For once, we are relaxed getting to the airport. It’s a funny thing; even when I used to fly nearly every week, I always got anxious from the point when I started packing to the point when I was sitting at the gate. Of course, back then, that was only a couple of hours, but it never went away. But today, we are a 20 minute shuttle bus ride from the airport, we woke up earlier than we needed to, we were already mostly packed from the night before, and we find ourselves getting on the shuttle an hour earlier than we planned. Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:30AM, but we prefer to allow as much time as possible for getting through security since Pat has been detained numerous times, his name confused with someone on the no-fly list. Although it’s usually a bigger problem clearing customs in the US than in departing from other countries, it still makes us nervous since we’ve missed flights as a result of how long it takes for immigration to figure out that my Pat is not whoever it is they’re looking for.
But, here we are today, at the airport before 8AM and hungry. First, we check in. I have checked in online already, so all we have to do is print boarding passes and drop our bags. There is no one in line at one of the kiosks, we walk right up and start entering information. However, I have to go through all the steps of checking in, including swiping each passport into the machine. This process takes a few minutes. As I struggle to figure out which direction to put a passport in, a man suddenly appears just over my left shoulder. Everything about his body language says I’m in his way and he would like me move faster. Having never had an American stranger stand so close to me, I am thrown by his behavior. Pat immediately perceives danger and steps closer to me as if he is going to end up punching this man. The man must sense he’s triggering hostility because he says in a New Jersey accent, “They really ask for a lot of information, huh?” as if he’s just trying to be friendly. Yet, he continues to look over my shoulder and stand too close. I stop what I’m doing and turn to look at him. Perhaps the realization that he is slowing me down causes him to step back or maybe I’ve unknowingly given him one of my looks, but he takes a step back. However, he continues to participate in the process verbally, counting out each boarding pass as it prints and trying to joke about how slow the machine is. We are happy to take our bags and move on quickly when all four boarding passes finally print.
There are only two people in front of us at the bag drop. I begin to suspect that most of Germany is still in Munich at Oktoberfest–I have never gotten checked in to an international flight so quickly. Barely past 8AM, we have completed the bag check process and are ready to approach security. Since it’s so early and we can’t remember what’s on the other side of security, but we have memories of being stuck in a secure area with no restaurants or even a restroom on some flight that might have been out of Frankfurt, we decide to have pretzels and coffee before we hit security. We sit where we can watch the volume of people heading towards security in case there is a sudden rush, but we are able to eat our pretzels uninterrupted. Pat even goes back for more food. When he returns with an ice cream bar, I raise my eyebrows at him, “Breakfast of champions?” He smiles and enjoys his ice cream guilt free.
We discover a classic Mercedes convertible on display in the airport. There is some drawing where you can win 100,000 Euro to spend at the Mercedes classic shop. It requires finding out how much a certain perfume costs in the Duty Free shop. We determine that the duty free shop is on the other side of security, so we go through the security check and then head for duty free. Now, checking the price on a bottle of perfume may seem like a harmless request, but Pat gets scent-triggered migraines if he’s exposed to heavy perfumes for too long. Interestingly, since giving up perfume for Pat 16 years ago, I have now developed a sensitivity to it as well. Although, I get more of an allergy response involving congestion and sneezing. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to sell perfume without the scent lingering in the air all around the displays. We scope the perimeter, trying to stay outside the danger zone. Then, I make a break through one of the aisles trying to quickly identify where the brand we’re looking for is located. When I find it, Pat surprises me by breaking through the perimeter and joining me as I try to figure out which one is the particular scent we’re looking for. We find it and then retreat quickly from the noxious odors to a safe, scent-free zone where we can fill out our entries in the drawing.
Next, we head to the gate. Oddly, we must clear security a second time before we can enter the gate area. Discovering that there are plenty of shops between the first security checkpoint and the second, but none in the gate area, we decide to eat a real breakfast at a restaurant across from the gate. But having had my fill of fatty foods, I opt for yogurt and muesli instead of a more American breakfast. When we finish eating, I spot a spa across from the restaurant and suggest we get chair massages while we’re waiting. Pat counts out the last of our Euros and decides it’s the perfect way to use up what we have left. We each get a 10 minute chair massage, which does wonders for my aching neck.
Now we are fed and relaxed. We go through the second security checkpoint (where they are suddenly concerned about the battery charger for my camera battery) and then sit at the gate. We discover there is a restroom in the gate area and Pat decides to go use it. While I wait for him, a woman comes over and tells everyone sitting in the gate area that it’s a secure area and we must leave. Given that we’ve passed through security 2x already, I’m not sure why we need to leave, but she allows me to stand and wait for Pat to return, so I don’t argue. A few minutes later, several gate agents set up in front of the seating area and tell us we can now go through a line to get checked into the seating area. An agent looks at each person’s passport and ticket before we can enter. I count the number of times I have now shown someone my passport: 1) Swiping it into machine, 2) Agent to get into line at bag drop, 3) Agent who checked our bags, 4) Security downstairs, 5) Security upstairs, 6) Agent to get to seating area. Six passport checks just to get a seat at the gate. When they finally start boarding the plane, they check our passports a 7th time. Given that they don’t seem to be scanning our passports to get any data from them, I find myself wondering if this repeated checking is due to an inherent distrust of others’ ability to adequately look at a passport or just a desire to be annoying. In any case, I’m pretty sure that everyone on the plane is carrying a passport. It may not be a legal passport, but everyone’s got one!
Fortunately, given how relaxed the overall experience of getting to the airport has been today, I take the passport thing in stride and maintain a sense of calm. After all, we’re about to spend 8 hours on a plane, so there is no point in getting worked up. We “upgraded” to comfort seats on this plane. It’s not really an upgrade, the seats just have more leg room and recline further. But, it makes all the difference as we settle in and stretch out. We test the recline as we wait for take off. We exchange giddy smiles as we think back to the cramped seats we flew over in. Then, we return the seats to upright and prepare for take off.