Trains, Automobiles - And Chaos
2014 by Birgit Starmanns
travel is often
tedious, an unexpected event can sometimes cause some excitement.
Which may just be too much excitement.
is in four hours,”
said the airport employee that was checking passports as passengers
entered the check-in line in the Frankfurt airport. This was the
first stop of multiple checkpoints, even before I could get to the
counter to check my luggage. She had said it to the man in line in
front of me. “You might make it to your flight.”
I hear that
Make?? It?? My flight was in a little less than three hours. This did
not bode well.
man in line
looked at me, and as
many travelers do, started a bit of small talk. It would still take a
little while to get to the baggage check-in counter after that
passport check. “I already have my electronic boarding pass,
think I will ditch my liquids and skip checking my bag,” he
option for me,” I
said. “Between the computer bag and my purse, I
a third carry-on onto the flight.”
the line to throw away
his liquids, I waited to get to the check-in counter. The friendly
airline employee explained that there was a strike of the security
staff (the equivalent of the TSA) at the Frankfurt airport that day,
plus a strike of the baggage handlers. While checking in my suitcase,
he advised, “There’s nothing we can do for you
get past the security checkpoint, it’s out of the
hands until then. Once you get through, we can help with flight
had taken a
shuttle to the airport,
and had arrived much earlier than normal on this particular business
trip. I did recall receiving an alert from my company’s
department, mentioning a strike. Since these alerts are sent
frequently, including warnings about not drinking the tap water in
certain countries (even including Germany!), I developed a habit of
simply dismissing them. I had been hoping to get a nice lunch and
check out a few stores at the Frankfurt airport before going through
security. With this warning, I abandoned that idea, and headed
straight towards the checkpoint.
walking down the hallway,
which was a good 30 feet wide, I stopped in my tracks. There was a
hum. As I kept walking, the hum quickly escalated to a roar as I came
closer to a crush of people. Travelers were literally elbowing and
stepping on each other. I approached the mass, and after only one
minute, realized that the same hoard was now behind me. The hallway
was filling up at an exponential rate.
individually jockeying for
position. With literally only 3 inches between myself and the person
in front of me, a couple tried to squeeze in. We made eye contact, I
stuck out my elbow, and they stopped trying to step on my feet. There
were families that tried to duck behind the advertising boards to
inch their way ahead of crowd, but ended up stuck behind an
electronics display with no way out.
always that ONE
traveler. The one who held up his suitcase over his head, yelling,
have a flight in 30 minutes,” elbowing his way through. We
thought that his suitcase would hit our heads, so we let him through.
Within 10 minutes, he was back, yelling that there is “no
chance, I’ll try tomorrow.” Again wielding his
like a weapon over his head.
kept rising up
on my tiptoes to
assess the situation. I saw the flash of what seemed to be a
reporter’s camera. When I later saw the photo in the Wall
Street Journal, the photo showed travelers standing about 1-2 feet
apart. That was not the case where I was in the back; we were all
crushed. I was standing just under the green fire escape sign when
the photo was taken.
had shared that
terminal B was closed, and everyone was being funneled through the A
concourse. I had to go through this portion of the hallway to get to
the Z concourse, the international terminal. I was hoping that if I
were able to get to that section, there would be a chance to get
home. Since everyone else was headed left to concourse A, I made a
good 10 feet of headway to the sign that indicated that concourse Z
was on the right. It only took me 30 minutes to make that headway.
I have a
shot. I obsessively
checked my flight status on my iPhone app, it was still scheduled to
take off on time.
generator went off over my
head, creating a deafening noise. Added to that, with the heat of all
those people jammed together, someone had opened the fire escape
door. No one was leaving through that door, but it in some refreshing
air got in – along with the constant “beep
beep” of the alarm that the door was open.
noise made it
impossible to hear
the police as they entered the fray with their megaphones,
alternating their announcements between German and English. On the
fourth run-through of the announcement, after the generator above my
head gave out, I was finally able to hear that the airport was
closed, and police was asking us to go back to the main hall to be
way,” I thought, “I
am going to give it one last shot.” While the crowd
disbanded, I headed towards the Z terminal, going against the stream
of the crowd. It was obvious that the police had put up a barrier
earlier, but the ropes were down and they were not stopping anyone
from getting into the next pre-check point area in concourse Z. Ten
minutes later, the barriers were back up, so I thought I had caught a
very long lines.
Luckily, with my Premier Executive status, I could get into the
shortest of the lines. Coincidentally, I ended up behind the same
traveler who had put his liquids into the trash. As we looked through
the next level of security, there was passport control, which was not
taking any new travelers. It was easy to see why – there was
sea of people beyond the passport check. Once every 20-30 minutes,
another 8-10 people were let into the fray.
were now close
enough to the airport
staff – and I speak German – to understand that
patrol was now taking the place of the screeners. “They are
prioritizing connecting passengers,” one told me.
someone arrived from another airport, they will likely make their
flight, but airplanes are flying out close to empty.”
travelers, there was almost a
sense of community. We would hold each other’s place in line
someone needed to use the rest room. The airport personnel came
through multiple times, passing out beverages and energy bars
at no cost! And we all grumbled about the strikers, who continuously
walked en masse through the airport, waving signs, using loud
whistles, and clapping. And smiling – which upset us as
of course, we
were all trying to
make alternate arrangements. The man who was now without his liquids
was a 1K flyer, he was only on hold for five minutes, and rebooked
his flight. I was on hold for about 15 minutes, as I obsessively now
checked whether my battery would hold out. Instead of a non-stop to
San Francisco, at least I had a flight going through Washington, D.C.
and I assumed that – since it was in five hours – I
hopefully be able to slip in with the next group of 8-10 that was let
into passport control. Another traveler in line behind me asked if I
could pass him to the United Airlines agent, since he had the same
status but no cell phone battery life left, so I handed him my phone.
group of 10 came
back out. This concourse was now closed as well, and all airport
staff packed up and left that station. Really??
left to do, I headed
back to the main hallway. My manager was in line at the airline
counter, and waved me over.
phone working,” he
asked. “Mine is not. I wonder what’s
I responded. “Which date did you give IT that your trip is
over? I usually add an extra day or two, since I’m never sure
in which time zone they will cut off the international
And of course he then asked to borrow my phone as well, but was told
that he would be on hold for an hour. After checking my battery
level, he gave it back and decided to stick it out in line to speak
to the local agent.
thought that I
would go ahead and
have that nice lunch now that I had planned on earlier, since I
obviously wasn’t going anywhere for a while. As I started to
pay, the waiter mentioned, “There’s a rumor that
concourses will open again at 2 p.m.”
no dessert for me! I
paid quickly and headed back over to terminal Z. This time, there was
no claustrophobia-causing crowd. Unfortunately, the barriers were
still up near the passport control, so there was just no getting
again, to reschedule my
flight – yet again. Apparently the big rush was over, I was
almost immediately connected to an agent. She said there were no
flights available until at least Sunday, originating from Frankfurt.
occurred to me that I could
take the train to another airport! I asked about cities in an
ever-in-creasing radius – Hamburg, Munich, Amsterdam, Paris.
Nothing. But there was a flight originating in Berlin!
take it!” I
almost shouted. The flight was only leaving the next morning, so that
gave me plenty to time to catch the train.
way to the train
station, I purchased a new top at one of the stores. Even if I
have my luggage, I would at least feel a little fresher!
my way to the
train station, as I
took the escalator down to a lower level, the strikers came through
again, still whistling and laughing. I couldn’t help but
under my breath, but didn’t want to yell at the strikers
since it was a 20-30 to 1 situation!
gentleman behind me was
suddenly also very angry, yelling “Yeah, exactly!”
shouted my own cursing at the strikers. It was obvious that no
traveler was on the side of the groups on strike.
station, after another
half-hour wait in line, I learned that Frankfurt airport is not the
site of the Hauptbahnhof, or the main train terminal. I first needed
to take a local train there. Luckily, the agent was very friendly in
explaining to me where I needed to go.
admittedly short ride to
the main train station, I had about an hour to wait. I stopped into
one of the restaurant-bars, and decided it was a good time to arrange
for a hotel, and considered myself lucky to still have some
smartphone battery life. I booked with the Marriott, and re-verified
the check-in date at least three times with the agent, due to the
time zone difference, since the agent was based in the U.S.
train was the
ICE, or high-speed
train, with only one stop between Frankfurt and Berlin. And the ride
still took over three hours! I had a little trouble finding my seat,
since some of the wagons re-started their numbering in each section.
attendant told me to keep
going towards the back, but I must have missed my seat. She then
seemed irritated when I asked her again, to which I shot back,
those of us who don’t live in Europe, you need to understand
that re-starting the numbering is just not logical.” At least
she then directly showed me to my seat.
booted up my
computer, and purchased
the on-train WiFi, to check e-mails. There were already dozens of
e-mails from colleagues, asking if we had all made our flights. The
chats at least passed the time, and I did get some work done.
Berlin, the taxi ride
was fairly short. At this point, I had been awake and on the move
think trains, (almost) planes, and automobiles – for 22
I didn’t care where I ate, and wasn’t in the mood
to discover the Berlin nightlife, so I simply had dinner at the
my way back to
my room, I stopped by
the front desk and asked how long it would take to get to the airport
– and to get the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste, and
woke up to a
melodious chime sound. I
was out of bed instantly, but couldn’t place the sound, when
stopped. I jumped back into bed. The chime rang again. I again
prowled the room, and finally realized that was the telephone with my
wake-up call. I checked my cell phone, and I had slept through that
alarm. I started to panic. In parallel, there was a knock on the
door. The woman at the front desk had sent someone up to make sure
that I was up, since I was not answering the phone and I had
expressed concern the night before. I am eternally grateful to her,
since she obviously saw my exhaustion. And her actions ensured I made
the airport went
smoothly, except that they did not allow the deodorant through
the end of this
trip home, I valued the strange camaraderie at the airport, the care
of the employees both at the airports and at the hotels. It was
wonderful to hear “Welcome home!” at immigration in
in the future,
I will definitely
take those warning emails regarding travel exception conditions more
line of the message.)
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