|subject to change. ain’t THAT the truth!|
My flight to Spain should have been uneventful. But one tiny noob mistake turned an uneventful trip into something of a ridiculous saga.
Maybe it was the excitement, maybe it was the jet lag, maybe it was meant to be, or maybe I’m just a bit daft. Whatever the reason, I managed to deboard the plane at my first connection point in Paris and leave my passport behind in my seat. How the hell I did something so ridiculously stupid, I’ll never understand, but I’ll probably be a long time forgetting the repercussions, namely, an extra 6 hours tacked on to an already long journey.
Once I’d discovered that I’d left my passport, I hurried to the airline help desk to see if I could get someone to quickly check the plane for my missing travel document. I explained my predicament to the desk clerk. She called the gate, spoke to someone in rapid-fire French (half of which I understood), and then hung up, turning to let me know that they were checking and would call back. When they did a few moments later, she relayed the message in heavily-accented English, “They deedn’t find eet.” WHAT!? Oh, Jesus, no. This is not happening. Of all the f*(#@n things to lose, I lose the 1 things that I barely got back in time for the trip!? This. is NOT happening.
I fought back encroaching tears and pleaded with the desk agent. “I know it’s there,” I explained. “I have been nowhere else, not even to the bathroom. I’ve already checked every inch of my bag, and nothing! And, I remember putting it on the seat next to me when I sat down.” She reconfirmed my seat number with the person on the phone, waited. “No,” she said. They saw nothing. At that moment, still fighting back tears and resisting the urge to cuss my own self out for being so careless, I just started praying under my breath. “God, I need you to come through for me. I know this can be resolved. I know you will help me find a way to resolve this. I know this cannot be how this is supposed to turn out – me, stuck in a Paris airport, unable to reach my destination.” Just then, the desk agent offered the only other suggestion she had, “Haff you reported eet to the police?” “No,” I said. She suggested I do so and pointed me in the direction of the airport police office.
So, at just past 5am, I find myself communicating my situation to a French policeman as best I can. He is listening as best as he can, standing behind an unnecessarily tall desk. I am eyeing both his face for the appropriate level of understanding, and the face of the clock on the wall next to me, noticing the minutes dwindle along with my chances of making my connecting flight. After communicating my issue, I am told to wait a few moments. I briefly consider taking a seat among the dozens of others waiting on uncomfortable-looking chairs, but I decide that standing in direct eyesight is the better choice. Much conversation transpires in French among the 2 or 3 officers gathered behind the desk. One, the most genial and the one who I have just talked to, seems to be pleading my case to another more stern, apparent authority-figure who seems to be rapid-firing back the appropriate protocol to Msr. Genial. Msr. Autorité appears totally unsympathetic to the silly, simpering American woman looking on helplessly at their conversation. I don’t think he even makes eye contact with me. A third officer stands by, mostly watching the exchange, his body and facial language seemingly saying, ‘Damn. That sucks. But I don’t want to get involved in this mess.’
After a few stomach-churning minutes, an officer approaches (was he 1 of the previous 3? In my flustered state, I really can’t tell.). He speaks to me in English, “Follow me.” I do.
“Have you asked the desk agent?”
“Yes,” I say. “She called the gate and said they found nothing, but I know it’s there,” I tell him.
We go back to the help desk, this time to a different agent. She phones the gate again, gives the same details as before, listens, then speaks something in French to the officer. He turns to me. “They found it.”
A flood of relief washes over me. I notice that the previous agent gives a pinched look. What was that all about, I briefly wonder. But I have no time to pontificate. Officer Helpful is writing down the gate number, and escorting me back to pick up my passport.
I chalked up the fact that no one really seemed rushed at all, or offered any help in getting me to my connecting flight to French / European standards of service or their overall lack of urgency about things. Still, I was hoping there would be a sliver of a chance for me to make it, as long as I moved very, very quickly. Well… I did move quickly, but the airport tram, the gate workers (who where nowhere to be found when me and Officer Helpful arrived. Really!? We just called and said we were coming. WTF?), and everyone else in the airport were not on the same page. After Officer Helpful had retrieved my passport and given it back to me (he also had to take a pic for his report), I dashed back through the airport terminal, on the tram again, then a quick customs stamp, a thorough undressing at security screening, and by that time I saw flashing on the monitors that the status of my connecting flight was:
Boarding – Last Call
I broke into a run, with my shoes barely zipped and my belt barely back on, and my approved carry-on liquids barely stuffed back into my bag.
Now, I’m already not a runner, but after an 8-hour flight with spotty sleep, a stressful ordeal and with a kinda-heavy carryon in-tow, I’m pretty sure I looked like the most awkward, disheveled, panicked, banshee-woman that Charles de Gaulle airport had ever seen. I was sweating, and panting, and thinking of stopping, but I had to push… just in case. When I made it to the gate, it was immediately clear that I was too late… by about 7 minutes.
I asked the gate agent what my options were and she pointed me to the AirFrance info counter just a few feet away. I approached, explained my situation, and asked what could be done. I was preparing for the worst – an extra fee, no more flights / seats available, etc – but hoping for the best. After a helluva lot of click-clacking, typing, sighing, and conferring with her manager, Mme. Info Desk uttered my new favorite French word, “superb!” And I was all set with a new ticket with no extra fees. My next leg would take me from Paris to Madrid, and the final flight would leave from Madrid to Seville… about 6 hours afterwards.
Though I was happy that I hadn’t totally screwed myself, I was completely dismayed at the idea of having to wait in another airport for hours. Plus, now that I would be arriving late, it meant I’d have to find my own way from the Seville aiport to the hotel (instead of taking the free shuttle provided by my program), and that I would likely miss the first part of orientation.
I was exhausted, disheveled, and it appeared that my too-thick socks combined with my too-tight new boots, along with all the running and walking had resulted in a painful blister on the back of one heel. Any hopes of arriving cool, calm, and collected were long gone.
By the time I finally boarded the flight to Seville, I was an irritated lump of sweaty, achy, tired flesh, and I still faced the possibility that my luggage might not be waiting upon my arrival. Fortunately, it was, and I sailed out of the Seville airport as quickly as I could, caught a cab to the hotel, and vowed never to repeat such a ridiculous mistake or experience again.