My first time in Norway… [A story about the hectic experience of flying stand by]
I departed for the first time and by myself to the other side of the world a 27th of May of 2012. I was six months into a long distance relationship with Kristian, my Norwegian boyfriend. I wanted for us to see each other face to face for the first time as a gift for his upcoming birthday. Thanks to my lucky stars I have traveling benefits because my dad works at American Airlines, the only issue with it all is that I’d be traveling “standby” so if there wasn’t room for me in either of the planes I had to take, I would be stuck. I fully understood the minor risk of it but that was not going to set me back.
My dad accompanies me to the gate to make sure everything is running smoothly. My nerves are sizzling with nervous excitement. Finally boarding starts and I get called. We say our goodbyes and on I go. The trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York (JKF airport) was completely uneventful. Those first four hours of traveling felt never ending. At last I arrive at JFK airport, deplane and go on to my next gate. When I finally arrive to what it seemed the other side of the airport I sit down and make my checkpoint call with family and friends. It wasn’t long until the gate agents started to prepare everything and everyone boarded again. This time my nerves went from sizzling to an open fire. This was it, the big one, the six and a half hour flight that would take me away from everything and everyone I knew.
I am placed in first class. It truly was a luxurious travel. I am in my own cubicle where I could put up my feet, watch my own T.V., charge my phone and the seat could drop to become a bed if I so desired to sleep. “I definitely can get used to this.” I thought. The flight attendants were amazing and did make the journey a good one but, there was this ball of anxiety brewing in my stomach that wouldn’t let me sleep. We arrived at London, Heathrow three movies later, or at around 7am. Heathrow airport is a small city in itself. Gigantic and complicated at first but I quickly learned how to navigate through. My phone wasn’t working and didn’t want to connect to Wi-Fi either so I went ahead and bought a call card. I managed another checkpoint call with Kristian, family and friends at a payphone. Everything was going okay so far. But then everything changed when the fire nation attacked…I mean, when I had the misfortune of traveling with Lufthansa.
I think it was around midday, I don’t really remember the time, when I went to the gate I was supposed to go to make a connection from Heathrow to Frankfurt, Germany. I make the line to enter the gate and present my slip of paper that states I’m traveling standby; she then tells me that that paper is not valid. I swear to every deity in existence that that felt like a stab in the gut. I felt out of breath and quickly panicked. “What do you mean this is not valid? This is what I was given at the airport for standby travel.” She then said something along the lines of them doing it wrong and that they were full and all I had to do was wait. Okay, I could deal with that. While everyone walked in and filled the room I decided to leave and see if I could find another way, another airline that could take me to Bergen, Norway directly without having to go through Frankfurt. I make a line at the British Airways counter. Not many people were working and there was an issue with two young Belgian men ahead of me. When it was finally my turn I tell the desk agent my situation and ask if there is any way I could get on their standby list to Bergen. She sent me to the American Airlines main counter because she said that since I started flying with American they should be the ones to do that for me. Okay…I run as fast as I can since I only had 45 minutes for that particular flight. I had to change terminals so I had to get on a bus that took 10 minutes from one side to the other. I finally arrive to terminal 3 and run to the counter, thank goodness it was empty. I tell the woman what I was told and ask her what I can do only to be told that nothing could be done; I don’t even remember the reason why.
I am still on time to catch my Frankfurt flight so I run back to the gate. Most of the people had already boarded and the rest that were there were just waiting on standby as well. Apparently I did something well in a past life cause there was only ONE seat left and everyone else were traveling in pairs and didn’t want to leave their partner behind. I walk to the counter, get my ticket and finally walk into the plane. I sit down next to a very nice Italian lady with whom I managed to have a short conversation with. We both fell asleep shortly after takeoff.
The airport in Frankfurt, Germany is rather small. Seemed to be just a small branch in that area. I had to go through Customs so I take out my passport and give it to the official; he then said something that chilled me to the bone. He said “This passport is not good. It’s useless.” Wide eyed and almost without a heartbeat I reply “That can’t be true. I got it renewed last month.” He then places my passport before me and says “It isn’t signed. If it isn’t signed, it isn’t valid.” If looks could kill, that poor German official would have been dust. There was no need to scare me like that. He offered me a pen; I signed the damn thing and finally walked into the country. I set my things by a payphone and get ready to use some extra call cards I bought in London to make my checkpoint calls. They didn’t want to work. I was confused, weren’t all payphone’s supposed to work with call cards? Even more so, payphones that are at airports! So I walk to some security guards and try to ask them about the payphones and why they didn’t want to work with call cards. They looked at me as if they wanted to throw me into a concentration camp for having interrupted them. They didn’t give me any helpful information and just blatantly ignored me. I decided I’d call everyone once I was in Bergen so I went in search of my next gate.
I was a few hours early to my next flight so I sat down and tried to rest. I was rather uncomfortable in those seats. When the time to depart rolled by and the gate agent was at the desk I went ahead to let him know I was traveling standby and if I’d be able to make the flight. He tells me it is too early to tell and to just sit tight and wait until everyone has boarded. I do as told and wait. And keep waiting…and waiting…and with each passing minute cold dread starts to consume me. They were full, everyone was arriving and it seemed like I was going to spend the night in Frankfurt. I am pretty sure the agent was sick of my badgering; I had been traveling for over 24 hours, I had not eaten since the anxiety didn’t let me, I hadn’t slept and I’m pretty sure I was out of nerve endings by that time. He told me my only chance was if the last two people who were to board didn’t get to the gate. I wished hard they didn’t make it so I could; I only had a week free from work and couldn’t waste it being stuck in any airport. Sadly, they arrived and the reality that I was going to spend the night in Frankfurt hit me like a freight train.
I immediately start to cry. The frustration, anxiety and the hours without rest just were too much and my composure broke. I go upstairs to find the payphone and call Kristian. Between sobs I tell him that I didn’t make the flight and they had told me the next earliest one was at nine and they weren’t sure if there was going to be space for me on that one either. He was already on the ferry to the city and I was hysterical on the phone. I couldn’t keep conversations longer than three minutes since they charged med $10.00 per minute. He told me to call him in an hour and to have a piece of paper and pen ready. We hung up and I lay down on several empty seats on a completely empty gate. “This is one of the worst nights of my life” is my last thought as I drift off to sleep between tears.
The alarm on my dying phone went off and I instantly open my eyes. I gather the pen and paper he had asked for and make the call. As soon as he answers he spells out a name, tells me to withdraw 20 euros, get a taxi and give the driver the name of the hotel I had just written down. He had paid a night at a nearby hotel just so I could have a decent rest. I hang up and do as instructed. As soon as I step out looking for a taxi, this man walks up to me, takes my carry-on bag, puts it in the trunk and tells me to go into the car. I give him the piece of paper with the name and he is talking in German and I swear he doesn’t understand a word I say. During the drive all I could think of was of several ways of saving my own life if he turned out to be a lunatic. My thoughts went from choking him from behind to just opening the car door and jumping out. Don’t judge me; I was a little out of my mind by then. I was scared and stuck in a foreign country by myself.
We finally arrive at the hotel, I pay the man, he gives me my bag and I run inside. The two young men at the front desk were very nice and helpful. I bought another set of call cards to be able to use with the phone in the room. When I get to my room I feel completely drained and like I’d sleep for a week. I freshen myself up, lie in bed and call my parents. It was the middle of the night in Puerto Rico and no one answered. I left them voice messages cause I knew by now my mom was hysterical thinking I was probably chopped up in some kind of black market somewhere. I call Kristian afterwards to tell him what had happened and to thank him for getting a place to stay. We hung up and I eventually fell asleep watching Harry Potter in German.
I couldn’t really sleep that much. I think the anxiety and fear of sleeping too deeply and not listening to the alarm didn’t let me fully rest. I woke up at around five in the morning, checked out and waited for the taxi to take me back to the airport. I had a killer headache, I supposed for not eating or drinking anything in more than a day. I got something to eat and drink and sat by the gate, the uncertainty of if I’d get on or not, killing me slowly. A Spanish speaking man sat by me and for the first time in my life I was thinking of how to start a conversation with a stranger just for the pleasure of speaking in my native language. I asked the time and from then on we just kept talking. I think that he was the distraction I sorely needed. My headache went away and I didn’t even notice and before I knew it, it was time to board and I was in it!
We went downstairs to a bus that took us to the plane. Already seated all I could think or feel was the elation that I was on my way, FINALLY, to Norway. When we arrived at Bergen at around noon, my heart wanted to skip out of my chest. I went through passport control without issues and headed to the bathroom to freshen up and not look like the maniac I felt. I went downstairs and through all the exit doors. When I’m finally out that I lift my gaze from the floor, he was there.