Tuesday, February 01, 2005

And I'm back!

in Phoenix. An exhausting day.

It started well; my flight from Nice was at 10 AM - a nice, civilised hour. I checked out of the hotel at 8 and, given that the airport is a 5 minute drive away, I should have been able to return the rental car by, oh, say 8:10, have a few leisurely smokes and a coffee or three and be on my way to Frankfurt. My flight was from Terminal 1 so there I drove. Nope, rental car return is at Terminal 2. Ok, I think I know the way (turn left from the kiss and fly area, follow the return, turn right and go around the roundabout, take the second left before the railway line.) Somewhere around there I made a mistake and found myself in unfamiliar territory. Then I made a second mistake and turned right! Halfway through the right and I'm thinking 'oh shit'... I'm now on a busy road going north and I've been along there once before; no exits for a couple of kilometres. Relax. I've got at least an hour to spare! Of course this is peak hour traffic and all the other drivers are intent on getting to work; they're not going to give quarter!

A few minutes later and I spot a sign pointing back toward the airport (thank god for international standardisation!). You can't miss that kind of sign. A confusing series of turns including one roundabout marked out with traffic cones where, if you take the wrong lane, you are forced to go in some totally unrelated direction. I took the wrong lane of course and found myself heading in toward Nice itself. Don't panic. I still have at least 50 minutes to spare. Aha! A sign pointing toward Cannes! I followed it and found myself back on familiar territory - the RN7 (whatever the RN may mean). Took a known exit and I'm back at the hotel. From there it was easy enough to find my way to Terminal 2 and return the car. And it was only 8:30!

So I check in. Boarding was supposed to start at 9:30. It hadn't started at 9:50. The problem was that my itinerary had me arriving at Frankfurt at 11:45 and leaving for Chicago at 12:45. 1 hour to find the right gate and pass through security and passport control. If the flight from Nice had been on time it would have worked! You can guess what happened. We arrived in Frankfurt at about 12:20 after an interesting flight over Southern France, Northern Italy, Eastern Switzerland and Germany (I had a window seat and I was rubbernecking like you wouldn't believe). The alps are fascinating from 10 KM's up. You'll also have noticed, from previous posts, that snow is something with which I have little experience; seeing that much snow is a novelty.

So I get to Frankfurt and find the correct gate pretty damn quick. Gate C4. I'm in the line for security and the aforementioned passport control. A young lady walks along the line calling for passengers for UA941. Up goes my hand in a flash! She checks my boarding pass to be sure and takes me to the head of the line. The problem is the line she took me to is the one that is interrupted anytime a crew member saunters up. 12 of the bastards did! And I swear, each of them had more luggage to be security checked for a 3 day stint than I take for an entire fortnight. I lost 10 or so minutes because of those crew members!

Eventually I got through security and passport control. Gate C4 is maybe 50 metres away. I got there as they closed the door! Missed the damn flight! They direct me to the transfer desk in Hall B. Uh huh. Fortunately Frankfurt is very well sign posted - just follow the signs. Of course when they said Hall B they really meant the gate B area and I don't think in those terms. Nonetheless I followed the signs to the only B I could see and sure enough, a kilometre or so of walking later there I am. Fortunately, there was another flight to Chicago at 16:10 which they booked me onto. That leaves from gate A62. So back through the airport I go.

At least now I have 3 hours to make sure I'm on that flight. I'd told my wife I'd be in Phoenix at 8:30 PM her time but my revised schedule had me leaving Chicago for Phoenix at 8 PM her time and it's a 3 and a half hour flight. There in Frankfurt it's 6 AM Phoenix time. She's awake at that ungodly hour but my mobile phone doesn't work in Germany. So I fronted up at a public phone booth that takes Visa. Read the instructions carefully. Ok, I understand how it works. I slide my card into the slot and it bills me 15 Euro. I dial the number and it says, in impeccable English; 'your call cannot be completed!'. Uh huh! Do a little arithmetic and realise I'll arrive in Chicago (where my mobile phone will work) at around 6 PM Phoenix time, more than enough time to head her off at the pass.

So we fly to Chicago. 9 or so hours (but compared to the flight to Australia from the US that's a doddle). As we're taxiing to the terminal they announce we can use our phones so I called my wife. I won't be in Phoenix until midnight unless I can change to an earlier flight. She's a tad disappointed but what the hey...

I get through immigration (that's going to be the subject of yet another post ) and collect my bag. It's about 7:10 PM and I'm in terminal 5. My next flight is from terminal 1. Fortunately Chicago Airport has excellent inter-terminal transport. Once I knew which terminal I needed to be in it was a mere 5 minutes to get to the right terminal. It's now 7:19 PM and I see that there's a flight to Phoenix at 7:40 PM. More in hope than anything else I approached the desk and asked if it was possible to catch that flight rather than the 9:40 flight I'd been booked onto in Germany. They thought I had checked luggage which would have rendered it impossible but I'd had to collect that luggage to get through customs and there it was with me so suddenly it was possible; if I ran to the gate! I ran!

I got to the gate totally out of breath and was admitted to the flight. Sad thing to admit but I stank! All that walking in Frankfurt, added to the run to the gate made me sweatperspire. I had just enough time to call my wife from the Phoenix flight (in Chicago) to ask her to meet me in Phoenix at 10:15 PM.

Finally I get back to Phoenix. I doubt any of my readers know the layout of terminal 2 at Phoenix. There are 14 or so gates in a row on one side; there are 2 gates on the other side. We landed at the 2 gate area. From there you walk through an open air but caged in walkway to the terminal exit. One of the passengers ahead of me (who'd obviously not been there before) said 'what the hell is this?'. I couldn't resist answering 'this is smokers heaven' as I lit up a smoke!

So that was my day! I can think of worse ways of spending a day.

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