Thursday, October 16, 2008

One day later, on the other side of the ocean

Eventful travels are not always welcome, especially when one's goal is to reach one's destination rather than have an adventure along the way. I did have some unusual twists and turns to my journey over the last 16 hours. But now I'm sitting in a first class car on the delightful Danish InterCity rail, having by chance made the earliest possible train to Aarhus after my arrival in Copenhagen, and even though it's an hour or so later than I had expected to be clickety-clacking toward my hotel, nothing gives you a sense of relief – that “ah, all is well” feeling – like a seat on a European train. Clean, efficient, on time, smooth as silk. It's travel the way it was meant to be.

Which I cannot say for air travel these days, although to be fair, my last two flights were on time and featured luxurious British service. There were only supposed to be two flights total, you see. I was going to Chicago, then straight to Copenhagen on SAS, then I was going to be on this train – or to be precise, the one that left an hour ago.

But after checking in for my Little Rock to Chicago flight about three hours early, having a leisurely lunch, and catching up on my e-mail, I presented my boarding pass when my group number was called, only to have the machine beep angrily and spit it back out. See, the airline had substituted a smaller plane from the one on whose basis advance tickets were sold. The agent had been searching for 14 volunteers to give up their seats, and had bumped about 7 people after he predictably didn't reach that number. But it turns out he should have been searching for 15 people; I checked in before the change was made, and my seat number was assigned to someone else. After a man gave up his seat but specified that it was for a businessman who was quite insistent, I was the one on the short end of the stick. Denied boarding.

I got a $300 travel voucher out of it, and the agent rebooked me as follows: Little Rock to Dallas/Fort Worth, Dallas/Fort Worth to London Heathrow, London Heathrow to Copenhagen. (He tried to give me a free upgrade to business class on the transatlantic flight – those lay-flat beds, you know? Oh, my Lord – but the system wouldn't let him.)

I was skeptical that my bag was going to follow me on this new itinerary. It was pulled off the Chicago flight at the last minute, then instructions were sent down to retag it. The flight to Dallas was about 25 minutes late, and by the time I took the train over to Terminal D, the London flight was already boarding. It seemed like a fifty-fifty shot that my bag made it onto that plane – added to the already uncertain probability that the bag got retagged correctly and was actually intending to follow my route.

My economy class flight to London, back with the tailies, was about as good as such cramped quarters can be; you still get good service on the transatlantic routes, it seems. I didn't catch more than 15 winks, I'd guess, in the eight and a half hours. I watched an episode of Old Christine I don't think I'd seen ("What About Barb?"), an episode of The Office I had enjoyed very much the first time around (“Complaint Resolution”), and the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler vehicle Baby Mama, which is just the kind of lightly amusing fare you need to see on a plane.

After landing in the maze of Heathrow and negotiating the bewildering series of buses needed to get from terminal to terminal, I landed in Terminal 5, where they have a system of departures that I hadn't encountered before. The gates aren't assigned to outgoing flights until 30-90 minutes before they leave. Everyone waits in a big shopping concourse and watches the computerized boards, and when a gate pops up for their flight, they book it – some of the gates are 20 minutes away and require you to take a train! It's a little nerve-racking waiting for that gate to appear, as your flight time draws nearer and nearer, and flights leaving only five minutes before yours show “boarding” or even worse “closing.” I ate a cheddar and pickle sandwich and tried not to think about where my suitcase might be.

The flight to Copenhagen was only half full, and I had a row to myself for a change. As I watched the mist and rain roll by the plane's windows on our descent and heard the temperature on the ground (10 degrees C), I worried more about my bag situation. You see, when I did my final packing yesterday morning, I had intended to put my fleece jacket in my carry-on, along with my usual change of clothes, computer and accessories, knitting, and books (this time in Kindle form). But the jacket was so bulky and made the bag so awkward to carry that I stuffed it in the front pocket of my suitcase instead. Either the suitcase will make it there with me, I reasoned, or the weather (which was supposed to be mild according to the international forecast), wouldn't be so awful early in the evening, when I expected to be walking to my hotel from the Aarhus station – the only outdoor leg of my trip.

But all my fellow passengers had jackets, rain gear, scarves – the whole nine yards. I began to prepare myself for buying a jacket in the Copenhagen airport so I wouldn't freeze in my thin rayon top and jeans.

Miracle of miracles, though – when I arrived in Copenhagen, got through passport control, changed some money, and made my way to the baggage belt – my suitcase came around. I said a silent thank-you to the harried American Airlines agent who had gotten me off on the right foot.

So here I am in the first-class car (the only seats available – an extra 100 Kröner, or about $20, over the normal second-class fare), typing away on my worktable, drinking complimentary water and eating complimentary apples, experiencing Skandinavia the way I would have chosen if I'd had all the modes of transport in the world from which to select. The sun is setting behind the clearing clouds, the car lighting is warm, the illuminated signs and streetlights of the towns we're speeding by are picturesque, even poignant. A little sleep – okay, a lot of sleep – is all I need now. Tomorrow, the conference begins, and today's weariness will be temporarily forgotten.

1 comment:

Dmanbow said...

Man, what a day. It is a good thing you did not have a husband and two kids with you on this trip.

Have a great time in Denmark and ride trains whenever possible.