Friday, August 14, New Hope, Pennsylvania

On every trip I take there is one moment when my own incompetence combines with Murphy’s Law to make life a struggle. Such was the case as I left Barcelona Airport for Dublin (where I slept in the airport) and Copenhagen (where I spent one evening).

My first inkling of trouble came when I sought the bus to the airport. The “Barcelona Ticket” I’d purchased promised a free ride to the airport. I’d seen the sleek, modern A buses navigating Barcelona’s streets. But such was not my fate. My ticket did not work on the A buses; rather I was directed to a city bus, #46. This meant an uncomfortable, bumpy ride in too-crowded public transit. But, actually, it didn’t. The bus was nearly empty and clean, and, as a bonus I struck up a conversation with a young couple from Switzerland. A pleasant experience.

Next issue was my painting. I’d paid mucho dinero for a large painting in Ousouira, and had been hefting it onto buses every since. Now I worried about getting the airline to protect my valuable ‘over-sized’ luggage. Would it survive the baggage handlers? I got to the airport four hours before my flight so I had time to devise a strategy for painting protection–and one appeared miraculously before my eyes as I entered the terminal. They have machines–you’ve probably seen them–that wrap your luggage in some sort of shiny plastic wrap. For ten Euro’s I submitted my bag and painting. In seconds I had one piece of luggage rather than three (my big backpack, my day pack, and my painting). Problem solved.

Except that I immediately began thinking I’d replaced one problem with another. I forgot that airlines have weight restrictions. If your bag weighs too much they charge big bucks for the overage. My new uni-luggage looked, to me, too heavy. I paid another Euro to weigh mine on a machine in the terminal. Sixteen kilos. Was that too much?

Three and a half hours till my flight, still plenty of time.

Happily I found that I could immediately check in to my flight even at this early time. I found the line and joined it behind about twelve other folks. In twenty minutes I was hefting my bag onto the stand and handing my passport to a short, middle aged blond woman from RyanAir.

“Your boarding pass?” she asked.

“I don’t have a boarding pass,” I told her. {I’d tried to check in online from my room but the system required a printer, which, of course, I didn’t have. I assumed I could do what I often do, get my boarding pass at the airport as I check my bag.}

The woman looked nonplussed. She reached down and grabbed a piece of paper and began scribbling on it. This didn’t alarm me. How many times have I stood in this kind of place and watched someone type in Moby Dick onto a keyboard while I waited. After a couple minutes she handed me the paper.

“Forty-five Euro’s,” she said. She pointed to a line behind me, the RyanAir ‘help’ desk. It was about 50 yards behind me. On the paper was a check mark next to some Spanish. After staring at it for a minute I realized I was required to pay $50 for ‘failure to check in online’. For just a second I thought to try to explain my situation to the woman (“I didn’t have a printer!) but one look at the scowling people behind me on line defeated my thought. Sheepishly I grabbed my bag/painting and drifted shamefacedly toward the RyanAir line.

There were a handful of people on this, new line. I waited. And waited. And waited. People on the help line have problems, problems that need the individual touch. RyanAir is not an “individual touch” kind of company. They function on the premise that “we have low prices, which means you’ll have to fight us for every nickel, and we’ll ultimately win because our lines will be so long and slow-moving that you’ll beg us to only charge you fifty bucks.” Behind a thin veil of material we line-stander’s could see a guy sitting, apparently doing nothing important–like opening up an additional line to help us.

It occurred to me that I could defeat the forces of entropy by registering right there on this line. I took out my tablet and found that there was free wifi! I went to the RyanAir email and attempted to check in. Ah, but it wasn’t to be that simple. For some reason the RyanAir website wasn’t accessible.

Just as I got to the front of the line the second guy opened up. He didn’t look happy. He glowered at me and spoke in heavily accented English through a small, round hole at eye level. With the noise of the terminal I couldn’t make out much of what he said, but I could still interpret his body language. I explained why I’d not checked in online. I showed him the failed link to the RyanAir website. Tough luck, he said–or rather his body language told me since I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“You must check in online at least two hours before your flight, ” I heard him say.

“But it’s still nearly three hours till my flight,” I replied. I waved my tablet up for him to see that I, theoretically, had internet access.

He pointed down the terminal. “Information,” he intoned. I realized he was telling me to go the airport information. My hopes skyrocketed. Perhaps they could connect me properly to the wifi. With that maybe I could convince them to print my boarding pass.

I should add at this point that moving my bag/painting around the terminal was not simple. The plastic wrap prevented me from wearing the backpack. I had to drag the whole contraption 250 yards down the (thankfully slick) floors to the info desk.

“What’s your email address?” the guy asked me. At least he was relatively mellow, not smiling but not scowling either. I couldn’t figure out why he wanted my address but I quickly surrendered it. It was now two and three-quarters of an hour before my flight. I had 45 minutes to check in before the penalty kicked in.

The guy got up from his desk and went to his printer. In 30 seconds I had my boarding pass.

“You are my favorite person in the world,” I told him as I reached for my cumbersome baggage for the trip back to RyanAir check in.

This time the line was longer, maybe 25 people ahead of me, but I still had nearly 2.5 hours till take off, ample time to get through this line and through customs. My biggest problem was that I was intensely thirsty. I just wanted to get this over with so that I could find a place to buy some water. I waited………dragging my baggage step by agonizing step. In about 25 minutes I arrived back before the blond lady.

“Ah,” she exclaimed, “you have your boarding pass!?” She seemed confused. I’m sure she was trying to understand how I’d gotten it. I had no energy to explain it to her, and there were those impatient masses behind me on line.

Finally, when her quizzical look failed to fade I told her, “There was more than two hours till my flight so I was able to check in online.” Abashed, she apologized. I told her, essentially, “no problem.”

Then she grimaced. She handed me back my boarding pass. “You need stamp,” she said, sheepishly. At first I didn’t get it, but inevitably the realization hit me.

“No line,” she told me, suggesting that I needn’t stand on line for a third time, I could–once I had my stamp–move to the front of her line. Inside my head a voice spoke to me:  “You know that isn’t going to work. Those other people on line will not tolerate you cutting in, stamp or no stamp.”

I bent down and retrieved my bag from the stand and tried to wend my way through the waiting would-be passengers. There were so many now that I couldn’t immediately see the RyanAir help desk ahead. When I caught sight of it I shivered. There were at least 15 people ahead of me. And still only one window was open.

It was now 90 minutes till my flight. No need to detail the agonies of standing on that line for a second time. The only positive note was that–ten minutes after I joined the line–the queue grew exponentially after I got on. By the time I reached the front there were nearly 50 folks waiting behind me. I thanked the airport gods that I’d not tarried to buy some water before joining this group.

“Bam!” Down came the stamp. It took 15 seconds. The guy gazed resentful behind my back after I got to the front. He wasn’t going to waste any time talking with me. I had my stamp.

The bag was getting heavier. My throat was more parched, if that was possible.

I nosed my way towards the front of the check in line. i could see the blond lady ahead of me, but the noise and crowd made it impossible to speak to her. I prayed she would look up and recognize me. Meanwhile a family of six strode toward her, blocking any hope I had of nudging forward. My only hope was to wave to her from my walled-out location.

Then a guy in RyanAir dress strode toward my dreamed-of location and sat down, displacing my blond lady. In seconds it was done. Her shift was over; this guy was taking over. I waved frantically, but, of course, she didn’t notice. I watched sadly as she smilingly made her way through the crowds toward her Barcelona home.

I got back on a check in line, another 25 people ahead of me. By the time I got, again, to the front of this queue I had an hour till flight time. I worried about the next line, the security check and passport line. And there was still the matter or weight.

The rest is a happy story. Check in took seconds. No one cared about the weight of my bag. The security lines were fairly short. I made it to the plane with 15 minutes to spare.

Now would I be able to find somewhere to sleep at Dublin Airport since I had a twelve hour (midnight to noon) layover?

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Jerry Heverly

I'm a high school English teacher from San Leandro High School in California.

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