SJ on the Move

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The straightest distance between two points is a...? (Part II)

I didn't think it would be possible for my triumphal return to the United States to surpass my outgoing journey in zaneyness, but alas - that was not true.

T 0:00 (11:00 a.m. CET): As the Keflavik airport in Iceland was closed the day before, I was feeling a bit nervous that we were going to run into trouble on our return journey. But, I checked several times during the morning and right before checking out of the hotel to make sure our flight was on time and everything was running smoothly. So far, so good.

T 0:30 (11:30 a.m. CET): Depart in a cab to Charles de Gaulle airport. Traffic is a bit busy heading out of the city, but we still make good time to the airport - passing by the famous Concorde on the way. What's interesting looking at that plane is how small it is. I wonder how comfortable it would have been on the inside.

T 1:00 (12:00 p.m. CET): Arrived at CDG airport. Getting to the check-in at IcelandAir, or 2:15 p.m. flight is showing "On-Time" so that is encouraging. There does seem to be quite a long line to check in, however, and the line seems to be moving very slowly. I can't tell all what is going on, but there appears to be quite a lot of drama at check-in as well. Lots of people speaking with exaggerated hand motions.

After about 20 minutes of standing in line, I'm starting to get a bit nervous. I finally get up to check-in, and they tell me that they are concerned about the flight from Keflavik to Boston, and that it might be cancelled. So, they would like me to go to the ticket counter to rebooked on a different flight to Boston.

This was very irritating, because they could have told me that before waiting for 20-25 minutes in line, or simply put up a sign that says "Flights out of Iceland might be cancelled, please see agent for rebooking".

T 1:30 (12:30 p.m. CET): Go to the IcelandAir ticket agent for rebooking. They put us on the 4:30 p.m. AirFrance to JFK, with then a connection to Boston. The ticket agent tells us "You need to RUN to Terminal 2E to catch the plane". I'm a little confused, and I ask for clarification "This flight is at 4:30, correct, 4 hours from now?" You know, sometimes it's a little confusing with how the Europeans like to use what we call 'military' time in the US and maybe I was misinterpreting. But, I wasn't. "Yes, it is at 4:30" she replied "but, they board 1 hour before". Okay, but that still gives us a 3 hour buffer - what whatever.

T 1:45 (12:45 p.m. CET): My colleague realizes that the ticket agent never gave us our passports back, so we return to the IcelandAir ticket counter. Whew! Disaster averted.

T 2:00 (1:00 p.m. CET): We board the CDGVAL train to go over to terminal 2. One of the things I dislike about CDG is the distance between terminals. It can make it very challenging with making connections, as well as requiring to go through security again.

T 2:15 (1:15 p.m. CET): Checking in with AirFrance and they give us our boarding passes, row 30. Well, we had business class tickets on IcelandAir, and I was not relishing the 8 hour flight to JFK in economy. I discuss this with the ticket agent, but she explains that the Flight Interruption Manifest/Memo (I forget what it was) said 'economy' and the only people that can change the FIM is IcelandAir. They suggest I got back to AirFrance ticketing and see if we can pay an upgrade fee and work it out with IcelandAir later

T 2:30 (1:30 p.m. CET): Over to AirFrance ticketing. Evidently, tickets with a FIM cannot be upgraded, modified, or in any way changed. If we wanted to buy a business class ticket to Boston, the cost is 4500 Euros. I gulped and said "Each?". "Yes, each". Well, even with the falling Euro that's pretty darn expensive.

So, at this point my colleague took her boarding pass and headed to security. I thought I would take the opportunity to see if I could find someone to talk to about my lost bag, since I had some free time.

T 2:45 (1:45 p.m. CET): I stopped at the information desk to find out where I could talk to someone about my lost baggage. The woman there points me to a door and says she is going to buzz me through, and that I can find lost baggage on the other side. So, I go to the door, it opens, and I walk through.

On the other side of the door I find myself in the baggage reclaim area of the terminal, which is a secure area. I have not passed through security. What is also weird is that there is no one around, as it seems that no flights have come in for awhile. I'm getting a little nervous now as I realize I really should not be where I am. If someone sees me on a CC TV camera they might end up causing an international incident - not the finish I was hoping for on this trip, although it would certainly fit.

I find the lost baggage area and sit down with the AirFrance representative. She basically goes to the same website that I was checking, and relays the same information I had previously seen. So, no big help there.

T 3:00 (2:00 p.m. CET): As I still have some time to kill, I decide to head back to Terminal 1 to see if I can talk to SAS about my lost bag (as I think they might have it) or talk to IcelandAir about my coach class seat. So, I hop back on the CDGVAL train over the to terminal 1 (curiously you go from terminal 2, to terminal 3, and then to terminal 1).

T 3:30 (2:30 p.m. CET): I can't find the SAS desk, but I do see the IcelandAir desk and there is no line. So, I go and talk to them about how I had a business class ticket but they gave me an economy class FIM. They apologized for the error, and gave me a new FIM with business class. So, with this victory under my belt I decide to head back to terminal 2, so I hop back on the CDGVAL train.

T 4:00 (3:00 p.m. CET): I arrive back at AirFrance check in, and explain that I already had a boarding pass, but they had mistakenly given me an economy class FIM, but now I had a business class FIM, and I would like to get my business class boarding pass. We go through the whole check in process - "Any bags to check?" - HAH! - and she prints out my boarding pass - Row 30. Again!

I explained that I had just gone through quite a lengthy process to get a new business class FIM. She examined the FIM and agreed that it said business class, but for some reason the system was booking me in as economy. She promised to talk to her supervisor and get on the phone with IcelandAir to sort it out.

T 4:30 (3:30 p.m. CET): After pacing back and forth for 30 minutes while several AirFrance employees conferred, spoke on the phone, gesticulated wildly, they call me over and tell me that they got it worked out and presented me with my very own business class boarding pass. Hooray! Unfortunately, they told me that the connecting flight from JFK to Boston was showing as very full, so they weren't able to get a confirmed seat right now, but that I would be able to get a confirmed seat once I got to JFK.

T 5:00 (4:00 p.m. CET): Through security, I meet up with my colleague for a brief visit to the AirFrance lounge as by this time I am absolutely starving (no lunch). You might think that the AirFrance lounge in Paris might be their 'flagship' lounge, as you can guess, it was no Virgin Airlines. I would have gladly traded some of the available champagne for something a little more substantial to eat than potato chips. Beggars can't be choosers I guess.

T 5:30 (4:30 p.m. CET): On the plane, nestled into business class for the fairly long journey from Paris to NYC. This travel route is always a little discouraging since you fly right past Boston before landing in NYC, and then turn around to get on another plane and fly back.

T 9:00 (8:00 p.m CET): Sitting next to an elderly gentleman on a plane with a horrible hacking cough. He's on supplemental oxygen and talking to the woman next to him how he had to fight with his insurance company to pay for a home healthcare worker to help him recuperate while he was in Paris. I'm not sure what affliction he had, but I'm starting to wonder what the incubation period for the Plague is....

T 12:00 (11:00 p.m. CET): The flight attendants have now all retreated to the galley to prepare our dinner, which is good, as I'm getting hungry. My colleague ended up sitting behind me, and all of a sudden she RUNS past me to the galley. Curious, I turned around to see that the man sitting next to her had vomited all over himself, and not a small amount. Thankfully, you don't see that every day. The flight attendants all coalesce around him and try to get him cleaned up (those little steamed napkins weren't really made for this purpose). My colleague chooses a different seat.

T 14:00 (7 p.m. EST):  We finally land in NYC. We hang out on the tarmac for a good 30 minutes while they get our gate ready. I'm really thankful to finally be in the U.S., as this means it should be relatively easy to get home at this point (or so I thought).

T 14:30 (7:30 p.m. EST): I breeze through passport control and customs. Pretty easy when you have no checked baggage, and go straight to the transfer desk to present to them my FIM and get a flight to Boston. Unfortunately, more problems. There is only one confirmed seat available on the 8:30 Delta flight to Boston. Since my colleague and I have the same FIM, it won't be possible for us to travel on different flights, because FIMs are like the stone tablets Moses brought down from Sinai and cannot be changed.

We check with JetBlue, but unfortunately #1) they are the only airline that doesn't take FIMs, and #2) their flight to Boston is sold out. American has a flight leaving at 10:30, but they have only one seat available. So, we don't have any good options. Someone suggested travelling to terminal 7 to talk to IcelandAir about changing the FIM, but we'd never make the flight if we did that, and it seems doubtful anyone would even be at their counter at this hour.

T 15:00 (8:00 p.m. EST): We decide the best thing to do is to take the one confirmed seat, and one standby seat on the 8:30 and hope for the best. Prospects were not good, as there were already 15 people on standby and there are only 46 seats on the plane. So, we walk over to the next terminal (unfortunately we have to walk outside in the howling rain). You might remember that I only have my T-shirt, since my sweatshirt was packed in my bag and is currently still in Europe. Brrrr!

We get to security, and unfortunately there wasn't time for my colleague to check her bag. We go through security, but she had purchased some special French mustard while in Paris, and they weren't going to let her through with it. At this point, my colleague was not willing to give up her mustard for a slim chance of getting on the plane, so they escort her back out of the gate and she heads to the rental car agency to get a rental car and drive back.

T 15:30 (8:30 p.m.): I board the little puddle jumper for the flight back to Boston. I'm in the last row of the plane, so my seat doesn't recline even 1 cm. It's been a pretty long day, and really would love any modicum of comfort - but still thankful to be heading home.

T 16:45 (9:45 p.m.): Our plane sits at the gate for about an hour before moving an inch, and then taxis for 15 minutes before finally taking off. Thankfully, the flight to Boston is only about 45 minutes.

T 17:30 (10:30 p.m.): On the ground in Boston. Once again, since I have no bags, I breeze out of the airport and find a waiting cab.

T 18:00 (11:00 p.m.): Arrive safely at home after yet another exhausting trip. I was in Paris for a total of 36 hours, and spend 36 hours going there and coming back. Not a very good ratio. BTW, I still don't have my bag!

Of course, maybe the icing on the cake, is I check the flight status of what would have been our flight through Iceland, and it did take off! It was delayed a bit, but that flight got into Boston at 7:00 p.m., some 3.5 hours earlier than I did. We could have avoided quite a bit of pain and suffering had IcelandAir not re-routed us through all this mess.


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