – and not in a good way! It was already due to be a 36 hour extravaganza of traveling fun, but a strike in Frankfurt and a little mistake in the rebooking made it so much more fun.

Things started reasonably at 05:00, when the alarm went off and everyone rushed around to be out the door by 05:30. North-central Alberta is surprisingly light at that hour. My parents were driving me to the airport, just over 2 hours from our house, and I needed to check in by 08:00 or so for my 09:30 flight. We did so well that we were able to have breakfast together before I headed off through security.

Things started to fall apart when I landed in Toronto. A strike had started in Frankfurt (I still don’t really know the details on that), and my flight was already running late. I spoke to the Air Canada agent where I disembarked, but she couldn’t look up Lufthansa information on her computer, and just told me that they would help me.

So, now we come to a slight error of tactics on my part. I went off and found my gate, and, not finding any Lufthansa people to help me, had lunch. A nearly fatal error. Knowing what I know now, the correct response was to go immediately to the ticketing agent to rebook that flight. Because after lunch, when I realized that my transatlantic flight was at least four hours late and that I would most certainly miss my next flight, it was too late. There was already a line of other people waiting to do just that. A line in which I stood for three hours.

When I reached the next available person (who wasn’t a ticketing agent, but was helping out anyway), we searched for flights that would get me to Khartoum. The next iteration of my original flight wasn’t for two days, so I had to transit through another country if I wanted to get home sooner. Finally, we found a flight through Istanbul that would get me home, less than twelve hours after the original schedule!

Things went reasonably well (apparently too well) from that point on, until I arrived in Istanbul and walked up to the Turkish Airlines desk to check into my flight that evening. I was told, politely, that the paper I was holding showed I was on the 17:50 flight tomorrow… 24 hours from now.

Even that wasn’t enough to really get me down. I decided to leave the airport, get a room and have a good sleep, likely leaving enough time for a short exploration of the city before I had to check in the next afternoon. The visa official told me I didn’t need a visa, so I stood in line and walked confidently up to the passport control. He looked at my passport and pulled out a sheet of paper. He looked carefully at my passport and the sheet of paper again. And then he called his friend over. At which point, I started to get nervous. When the second agent got on the phone, I started to really wonder what was going on. Finally the first agent leaned towards me and said apologetically, “You’re a transit passenger, aren’t you?” To which I said yes, I fly out tomorrow afternoon. And he said, “I’m sorry, but you can’t leave the airport.”

I was stunned. Shocked, even. What was I going to do in the airport for 24 hours? And then I realized the really bad part: because it was too early to check in for my next flight, I couldn’t go into the next portion of the airport, and would be staying in what was essentially a hallway. There were a few metal benches, but not much else (including sources of food or water). So, I made a fuss and had the head rep for Lufthansa called down, and when I still didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, I cried. Not very noble, but it seemed the only option at that point.

That poor rep didn’t really know what to do. The airport hotel was full, and she couldn’t defy the Turkish government. Finally, she smuggled me through to the First Class Lounge, and left me there. For 19 hours. I mean, I know that living in the lounge is better than being on the streets, or a lot of other things I can think of, but still…

All this to say that Turkey didn’t really get a fair shake on my first time through, so I’ll have to go back at some point for (hopefully) a more representative experience. I did quite like the Turks that I met, though. I was a bit taken aback the first time someone started calling, “Lady! Lady!” to get my attention, but that seemed to be the norm.

I also had an interesting moment with the lounge attendant to woke me to ensure I wasn’t the person they were currently holding a flight for. After determining that I was not the person for whom she was looking, she looked at me and said, “You don’t have to sleep.” My sleep addled brain fumbled with that statement for a while, causing her to repeat herself twice. Did she mean that I thought I was being forced to sleep, but didn’t actually have to? Or that Turkish people didn’t need to sleep, so I didn’t need to either? She finally added “You might miss your flight,” at which point I reinterpreted her to mean that I shouldn’t sleep. And then I think I went back to sleep.

Eh, at least I had my knitting!

* All times are approximate in this account, and are based on my personal perception. What I do know is that I was in transit from 06:00 MDT 1 July 2008 until 22:00 KSA 3 July 2008. There’s a 9-hour time difference somewhere in there, but whatever the time really was, it was long.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

OMG, what an ordeal! I hope you make it safely!