Sunday, August 30, 2009

Post by Morgan: Stuck at Ben Gurion

Ben Gurion Airport, August 28,2009 1:50 AM

We are STUCK. Tonight’s attempt to arrange ground transportation to the airport was a comedy of small errors, which, compounded by mishegaas at Ben Gurion, resulted in our suffering what I had always thought was my worst traveling nightmare: we missed our flight. It all started innocently enough. Rich checked Egged’s web site, and learned that from the central bus station in Jerusalem, there were busses running direct to Ben Gurion every half hour until at least 9:30. The 9:30 bus would get us to Ben Gurion around ten, just right for the three hour window that El Al’s website had recommended as a pre-flight arrival time. Pretty much any bus from the area of our hotel would go to the central bus station, and we calculated that we had to leave around nine for everything to work. When we checked out of our hotel, the woman at the desk offered to call a sherut for us--much nicer than bus way to travel--but Nesher wasn’t answering their phone any more, so we returned to our well-laid bus plans.

We had a lovely last dinner at the Cafe Hillel near our hotel. I even managed to ask, in Hebrew, that my dish be made without walnuts. I must have even been comprehensible, as I am still alive. After dinner, we walked to the bus stop and waited only a short time for a random bus to take us to the station. Unlike busses in the US--or at least the Twin Cities--Egged busses can make CHANGE, meaning you don’t have to worry about having the exact fare, or even about knowing what it is. Moreover, you can pay for two people and get a single ticket that indicates that it’s for two. And you can do this RIGHT ON THE BUS. I was impressed. The ride wasn’t hugely fun, but a bus ride with a backpack never is: you can take it off and it becomes the most awkward thing on earth to schlepp around, or you can leave it on and sit really uncomfortably and have the thing take up a whole seat by itself. I elected to do the latter.

When we arrived at the central bus station, I was awed. The thing is basically a multi-story shopping mall--worthy of being a destination in itself. Awkwardness ensued as I had to take off my pack and send it through an x-ray. By the time I got through the metal detector and reclaimed my stuff, my husband, who had been right behind me, was nowhere to be seen. Not knowing if he was behind or ahead of me, I put on my pack and stared around stupidly until I sighted him on the other side of the metal detector. Once we were reunited, we decided to check out the nearby book store, since it was just after nine and we had time to kill until our connecting bus. Or so we thought.

When we finally made our way up to the ticket station, the woman there told us that she thought the busses to Ben Gurion were no longer running, but sold us a ticket to Tel-Aviv anyway. We figured that from there we could get a cab or something if she was right, and it turned out that she was. We had just sorted out the process of getting on the Tel Aviv bus, when what should arrive but the bus that we thought we could take to BG. We jumped off, thinking that we would be saved the inconvenience of arranging yet another leg to this trip, only to be told that no, this bus really wasn’t making any more trips. So we got back on the TA bus, and ended up sitting right in front of some young men who proceeded to talk loudly the entire trip. Loudly enough that at one point the driver yelled at them. It was a comfortable bus, and Rich and I both took off our packs and held them on our laps. I might have enjoyed the ride if I hadn’t been so worried about time. I think it was almost eleven when we finally got there.

The TA bus station doesn’t have as sophisticated security as J’lem. There was just this table and a couple of guys with portable wands looking in people’s bags. I think I was pretty fried by then--he had to ask me several times to open my bag, using vocab that I usually understand, and when I finally got it (after he asked in English), I exasperated him further by assuming that I had to open every little compartment on my VERY many-compartmented backpack, when all he was interested in was the main one. He must have thought I was a complete idiot. I started to get really worried when we got inside and saw how dead the place was. Most of the information counters--make that all--were closed. We finally found a ticket counter that was staffed by a helpful guy who told Rich the number of the bus to catch to get to the airport. When we got to the platform we found out that there were two left that night, one at 11:00 and one at 11:40. We caught the 11:00, but I was getting increasingly worried. We were well outside our three-hour window, and edging into the two-hour window that I usually leave for domestic flights. Moreover, this was a local bus route with lots of stops and people getting on and off. I began to contemplate the possibility that the evening might become grueling and expensive.

When we arrived at BG, we wandered around until some helpful airline staff told us where to go. An innocent further ‘where do we go’ question lead to us being ushered through the start of the security process BEFORE I had a chance to use the bathroom and this was NOT A GOOD THING. The security interview was brief and pretty much the same as the one at JFK. They weren’t even interested in x-raying our carry-on luggage at that point. We were shown where to go for check-in, and made the mistake of grabbing the nearest line, which proceeded not to move for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. It was around 12:15 now and I was seriously nervous. Moreover, my feet were hurting, I still needed to use the bathroom, standing around with a heavy pack on my back in a hot muggy atmosphere was making me want to puke, and my left knee was starting to act up. The knee was the bit that I was really worried about. It can be fine and then pop suddenly and be real painful, and tonight was seriously provoking it.

At one point Rich asked if he should try to find a faster line while I stayed there. I lost it and informed him that I was in pain and couldn’t stand much longer. He went to talk to someone or see what was going on or something. The party of women ahead of us was also doing the same thing. Yelling ensued. I had no idea what was going on. I had kind of hoped he was going to find a place where I could sit, but it didn’t sound like that was what was happening. I heard the word “supervisor” a couple of times. When he came back, I learned that 1) the flight was already boarding and therefore we had missed it and 2) the clog seemed to have been caused by a party that didn’t even have tickets trying to get onto the flight. He went back to the counter and there was more yelling. Finally, I had had it. I stepped out of the line intending to just sit down on a clear space of floor, because I really needed to sit. But I lost control of things and belongings and body parts when flying. A very kind family retrieved my water bottle and asked if I was OK, and I felt like a complete dork having to explain that actually, I was better off on the floor.

Right after that, stuff did start happening. A supervisor or something came and we learned that we’d have to go someplace else for re-ticketing. That took a long time, but fortunately didn’t cost any more money. Our new itinerary is: depart BG at 4:30 am (OY!), arrive not at JFK but at Newark (not sure whether this is an OY! or not--never been to Newark but JFK was pretty bad), spend most of the day in Newark (OY!), get on plane for MSP at 6:00, arrive MSP after 8pm Friday night (OY!). And BTW the only seats they had were on two separate aisles, but we can try to fix that at the gate (right). This is a bit of a grrr.... but all things considered, it could have been worse, and at least it wasn’t expected. Also, one of the things I most fear about the logistics of air travel, missing the flight, has happened, and the sky did not fall. It didn’t even cost us extra money, just time and aggravation.

[Rich Adds:]
When we checked in at Newark for our Northwest Flight, Morgan found she could book us on a flight that left at 1:30. We booked it and got to the gate to find that another plane headed to MSP was boarding. I asked if we could get on that flight, and we could, so we got home at 2pm instead of 8pm.

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