Well, I am back in the States and at my parents’ house in time for Thanksgiving (and Black Friday). I honestly did not believe I was going to make it home in time for the holiday. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thankful to be home for Thanksgiving. It definitely adds an especially contemplative edge to the holiday, giving a new meaning to the name.
So, on to the movie-esque story of getting home. I originally bought tickets to fly home on Monday, the 19th. By September, the schedule had already changed twice: once because of the airline company (which resulted in only having 30 minutes between flights, which was not enough), and once because I then had to call and get it changed so I could actually make my connection.
So now fast forward to Sunday, the 18th. That evening, I get an email from Orbitz saying my flight the next morning had been canceled. I immediately called Orbitz, but because of other issues, they were having difficulty rescheduling me and transferred me to speak directly to someone at Lufthansa. So, I get on the phone with Lufthansa and was told there were no more flights available for Monday. I thought the man meant there were no more seats. I later found out that’s not what he meant, but that there were literally no flights. He put me on a flight on Tuesday. Within the course of the phone call, the schedule changed twice, but I had a spot nonetheless. I was pretty upset because I was ready to get home. I called my parents via Google Voice to let them know what was going on. So, Monday, I sort of lounged around. I didn’t really have anything to do and was already mostly packed.
Tuesday, I wake up and go to the airport. The check-in area seemed crowded for 5am, but I didn’t think much of it at first because it’s a very small airport and wouldn’t take much to seem crowded and busy. Then, I noticed my line was moving REALLY slowly. I didn’t think much of it at first because the line next to us for a different airline was taking bags and checking people in. As I got a little closer, I notice each person in my line is up there for at least 5 minutes, and the ticketing agent was always on the phone. Then, I hear some people talking (in English) about the flight being canceled. One lady had been trying to get home for three days. So, I get up to the counter already feeling upset because I wold be stuck for another day. The man takes my passport to look up my information and gives my confirmation number to the person on the phone. He listens and basically tells me there are no flights available for that day. So I told him that I needed to leave that day. He said he understood, but there were no flights. Again, I told him I needed to leave that day. He’s listening on the phone and his face says it all–it’s not looking good. At this point, I’m fighting back the tears so I don’t make a scene. Suddenly he says, “I have no idea how this is possible, but they have found you a flight for today, but it’s out of Timişoara.” I told him that was perfectly fine and I would take it. At this point I wasn’t sure how I was going to get to Timişoara, but I knew I could probably take a train if I needed to.
For all the passengers, the main office would email the new itineraries to the airport, and then we would get a print out. So, I had to wait about two hours for my itinerary. When I got it, I asked how I was going to get to Timişoara, and the man told me there were several other passengers also going, and there would be a bus to take us. I had to wait about another hour before it was time to leave. So, the transportation arrives, and there are three other women also riding, two Romanians who spoke English and an American. We were to go in a small van which only held a total of five people (including the driver). So, it was a little cramped. The other ladies were not flying out until the next day and were being put up in a hotel. As we were loading up, the man from the airline told me the timing would be really tight, but he would call the airport in Timişoara to see if they would wait for me. Since I was going to be dropped off first and in a hurry, the other ladies (who were all old at least 15 years older than me) kindly let me sit up front. Because I’m tired and stress, I don’t think about doing the math to see how long this drive would be. Once we are on the road, one of the Romanian ladies tells us it’s a five hour drive. At this point, I look at the clock and realize that if anything were to go wrong along the way, I would certainly miss my flight. It was almost 9 and my flight was supposed to take off at 2.
Luckily, the drive was beautiful. Romania only has one interstate, and it’s very new. We only drove on it for about 30 minutes. The majority of the way was on state highway type roads. The route took us through the country side, several villages, and a few larger cities (Oradea and Arad). For about a third of the drive, the roads were up and down hills and very, very curvy. Do you remember that scene from Pee Wee’s big adventure when he is riding in the 18-wheeler late at night and they flash road signs of ridiculously tangled curves? That’s what this portion of the drive felt like. Romania is divided into regions very similar to states. Oradea is in a different state than Cluj, and Timişoara in a third one. You could definitely tell there were some regional differences between the states, which was very cool to see. At one point, we drove through a town in which mansions (even by US standards, these houses would be considered mansions) were being built all over the place. By the architecture, my guess is that they belonged to Roma (gypsy) families. Yes, there are rich Roma. Not all of them are dirt poor, though the rich ones are certainly the exception to the norm.
Thankfully, we had an excellent driver. We got to the airport in Timişoara minutes before I was supposed to board. I check my bags, go through security, and walk five steps to the boarding line for my flight. Up until this point, Cluj had been the smallest international airport I had ever been in. Timişoara was even smaller. It’s here that I find out that no flights have been in or out of Cluj for about four days because of the fog. I had noticed the fog, but it didn’t seem bad enough to keep planes grounded. Apparently it was a lot worse than what I had guessed. From what I understand, fog in Cluj is not abnormal, but having such dense fog for so many days in a row is. I’m able to board the plane and arrive in Munich with no problems. I’ve been through Munich several times now and know the layout of where Lufthansa flight fly out of pretty well. My layover in Munich was only an hour long. Originally, it was supposed to be about four hours, and I had planned on going to this one restaurant in the airport to get a sausage and beer for breakfast. I had also planned to shop in this one shop that had some neat things. However, with such a short amount of time, I wasn’t going to have time to do either of those. So, I made a quick stop in the duty free shop and went to my gate.
I boarded the plane, and we took off on time. However, this flight was far from normal. The first thing that happened was that we hit “medium” turbulence right in the middle of meal service. Luckily, I had just been handed my food when the captain asked the flight attendants to take their seats The turbulence lasted for about twenty minutes or so. From there, turbulence wise, it was smooth sailing. An little while later, when we are maybe three hours or so into the flight, an older man in the row in front of me starts to not feeling well (he was on the opposite end of the row–close enough to hear some things, but not close enough to hear everything). At first, the flight attendant gives him an over the counter something and tells him he should try to rest and he’ll feel better in a few minutes. However, about twenty minutes later, it becomes obvious that, not only is he not feeling better, but he is getting worse. One of the flight attendants makes an announcement over the speaker looking for anyone with medical training. Several doctors and nurses were on board who came to assist. They brough the oxygen tank out for the man to use, they took his blood pressure, which was really low, and between the man and his wife, tried to get the best medical history and list of current medications possible (the man was hard of hearing from being old and English was not his first language). I could also hear the flight attendants asking the doctors if we needed to stop early so the man could get medical attention.
At this point, I just wanted to laugh. I knew laughing was not the appropriate response since the man was obviously having very serious problems, but, when added to everything else from the last 48 hours, the idea of making an emergency landing somewhere was just another piece in a very long, crazy day. However, I knew that if we made an emergency stop, there was a pretty good chance I would miss my connection to Nashville. Luckily, my connection city was DC. So, I knew if I missed the connection, I would have multiple options of places to stay and multiple options of places to go for Thanksgiving if I couldn’t get a flight. Though, I had one friend who had already offered before I left the States. So, at this point, I got my iPod out and purchased the inflight wifi so I would be able to communicate with people in case we were making an emergency stop and to let my friend know I might be taking them up on their previous offer. If those doctors had not been on the flight, I can almost guarantee you we would have been making a stop in the first airport we got to once we reached land. When we landed in DC, there wan an ambulance waiting and the man was immediately taken to the hospital.
From there, the rest of the journey went very smoothly. We were the only flight going through immigration because it was so late at night, and so I got through very quickly. I was able to quickly re-check my bags, go through security, and get to my gate. I and all my bags made it to Nashville. I’m sure I looked ragged and smelled a little, but I was glad to be home. I even slept through the night (though I did wake up much earlier than I would have liked)! Today, I’m definitely feeling tired, but I’m awake and will hopefully adjust to this time zone quickly. My nephew came and visited me for a little while this morning, which was very nice. He’s getting so big and has started crawling (he’ll do it if he’s motivated, otherwise he’s pretty content to sit still). My neice stopped by for about a minute because she couldn’t stay, but I’ll see her more tonight. Tomorrow we’ll have Thanksgiving at my aunts house with my mom’s side of the family–about thirty people with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’ll also get to meet my cousin’s brand new baby (less than a month old new) for the first time. It should be a pretty good day!
I want to say a quick thanks to everyone who was praying for my safe travels. The fact that I even got on a flight at all yesterday was nothing short of a miracle.