Friday, July 28, 2006

Huelgas = Lame (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Munich airport)

It all began at 5am, when my alarm clock went off just 3 1/2 short hours after I went to sleep. You see, last night was happy hour night on the terrace at the office, and then I met up with an old friend of Diego's who lives here in Bucharest. So my alarm went off, it was still dark out, I stumbled into the bathroom and started getting ready to head to the airport.

I made it on time and saw a beautiful sunrise en route, got on my flight to Munich and had a very uneventful first leg of my journey. Upon arrival in Germany, I was stopped by a beefy customs security guy who was SUCH a stereotypical German, I laughed at first when he stopped me. We had just been talking about fake Romanian cops on the plane, and I thought this was some sort of prank. But no, he was for real, and he demanded my passport and pointed me to a metal desk. Then it went something like ZIS:

Guard: Spreken-ze deutsche?
Me: No.
Guard: Vhy are you een Munich?
Me: I'm on my way to Barcelona.
Guard: You live in Bucharest?
Me: For two months.
Guard: Vhat do you do zhere?
Me: Advertising.
Guard: (Angrily) Vhat ees dat?
Me: Uh, I'm making TV commercials.
Guard: Oh, zat ees mahketink.
Me: Yeah, sure.
Guard: (getting more and more confused) But vhere do you live?
Me: Bucharest. For the summer. But I am a Spanish resident. (I stupidly pull out my residency card, which he grabs and stares at for a long time, holding it like it might be dipped in anthrax.)
Guard: VHAT EES ZAT???
Me: My residency card!

He looked at me, my passport, me, my passport, me, my NIE card, my bag, and me one more time and then said, very suspiciously, "You can go."

And off I went, out one terminal, into another, through security (again?!) and to my gate were I had 2 minutes to check my email before it was time to board my flight. I stupidly thought to myself, this will be my shortest layover in a German airport EVER!

Got on my flight, took some pictures of the mountains out the window , and was halfway to Barcelona when the pilot made a way-too-long announcement in German. At the end of which, the German guy next to me said, "We're going back to Munich!" The English version of the announcement was much shorter, but basically he told us that we couldn't land in Barcelona because they were not allowing planes but couldn't provide a reason, and we couldn't land at any nearby aiports because they were all "full."

So I saw this view twice!

So at 11am, when I should've been landing in Barcelona, I landed in Munich again. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn't be questioned by any more burly passport control agents because I didn't know how I could explain my answer to the question "Where are you coming from?" with the answer "Munich" in Munich. Fortunately, I didn't run into my angry friend again.

And ALSO fortunately, when I went to pick up my bag at baggage claim (they forced me to check my tiny little rolly bag!) I ran into my friend Kerstin, the entertainment lawyer I met with the week before coming to Barcelona. She was trying to get back to Barcelona for a meeting, but was having no luck. At least her flight didn't ever take off!

The baggage claim board. Have you ever seen the city you departed listed as your arriving city? I haven't!

Kerstin kindly offered to let me stay at her apartment here in Munich and then headed back to her office since she couldn't fly till tomorrow anyway. Most flights to Barcelona were cancelled and those that weren't yet were overbooked. So I went to stand in three very long lines, details of which I will not get into. Lines are lines. And they don't get faster if you have a hissy fit like the guy in front of me. My god, I thought his head was going to explode. It was in the first line that I learned that the reason for our midair turnaround was not terrorism or a plane crash as I had feared, but a ground crew strike. They apparently blocked off the whole airport somehow and wouldn't allow any planes to land. Impressive, though incredibly annoying.

I also heard some very interesting stories, though my midair re-routing was by far the most exciting according to the crowd reaction. A woman in front of me had flown all the way from California to marry Angry Man, who had flown in from NYC. Well I guess it "didn't work out" (that's what she said anyway, when he was off fuming elsewhere) and so they were headed back early to their respective homes in the US. Considering the circumstances, they were awfully nice to each other, if a tad... formal.

Another guy from Norway was supposed to drive with his son on a roadtrip through eastern and northern Europe. Somewhere in Poland, their old Mercedes broke down and needed a completely new engine. The poor guy had to call to get an increase on his credit card limit and then the German autoshop where he took the car refused to accept his card. Verboten! Cash only. He had even booked tickets on a car ferry to take them from northern Poland to Oslo! But today he had to book two tickets home in order to wrangle up some cash and leave the car behind in the meantime. That's what we call a major bummer.

So several hours and many options (do I stay in Munich with Kerstin, go to Frankfurt to see Huy, or just go back to Bucharest and try again next weekend?) I ended up with option 3. Option 1 would've been cool, but Kerstin would be leaving - if the strike is over - in the morning, and option 2 only left me with 1 day in Frankfurt before having to leave very early Sunday morning.

So I changed my flights to next week, booked the next flight to Bucharest - 9pm! - and busted out my trusty Powerbook and hit up the airport wireless for some entertainment. Oh and I realized I hadn't eaten yet. But this time it was 3pm in Munich, 4pm in Bucharest. So I went to some German airport restaurant (if I'd had enough time to go into Munich, I would have!!!) and had "meat loaf." Which in reality is "flat hot dogs." Anyway, the pretzel was good. And the mustard.


Soon after, my laptop battery died and I moved to a nice cozy, empty hallway with a cold, clean, hard floor and one single outlet in the wall. Jackpot! I sat there and started sending out some emails letting people know why I was not in Barcelona where I was supposed to be and then decided I should move toward my gate. I went around the corner and found... PASSPORT CONTROL!

Fortunately, this guy was more blase and really didn't mind that I'd flown into Munich TWICE this morning. So now I'm at another cafe because I decided maybe I should get something mildly healthy to eat, since I have no idea when my next meal will be. And, voila:

Nice, huh? So now it's 8pm, I've spent a total of 14 hours "en route to Barcelona" and my trip won't be done for another 5 when all is said and done. It will take me this long to get to California for my high school reunion next month! Now that trip doesn't seem so bad!

You see, the key to surviving a miserable travel experience is the following:
1. Laptop, with wireless internet access
2. Semi-decent food
3. Early-onset delirium

And if you're lucky, 4) run-ins with random friends!

Next installment - the electrical fire outside my window last night and my first reflexology appointment, where a woman figured out that my left eye is way weaker than my right (true!) simply by touching one of my toes. Rad!


Anonymous said...

What a travel saga. Hope they give you a free trip to compensate you for your lost weekend at least.

Anonymous said...

No wonder the guard was suspicious. Only a spy would take pictures of her food. Or maybe somebody in marketing?

Anonymous said...

Thank God you did´nt try to go to BCN last week too. Last week, the "Huelga" was made by the pilots. Lets see:
Pilots: Checked
Land Personnel: Checked
Catering Service: NOT CHECKED (Remember Heathrow Last year)
Aircraft Crew: NOT CHECKED
Air hostess cousins grandmother: NOT CHECKED
Farmer that provides the carrots for the catering: NOT CHECKED
There’s always a huge possibility to have an airline strike if you’re speaking about Unions and even bigger if they are lazy Spanish Iberia. (Which I guess it’s not the case)
I wish you the best luck for next week adventure.

NoellieBellie said...

What's crazy is that I flew Lufthansa. So I really don't know how Iberia employees were able to prevent ALL flights from coming in!


Anonymous said...

They just went on strike in the middle of the lane. And also they are the only luggage handling company working in BCN airport.
The strike was because Iberia is loosing money with that service in BCN so they decided not renew the contract with the airport and another company is taking control in a few months. BUT as everything works in unions here, they all went on strike because they’ll hire just 2300 out of the 3000 employees from the old company. I say “that’s business” and “Shit happens”. But I guess that’s not the way it works in Spain.


Anonymous said...

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Keep walking...