Copied from an email I sent my flatmates in Paris a few days after arriving back in San Francisco....
"...I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever fly through Washington DC/Dulles again. Ever, ever, ever! Did I say ever? NEVER!
To start, we were late leaving CDG because of a SUSPICIOUS BLUE BAG left in the terminal. Good thing I got there early because it took me almost and hour and a half to get to the gate. The airport was mobbed with people of all shapes and sizes and colors in various forms of ornate ethnic clothes, some bright, some subdued, all in need of washing. The line to check in at the gate was about 5 people deep and a veritable mosh pit. Why is it that the check in desk at Lufthansa is always calm, serene, and orderly while chaos reigns at United? Anyways, after answering various and inane questions about the whereabouts of my luggage and the content within, I made it to the check-in counter and was helped by an absolutely delightful, kind woman. WHEW! I had upgraded the night before, as you know, to Washington but was wait listed from Washington to SFO however she said, "It looked very good".
Giddily anticipating my complimentary business class cocktail, I then proceeded to the longest passport control line I'd ever seen. It snaked along the wall nearly the entire circumference of the airport. While waiting in line for nearly an HOUR, we kept hearing announcements asking the owner of a SUSPICIOUS BLUE BAG left in the terminal to come get it. I kept hearing it as I marched through passport control and as I was headed to the gate I heard a BOOM! They BLEW UP THE BAG! They didn't remove it, inspect it, x-ray it nor seal it. No. They BLEW IT UP! In the terminal! I ran for the Red Carpet Club, slammed back a glass of champagne and headed for the gate...
Click below to continue reading this explosive travel tale -->
Made it through security relatively painlessly, got to my seat after cutting the very long boarding line. The woman stopped me and said "are you in business?" to which I replied quite indignantly BIEN SUR! :) With my complimentary cocktail in one hand and iPod in the other I could finally exhale. I ended up exhaling (and consuming a few more mimosas) for quite a while as some of the people on my flight had been on the other side of the SUSPICIOUS BLUE BAG and were held back from going up the hamster tube while they BLEW UP the bag! Do I dare ask the obvious - as in "what if there were a REAL bomb in there?" Some things are better off left unsaid and I think this is one of them...
I kicked up my feet, reclined back and watched Nanny Diaries, which reminded me far too much of this tony little town in which I find myself living surrounded by spoiled kids and nannies driving hummers. I was thankfully brought back to earth by a movie about the moon. Coincidence? I think not! “In the Shadow of the Moon” is the story of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. I was in tears and once again questioned my meager existence, as in "What the hell am I doing with my life?" It was more than my little brain could handle and I promptly fell asleep
I arrived in DC and had to navigate a gauntlet the likes of which even the most nimble of body and strong of will couldn't outmaneuver. Good thing I had a 2-1/2 hour layover. I'd lost an hour in the Paris SUSPICIOUS BAG BLOW UP delay but I couldn't imagine immigrations/customs could take more than an hour. Au contraire, mon frere, as I was soon to find out! I bolted off the plane and ran smack into an immigration line that resembled the images you saw on TV of the bread lines in communist Russia thirty years ago and of course the US citizen line was about 8 TIMES as long as the non-US citizen line. No privileges here, my friend.
They man at the counter didn't believe what I had reported as value of items brought back to the US after a 3 week trip over Christmas. $100 chocolate, $100 salt. He looked at me in disbelief. I could have launched in to the fact that it was really good sea salt, fleur de sel, the ducati if the salt world if you will but I'm sure that would have been futile. I could have also explained that "I've lived there for the past 3-1/2 years so don't really need to buy anything, just a few little gifts for family, friends, work" but then I would have had the daunting task of trying to explain the lack of a visa in my passport to actually LIVE in France for 3-1/2 years so I just shrugged and said, "it's the truth", which it was so I guess I looked convincing. That or exhausted. Or both. He stamped my little blue passport and I was off.
THEN came the fun part. I had to get my bags. All three bags. THREE BIG HEAVY BAGS. One was filled with cookbooks that I'd been slowly bringing over and acquiring the past 3-1/2 years. That was a fun one to lift. I waited at Carrousel B labeled United 915. We soon found out that it was also the carrousel for the flight from Zurich, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Munich. As the bags overflowed, the baggage crew kept taking bags off the carrousel and lining them up around the carrousel squeezing us farther and father away from the opening, to which all our eyes were glued. Sudden they announced a carrousel change for the Paris flight to Carrousel C. 200 exhausted people swung around their luggage carts and like musical chairs pushed, banged and bumped to strategically position themselves at the Carrousel C opening.
Then we waited. And waited. And waited. That hour and a half cushion was quickly shrinking. The strobe flashed on and everyone jumped. I looked at the airport tags on the bags coming off. PVR was on all the tags. PVR? PVR? P.V.R.! Puerto Vallarta?!?!? as in MEXICO?! “What the f***” were the only intelligible words I could utter and an agreeing murmur around me concurred. The baggage crew promised that the Paris bags would be coming off momentarily. After about 45 minutes, our precious bundles flopped onto the conveyor belt and once again a mosh pit ensued. I maneuvered my THREE BIG BAGS onto a cart and swerved and curved through the great unwashed. We then had to queue up to go through customs. Oh the joys of travel…
The customs agent once again did a double take on my list of “Items brought into the country.” I just shrugged and said “it’s the truth, go ahead and look.” He looked at me in disgust – and a very happy new year to you too sir – signed off on my form and threw my passport and form at me. THEN we had to get in line to re-check our bags. We proceeded to mosh pit #3 - a room lined on one side with enormous x-ray machines with at least 100 bags piled in front like big luggage shrines. We were instructed to proceed to the one they told us to go to and drop off our bags. Determined to ensure my THREE BIG BAGS made it onto my flight, I swung my bags around the luggage shrines and handed them directly to the baggage handler. I slipped him a 20 and heaved a sigh of relief as my bags glided up the conveyor belt.
Then, and only then, an hour later, was I free to move about the country. I had a few minutes to stock up in the red carpet club before heading to the gate. Once safely inside, I asked the woman at the desk if my upgrade had gone through. She said “no way, it was booked solid” and the coup de grace which nearly sent me spinning…. my seat was in COACH! WHAT?! After a huge vibrating, almost fully reclining, business class seat I was supposed to squish my big behind into a COACH seat?! I asked her to check again as I had a premier zone seat to begin with before I sacrificed 30,000 miles to the upgrade gods. Ah. Mystery solved. They’d changed planes for this flight so the configuration changed and I was now in coach. Lovely. I grabbed my ticket and bolted for the gate.
As I waited for the 4 people in front of me, I nearly jumped out of my skin. At the counter, the woman informed me once again of a plane change. “Yes, I know that but can you please get me in the premiere zone so I don’t have to have my knees cracked every time the person in front of me reclines?” Remembering John’s admonishments to be nice to people in the airport that can help you, I didn’t get upset or sarcastic, though I am so good at that, and just smiled and thanked her for all her help. 10 minutes later she called my name and I tripped over my carry-on bag trying to run to the desk. Not jsut tripped but tripped and FELL! Passport, glasses, scarf, book, purse, iPod, eye drops all scattered. Everywhere. Yard sale at Gate 23. That was attractive. I gathered my belongings, my face a deep shade of crimson at this point, and calmly walked to the desk. Exit row, premiere zone, window. Schwing! They’d already announced early boarding and people were lined up waiting for the door to open.
I joined the line to board the 5:10pm connecting flight when they announced a "mechanical issue" that would take a few minutes. Then 10 minutes later they announced that they would MAKE AN ANNOUNCEMENT at 6pm. So I ran to the red carpet club and asked the person to book me on the next flight because, having already experienced the mind-boggling ineptitude of United/Dulles on a previous trip (remember the bone marrow incident?!), the last thing I wanted was to get stuck overnight in DC. So she gave me a seat on the next flight but suggested I wait until they make the aforementioned ANNOUNCEMENT before giving up my seat on the delayed 5:10pm flight. So I did. At 6pm, they ANNOUNCED that they would make ANOTHER ANNOUNCEMENT at 6:30pm. That’s when I asked the woman to cancel my seat on the 5:10pm and get me on the next flight at 7:30pm. She did but when she called about getting my bags on the new flight, they told her that they couldn't do it until my 5:10pm flight was officially cancelled. Note above-mentioned mind-boggling ineptitude.
At that point I'd resigned myself to the inevitability of my bags not making it onto the other flight. I boarded the 7:30pm flight, squished my big derriere into a coach seat, but it was an exit row window so no complaints here other than my feet froze off, popped in my earphones, turned on my iPod, and fell asleep. I awoke to ANOTHER ANNOUNCEMENT that this flight was delayed until 8:00pm and the weather was very bad in San Francisco so no guarantees we’d actually LAND in San Francisco. Kill me now. Wheels up at 8:30pm and finally arrived home around 11:30pm, midnight. A scary landing through wind gusts and fog but we landed at SFO and that was all I cared about, weather be damned. I left Paris at 9:00am CET and arrived in San Francisco at 12:00am PST – a mere TWENTY-TWO hours later. Oh, did I mention my bags didn’t arrive. Quelle surprise….. The saving grace was a NORMAL cab driver playing classical music drove me home. $85 dollars later but I didn’t care at that point. I was just so damn happy to be in my cold little apartment.
United was supposed to deliver my bags to me yesterday, Friday, after the first flight out of DC arrived in SFO. I tracked them online and saw that they were indeed on the first flight out so I called to see when they’d be delivered as I had to work and needed to run a few errands. I could see that they arrived in SFO by tracking them online but when I called the baggage number to see when they'd be delivered, they said they couldn't deliver them until Saturday because of the weather - I asked how does rain affect a car? - and they couldn't locate my 3rd bag so after screaming like a lunatic at some woman in India, I apologized, took a deep breath, drove to the airport and rescued my bags from the bowels of baggage claim amongst mosh pit #4 of angry ant-like swarms of stranded passengers, thus ending my now 37 hour journey from Paris to San Francisco. Funny thing, the one bag the NTA searched was the bag full of cookbooks. Not the bag with the aforementioned chocolate contraband and ducati of salt, but a bag full of books. I just laughed.
so it’s now Saturday morning at 5am and I am WIDE awake. I guess I'm finally on French time! :) Anyways… life goes on in the boring suburbs. Well that's about it here. I wish I were there but I need to get my afore mentioned big behind to the gym here. After my cup of Mariage Freres tea bien sur…"