Airports are so Calming
I received a text at 8 am, Saturday morning that Norwegian Air was very sorry to inform me that flight number 6059 was delayed until 1:00 am on Sunday. I was grateful for the information, yet confused by the notification, as that night I would be flying Norwegian Air to Stockholm on flight #7068, not flight #6059 for which I received the text.
I continued to pack my bags for Helsinki, stuffing clothes around the large quilt I had packed that occupied almost all the space in my suit case. There would be no bedding in my house in Helsinki and so I decided I should pack the largest blanket that I own as well as several pillows because they might not have pillows or blankets in Finland. I wouldn’t know because I did not do any research before or after accepting my offer to study abroad.
I had one hour to finish packing before I was scheduled to go out for Chicken and Waffles, then coffee, then Fentons Ice Cream and then go straight to the San Francisco Air Port for flight #7068 to Stockholm, Sweden where I would meet connecting flight #4285 to Helsinki, Finland where I would arrive at 7:00 pm on Sunday and begin classes at 8:00 am on Monday.
After taking 20 minutes to pack my underwear and then looking over to see my unpacked shirts, skirts, jackets, and shoes, a part of me wished that my flight had in fact been delayed instead of flight #6059 so that I could have more than an hour to pack just about everything I needed for study abroad. But then I realized that my stop-over in Stockholm was no more than 90 minutes and so if my flight was delayed by 7 hours I would probably not make my connection to Helsinki.
Just when I’d realized that I would prefer my flight not to be delayed, I received another text from Norwegian Air. This text was worded the same as the first, but instead of informing me about flight #6059, that I do not think even existed, it informed me that my real flight would be delayed by 7 hours and I could “pick up some meal vouchers at the air port.” The idea of meal vouchers did in fact help me feel better about the delay.
However, despite my joy about the meal vouchers, I did have some concerns about my connecting flight and so I called Norwegian Air. The woman who answered my call informed me that my ticket was actually for a flight departing from Oakland Air Port and not from San Francisco Airport as was written on my booking confirmation. She also told me that there was no way I could make my connecting flight. But she truly hoped that the people would be helpful at Stockholm Air Port and she’d keep her fingers crossed that I could get onto a different flight to Helsinki– though it would be a very tight squeeze.
I was feeling very confident in this airline.
After my busy day and official packing, I was at the Oakland airport in time to board at 12:40 am. Norwegian Air however, allowed me to get comfy at the gate, where there were no meal vouchers, and waited until 1:30 am to start boarding.
They also checked my carry-on and my suitcase directly to Finland so that I would not need to run with a rolling suitcase to make my connecting flight–I could just sprint without luggage. Their desire to help speed up my sprint to make my connecting flight helped boost my confidence that everything would be fine.
On the air plane, a very tense stewardess informed me that she was also going to try and to make this challenge flight to Helsinki when we landed in Stockholm. Another man across the aisle from me said that he would need to go to baggage claim first and then get to the gate for this Helsinki flight. The stewardess told him that he would not make the flight after baggage claim, but that maybe it was possible that his luggage would be shipped to him if he left it.
The stewardess herded the Helsinki dreamers on board to the front of the plane by shifting seats around so that we would be the first to off board. Unfortunately, the door at the front of the plane did not end up opening. Instead it was the door in the middle of the plane.
Carrying my winter coat and a box of uneaten airplane food that I intended to eat for breakfast the next morning, I pushed people out of the way and started power walking with a very bitter Finnish man who had decided to leave his luggage in Stockholm and hope that it would maybe be shipped to Helsinki.
We ended up in customs somewhere on the way to the gates and we’d lost the rest of the group that the stewardess had rustled together. We’d also lost the stewardess who was I think being forced to do her job before she could start her run to this mysterious flight that would leave at any given moment.
The woman at customs advised us to go to Gate 48AB. However, there was only 48A and 48B. One was for a flight to Japan and the other one looked like it had not been in use for many, many years. My companion went to complain to some American Airline Agents while I started running through Stockholm airport looking for an information desk. The airport was very large, and very hot and for some reason I’d decided to wear my winter coat instead of carrying it and so sweat dripped from every pore.
A very nice, very mellow janitor looked on his phone and told me that there would be no flight to Helsinki for several days and I must be mistaken. However, I could go to a particular desk right around where I’d started running and that they could answer my questions. I was sorry to interrupt the conversation between the employees at this desk because they seemed very appalled that they had to end it in order to speak to me. They told me that they do not deal with Norwegian Air and that they had no idea what I should do in my given situation.
I returned to the very tired customs agent that originally advised us to find gate “48AB.” She told me that my flight to Helsinki had been delayed for 30 more minutes and it was at Gate 14. I found the gate, I found the stewardess, I just needed them to print out a boarding pass for me. The stewardess looked at me, told me I was sweating a lot, and gave me directions out of the airport so that I could see the handling agents who had the authority to give me a boarding pass. Even if there had been Norwegian Air employees at the gate, they would not have been able to print out a boarding pass for me.
I started running through baggage claim at record speeds, when out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of my carry-on luggage that was “checked through to Helsinki” It was just spinning around and around and around by itself on the conveyer belt thing and so I grabbed it and kept running. They were correct at Oakland Airport, my carry-on did slow down my sprint.
The only way out seemed to require a very long line and my flight was leaving in 20 minutes and so I decided to go back to the Gate in order to just beg them to let me on the plane. I then realized that I was at a point of no return and I could not in fact return to my gate.
Due to sweat, I smelled like a cave man at the gym at this point.
I found the handling agent and took a number to wait for assistance. I was number 95 and they were helping number 82. While waiting, I stuffed my airplane food chocolate pudding into the pocket of my winter coat and put my airplane food scone in my backpack so that I could finally throw away my decaying airplane foodbox, soggy from my sweaty hands.
Then, my name was paged from the departure gate for a flight to Helsinki. I ran to the security line, who pointed me toward the handling agents. I ran to the handling agents, simply shouting “I am Geneva Rust-Orta!” as if that would make sense to them.
The agent told me I should have just gone to the gate, gave me my boarding pass, and told me to run.
After cutting everyone in the security line, I could not get my shoes off because my hands were shaking too much. The chocolate pudding fell out of my winter coat and covered the floor. I cleaned it up before going through the X-Ray machine. I then ran to the airplane with my “checked” carry-on, my socks, my shoes, and my winter coat in my hands.
AND I GOT ON THE AIRPLANE!
However, I did not bother finding my seat, I threw my stuff onto the first empty seat in sight. There would be no one else boarding after me. My carry-on did not fit in the overhead compartment. I think about 5 people stood up to help me because I was clearly incapable of getting my bag in the overhead compartment on my own. I took 2 pairs of shoes, a handful of underwear, and my toothbrush out of my carry-on to help it fit into the overhead compartment.
AND IT DID!
I sat down and apologized to everyone around me. Put on my seat belt, closed my eyes and smiled.
The man I ended up sitting next to was very nice. He was a Finnish Mormon and he spent the entire hour-long flight trying to convert me. I was called good, beautiful, and chosen, many, many times.
When it was time to off-board, I let everyone off of the plane so that I could repack my carry-on and try to find my passport that I had misplaced. I found my passport inside one of my shoes and walked onto real Finnish land.
My international student ambassador was waiting for me with my name on a sign when I walked out of arrivals at 12:30 am. We took a taxi to my apartment and I made the mistake of telling him that I would need coffee the next morning.
“The taxi will take me to my friend’s house, I will get my friend’s car, and I will drive you to a 24-hour shop,” he said. Well, I had meant we could buy coffee in the morning but Yesuf did not speak English very well. Nor was he very familiar with Finland. Yesuf was an Ethiopian exchange student.
He got his car and spent a little over an hour trying to find a 24-hour store in the neighborhood. This baffled me because his iphone’s GPS was fully functional and it had said that the car trip would be 12 minutes from my apartment.
We finally found a Shell station and I bought 2 large cups of coffee for the next morning. I had noticed that Yesuf was a very poor driver. However, I was surprised when a Finnish Police Officer pulled us over and gave Yesuf a breathalyzer test for driving 20 mph in a 40 mph zone and for not moving for a very long time after the light turned green.
He asked if I was scared. I said no.
He dropped me back off at the apartment.
The airplane food that I had managed to keep through out my journey was delicious the next morning and the coffee I had bought at the Shell station was also delicious. I also stole the airplane blanket. It has been very useful.