Some people would say that I’m privileged. Some people would call my travelling challenges “luxurious”. Some friends would simply just give everything for the experience I’m able to gain through my job.
And yes, I’ve heard every argument over the last three years while “floating” around the globe and I admit, every single one of them is almost correct. Deep inside me I know that. Really. I really, really know that.
You might wonder what I’m talking about, and why I’m highlighting this like crazy, right? Give me a second and I will explain: If you have already spent some time exploring BellyInLove, you might have noticed, that I do all sort of things. I’m sure that if you stay tuned on this blog, you will soon enough find out every single detail. However, my direct environment, mainly Knubbel, is facing my biggest weakness day by day. You see, I have this ‘dark’ side. And the problem with it is not something that only comes out when I play tennis (fuuu**ing racket; it is this sh**y wind; why the f**k am I not moving my ridiculous feet; etc) or on the tube (hey, idiot why are you pushing me – no eyes or what?; why does everyone in London start working at the same time – f**king hell it is so hot in here; why the f**k TFL just doesn’t purchase trains with f**king air-conditioning). No, the dark side does not come out only then. The dark side comes to life every day, at different level, with various strength. I would say it is like a handicap in golf – something like 108 or 500 over par. And this handicap is my (im)patience.
And I’m not talking about “normal” impatience everyone experiences every once in a while; like waiting for your coffee more than 15 minutes, even though it is only the barista and you in the coffee shop. No, I’m talking about this nasty impatience that occurs frequently without any warning. I have to pre-warn you, I guess only a few people on the blue planet are more impatient than me, probably one of them is my boss, but this is another story.
So back to me and my impatience, which is clearly a weakness (just getting impatient while I’m writing this post, because my flight operator announced that we have to circle over Frankfurt again; it’s the third loop, why the third loop? why?). It is something I am aware of, Knubbel accepts, and what I know, will never change.
So let me start with my first blog post. It is Monday morning and I know, it’s time for New York again. Yes again.
The thought of sitting in a cab from the airport to Manhattan, driven by an unexperienced driver accelerating and abruptly stopping the cab for more than an hour, gives me shivers. So, I am thinking; come on Bubbel. Positive motivation, yeah, New York time. After a nice breakfast with my brother – who is currently working in London – and Knubbel, I am jumping into the car to London Heathrow Terminal 2. Surprisingly in less than an hour. I was thrilled and thought “kowa punga” nothing can stop me today. Not a single thought reminded me of the poor Airport transfer from JFK to Manhattan. So full of energy, on cloud number nine, I get to the Lufthansa check-in desk, showing my European passport, expecting that everything is alright with my ESTA. How wrong am I … I see this kind of face of the ground staff, which you never want to see, very friendly and apologetic: ‘Sir, can I see your ESTA?’. I kind of hoped that no one was ever going to ask me this question during the age of computer and Internet, but here we go. So my response was briefly ‘Mam, I am so sorry but I don’t have my ESTA on me, I applied 18 months ago and you can see on the migration stamp…’, I couldn’t finish before the lady slammed my argument with: ‘But Sir, you always need to have your valid ESTA on you’. First hurdle, ESTA. Current status of my mood: Not impatient. I am trying. I replied: ‘Sorry, I didn’t know that, I am sure I can check my ESTA status online though’. And than something happened. Something that gave me my energy back. This angel lady said: ‘Sir don’t worry go to the lounge, relax and you should have it ready when you board the plane’. I put my laptop back in my bag and rushed through security, to the lounge where I retrieved all the information about my status. And if you are now wondering if I had a valid ESTA, the answer is YES OF COURSE. Because there is one thing you actually don’t want to face: issues with your travelling status while dealing with the US boarder control at the airport (believe me; not at a good idea). No, no, no.
So, I’m waiting for the boarding, making the most out of my time in the lounge. Yes, the lounge helps if you have to wait for more than an hour until your plane departs. I soon go to the gate and I smoothly board the plane. All seems on track and I nearly whistled one of these earworms (always look on the bright side of life). Nearly. The captain welcomed everyone and said the one sentence that always makes me happy: ‘Ladies and Gentleman, the weather in Frankfurt is as good as in London, sunny and about 20°C’. This was too good to be true and was soon enough followed by ‘…and we have a new slot for departure and we can’t do anything, but we have to wait for 30 minutes until departure, but we thought we let you board the plane just in case something changes’. So in my binary world it went like this: Yeah, vamos, weather is good, no delays. And then it changed to oh no, new departing slot. At least a delay of 30 minutes.
Anyway, I am looking on my connecting flight from Frankfurt, starting to worry that there could be a small amount of pressure during the connection. And guys, let’s be honest, there are two things you never want during your travels: a) too much time at the airport and b) too little time at the airport. So, we are circling the third loop around Frankfurt before we land and I look out of the window, wondering about the weather. Didn’t the captain announce proudly that the weather was similar to London? 20°C and sunshine? So I am thinking, he was clearly wrong; ‘such an idiot’ – I’m talking to myself, by the way. But not the kind of bad idiot, more the kind of ‘he was wrong, but it doesn’t matter’ idiot. After landing safely, we taxi to the gate, the captain announces following: ‘Ladies and Gentleman, we can not approach our parking position, because they closed down the airport due to bad weather conditions, thunderstorms and lightning. As soon as we know more we will let you know, it won’t be long’. Here it was again, the bad feeling. Suddenly, the vision of multiple experience with unexperienced cab drivers in NYC pushes its way through to my mind. The almost whistled earworm, gone. Positiveness gone. Only one thought in mind: ‘Will I make my connection flight?’ 10 minutes pass, nothing. 30 minutes pass. Nothing, aside of thunderstorms and me desperately updating my Lufthansa app to see if there is any news about my flight. After an hour, the captain announces, that there is – and I am not joking – a second thunderstorm with even worse lightning. My thoughts were circling between: ‘will I make my flight’ and ‘if I don’t make it, will there be another flight to NYC because I can’t miss my meetings the following day’. 90 minutes later the captain tells us that the worst is over and we are good to taxi to our gate. And you know, it was not only me who had to get a flight to a different destination. About 20 people on this plane had to connect and no one really knew the current situation at the airport.
Before I go on with the story I need to take a step back and explain my thought process, because otherwise you will think, that I am completely crazy and mad. So, I studied business economics and organisational theory and I love efficiencies and working systems and working organisations like airports. And we all like the Germans who are known for their organisational talent. So, imagine one of the busiest airports in the world shuts down for roughly 2 hours with planes still landing during the thunderstorms and queuing for a gate. Probably, the only scenario you can imagine in that situation is chaos. But somehow, if this scenario happens to be true and you are in Germany, you get blinded by their overwhelming feeling of being organised and you think all will be ok. How wrong is this thinking. At least this time. The German order is broken and no-one (in my view) gave a sh*t.
Again, no information whatsoever. I’m out of the plane asking the first Lufthansa staff about my connection flight. I skip the answer because there was nothing but stuttering – I feel like watching “Kings Speech’’ with Colin Firth all over again. So I keep on rushing to the Terminal. And when I say rushing, I mean an average pace of 5 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer. With a trolley. With a jacket. With hurdles. Like other desperate passengers, who want to catch their flights. With basically all staff you need for a business trip. Than you just hope that you don’t have to use a train, because that would slow you down. Waiting, Boarding, Exiting. By the way, no information about my flight to JFK and my annoyance is peaking.
Than karma hits you again: another security check. Of course the security check in London Heathrow is not enough. Of course there is another security check necessary. Connecting to a flight which could have possibly left the airport an hour ago and than you face nothing but bad management. Arghhh. Like crazy bad management. Just recall the picture, hundreds of planes and thousands of passengers arriving and connecting in Frankfurt. Guess how many lines for the second security check were open? You think plenty? Bad guess. Two. YES TWO.
I couldn’t believe it. Now I know, because I could feel it, that the level of annoyance and impatience reached a new height. I stand in a queue, which is literally not moving at all. Desperate looking for help. People in front of me stressed. Behind me, desperation. Me – completely impatient. I decided to do something about the miserable situation and dare to ask the ground staff, if they could open another security check line, so that actually more than 10% of the available lines are used. Ok, my question was not the politest one, but it still included “please” and “thank you”. The response from the guy after he dared to turn his head into my direction in slow motion: “Sorry, zer is nosing we can do. Sat’s the amount of people we have always during sis time of ze day!” I realised that there is just no point in arguing or explaining that the time of the day doesn’t matter, when the airport closes down for two hours. To top things off, I had to go through an extra security check with my trolley, which, by the way, was ok in LHR.
Are you following me? Enjoying the co-experience? It’s not over yet. I’m still not on the plane. I get back all my things, reorganise everything because I don’t want to lose anything of value. Sprinting, not rushing anymore, sprinting (sprinting is per my definition below 5 minutes per kilometre) towards the Z Terminal, knowing that I haven’t passed migration yet. Again. 5 minutes stairs up, trying to avoid pushing people or being pushed until arriving at the migration zone. And I know you already realised a few lines above, that I had to queue. Again. Sprinting stops abruptly. And it is there. Standing. Like a mountain in the middle of the universe. A queue. Another one. I am waiting. Moving one step further. Waiting. I think you all get the picture. It is all going extremely fast. Do you somehow have a feeling that I am being sarcastic? Yes, sarcasm is present! In the meantime, 45 minutes had passed since I left the plane. Passing the second security check with approximately one million people – trapped in the same queue – passing migration again and finally arriving at the Terminal. Just a small side note- fast track elevators didn’t work. Of course not! Why would they?
I increased my speed from rushing to sprinting again. Finally arriving, out of breath, with my hurting left knee (need to have knee surgery done again; Meniscus. I think Knubelinka mentioned in the previous post) and unbelievably annoyed. Just unhappy, that it always happens to me (I knew that there are thousands, who shared the same experience, but they might not have been as impatient as I am). Before I finally boarded the plane I had to undergo two, I repeat, TWO passport and ticket controls within not more than 50 meters. I needed a cool down phase, like a time out little children need every now and than when they don’t behave properly. The flight attendant realised that too and decided not to welcome me on board with the usual overstretched smile – and I am very thankful for that. Might have lead to an explosion. Couldn’t even call Knubbel immediately to let her know, that I arrived on the plane on time. I shortly after texted. Obviously, she knew that I was “out of balance” and used her calming techniques; talked to me about food, about the imaginary breakfast app, bellyinlove and new followers. I was better. The plane departed, I had few hours to reflect back on everything and things did look a bit different by the time I got to the other side.
So after the “time out”, I feel a bit wiser, still annoyed, but ready for the next time consuming challenge: US Migration. So, I exit the plane, yes only hand luggage which gives me a head start for the migration queue and the guarantee that the airline can not possibly loose my luggage (you see I already had some experience with lost luggage and trying to get it back; thank you Alitalia for the experience). Hence, I move towards the oldest most ridiculous boarder control system in the world, yes at JFK, but there was no queue – to my surprise. I would be taking it too far if I told you that I nearly had tears in my eyes. Therefore, I go with overwhelmed. Me, completely overwhelmed, go to the return ESTA lines, use one of these migration counters to get the necessary piece of paper before approaching the “guy” at the counter.
‘What kind of business’, he asks me. My response, “media”; however, I am prepared to give him so much more; serial number of my desk chair in my office, my dog’s date of birth, etc. “Good evening” was his response. And all in all 15 minutes from exiting the plane seems to be a good time to cross the boarders at JFK. No, an awesome time. I secured my passport and left the migration area expecting that this was it this time. After travelling for around 16h you are exhausted and desperate to have a shower and get some sleep. And if you exit the baggage reclaim area, you want to see a person holding you name on a plate, a friendly face of a driver greeting you and taking care of taking you to your hotel. In my case, no driver, no plate, no name. That is how it is. That is travelling. So, I had to find the number of the company and called all available numbers. No response. My blood pressure – the highest of hights. I don’t want to waste even more time with waiting, so I exit the building and try to get a cab. The first guy I talk to sends me further down the road to a taxi sign. A few guys, all over 60, ask me if I needed a ride. I’m thinking ‘what the hell, what else do I want here, coffee? And it is too f**king late for coffee anyway’. But my answer is “yes, Manhattan, please”. One of these guys walked me to the passenger pick up. I jumped in “car 4” and realised that it was not a cab. It was a kind of weird veteran car service organisation. Me desperate for going to the hotel, accepting the fact that someone screwed with me, but more angry with myself, for letting them get away with it. I asked the driver if he took credit cards for his service. Abruptly the car stopped and he said “ATM sir?”. ATM? I don’t even have my debit card for cash withdrawals with me and no cash at all and for sure, I didn’t want to find an ATM. Back to the start. I jumped out of the car and made my way back where I first asked for a cab. And now, get this, I see a yellow cab close and the driver asks me if I needed his services. I say yes and relieved, jump into a YELLOW cab. This fact is important – it was a yellow cab. The driver is checking his app, telling me that it will take about 40 minutes, and that the price could be a bit higher. I was ok with that but a bit surprised about the general information. A normal cabby wouldn’t care. It takes as long as it takes. So, we are approaching NYC and we are close to the hotel in Midtown and the guy takes out his mobile phone and starts to open an app. By that time I realised that the taximeter was off. I asked him, what was going on with the taximeter and he said ‘ser, ser, all ok’. Really? All ok? No taximeter and all is ok?
I thought about it the rest of the ride, which was about 10 minutes. What could he possibly mean. Finally we arrived at the hotel and he said, “sank you, ser, sat is 108USD, pay card? Pay card?” I was tired of everything and just wanted to get out of the cab and asked the guy, why that price and he replied: “Ser, I Uber driver with yellow cab at night, special rate. More money!”
You would expect an outrage. You know what I did? I gave up. I had no more strength. I surrendered totally. ‘That is understandable’, I responded, payed and left the Yellow Cab Uber, which I guess you only can EXPERIENCE in New York City.
I finally arrived at the hotel, checked in and went to my room. My quiet room which I certainly booked because it was supposed to be QUIET. I got a room behind the elevators in a 30 storey building. I called the front desk and asked for another room. Yes, the hotel was booked out. No room left.
Here it is then. End of story. I’m in my hotel room buzzing with annoyance trying to close my eyes to the sound of running elevators music… Kind of want to make you travel a lot, isn’t it? I know, very privileged and only “luxury problems”. It’s a bit of a love and hate relationship. Bittersweet. But hey, who doesn’t want to spend the night next to the elevators in Midtown in New York City?
One last thing I have to mention. Of course I texted Knubbel before going to bed. I nearly forgot to tell you about it. Yes, that is the deal.
So here goes. My Frequent flyer’s report – wonderful, exciting, or not so? Call it what you see fit. In my view – definitely worth writing about.