Flight AA 134: From hell, to hell

Home - About » Personal Blog - May 24, 2006 « Previous Entry - Next Entry
Computer Science
Research, Industry Work,
Community Service
Hillside Group, CHOOSE,
Stanford GSA
The Serious Side
Business School,
Learning Chinese
Humorous Takes
Switzerland, United States,
Software, Fun Photos
Travel Stories
Europe, United States, Asia
Living Places
Berlin (+ Gallery), Zürich
Boston, S.F. + Bay Area

It's another one from the netherworld of international travel. Returning from the Silicon Valley to Berlin, I knew I had booked a cheap flight back in April. How cheap, I realized only when I stepped on board of AA 134, a Boeing 777, in Los Angeles. The economy section of this Boeing affords three rows of nine people in total, with two window rows of two seats each, and one middle row of five seats. Guess where my seat was.

Yep, it was the center seat of the middle row. Worse, these seats and their space were made for midgets, not human beings. (Maybe they were made for inhuman boeings?) If you know me, I'm not one to complain given my bodily proportions. Usually I'm just fine. But this time the comedy was only about to start. Unfortunately, the machine was fully booked so there wasn't much I could do.

The seat to my right was taken by a woman who unpacked a humongous bag of cookies as soon as we sat down. Smart woman, I thought, she's likely to be much better fed and in a much better condition than me once we arrive at Heathrow. My admiration turned into frustration, once I had to start fighting off the cookie pieces that she was spreading all over the place.

The seat to my left was taken by a man who was soundly asleep within minutes. Before that, however, he managed to complain about the boxes at his feet who prevented his legs from spreading out all over the place. It was a sign of what was to come. In his sleep, this guy managed to wrestle the armrest from me in no time. I didn't stand a chance. Any attempt of recapturing the armrest failed within seconds. Worse, in his sleep this guy kept falling over to his right onto me. No pushing back would prevent him from doing this. Only when he shortly woke up and decided to mummify himself with a blanket did he stay in place.

I tried to get some work done, but with little success. The person in front of me, as happens so often, decided to push back her chair right after dinner, not caring at all how the people behind her might be doing. I'm not complaining about her leaning back; I'm only complaining about the violent act that some people turn this into. Why can't they look over their shoulder to see whether they are going to hit someone's head? Or at least do it slowly? The consequence of all this was me, with the tray table down pushing into my belly, a laptop with the display open at about an 80 degree angle, leaning to the right, fighting the cookie crumbs, making funny movements trying to type into the laptop some WikiSym reviews. Pure comedy. Eventually, I gave up and called it a night.

The "next morning" the captain woke us up, telling us that he had not been able to recover the time we lost when we started out late in Los Angeles. We would be arriving 15 minutes late. This was a problem for me, because my connecting flight to Berlin would leave from a different terminal, 75 minutes after our scheduled arrival at Heathrow. Over the next two hours, the delay increased. At the end, it was a rapid fire of announcements. "We are being held in a waiting pattern. We'll be 22 minutes late. No, wait, make that 25 minutes." Or: "We may be on the ground, but they are not yet giving us a gate. We'll be 35 minutes late. No, wait, make that 39 minutes." In the end, we were 1 hour late when we finally were able to disembark.

With 15 minutes for my connecting flight to depart left, I had no hopes of catching the plane; still, I asked the American Airlines agent at the arrival gate what to do. She glanced at my boarding pass, and her eyes lit with excitement. She bent her knees, aligned her arms, clenched her fists and yelled at me: "Yes, you can do it! Run!!" I first thought that she was making fun of me, but then I thought: Maybe she knows something, and my connecting flight is delayed. So, getting closer to Germany, I decided to "take my legs into my hands" and run. And run I did.

When I arrived at my departure terminal, I learned that my flight had been delayed indeed, for one hour (or so I thought). There had been no need at all to run like crazy. I could have made it in a much more convenient fashion, as there was ample time left. Funny, only, that no departure gate was announced for my flight to Berlin. I eventually asked an agent, who then told me where to go. Turned out, the plane wouldn't leave for yet another hour, so I arrived two hours late in Berlin.

Of course, my luggage wasn't there. The Lost & Yet-to-be-found department told me it was last seen in Heathrow. I'm not really worried; at least it is on the right side of the Atlantic. I'm actually quite glad that someone else will have to bring it to my place. I'm off to a wedding on Friday, so it is a sign of the sad state of affairs that I'm in that I have so many suits to choose from that missing a piece of luggage doesn't bother me.

When I finally got home, it was past 8pm, meaning, the stores were already closed. Unfortunately, tomorrow is a holiday. As you probably know, Thursdays and Fridays, as well as Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays tend to be holidays in Germany. Unfortunately, my freezer is emtpy, so I guess I'll have to make do with the leftover cookie crumps from my right-hand neighbor on flight AA 134 from hell to hell. Who would ever have thought that there might something good to sitting next to a cookie monster.

Copyright (©) 2007 Dirk Riehle. Some rights reserved. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA.) Original Web Location: http://www.riehle.org