Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull

By now you should know that the title of this post is not complete gibberish, but rather it is a volcano in Iceland. If you did not know that, I suggest that you go back to sleep now, because then you also have not heard that the volcano erupted a week ago and closed the airspace (and airports) throughout northern and western Europe. Millions of passengers were stranded across the globe and amazing stories involving trains, planes and automobiles emerged.

I also have a story. I should be writing this jet-lagged from a hotel room in Chicago, but instead I am writing this restless from my home office in Germany.

About a week ago, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut-off. There were so many things left to do before my big trip to the States. I was scheduled to leave Germany on Saturday, April 17. First I would spend four days in Washington DC, where I had several meetings with think-tanks, government agencies and some on the Hill. Then Wednesday I would fly to Chicago, where I was scheduled to present a paper at a political science conference. This trip was not a vacation, but I was looking forward to a few days of not being woken up by a very persistent voice yelling “MAMA!!!”

My MIL called me Thursday, April 15th, in the evening, “Claire! Are you leaving? What about the volcano??” I was aware of the volcano, but assured her that I would be leaving as the cloud was over England and certainly would not impact Frankfurt airport. After getting her off the phone rather quickly, I turned to the matter at hand, namely, laundry, ironing, packing, presentation preparation, appointment confirmation, etc. She overreacts; doesn’t she know how much I have to do? (Insert foreboding music here.)

By Friday afternoon the writing was on the wall. Bremen airport was closed; however, my flight from Frankfurt was still scheduled to depart. My in-laws picked up the Dude and the German and I were about to go out for dinner around 8pm. I checked the Internet and sure enough, my flight had been canceled.

Saturday morning, the day I was originally scheduled to leave, I wrote to my handy travel agent and asked him to get me a flight to Washington on Monday, April 19th. Perhaps I could salvage something of the trip. But as the day went on, the news kept getting worse. It was very apparent, even then, that IF airports opened on Monday, the possibility of getting a seat was not very high.

The German and I surfed the Internet and found a flight from Amsterdam to Chicago on Wednesday, April 21st, for 450 Euro. I immediately emailed the handy travel agent with new instructions: scrap the DC part of the trip and get me on the flight to Chicago on Wednesday. He wrote back that he had reserved the seat, and I basically went back to my regularly scheduled programming.

My suitcase lay on my bedroom floor, mocking me, so Sunday I unpacked. I canceled my appointments and my hotel reservations. I even called all of the English lessons that I had canceled and asked if they would like to meet; “Sure, Claire! That would be great!”

The Internet and the news became both a blessing and curse during the week. It drove me crazy and was a little emotionally draining to think, “Will I or won’t I?” Everyday I was on pins and needles. On Tuesday some planes blessedly started moving, but the Bremen airport was still closed. The limited flights going out were all long-haul, and so I became sure that my connection in Bremen would be canceled, there was a good chance that my flight from Amsterdam would leave as scheduled.

I sent handy travel agent an email at 2pm on Tuesday asking him to confirm that I could just drive to Amsterdam airport for my 11am flight on Wednesday.

At 4:30pm, after coming back from my English lesson, I ran to the computer. Flight still scheduled, handy travel agent also sent a note: “Never got ticket.” WTF???!!! I immediately wrote back that I needed to be in Chicago by 9am Thursday. About 30 minutes later he called and told me that he had me on a USAirways flight for Wednesday morning from Frankfurt (ironically, the same flight I had been scheduled to take on April 17th). He could not get me on the Amsterdam flight because my return flight (Sunday, April 25th) was full.

Panicked, I realized that I would need to drive to Frankfurt. I called my in-laws, who came over to get the Dude. I also called Jen to see if I could crash on her sofa before going to the airport. Before I could even finish the sentence, “I may have to fly from Frankfurt,” she said, “Sure!” (A good girl, that one!)

At 7pm, I packed the Dude’s weekend case and checked the Internet just as the doorbell rang. The dog started barking hysterically and I discovered that USAirways had just canceled my flight. Frantic, I shut up the dog and struggled to get not-so-handy travel agent on the phone.

The German, determined to be helpful, found a flight on KLM from Amsterdam via Minneapolis. It would mean driving to Amsterdam (the 2nd original plan) and staying an extra night in Chicago, but we could get the ticket for 670 Euro. I was just a few clicks away.

My boss advised me not to buy it. She said, “Wait on handy travel agent. What if that flight gets canceled and you cannot get your money back.” In the back of my head I was like, “Dude ain’t so handy!” So I waited.

The in-laws took the Dude and at 8:30pm the travel agent finally called me back. The flight I had found was now full. He could get me on the very last seat of a Delta flight but it would cost 1250 Euro. That was simply too much. That is when I finally gave up and accepted my fate.

No trip to the U.S. for me.

Lots of planes flew from Europe to the US yesterday. I almost died yesterday morning when I read on the Internet that the flight from Amsterdam to Chicago, the one I found last Saturday and almost booked myself, took off and landed safely.

The entire experience has been frustrating and emotionally draining. I feel terrible that I might have actually been able to go. The research paper that I spent countless sleepless nights writing is now just sitting here.

Jen said that everything happens for a reason. There is a reason I was not supposed to go. My mother said that she was happy that I was safe on the ground. There is a lesson to be learned, she said.

Sure there may be a reason and perhaps even a lesson. But I have not found them yet. I am still too profoundly disappointed.

“Eyjafjallajokull:” I think it is Icelandic for “That F@*king Volcano.”