Going in Circles Can Take You Somewhere

Posted By Barbara Robertson on May 20, 2009 12:00 am | Permalink

Last November, I traveled to two computer graphics conferences in Europe on back-to-back trips. The View conference in Turin, Italy, which I wrote about here (http://cgw.copwebtools.com/Press-Center/News/2009/Reporter-at-Large-The-View-from-Torino-Italy-A-C.aspx) was a real eye-opener, and I definitely hope to return. I had been to eMagiciens, the second conference, before, so I wasn’t surprised by the high level of graphics sophistication in Northern France, but was once again amazed at the level of support for graphics innovation from the local government (see the News section in the February issue), and would love to return there, too. If I do, I hope the travel gods have something easier in mind for me this year. Here’s a piece about the, um, lessons I learned on the way.

Flight delays, long lines, luggage fees. For today’s travelers, one disruption or another has become standard fare. Recently, though, on back-to-back trips to Torino, Italy, and Valenciennes, France, I met one unexpected situation after another. Sometimes, travel troubles can offer learning opportunities. This time, I bumped into 31 lessons.

It all began when I handed my passport to a ticket agent at San Francisco International Airport and said, “I’m flying to Frankfurt.”
“No, you’re not,” she replied.

I stared at her, unable to squeak out a response. She waited a beat.
“You didn’t sign your passport,” she said.

Lesson No. 1: Sign your renewed passport when it arrives.

2. If, after clearing security, browsing the bookstore, and eating a late breakfast, you check your watch and see that your plane doesn’t depart for another hour, consider the possibility that your watch might have stopped.

3. When running down steps to a gate, it’s easier to shoulder a bag than to roll one.

4. In the Frankfurt airport, you can find a watch battery, but the scavenger hunt will send you through multiple security lines and passport checks, and the store clerk might not be able to pry open your watch case. She will, however, sell you a new watch.

5. Even though your boarding pass says your flight from Frankfurt to Torino leaves from gate 42, it might not.

6. The boarding pass that you received in San Francisco will not work in Frankfurt. You must exchange it for a gate pass. I cannot explain why.

7. In Torino, the driver who meets you at the little airport might insist on waiting an hour for another passenger on your flight. He will leave when the passenger calls from his hotel to say he took a taxi.

8. If someone tells you not to eat too much pasta with white truffles because another course will follow, but it's the most delicious food you've ever tasted, ignore him.

9. After flying back to Frankfurt from Torino, you can ask United to change your flight home to a nonstop, but you’ll learn it costs $250. When the customer service agent prints the gate pass for your original ticket, be sure he attaches the baggage claim stub from the boarding pass Lufthansa gave you in Torino.

10. Noise-canceling headphones cannot overcome the screams of a determined baby.

11. An hour to clear customs and change planes is “legal,” but if your plane is late, legal schmegal.

12. A heart-pounding sprint with carry-on luggage at Washington Dulles up a flight of stairs and down a milelong corridor will persuade you to pack lighter.

13. The speed at which you race from gate to gate has no bearing on how fast your checked luggage travels from plane to plane.

14. If your luggage does not arrive in San Francisco, United can track the suitcases using numbers from your baggage claim stub. Without a claim stub (see 9 above), United compares all late luggage to a description you provide, a process that can take three to five days.

15. Do not pack anything you need for your next trip in checked luggage if you plan to leave again in less than a week. (Ignore 12 above.)

16. Thankfully, United will give you Lufthansa’s baggage department phone number. If you call and a recorded voice says the office closed at 9 p.m. and your new watch tells you it’s 9:30, you must find another way to retrieve the claim stub numbers.

17. It won’t help to calculate that you left the hotel in Torino 24 hours earlier.

18. Do not believe a passenger who says a Lufthansa customer service kiosk is right upstairs in the domestic terminal.

19. No one will offer this solution, but if you explore long enough, you will discover you can walk from United's baggage claim area to the International terminal, where a Lufthansa ticket agent can find the numbers United needs to track your luggage.

20. When the United baggage clerk tracks your suitcase to a flight arriving in 45 minutes, take the nice food coupon he offers and smile. You’re almost home.

21. Five days hence, you’ll discover that if you fly in the winter to Paris and then take the TGV to Lille, you might arrive in the middle of a blizzard. Don’t worry. The minivan driver will still deliver you to the hotel you booked near Valenciennes. Very slowly.

22. The brasserie food in Valenciennes, you will realize later, is better than that in Paris.

23. If, on a cold, rainy morning, your driver has dropped you back at the train station in Lille with 20 minutes to spare for your return to Paris, but you can't see your ticketed time on the departure

By Barbara Robertson