Hooray Summer, Hello Europe!–Or, Airports Are Fun

by Becky on July 9, 2012

in Fun, Traditions

So we pack up the kids for a three-week European vacation.  And off we go to John Wayne Airport to catch a flight to Houston, where we’ll catch another flight meant to land us in Frankfurt, Germany, where we’ll catch yet another flight to Budapest, the starting point of our trip.

But first things first.  We get to John Wayne early, so as to have plenty of time to go through security.  Which takes all of thirty minutes.  And so we wait for our flight to Houston to board.

Finally, we board.  And sit.  And sit.  And watch our layover in Houston dry up.  Will we make the connection?

We arrive sometime after 1 pm, which should give us just enough time, but our plane sits on the tarmac because another plane is still at the gate we’re meant to pull into.  One of the flight attendants, an impressively calm and competent guy named Ed, gets on the PA and tells the other passengers that a family of six needs to make a connecting flight and would the other passengers therefore be kind enough to wait to deplane until they–that is, we–have gotten off.

Now it’s 1:20.  Natalie, another equally calm and seriously overqualified United flight attandant working the John Wayne-to-Houston shift, tells me that as soon as she opens the door, I need to grab the gate agent and ask her to call the folks at the gate we’re meant to leave out of and TELL THEM WE’RE COMING . . . so they don’t leave without us.

The door of the plane opens.  I start to speak to the gate agent, who glares at me like I’m a bunion, and I suddenly understand–as she waves me off with contempt and tells me I’ll have to wait my turn–that we’re totally on our own. 

So I start to run.  No, I start to haul, and as my forty-something legs begin to burn, I realize I should have taken myself on many, many more strenuously aerobic beach walks when I had the chance.  Shoulda coulda . . . 

Pretty soon, the family catches up, and we sprint, all of us, down the moving walkways, trying not to mow people down, shouting the gate number to each other so everyone knows where we’re headed.  We get there in a record five minutes, just as they’re about to give our seats away to three people on standby who will now probably not make it to Frankfurt, Germany on this particular plane.

As we board, the passengers already buckled into their seats look at us like we’ve all got two heads, that’s how crazy and sweaty and out-of-breath and whipped up we are.  Finally I plop down in my seat, where I tell my girls that I want that gate agent’s head on a platter.  Then I decide I’m actually much happier with Ed and Natalie than I’m mad at Frau Bunion, who, in spite of failing miserably in her agenting duties, now lives in my rear view mirror.  I breathe out a sigh of relief.  We’ve made it.  The plane taxis down the runway, then poises for take-off. 

The engines roar, we rocket forward, and suddenly, we’re in the air.  We’ve made it.

Roughly ten hours later, we land in Frankfurt, with less than forty minutes to clear customs and catch another plan to Budapest.  Really?  Everyone’s dragging, I get us in the wrong customs line, the man looking at our passports obviously believes us to be convicted felons fleeing the U.S., and the line back through security seems to snake all the way to Hungary.

So much for that flight.  Once we get to the our gate (where there is now no plane, obviously), the very nice Lufthansa man reassures us we can catch another flight at 5 pm.

But that would be too easy, right?  Which is why, when my good husband tells me, after a lengthy sojourn in yet another line, that there’s no more room on the 5 pm flight, I am not the least bit surprised.  Just curious about how I’m going to keep four kids ages 19, 16, 13, and 8, busy for roughly seven hours in the Frankfurt airport.  This is one of those times when I just need to paste on a smile and pretend we’re in someplace more fun than Disneyland.

The good news:  the United Airlines folks gave us sixty Euros in vouchers we can now use to pick up some dinner.  The bad news:  the cafe at which we have just ordered sandwiches, soup, waters, and fruit will not accept the vouchers.  So, eighty dollars (yes, U.S. currency) later, we’re sitting down to a feast (the sandwiches are in fact pretty special), which is nevertheless wasted on the four children who cannot keep their eyes, much less their mouths, open to receive it. 

So much for dinner.

After setting up camp near our gate, my husband and I leave our children in charge of bags, gear, and each other and head off to find a mysterious market we’ve heard will accept our vouchers.  Sure enough, in the basement of the airport is a small supermarket full of European chocolate, among other things.  Thirty minutes later, we’re carting two bags of the stuff back to base camp in the Lufthansa hub.  Everyone’s asleep on the hard airport chairs except the eight-year-old, who’s deep in a Lord of the Rings video and at the moment in no mood for distractions like gourmet chocolate.

Four hours later, we’re in Budapest, and one of our pieces of luggage has of course had the temerity to go missing.  Another line, a long report given to a weary report-taker.  And I’m wondering how long our youngest can hold out before he hits critical mass.  Finally, we load our stuff into a taxi and head off toward the older part of the city, where we’ve reserved a room for the night.

We should perhaps be worried when our taxi drops us off at midnight and we discover that the hotel room has mysteriously dried up.  But a grand, old church is parked next to us, the night is warm, the nearby jasmine fragrant, and a kind American stranger approaches, eager to steer us to another hotel one boulevard over.  Somehow it all has worked out. 

At around 1 am Budapest time, we’re finally tucked in.  The open windows allow the street noises of a grand, European(!) city to waft in as we (try to) fall asleep.  I can hardly sleep for thinking of what awaits us.

Ahhh!  We’re in Hungary, guys!

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