How not to travel home after being away for 6 weeks

Deal with me as I explain what transpired over the past week. I’m writing this partly as a therapeutic exercise for myself, and because I don’t want to relive this bullshit by re-telling it to my friends, but I do want them to know… ALL the details…

I’ve been in Europe since the beginning of June – first for a 4 week study abroad program, then a week and change spent with family and close friends, hopping around Vienna, Nice and Sardinia. For the most part, this 6 week trip was really wonderful. Only once Kelly and I got to Sardinia, things started to get wobbly…

Our flight from Nice to Cagliari had a layover in Rome. Upon arrival in Cagliari we were told our bags never left Rome. Bummer because we only had 2 full days in Sardinia, and now we had to spend them waiting around in case the driver showed up at any time within a “guaranteed” 24 hour window (there was a LOT of ambiguity around when this 24-hour period started – was it from the time we landed, or the time our bags reached Cagliari, or once the bags were handed to the delivery person?). Whatever – Sardinia was beautiful and I wore one pair of swim shorts the whole time I was there.

So I planned to fly from Cagliari to Paris Orly on Saturday afternoon, spend the evening in the city, taking photos of pretty things, and then depart from CDG to JFK (direct) the following morning. Turns out god, the devil, and all their minions in the heavens and hells were in cahoots against me.

Mid-flight we get redirected from Orly to CDG. No one knows why. Apparently many ground staff were on strike, so I’m guessing they couldn’t handle more traffic, either in the air or at the airport itself. This very much messes with my plan to get into the city because CDG is considerably further from the center of Paris than Orly. It’s also kind of pointless traveling all the way into the city and back when I’m already at the place I’ll be leaving from the next day. Once on the ground, I checked taxi prices to the hotel I had booked… €92. Fuck that. Cancel the city hotel and book one of those shitty airport hotels. Also, our bags take a good 90 minutes to get offloaded. We landed at 7.30pm and I finally left the airport at 9.20pm. I’m sad I won’t be able to spend time in Paris. I was kinda looking forward to that. By this point, I have a blinding tension headache, but the hotel staff agrees to leave the gym open an extra 30mins so I can have a run on the treadmill.

I tried checking into my flight to JFK online, but the Delta app tells me the flight is operated by Air France, and need to go to their check-in desk at the airport. I leave the hotel before their restaurant opens, so haven’t had breakfast – just that shitty hotel room coffee with powdered creamer. Get to the airport at 7.30am. It’s already chaos. Decide to wait till I’m at the gate to get something to eat. Now keep in mind I packed for 6 weeks away, and the only bag that would fit all my crap is Kelly’s Filson duffle. It’s floppy and heavy and doesn’t roll, and the shoulder strap, at +23kg feels like a blunt bread knife angrily chomping at my neck muscles. I walk all the way down the terminal to the AF counters at check-in area 9. After queuing for about 30mins, I get to a counter and the lady tells me it’s a Delta flight and she can’t help me – I need to go to area 2. I’m annoyed, but whatever. I march all the way back down to area 2. Where the AF check-in area was busy, the Delta area is a fucking shit show. It feels more like 3am at Brooklyn Mirage than a European airport. There are no discernible queues, and everyone is trying to get the DJ’s, sorry, the Delta ticketing staff’s attention. I find a line of humans that looks like it’s moving in a direction and elbow my way in. The staff keep calling earlier flights to the front, pushing me, and whoever else is not lucky enough to be traveling to Atlanta or Boston further and further backward. I’m becoming stressed, but try to remain calm. At one point I find myself next to an open rope barrier, with a direct line to the counters, and maybe 3 people ahead of me. But I think to myself – be nice, don’t be an asshole, everyone here is in the same shitshow as you. So I stay in line.

My flight is scheduled for 10.25am. At some point, a lady yells for everyone traveling to JFK to raise their hands. A cheer of voices goes up, but we don’t get called forward, and there is confusion about whether we should be worried or not. By the time I reach the check-in counter it is 9.57am. I still need to get through passport control and security. The lady assures me I have enough time. I get into the passport control line, which is filling the entire terminal building. The info screens which are meant to provide a reassuring status of your progress just say >30mins… I kept asking the staff if I could move forward or get expedited in any way and kept being told to stay in line. Some fuckers try sneaking past, but my fucking elbows are out – physically stopping these assholes from pushing by. It’s 10.25 and I’m not even halfway through this line. At around 10.35am I get an email saying the flight has been delayed to 10.45. Cool, but I’m still not going to make it. 

Make it through passport control, only to find that I’m still not at my fucking terminal. Once you get through all that bullshit, you need to take a train to “terminal” (?) K, L, or M (hey can you guess who this terminal was previously used by?). Wait for the train, get to the M building, which is obviously the furthest and takes the longest to get to. Our flight is delayed to 11am. I’m in the security line. I’m stressed and hyper-aware of everything in my backpack because it’s filled with electronic bullshit which these X-ray machines love to hate. I ask the security person if my camera needs to come out? “Non monsieur.” Right. Laptop out, iPad out. What the fuck do you think happens? My bag gets pulled. I let out an exasperated grumble, which the lady inspecting my bag takes as a very personal insult, so decides it is her duty to save the world from me, the next big terrorist threat of summer ‘22. It’s 10.57am. I run, at full tilt through the terminal building to gate M44. It’s an [airport terminal] mile. 

Oh wait, here’s a cool side nugget: On our last afternoon in Sardinia (yesterday afternoon), we found this very cute but narrow beach to chill out for a few hours. By narrow, I mean cliff wall > 2 meters of sand > Mediterranean. So as we’re leaving, I step in a few inches of deeper water and my sneakers get soaked. No big deal, it’s hot, they’ll dry. Fast-forward to this morning in the hotel, as I’m getting dressed I can tell the damp has taken over my shoes, and the smell will not go down well with my fellow passengers, so I decided to bag them and wear my slides instead. Compression socks, of course, I’d never let my toes hang out on an international flight. Fuck you if you do that. That’s a story for another day.

So I’m running as fast as my slides allow, and get to gate M44 right as the fucking glass sliding door to the sky bridge is closing. I can see the flight attendants milling around on the other side of the door. As I’m approaching, I plead with the staff at the gate – I can feel tears in my voice. I’m stressed, exasperated, and emotional and I just ran smack into an ice-cold wall of French indifference. Two more families with children arrive at the gate just behind me. I’m hoping the staff will maybe have some sympathy for the families, but those fucks don’t give a shit. It’s kind of amazing how little fucks they give. I turn around and yell at no one, which drew quite a lot of attention I didn’t want. 

The gate staff tell us to go to the AF customer service desk at M41. The peeps at M41 tell us it’s not their responsibility, and to go back to the gate if we want to be helped. So me and 2 families are literally being tossed about in a game of hot potato. We march back to M44, where the staff are already rotating to the next shift, so the story gets told to a new person, and this person walks us back to M41. Now it’s a game of hot potato and a game of telephone. The person helping me at M41 begrudgingly tells me I’m on a flight at 8.30am the next morning, but there has been a “mistake”. I keep asking what the mistake is, but she won’t tell me (I still don’t know what that was about, but whatever…). Since the flight is for the following day, I ask about accommodation – which I get told is not Air France’s problem – and if I want to be helped with that I need to leave the terminal building and speak to Delta staff outside. I’m kinda resigned at this point and turn to leave, and a mother from one of the families looks at me and asks “Are you leaving?” I realize that walking outside would probably be a very bad move. There is nothing but perpetual queuing hell on the other side of that invisible border. I spin around to the CS desk and say to the person that just helped me: “I can’t leave – what other options do I have?” – to which she replies, I fucking swear: “Sir our conversation has ended, please leave the building and speak to Delta if you would like to be helped.” This was the second time that I was really close to bursting out crying. You know when your throat goes wobbly and achy at the same time. Like that. I feel like I’m about to collapse. I still haven’t eaten. I decide to just walk away from M41.

It’s 12.15pm. I got a sandwich and decided to try my luck calling Delta customer service – as usual there is no signal inside the airport (why is there never cell signal inside an airport terminal?) and the wifi is shitty airport wifi. Delta keeps suggesting their new messaging app, so I try that instead. The message bot/human manages to find a flight that leaving for Minneapolis 3:30pm, with a connection to JFK, arriving in NYC at 11.30pm. That’s a whole 12 hours later than I was supposed to get home, but at least I’ll be heading in a direction and don’t have to camp in an airport terminal for the night. I get an email confirming my new flight, but it’s not a boarding pass, and doesn’t have any specific details, so I decide to google the flight number – which lists the flight to MSP as leaving from gate L26. That means walking past security and getting that stupid train to another building. Which I do. Need to go through security again. The lines are less busy. I don’t ask questions this time. Laptop, iPad, camera. Bag goes through without any trouble and I’m on my way. Except now I’m inside the L terminal and I can’t find a flight to MSP on any of the screens. I walk a little way down the terminal to the first gate. Security stops me short and asks for my boarding pass. I explain I don’t have one, been rebooked, looking for gate. This guy refuses to let me speak to the staff because I don’t have a boarding pass to show that I’m at the correct gate. I do the “speak slower and they’ll understand you” thing. While I’m explaining, the guy gets distracted by someone else, so I just walked through. I’m not sure if we came to an agreement or not but I wasn’t waiting to find out. A reasonably nice AF gentleman looks up the flight and we find it is back in the M terminal I just came from. FML. I mention this guy being nice because mostly all of the people I’ve dealt with this morning have had the expectedly bad stench of a French attitude. I make my way out back to the train and back to the M terminal. 

This time I know the security drill right? Laptop, iPad, camera. Wrong. My bag gets pulled again. The nice lady unpacks e-ve-ry-thing, and this time finds my leatherman. Thanks, I’d been looking for that, but I also know it’s not supposed to be in my carry-on. My bad. For some context – my aunt Mercia gave me that leatherman when I turned 15. That’s 25 years ago. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but over the years it has been the tool that has come in most handy throughout my life, and I think about my aunt every time I use it. I’m very bummed to have lost it. It should be noted that I traveled from Austria to France to Italy and back to France with no one finding it up till right this moment – the third time going through the same security check. Fuck me right? 

So anyway I get to the gate. I had originally booked Comfort+ because I’m tall and have a cranky hip, so you know, I take care of my problems. Needless to say the likelihood of getting the same seat is long gone, but I specifically asked the messaging bot/human for an emergency exit row. They said a seat was available in the front row of the cabin, which… was not true. I’m cramped up in the middle row, way back in the 50s. The flight from CDG to MSP is 9hrs, with a 2hr layover before flying to JFK. Our flight is delayed by 2hrs. I fall asleep at one of the little device charing counters with my head on the desk. Eventually, the flight happens. 

We arrive at MSP with no chance of making the connection. In the baggage claim area the Delta staff announce that due to strikes at CDG many bags did not make it on the flight. I spot a guy waving a list of names around and see mine at the top of the page highlighted in yellow marker. I’m not surprised and too dazed from the flight to be annoyed. I leave the baggage claim area and enter some kind of purgatory room out of Twin Peaks. There’s a pile of random luggage, a conveyer belt, and an old lady standing behind a lectern with a computer screen balanced on top of it. The old lady tells me there are no more flights leaving to NYC tonight, and that AF “has not yet classified the reason for the delay, and they can’t give us onward flights or hotel accommodation.” Behind me some goofball has thrown their backpack on the conveyer belt, that whips it off into whatever abyss lies behind those rubber flaps – she then tells the old lady what she did. The Delta lady asks if there was a luggage tag on the backpack – which there was not. Now I’m an exhausted mess from the flight, but that strikes me as a pretty fucking stupid thing to do. I raise one eyebrow. The Delta lady says “Well why on earth did you do that?” I decide, since there are no more flights, to leave the lady to deal with the goofball’s stupidity on her own, and find someone outside that can help me. The last thing she yells at me is to go to the “Agent Assist” desk. The Agent Assist desks are basically the check in desks, which are out the arrivals terminal, upstairs in the departures hall. After waiting in line for a good 20mins, the screens where I’m waiting suddenly change and the queue I was in is no longer “Agent Assist”, so I have to move down to the other end of the fuckbag terminal and fall in the back of the fuckbag line again to speak to someone at the new fuckbag “Agent Assist” desks. Wtf man!

I eventually get to a counter and flop down on the bag weighing machine. The lady behind the counter is pretty sympathetic and helpful. She books me on a 7am flight, gives me a hotel and meal voucher and tells me I can pick from any hotels in the email she just sent me. She also tells me to head back downstairs to the lost luggage desk to make sure my bag, which is still in Paris, gets sent on to NYC. I go downstairs, wait in line, speak to a guy who just tells me there is nothing he can do, this has been going on for 2 weeks, bags are arriving 4-5 days late, and I should speak to someone when I get to NYC. 

While waiting in line I try to book a hotel, but all the ones listed in the email are for NYC, none for Minneapolis, so I head back upstairs to agent assist, wait in line again, lady apologizes, get another email with local hotels listed. 

Eat, sleep, repeat. 

Upon arriving at MSP at 5:55am for a 7:05am flight, I find lines trailing hundreds of meters again. I tried checking in on the app, website and at the self serve kiosks but get the same errors every time. Get in line to speak to an agent. When I finally get to the desk the lady tells me the person who helped me last night (the nice lady) didn’t book the ticket correctly. She spends a good 20minutes on the phone trying to rebook. At this point it is 6:37am, and I still don’t have a seat. She finally puts me on standby, and I run through security (still in my slides), pay $190 for Clear to skip the security lines cos fuck you if you think I’m missing this flight. Laptop, iPad, camera – same drill – no issues this time (I miss my leatherman) and make it to the gate, only to find the flight is delayed by 25mins. I probably didn’t need to drop that $190 on Clear.

The new Delta terminal at LaGuardia is very nice. Views of Citi filed and Arthur Ashe stadium. It feels good to be back in NYC, or to have made it through all that – I dunno. I head straight to baggage services to get the lost luggage claim done. The guy in front of me has lost his hand luggage. Apparently staff took the bag from him as he was boarding, saying there wasn’t enough room inside the cabin. The same staff later told him his bag got sent to Boston. Upon arrival he got given a bag with his name/bag tag on it but not his bag. So someone else has his bag with their name on it, but no one has any idea where that bag is or who has it. I’m fascinated by this fuckup because the 3 people behind the counter have no idea what to do. Like… This is a fuckup with no solution. And this guy has to present at some conference tmrw – with no laptop. Hope you used google slides bro.

I get home to a very excited dog at around 1.30pm on Monday afternoon. I have an open lost luggage case file, and Delta’s baggage tracking app just shows the bag sitting pretty at CDG.

On Tuesday the stress finally catches up to me and I suffer a long and horrible tension migraine. On Wednesday I wake up early to call Delta. Their phone centers open at 6am. I dial in at 6.01am. I eventually give up after 1hr30min on hold. I decide to venture out to buy undies and socks and toiletries. In Duane Reade some guy loads up about 8 boxes of Huggies diapers under his arms and marches straight out the back fire exit – setting off alarms in the process. He’s long gone by the time security realizes anything is happening. And I got a bike puncture.