Chronicles of a trip home

This last week I had the pleasure to travel to Tunis, Tunisia, in North Africa, to speak at the Conference on Open Source Software. In another post I’ll put up some photos of my two hour tourist time in Carthage on Thursday, but here let me tell you about my trip home.

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My return flight was scheduled to leave Tunis on Friday at 4 am. This is a not a great time to travel in general, but since I had a full work day on Thursday, I had some decisions to make. Should I bother trying to sleep before the flight? What time should I get to the airport?

Despite some trouble related to weather and travel the previous week, I wasn’t anticipating any problems. My idea was to put one foot in front of the other and repeat through the various flights and airports until I got home.

I returned from the IBM offices to my hotel about 8:15 PM on Thursday night. I had thought about skipping dinner, but I was pretty hungry so I ordered a light meal from room service (the hotel was far from any restaurants). I did most of my packing and some email, and around 10 pm decided to take a nap.

Though I wasn’t sure I could sleep, evidently I did because when the alarm went off at midnight, I woke up, and woke up hard from a very deep sleep. Though I was groggy, I finished getting ready and caught my ride to the airport at 1 am. It probably helped that I kept telling myself that it was only 7 pm Thursday night at home.

The first leg of my trip from from Tunis to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. There were plenty of free seats when I checked in online on Thursday afternoon, which made sense because, I thought, how many people would choose to fly at such a bizarre time? I took me some time to find the check-in counter for Lufthansa (at the far end of the hall on the right) and then where I was to go for passport control and security (back of hall to the left, under the departures sign).

Unfortunately, though I was all set by 1:30, the doors didn’t open until 2 am. While I was waiting, I met a man who had been in the airport for twelve hours. Bad weather (bad weather?) had caused the airline to cancel his earlier flight to Paris and he had hours to go before his rebooked flight.

I was the first one through the processing and found my gate. At first, a few people trickled in and then more and more as we got closer to the boarding time. Unlike in the US and with some airlines, overseas flights sometimes board by saying “ok, everyone get on.” Oddly enough, this works pretty well.

The flight was packed and included a lot of families with children, presumably traveling home for the holidays.

I always bring ear plugs when I fly. It helps with noisy passengers and, oh yes, noisy planes.

Though I had very little legroom, I at least did have an aisle and slept on and off during the two and one-half hour flight. The first passport control was right on the plane – officers stood at the front and back doors of the plane and checked our credentials. After that, we boarded buses and waited twenty minutes.

Eventually we took off and I got through passport control #2 and then over to Hall C for my American Airlines flight to Chicago. Luckily, AA was opening up for earlier flights as I had an eight hour layover. I got my boarding pass and went to the Admiral’s Club. I’m not a member, but if you have AA Platinum status, you can use the club lounge if you are traveling abroad, even if you are in economy, as I was.

I settled in for a long wait. The television behind me was running a continuing story of snowy weather hitting London. I had originally planned to fly through London, but the need to switch planes between Heathrow and Gatwick put the kabosh on that. And so I sat as people came and went. Most of the people in the lounge were taking the 10 am flight to Dallas.

Around 9 an announcement came on that the Dallas flight would be delayed, with more details later. Then: “flight delayed due to mechanical problems.” Later: “there is a hydraulic system leak.” Finally: “a part is needed, it’s coming from Paris, we hope it will be here at 7 pm.”

I, however, was going to Chicago, not Dallas, and my flight left on time. I hope all those people eventually got home to Dallas and beyond.

When I chose my seat I got an exit row aisle, but I made a small mistake. When there are two consecutive exit rows, the seats in front don’t recline as much as the back ones. The bulkhead wall was a bit to close for comfort but I again slept on and off for the nine and one-half hour flight. My left knee kept cramping, but I got through it. Incidentally, I finished reading To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

There were no problems with AA, passport control, and customs in Chicago and I headed over to Terminal 1 for my United flight for the last leg of the trip. I was supposed to have a four hour layover, but I was early enough for an earlier flight. Though I had to pay for the honor of switching (United makes you pay for everything), I did the change to get home a couple of hours early. Moreover, my originally scheduled flight was delayed, so it seemed like a good bet to take the earlier plane.

I got to the gate and it was crammed with people who, of course, were trying to get to Dallas. And their plane was delayed due to mechanical problems. They did better than the folks in Frankfurt, and left without too much delay. My flight was delayed a bit as well, maybe an hour, but as long as the last leg of a trip actually flies, I’m cool.

I finally got home around 11:15 pm Friday night, about 29 hours after I had awakened from my short nap in Tunis. On Saturday a big storm hit the east coast of the US, but we got none of it here in northwestern NY. So it’s been a long weekend with delays and winter weather all around me, but I did pretty well.

I know the travel gods will make me pay for it eventually.

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