Arlington, Virginia – January 4, 2015
I woke up today at about 04:00, even though my alarm was not due to rouse me until 05:00. I got myself ready and walked to Mass at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Arlington. The round trip to the church is just under three miles.
After Mass, I walked across the street to the Silver Diner. I had a fantastic breakfast of corned beef hash, country potatoes, a biscuit, and a cup of coffee. Luckily, I am concerned about my weight; because if not, I could eat that for breakfast every day!
I was only able to extend my checkout to noon. When I returned to the room, I finished my packing and waited. I stalled because my flight to Frankfurt, Germany departed at 21:55. My stalling ended at about 11:30 with the arrival of my taxi.
It always amazes me how expensive it is to take a taxi from the Rosslyn area of Arlington to Dulles International Airport. Since traffic was so light, my fare came to about $60. I arrived at noon. I leisurely checked in for my flight and made my way to the gate to begin my ten-hour wait.
The area of the airport in which I found myself only had one “dining” selection, Potbelly Sandwich Shop. I had hoped for a Chili’s or T.G.I. Fridays… nope. Oh well, at least it was food.
The terminal began “awakening” at about 17:00, as several flights for European destinations cued for departure. My gate changed to C1, no big deal, only one away from my original. The flight immediately before mine serviced Amsterdam. That plane pushed away from the gate at about 19:00. The aircraft for Frankfurt arrived at 20:00. I inaccurately thought that cleared the way for an on-time departure for my flight.
My boarding pass showed a boarding time of 21:10. At nearly 22:00, the gate attendant announced that the pilot had become “illegal.” We were not to worry because the call had gone out at 21:15 for a replacement pilot. This all translated into a departure of about 23:30. I guess I should be happy with that since the flight across the concourse canceled at about the same time for similar reasons, resulting in some incredibly upset travelers. My concern centered on the 1:40 window I had for catching my connecting flight with Leslie out of Frankfurt.
In-flight, our tailwind ranged from 120 mph to 150 mph. With that good fortune, we did make up some time en-route.
Regardless, when the plane stopped at our “gate” in Frankfurt, I was down to about 25 minutes to make the connecting flight. The quotes around the word gate indicate the plane stopped at a parking spot on the tarmac. All passengers faced a climb down a jet ladder followed by boarding a bus. It was disheartening to be so close yet so far. My optimism quickly faded as I realized I had to wait patiently for all of my fellow passengers to disembark the suddenly gigantic Boeing 777, board the waiting buses, and then drive to the terminal. Of course, arriving at the terminal was a starting point for me.
I walked down the stairs to the tarmac and squeezed into a small, standing-room-only spot on the middle bus. It seemed as though the doors to the bus would never close. Once closed, the bus began a somewhat circuitous trip to a terminal entry point. Once inside, with my carry-on in tow, I ran to the passport control area. Luckily, I could use the diplomatic line. The man in the booth asked for my destination as he took the passport I offered him. I told him, he looked at the passport and handed it back to me so the next leg of my marathon could start.
Shortly after landing, Leslie texted me to tell me my departure gate, A52. She encouraged me to continue the race. She knew I could make it to the “finish line.” So, I soldiered on, trying to watch the signs intently, although I was mentally and physically fatigued.
Suddenly, I found myself in a security line. Luckily, not many people had arrived at that point yet. I diligently put all of my items on the conveyor belt to go through the x-ray machine. In my carry-on for this particular trip, were several electronic items, including a router, some external hard drives, and a scale I use for weighing my bags before traveling. In my foggy stupor, I grabbed my items from the bins in which I placed my belongings and began to dash down the hallway. In a few steps, I realized I had forgotten my carry-on. I doubled back in time to see my carry-on stopped by one of the security personnel. He began asking all sorts of questions about the contents. I opened the bag and pulled out the items, explaining the function of each. He placed those items separately in a bin and sent them through the x-ray machine again. When the container emerged again, he picked up the scale and told me they needed to do some additional testing on that item. I re-packed my carry-on and followed him to a nearby room.
In the room, I saw equipment commonly used to detect explosive residue. Unfortunately, the man operating the machine did not show a particular sense of urgency. I stood there with the other security officer for what seemed an interminable amount of time. Finally, the sloth-like creature tended to my scale. After another minute or so, they told me to proceed.
As I continued to follow signs to A52, I had to ride an elevator one floor down. My morale bottomed out when I exited the elevator and saw the distance of the hallway that ran under a tarmac from one concourse to another. I saw there were two very long moving sidewalks; but of course, the first one heading in my direction was inoperable. I began to run. It seemed as if the faster I ran, the longer the distance became. It seemed as though I was in a movie. I finally reached the second moving sidewalk. I continued to run on the moving path. At the end of the moving walkway, there was another elevator trip to the main concourse level.
Emerging on the main concourse level, I was in an extensive shopping area. I continued to run, following the signs, or so I thought. I missed a sign indicating a left turn. I discovered my error when I suddenly faced signs pointing to the C concourse. I immediately doubled back and corrected my mistake. Now heading in the correct direction, I caught a glimpse of A52. There were still four moving sidewalks between my goal and me. Nearing the end of the final moving sidewalk, I could see the gate. I also saw a plane being pushed from the gate. My heart sank two floors below. Approaching the gate agents, panting and sweating, I dejectedly told them I had just missed my flight to Frankfurt instead of waiting for them to break that bad news to me. Much to my surprise, they said to me that it was not my plane. They directed me down a set of stairs to wait for a bus.
At the door at the bottom of the stairs, I waited for about five minutes with another ten or eleven passengers. The bus arrived, loaded the passengers, and began another circuitous drive around the tarmac. Suddenly, I saw the very same Boeing 777 from which I disembarked in what seemed to have been hours ago. About five or six parking spaces from that plane, the bus stopped at the base of a set of stairs leading to the plane for my next flight. I found it somewhat ironic how close I was to the Tallinn plane when my plane from Virginia parked.
I walked up the stairs to board the plane. As soon as I began down the center aisle, Leslie spotted me. She had a massive smile on her face. It seemed that as soon as I stowed my carry-on and sat down, the plane began to taxi.
Whew! I had made it with mere seconds to spare!