December 17, 2007

Frohliche Weinachten from Lufthansa and United! or 36 Hours to Washington

Posted in Air Travel tagged , , , , , , , , at 5:45 am by Lauren

Air travel is much less aggravating when you have all the time in the world to arrive at your destination…which is why I can’t imagine how I would have survived my return flight(s) to DC if I were actually on a deadline.

At 7:30 am on Friday, December 7, I left my apartment, caught a train, and arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport with time to spare. As I checked in, the cheery man behind the counter let me know that Frankfurt was having awful weather (particularly the wind), but that everything was currently running on time. I enjoyed my conversation with him – and I should have, as it was the last good news I’d hear for the day.

At 11:30 am, my flight to Frankfurt departed, and the flight attendants assured us that though we were delayed, everything leaving Frankfurt would be too. We arrived in Frankfurt two hours later to clear, sunny skies; simultaneously, my flight to Washington departed on schedule. 

Soon, I was the proud new owner of boarding passes to Chicago O’Hare and then to Dulles. A Lufthansa representative also gave me a voucher for lunch. My new flight wouldn’t board until 4:15 pm, and with the additional time of flying to DC from Chicago,  I’d arrive at midnight. My itinerary would now include an additional 8 hours of travelling (from 14 hours to 22).

At 6 pm, after another delay to allow other passengers to arrive, connect, and catch the last flight to the US for the day, our plane finally took off. As we flew across the Atlantic, I forced myself to stay awake by reading, doing logic puzzles, and watching No Reservations. I allowed myself one hour of sleep as the flight nears Chicago, proud of my resolve to limit sleep to combat jet lag.

At 8:45 pm Chicago time, my flight to DC started boarding, and I was still waiting for my luggage so that I could go through customs. I arrived at the correct terminal as my flight was lifting off. I was now 20 hours into my travel.

The woman at the United desk told me there were no more flights for the night. Unfortunately, she said, United would not be able to provide me with hotel accomodations. Lack of sleep makes me emotional, so I burst into tears. This outburst scored me a 40% off voucher for a hotel stay. Miserably, I insisted that the United representative put me on the 11 am flight instead of the 6 am flight. If I was going to sleep in Chicago, then sleep I would! I had no intention of waking up again at 4 am to go to the airport. 

At the Holiday Inn Select O’Hare, a luxurious king bed awaited me, and I slept a full eight hours. I woke up much refreshed on Saturday morning, harboring illusions that my final flight would be more pleasant. But again, United Airlines surpassed all my expectations.

I was directed to the electronic ticketing area, where I struggled to find information on my faux boarding pass that I could enter in to retrieve my flight information. (Each time I was put on a new flight, I was provided with a more counterfeit-looking boarding pass, often with only my name, the flight number, and the boarding time. Why would I actually need to know the take-off or landing times?) The sticker needed to check my baggage refused to print, and three United employees couldn’t seem to provide me with any help. (One said she couldn’t help me until the sticker printed though I’d been standing there 10 minutes already, another had to go ask another person to help me and then go stand around helping no one, and a third (the one the second asked to help) needed to help two others who intercepted her on her way to me and then only sent me to the ticketing agents.) Finally the sticker was manually reprinted by a ticketing agent (after I stood in line a second time).

In the security queue, another surprise lurked! I had been specially chosen by security for a full search of my carry-on luggage. The results? One confiscated jar of foie gras, on the grounds that it is or in some way could be a liquid, and two confiscated (but small enough to mail to myself) Lush solid perfumes also determined to be liquids. And one argument with a security team member about the name of candlesticks. She “corrected” me so we’d be on the same page: candlesticks are actually “candle stick holders,” while taper candles are “candle sticks.” She also decided to add insult to injury when she took the foie gras by asking, “Is this even legal to do to a bird anymore?” I pointed out that while we may take offense to their force-feeding birds, the French in turn are hardly pleased that we still execute people.

Finally, at 2:30 pm EST, I left the Dulles airport with Ryan. For all of those who asked if I was excited to be returning to the States – I certainly was excited when I finally reached home.



  1. […] desk, we were informed that we could catch a flight the next morning around 7 am. Unlike on my trip to the US when Lufthansa/United shafted me, Alitalia representatives quickly told us we’d have a hotel, dinner, and breakfast provided […]

  2. […] because we bought our tickets different times. I’m taking Lufthansa through Frankfurt, and I remember a little too well how that turned out the last time. Meanwhile, Allen is flying through Dublin on Aer Lingus, which he hadn’t heard of before […]

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