Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Poland - Adventures in Getting Home

The day arrived when we were due to fly home. Hooray! After two weeks in Poland, I think we were all ready to go home and get away from each other. We practically were together the entire time as a group from 7 a.m. each day until 9 p.m. No wonder we got on each others' nerves.

View of the Warsaw Airport from my hotel room

The plan was to meet for breakfast at 7 a.m. and then head to the airport across the street for a 10:10 a.m. departure to Copenhagen. Only things didn't go according to plan.

We did meet for breakfast only to learn that SAS canceled our trip home. The boss found this out the night before and had been working with our travel agency to rebook flights home.

The latest update was that we tentatively were on a LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw to Chicago leaving at noon and then on a United flight to Seattle. But we would need to leave for the airport immediately after breakfast to pick up the new tickets.

So off we trundle to the airport at 7:30 a.m. and locate the SAS ticketing counter. After dealing with the agent, tickets in hand, we now had to wait until 9:00 a.m. to check our luggage at the LOT counter. Plus there would be another 2-1/2 hours until boarding after that.

Let me tell you, there is not much to do in the airport in Warsaw, especially while waiting to check luggage. The boss spent much of the time back in line at the SAS counter ensuring we had first class seats from Chicago to Seattle. The rest of us sat around and talked shop in the mean time.

The inside of the new Terminal 2 in Warsaw

Upon the clock reaching the 9 o'clock hour, we approached the LOT counter to check our bags. Nope, not yet. First we have to get our documents (passport) checked and stamped. Not through Customs mind you, but something with LOT airlines. Luckily there isn't a line and we quickly did the passport thing and returned to the baggage counter.

Now our tickets are handwritten and all five of us are on one piece of paper which we entrusted to the boss. One by one we handed over our passports again to the agent at the baggage counter as our luggage was weighed and tagged. Surprisingly enough, I had one of the lightest suitcases out of our crew. Me, the sole woman! Guess those guys don't know how to pack light for two weeks on the road. :-)

Next up was clearing Security. Again, a very short line due to priority boarding passes and it didn't take us all long to get through.

We all paid a visit to the duty free shop. I was looking for a specific brand of Belgian chocolates per a recommendation from another employee who spent three years in our Brussels office. No such luck so I picked up some Swiss chocolate instead. I also got a bag of peanut M&M's for on the airplane just in case LOT was lacking in on-board amenities that we had on the SAS flight over to Denmark. I also picked up a small souvenir for Karl.

I would have bought a bottle of the Wyborowa vodka but I didn't want to deal with Customs in Chicago and trying to bring it on board the plane.

Shopping complete, off we went to find the restaurant to use the vouchers SAS had given us for food. Hey, we had a couple of hours yet to kill before boarding.

Looking Back at the Hotel

When it gets close to our boarding time, we head for the gate. But wait, we have to go through Customs first. Get out those passports!

We find a place to sit near our gate and I am amazed by how many people are waiting for this flight. Looks like it will be a full one. Our flight over from Seattle was not crowded at all. No wonder SAS dropped the route.

We wait and wait, and then wait some more. Boarding time comes and goes. If they are making announcements, it is in Polish and we don't understand them. Finally we hear an announcement in English saying the flight is delayed and another announcement will be made in ten minutes.

When the ten minutes are up, sure enough, another announcement. Only now it is the boarding call. Wow! The waiting crowd just floods the gate area. No priority boarding. Just a mass of people funneling into a single line at the gate. I lead our group to what should be the business class line and we push through to board the aircraft.

We are just over an hour late pushing back from the gate. This gives us some cause for concern because originally we had just over two hours once reaching Chicago to make our connection. Our boss lets us know if we miss our connecting flight, there are two other flights leaving Chicago at later times for Seattle.

I wish I would have taken a picture of the interior of the plane. Blue and orange seats. Ewww. Not very pleasing to the eye at all unless you are a Denver Bronco fan. You can also tell this is an older Boeing 767 plane and it wasn't as nice as the SAS one. No individual in-seat entertainment systems but instead a personal hand-held unit. But in all fairness to LOT, the seats were comfortable, food was halfway decent and the flight attendants were nice. We certainly didn't starve on the flight.

It was neat flying during the daylight hours over the frozen waters near Canada. You could see the cracks in the ice and it just looked bitter cold.

View from the air coming into Canada

After a ten hour flight, we land at O'Hare. Thankfully there is good weather in Chicago.

The plan now is to get through Customs, retrieve our luggage, re-check it through and get to the new gate in another terminal. Nobody told me to wear running shoes!

Our gate in the International terminal has to be as far away from Customs as possible. We did a brisk walk to Customs and my shins started cramping up midway there. Suck it up and keep going, Sally.

Our group is directed to a lane to wait to clear Customs. There is a gentleman ahead of us that is having issues getting through. Tick, tick, tick goes the clock.

Finally we can start processing through. One, two, three people are done. Just as the fourth team member starts to approach the counter, we are put on hold. A serviceman is coming through and he has priority. I have no issue with this, but the guy didn't have his documents ready. Tick, tick, tick...

Okay, we are all through with our passports stamped for re-entry into the United States. Now it is off to the baggage carousel to retrieve our bags. Of course, it is the farthest one away!

I quickly locate mine and start searching for the rest of the team. I find two of them and am told that once I am through making my declarations at the next Customs checkpoint to wait for another team member to arrive who in turn will wait for the last guy to arrive. We don't want to leave anyone behind.

Mike arrives and now it is my turn to head for the United counter to re-check my bag. Wouldn't you know, it is not close to where I am standing. Suck it up, Sally. Those shins will hang in there.

I deposit my bag and start looking behind me for Mike and Steve to show up. We need them so we can show our passports to the United agent and receive our boarding passes for the Seattle flight. Tick, tick, Mike or Steve yet.

Just as I start heading back towards the last checkpoint, here comes Mike. Steve should be right behind him, he says. Steve's bags were pulled for a secondary screening and caused him to be delayed.

Finally, we are together to show our passports to the United agent and new boarding passes in hand, we race to find the tram to get to the other terminal.

This does mean we will have to clear Security again. Tick, tick, tick. We get in line and the TSA agent takes her good old time checking our passports and boarding passes. Then it's on to the next line to do the screening and what not.

We find a fairly short line but suddenly we notice that the bins are not going through the x-ray machine. What the heck? After a few minutes, one of the TSA employees tells us we will need to move to another line. The machine has stopped functioning.

Now it is less than thirty minutes until departure time. Not boarding time, departure. Yikes! And we still are not through Security. Tick, tick, tick. A few other travelers are ready to let us go ahead of them in line when a new line opens and we jump right in. Shoes, belts and jackets off, laptops out, briefcases or backpacks on the conveyor belt. Let's all get through this.

Thankfully nobody gets selected for additional screening and we scoop up our belongings and reassemble our bags. Then it is yet another rush to the gate which is waaaaay down at the other end of the terminal. Suck it up, Sally. Another few minutes of this and your shins can rest.

By now, I am also struggling to breathe because of the bronchitus as a result of the cold that I left home with. I practically fall into my seat, my hands are shaking, and I can't find my inhaler. I'm not getting back up to see if it is my bag in the overhead bin. I'm toast. We've been traveling for about seventeen hours now. I make a quick call on my cell to Karl to let him know I've made the Seattle flight and the plane is getting ready to leave the gate.

My poor seat mate is also sick so we are quite the pair, either sneezing or coughing or wheezing.

Sunset Leaving Chicago

I had every intention of staying awake on this flight so that I would be able to sleep once reaching home. However, shortly after dinner was served and the tray removed, I was out like a light. I probably slept for two hours as we jetted westward.

We landed in Seattle somewhere around 8:30 p.m. Now it was time to pick up our luggage and drive home. Just as I reached the baggage carousel, I heard our names being paged. I went to the counter and was informed that my bag did not make the flight and was due to come in on one of those later flights. We were told in Chicago that our bags might not make the flight. No big deal. United would deliver it to my house the next day and anything that was important I already had with me.

I filled out the necessary paperwork and in short order, I was on my way home where upon I promptly fell into bed exhausted.

BTW - my luggage arrived on my porch around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The delivery guy called my cell number, but I never heard it ring.

So when can I go again? :-)

I truly enjoyed my trip to Poland and hope to return in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

Lew said...

International travel does require a lot of hurry up and wait! But the trip seems to have been worth it to you. My experience with O'Hare is always your arrival gate and connecting gate are at opposite ends of the airport!