Friday, August 3, 2012

Our Trip Home and How We Ended Up at the Beach

Well, Hannah and I are home in the US.
We’ll be here for six weeks, returning to Luxembourg in early September.
Shawn had to stay in Lux for work.  Boo.
(We already miss him.  A lot.)

I made a comment on Facebook that this was the most bizarre travel experience I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t kidding.  It possibly rivals one of Shawn’s business trips when he got stranded in London because a volcano erupted in Iceland.

So, sit back, friends.  Get yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable.
You’re about to read a series of events that just seemed to spiral out of control beyond anything I could have imagined.

Wednesday night, Shawn drove us to Brussels so we could catch our flight there.  Leaving from anywhere other than Luxembourg saves one flight and one layover, which doesn’t seem like much, but it is when you’re traveling alone with a 4 year old.
We boarded our plane and arrived 7.5 hours later at JFK.  On the flight, it was business as usual for me and Hannah.  Shawn was a dear and upgraded us to Economy Comfort so we had room ‘a plenty for stretching our legs and seats that reclined comfortably.
We arrived at JFK with three hours until our flight to Pittsburgh where my mom was picking us up.  We made it easily through Customs and Security and got to our gate with plenty of time to spare.  Our flight boarded a few minutes late, but I thought nothing of it.

Once we were in our seats, there seemed to be some commotion in the back of the plane. Both flight attendants made several trips from the front of the plane to the back. (Did you know that in Europe they are called “air hostesses?” Isn’t that the cutest name?) Then the pilot and co-pilot emerged from the cockpit and went to the back of the plane.  They returned to the front again, turned the engines off and opened the door.  A bit later, a US Air Marshall boarded the plane and marched to the back.  Dude meant business. 
Apparently there was a problem with a family of four who only had two tickets and were trying to hold a child on the mother’s lap and the child was far too old.  This is against regulations.  They were refusing to leave the plane until the Marshall told them that if they didn’t comply, he would use force.  He physically escorted them off the plane.  The whole ordeal took about 40 minutes.

Remember when I said that things started to spiral out of control?  For the next five hours, here’s what happened:
We taxied around the runway for one hour.
Went back to the gate to refuel.
Sat on the plane for another 2 hours without the engine running and no air conditioning.
The woman in the row behind us threw up.
Two monks in the third row began praying and chanting.
We taxied out to the runway where we sat for another 2 hours.
A thunder storm rolled in.
We returned to the gate, were asked to exit the plane and wait inside.
Once inside, we found out that the flight was cancelled.  By now it was 9:30 and our flight was supposed to have left at 4.
I got in line at the Delta service desk to reschedule another flight.  After one hour of waiting,  and a lot of confusion and transfers because my original ticket was paid for in Euros and not Dollars, they finally booked me on a flight for the next day leaving from LaGuardia.  Since I had a child with me, they booked me into a hotel…all the way out on Long Island.  Because of the number of cancelled flights, there were no rooms available near either NYC airport.

Now, all I needed was my luggage, right? 


That was going to take TWO HOURS. 
Have you ever sat on a plane on the runway for five hours, only to have the flight cancelled and then have to wait another two hours for your luggage?
I wouldn’t recommend it.
But the sweet lady at the desk said, “Here’s what I’m going to do for you.  I’m going to file a “lost baggage” report (wink, wink) and when your bags are “found” (wink, wink) I will have them delivered to your final destination.”

She was an answer to prayers.  I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to manage to get two large suitcases, two carry on items and a sleepy 4 year old out of the airport on my own.

She gave me two taxi vouchers, a hotel room voucher, $50 worth of food vouchers,  boarding passes for the next day’s flight, two toothbrushes and two airline t-shirts.  (Which were lovely, by the way.)

By diggity, we were on our way now. 
It was well after 11PM, which is 5AM in Luxembourg and this mama was tired.

We hopped into the cab and after a 40 minute, nauseating ride, we were at our hotel.
We walked in to the sound of club music thumping and strobe lights flashing.
Oh, and there was a bouncer at the door.
It reminded me of Senior Week 1996 in Myrtle Beach.

We checked in, rode the elevator to the 5th floor and opened the door to our room.
Both of us were so exhausted that we put on our free airline shirts, crawled into bed and slept the sleep of angels.


The next morning we woke up and realized how fantastic our room was.


AND!  AND!  This was the view:



Ocean front.
Oh, yes sir.

We used our vouchers and ordered room service. 
An omelet for me, blueberry pancakes for Hannah.

Then we wandered around the hotel a bit and headed to the beach.

Luckily I had a change of clothes for Hannah in her carry on bag, but not for myself.
That’s why I’m wearing the same clothes that I flew across the ocean in the day before.
(It’s my standard uniform when traveling – black velour pants, tshirt and hoodie.)
(Hoodie not pictured.)




We used another voucher to eat nachos and guac by the pool.

Now it was time to go back to the airport to catch our flight.  This time we’d be flying into Cleveland and my mom was set to pick us up there.

We used our final cab voucher and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in and go through security and such.

You’ll never guess what happened next.
Our flight - the one we were rescheduled on because the original one was cancelled - was cancelled.
I kid you not.

The only thing that kept me from bursting into tears was the fact that I’d just spent the morning at the beach.  And the poolside chips and guac.  Those helped, too.

I explained my entire story to the ticketing agent. 
She was able to get us on a flight to Pittsburg, but the catch was that it was boarding in less than 20 minutes.  Hannah and I moved faster through that airport than we ever have.
We boarded sweaty, still covered in sunscreen and me in clothes that I’d been wearing for over 36 hours.  We were fresh as daisies.

After the bumpiest, wobbliest, scariest descent, we finally arrived in Pittsburgh, where my mom and aunt picked us up and drove the 120 miles to my parents’ house.
We were finally home.
The trip that should have taken 12 hours door to door took us over 40.

So, the big question everyone asked is how did Hannah do during all of this?
She was AMAZING.  I am so, so proud of her.
She travels so well, keeps herself busy and just goes with the flow.
She was such a trooper.

This week Hannah told me how happy she was to be home in the US.
”It sure was a rough trip getting here, wasn’t it?” I asked her.
”Yea, this trip home changed my life,” she told me.

(I have no idea where she gets the dramatics.)

But I think it changed my life, too.