Saturday, December 25, 2010

An Ode to the Fairest Flight of the All; Turkish (Fucking) Airlines

I apologize for cursing so soon into this entry (the title) but I do believe strong words are needed. I know I haven't finished the Hong Kong updates but they were beginning to sound kind of dry and boring and I needed a break from thinking about China dramas. So, I take this moment to tell you a little story...

The Day the Phone Died; A Leyla and Egglet Adventure

The first flakes of snow had just started falling when Leyla and her awesome cat, Egglet, set off for Logan International Airport. It wasn't long before Boston looked like it was covered in a blanket of soft, white, albeit freezing, wool. But the intrepid travelers weren't worried. They'd taken on the Atlantic several times before and little particles of frozen water weren't about to stop them. After sailing through security, the two girls wandered around for a bit. Leyla picked up the new Jonathan Franzen book, Freedom, because it was sufficiently long for the plane-ride (562 pages) and treated herself to a caramel apple cider before the flight.

On the plane, they were seated in business class because Leyla's parents are almost stupidly generous and they refused to let her travel in cramped quarters with a cat, and next to them was a Kazakh girl about her age named Mila. Mila and Leyla spent the flight making occasional chit-chat, eating their meals (Mila had the fish while Leyla had the ravioli. Countless viewings of the movie Airplane! had dissuaded her from ever eating fish on a flight), and bonding over how much they loved animals. Mila slept for most of the seven hours to Frankfurt and Leyla, unable to reach those quiet gates of slumber, watched The Kids Are All Right which had an excellent score and plenty of Bowie songs, which she delighted in (Carter Burwell was the composer of the original music and in charge of the rest and Leyla oft thought they'd be great friends since every time she really loved the score or music for a movie, it turned out to be Mr. Burwell's work. Or Graeme Revell but that's a different man for a different movie). It starred Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a married lesbian couple with two kids who seek out their sperm donor dad on the eldest child's 18th birthday. Mark Ruffalo was also in it, as the donor, and with his dirty, tousled hair, motorcycle, and rakish charm he edged himself on Leyla's Top 10 Celebrities She Would Jump On If Her Boyfriend Gave the OK list. The rest, if you're interested, is as follows:

10. Mark Ruffalo
09. 1980s Nikki Sixx
08. Ewan McGregor
07. Christoph Waltz
06. Alexander Skarsgård
05. Michael Hutchence if they ever figure out how to reanimate the long-dead with no decomposing after-effects.
04. Cillian Murphy
03. Magnus "Adde" Andreasson
02. Jonathan Rhys Meyers
01. Jocke Berg

Towards the end of the flight Mila asked Leyla a peculiar sort of question. She pointed to the route map and asked if they were going to Munich. Leyla laughed and said no, Frankfurt. Then, knowing how out of it she could be at times, she double-checked on her boarding pass but yes, their destination was Frankfurt. The girls figured their was just a mistake with the map, the languages displayed were English, German, and for some reason, Hindi (Devanagari script) so there was already that bit of tomfoolery happening, it was entirely possible the wrong destination was in.

But then the captain started talking. He said his previous announcement had not been heard. They were going to Munich. Frankfurt was closed until 9 a.m. and so they were landing in Munich and would let the passengers know what was going on as the situation developed.

And this is where the idyllic, whimsical story ends.

We sat for 3 hours on the damn plane in Munich. No one was allowed off, and nobody was telling us anything. I let Egglet out for a little bit, she wrapped herself around my neck and peered curiously around until we saw a stewardess and I hastily put her back in her case. Finally, the pilot announced we were flying back to Frankfurt. Into a veritable mess of people and mixed up flights. I don't know why they didn't just let us disembark in Munich and let us rebook our flights from there. Where the fuck was that German efficiency?

In Frankfurt, I'd already missed my connecting flight and the line for the transfer desk was overwhelmingly long. I walked to the end of the terminal but there didn't seem to be anyone on duty or anyone who knew what they were doing so I walked all the way back to the Lufthansa ticketing counter which had about 300 people in line by then. I was carrying Egg, my bag, had my coat and scarf, and also the stupid Franzen book that was about 2 pounds heavy.

Finally, a man that seemed to have some authority directed me towards another terminal. They were trying to divide the inter-continental flights from the European flights. When I got to the area for the European flights, I pretty much started laughing in helpless disbelief. The line was, no joke, about 1000 people long, if not longer. After standing in it for about 20 minutes, I just shoved ahead to the main area to try to find someone to help. A woman stationed there told me to go through security and find the ticketing counter on the other side. I went through security and at one point I thought they were either taking Egg away or trying to put her in the x-ray machine because a gruff man yelled at me to keep moving and to leave my cat. I was so ready to pitch a fit but then he just said he was taking her to the other side where I could pick her up. I didn't take my eyes off her case as they "randomly" picked me for a full search. At this point, I'd been awake for a while and getting a little frustrated because I had no way of contacting my mom or Elliot to let them know what was going on. I knew they'd both get worried but my Blackberry wasn't working and I'd forgotten to charge my Turkish/international phone. When I tried to put the SIM card from my Turkish phone into the Blackberry, it wouldn't allow any calls because, of course, it was locked. So I had to worry of contacting them somehow pressing down on me along with trying to figure out what to do. Finally I got through, smiled tightly at the security people peering at my baby, and marched towards the other ticketing counter. If I could just talk to a Lufthansa representative, I could rebook my flight and be all set. I could see on the screens there were several flights to Istanbul on both Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.

The second line was not that bad. It looked like about 100 people were ahead of me. I found a public computer and sent emails off to my mom and Elliot and then I got in line. I was behind a funny man who kept glaring at everyone coughing and wrapping his scarf around his face and mouth, a British guy who was traveling from Mozambique to the UK, and an older American man. The latter two had been stuck in airports for the past 2 days and looked fed up and tired. For the next two hours the line moved maybe 2 meters forward. There were only two people working and other than one man coming to yell at us to form the line in the opposite direction, their was absolutely no one on duty at the airport. The place was so crammed with people and there were rows of cots set up everywhere for all the stranded travelers. The men and I took turns watching each others' stuff as we went to get water or coffee or whatever. I finally went to use the computer and saw that my mom had sent a message. I'd been rebooked on another flight by our travel agent but since I hadn't seen the email and had no phone, I'd missed it.

Now I hadn't eaten since the plane and it was 2 p.m. in Frankfurt. We'd landed in Munich at 7 a.m., then back in Frankfurt at 10:30 a.m.. The line wasn't moving and I didn't know whether I should just stay in it and try to make it to the ticket counter or try to figure out something else. I had a sneaking suspicion Egg and I were going to end up booked in an airport hotel for the night but the FUCKING LINE WASN'T MOVING. The thing that kills me though was that there was barely 3 inches of snow in Frankfurt. There was nothing. I have no idea why it closed in the morning unless it had something to do with the flights and conditions in the UK and how they affected Frankfurt. The American in line was scoffing at it too, he'd been traveling from Pittsburgh, and the British guy was shaking his head at his own people. He'd been stick in Johannesburg for 2 days and this was his second day in Frankfurt. AND THE LINE TO GET US TO THE TICKETING COUNTER WHERE WE COULD FINALLY TALK TO SOME LUFTHANSA PEOPLE WAS NOT MOVING.

Finally, I took my turn. I asked my motley group of men to keep an eye on my Egglet (and it took every fiber of my being to do that because augh, it's my kitty! I can't leave her!) and went to check my mail. I don't know how much money I fed into the various public computers but I got my mom on gchat and tried to figure out what to do. After half an hour, I went and got Egglet and thanked the guys, wished them good luck, and said I thought I had a way out. Then came another excruciating half an hour as I waited to hear from my mom who was waiting to hear from the travel agent. At one point I thought I was going to have to beg to be let back in the line which had, by this time, grown to about four times the length it was when I first was in it. There must've been at least 500 people waiting. My mom finally said that I was booked for the Turkish Airlines flight at 6 but I needed to give my luggage info. At which point I had a mini freak-out because I thought they were attached to the previous flights' boarding pass which I'd used as a bookmark but I had long dumped the Franzen book in some corner because it was just too heavy to lug around and I didn't have room in my bag. But I found the tags, told my mom their numbers, and I logged out of gchat and went to find a business lounge. They let me in because of my first boarding pass and I took the time to give Egglet some food and fill a bowl with water and get her to drink a bit. I also parked her in a corner and ran to use the bathroom. I have never used the facilities so fast. I kept thinking, what if someone takes my Buglet because I had to be human and go evacuate my bladder? I worked myself up to the point of hysteria in the maybe 3 minutes it took me to go to the bathroom and came barreling out to find that she was, duh, fine.

My stomach was all clenched at this point because I still wasn't sure I was 100% on this flight and when I'm nervous and anxious, there's no way I can choke down anything. Plus, there was no gate for the flight. I was so paranoid that I was going to miss it too that all I could do was play BrickBreaker on my phone to keep my hands busy and get up every 10 minutes or less to check and see if there was a gate. When they finally posted one, I logged back into gchat on the lounge's computer (there was free wi-fi but I had packed my computer because I didn't want carry it along with a cat and for some reason my iPod's Internet was not working) and told my mom I was off to the gate.

She said there was a slight problem. There was another pet onboard and that their policy was only one. But when I got my boarding pass, nobody asked anything and I just sat there, hoping and praying everything would go okay. We're at 6 p.m. now. That's almost 11 hours on a plane (with the delay and the landing in Munich) and another 7 in the airport. I haven't eaten anything for about 9 hours or slept at all. At the gate, I sat there gulping anxiously. Egglet was so good. She just sat in her case and didn't make a peep. Even when I was hustling back and forth between terminals, she'd patiently endured being bounced around on my shoulder. The people working at the counter at the gate made an announcement. My heart stopped. But no, they were paging other passengers. Then for some reason, I focused on the woman and her kid sitting next to me. She was a stout woman wearing way too inappropriate clothing for her frame with leopard print boots and horribly bleached hair. To complete the look, she had the obligatory accessory; a chihuahua. There it was. Egg's plane nemesis. Never have I disliked an innocent animal so vehemently than right at that moment. They were obviously Turkish but were speaking German and her young daughter was so dark, she looked Arab. I sat there judging them and judging their idiot dog. Which, to be honest, was just sitting there as quietly as Egg and really had no fault in the matter. But I was mad.

We were in the bottom level of the terminal, where they always stick flights to Istanbul, and it's literally like the bowels of hell. Frankfurt airport IS hell. I absolutely despise that airport and this cramped, low-ceilinged, dungeon is where they always cram us. I just sat there, gripping my boarding pass, and trying to ignore all the German Turks with their abnormally loud children. God. They allow one pet in the cabin? They should change that rule for kids because for fuck's sake, no one needs to sit there and listen to little Ali as he repeatedly slams a metal cart into the metal barrier for the fucking fun of it. While his parents don't say a word. TELL YOUR LITTLE FUCKER TO SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP. It does not impede childhood creativity and independecne or whatever bullshit excuse you have to instill manners and teach them some common courtesy.

Then came another announcement. They were calling me. I walked over with Egg and told them I was the Leyla Hamedi they just paged. That's when I met Cengiz Bey. Now, I have two very dear friends named Cengiz. So in order not to sully their names with any connection to this gentleman I shall henceforth refer to him as Cengiz Bey. Not just Mr. Cengiz or sir (as that's what bey means) but Cengiz Bey. You have to picture me saying it in the most sneering, I-hate-your-entire-being way possible. Cengiz Bey curtly informed me that I was traveling with a cat. Well, yes I know. He said there was another pet on-board and that their policy was only one animal in the cabin. I said she was a very well-behaved cat and they'd just been sitting next to each other with no problem and she'd traveled all the way from America already with two other dogs on board, couldn't he just make an exception? He put his hand up and said, "Rules are rules. I will call the pilot and ask. If he says no. It's a no. No questions," and then he flounced off.

I stood to the side and waited for the next half hour. Everyone had heard him yell at me and well, there are very few things that can make me start crying instantaneously. Separating me from my cat is one of those things. So I'm standing there, silently tearing up because I can't bear the thought of having to give Egg to cargo and there's a man yelling at Cengiz Bey about the delay and Cengiz Bey, with all the diplomacy of a Turkish Airlines representative, arguing back at him, and there's a kid making cat noises because he heard Cengiz Bey yelling about my cat and his mom and her family, all stern women in headscarves, are giving me pitying looks and explaining yes, there's a kitty, no kitty is not allowed on the plane. It would've been funny had I not been a figure in this tableau.

Finally Cengiz Bey came back and said nope, cat is not allowed. The pilot said so. I would like to make it perfectly clear I did not make a fuss or argue or give this man any attitude. My friends, my family, and my boyfriend know me. I am capable of being an angry, mouthy bitch. I was so tired and so at the end of my rope but I knew an argument would only make the situation worse so I calmly tried to reason with him. I told him that she's traveled with other animals before. That we'd been there all day and we just wanted to go home. But no, Cengiz Bey continued telling me off, yes telling me off, about how rules are rules and that had I come earlier he could've arranged for a box, A BOX, and we could've have checked her in with the luggage. He said, "my mother," had called incessantly and it's just too bad she hadn't been able to reach me. And then he turned his back on me.

First of all, my mom didn't call. The caller was our travel agent who was trying to get me on the flight and who went up and beyond her job requirements to help me . Secondly, there is no fucking way I will allow my cat to be put in a fucking box and thrown around with the fucking cargo. I'm ashamed to admit the thought crossed my mind as I sat there, at the gate, clutching my boarding pass, waiting for the axe to drop. NO. You are not separating me from the most precious thing in my life. Thirdly, what fucking pilot takes up his time thinking up excuses not to allow pets on. Doesn't he have anything better to concern himself with? Shouldn't matters like this be a judgment call on part of the person in charge who was, oh, Cengiz Bey?

I tried to get his attention but Cengiz Bey was too busy picking fights with other people at the gate. I asked him what he would suggest I do because he flat out said, "I'm not allowing you on this flight," and I needed some options. Cengiz Bey said there wasn't much I could do, there was a Lufthansa flight at 10 and I could try to get on that. Then he flounced around again and started ignoring me.

That's when I found one euro in my bag and finally called my mom on a pay phone and promptly burst into tears.

Let's me take this moment to insert the titular ode to Turkish Airlines and to Cengiz Bey.

Dear Cengiz Bey,

My name is Leyla Hamedi. You remember me, you imperiously called my name out and gave me the worst look of disapproval I've ever received from a stranger. I don't quite understand why you felt the need to judge me so harshly just for the simple fact that I had a cat with me. You could plainly see a quite normal girl, with glasses no less, looking tired and miserable beyond belief, who just wanted to go home. Your job is in the service industry. You might not see it that way but you are. You are paid to deal with people and you have to navigate their requests and emotions everyday. If you're not equipped to deal with that, perhaps you should seek an alternate profession.

There was absolutely no call for your behavior. I was about as responsible for missing my flight and venturing to find an alternate way home as you were for the weather mishaps and flight delays. I realize there is a certain protocol for traveling with pets and scolding me for disregarding them was unnecessary and not conducive to the situation. My flight had been booked since August, all the papers and documents for my cat had been filed and paid for, and my only fault was not having a phone on my person. There was no need to admonish me and treat me like some yokel walking in and expecting to catch a plane like a taxi. I realize that there are rules and I was not asking you to break them, I was asking you if there was a way around them.

Having the ability to empathize and come up with logical reasoning and solutions is what separates us from robots. It makes us human. Staunchly sticking to something just because it's a, "rule," is both narrow-minded and ill-advised. You yourself admitted to the horrible state of the airport. There were hundreds of people displaced and disgruntled, all looking for a way to get out. Isn't it your job to guide these sorts of road blocks? Wouldn't it have been a lot easier to let one rule slip by the wayside, just so you could help out someone and let them leave, let them get home? It's not like I was asking to let another person on, or God forbid, a liquid! It was a small animal, with all her papers in order so it wouldn't have been illegal in the slightest, who would've taken up about as much space as a carry-on. I already had the boarding pass, you didn't need to magically summon a seat for me. Rules might be there for a reason but you have the power to improvise and make responsible decisions within and outside the parameters of those rules.

I guess you can't be completely blamed for your actions. You seem to have received the same brutish, dense, no regard for human decency, training that the rest of Turkish Airlines seems to go through. Your stewardesses are rude, your gate attendants are useless, and you sir were about as helpful as Chinese dictionary in Greece. I understand you've probably had a hard few days too but you'd think that would allow you to have more sympathy for others who've also been dealing with nuisances.

And we wonder about the state Turkey is in. Well, when our mere airport personnel are the way they are we can hardly complain that the rest of the country is so ignorant and backwards.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Leyla Hamedi

And we're back in.

Of course, one euro is nothing so the phone timed out and we were cut off mid-sentence. I was done. Just done. I marched over to duty-free, grabbed the first perfume I saw at the Dior counter (I wear Dior) and went to pay for it. I had 500 Euros in my bag that my grandmother, I think, had given me and I'd just kept so I got change, tersely told the cashier to give me coins, and marched back to the phone to punch in my mom's number again. I literally hit every button. Pause for comic relief because right next to me was an effeminate Iranian guy whining about his phone not working. Join the fucking club buddy. He was speaking Farsi and I understood him perfectly though he had a girlier voice than I did.

My mom told me not to cry and that they got me an economy seat for the Lufthansa flight at 10, but it was a stand-by and I needed to show them my cat before boarding. She gave me a flight number and I hung up, feeling a bit better. I went back to the lounge (yay, still allowed in) and tried to wait it out. But then I thought of my luggage. I talked to my mom again on gchat and she had a gate for me. So I walked all the way to the gate but it was still boarding another flight, it was to Tokyo. I don't know why but seeing smiley Japanese faces and hearing the language made me feel a bit better. I associate Japan with nice stuff (my trip with Elliot) so I guess it was sort of a subconscious elevation of my mood. But the gate people had no idea what flight I was talking about and told me to wait. I saw another business lounge right next to the gate though, and went in there. I walked to the Lufthansa representative working behind the desk, told her my story, and begged for help.

She was so nice. I jokingly told her to put me in cargo and she absently said it would be too cold. To think Cengiz Bey wanted to put my cat there! Anyway she, let's call her Frau Hilda, looked up my info, entered my luggage tag info, took my stand-by seat and made it a confirmed seat, in business class, and ignored the line behind me to play with Egg for a bit. I was so close to hugging her. I asked if she'd had a hard couple days and she shook her head like, "You have no idea." After I told her I didn't envy her job, and thanked her a thousand times, I took my Egglet to the nearest seat and we flopped down. There was a husband and wife sitting next to me and they smiled as I gave Egg some food and went to the bathroom.

Okay, they were weird. They were from Denver but the husband was Irish, though he'd lived in the States for 30 years, and they were traveling to Ireland with their surly teenage daughter. He kept asking me about where I was from and how I spoke English so well and when I said I was Turkish, he asked if I was Christian Turkish or Muslim. Uhh...what. Even his daughter yelled at him for that. Right when I was about to leave (I said I was paranoid and should get to the gate just in case) he said he wanted to tell me a story. Okay then, I sat back down. He then proceeded to explain how he had family everywhere and that his daughter was American and that they were all so different but when they got together they were the same. Different, but the same. He said I'd probably notice that too. I don't know if he thought I was going back to Turkey for the first time ever or what (I also think he was either really tired or really stupid because he kept asking me the same questions several times. Where did I live? Boston. Where was I going? Turkey. Where was I from? Turkey. Where did I live? BOSTON) but I just smiled and agreed. He then wished me happy holidays and made some comment about how, ho ho! we wouldn't be drinking. After I had told him we weren't really devout Muslims about 4 times. I finally just gritted my teeth and said no, we probably wouldn't be drinking as much as say, THE IRISH, (looking at him pointedly) but we could hold our own. Then I thanked him for keeping me company because I'm polite and got Egg and started to leave as his harried wife came back and snapped at him to get up, their flight had been cancelled and they were going to a hotel. So happy I wasn't them.

The gate was such quiet heaven. It was open and airy and calm and my stomach was starting to unclench. I was playing Tetris when I looked up and realized there was a mass exodus leaving the gate. They had changed our gate number. After walking halfway across the terminal and going downstairs, I realized where they'd put us. We were back in the bowels of hell.

Everyone was on stand-by and after a lot of yelling and shoving and me gingerly sitting in the dirtiest gate ever, they announced that they had room for everyone and started letting us on the flight. The plane was freezing so I covered Egg's case with my thick shawl and then assured the cute guy next to me that I wasn't crazy, there was a cat in the case. He laughed. He'd apparently been stuck in Bremen for two days and I almost said, "Oh, with the mizikacilar?" It's a childhood story by the Brothers Grimm and I do hope that I kept that stupid joke to myself but I was so tired, I probably did say it out loud. Th flight was delayed a couple hours but finally, we were in the air. I slept all the way home. It was a weird sort of sleep. I'd be passed out so deeply one minute that the poor guy next to me had to hop over to get to the bathroom, but then I'd jerk awake and sit straight up at the slightest bump.

I didn't get home until 4 am. My suitcases didn't show up, though I wasn't too surprised, and I was smart enough to go file a report before half the plane had formed a line to do so. I got home, hugged my mom and sister, and finally let Egglet out. After so many hours trapped in her case and being so good, she'd finally had enough. She growled at all of us, ate her food, went to the bathroom, and then ignored us until we went to bed at which point she spent the night going from room to room and jumping on us. She finally fell asleep next to me around 6 in the morning. The suitcases arrived two days later.

Epilogue: Yes, I am to blame. My Blackberry doesn't work outside the US and I should've charged my international/Turkish phone. Or found a charger in Frankfurt to avoid all the technological drama and just get on the first rebooked flight. But I was tired, I was worried, and I had a cat to carry. I couldn't deal with all the people and finding a some place that had a charger, let alone with a heavy cat on my shoulder. I love her but she is goddamn heavy. My left shoulder maybe permanently lower than the right because of this trip. I also would rather wet myself than leave her somewhere and go get stuff done. It took every fiber of my being to relax enough to let the nice men in line watch her when I went to use the computer but anywhere else, no. Never. I pretty much brought her into the bathroom with me when I needed to use it (hence the wet myself comment). I am also really lucky. There were people stranded there for days, people who had to sleep at the airport or be booked into hotels there in Frankfurt, and people whose flights had been cancelled with no alternate arrangements given. I was lucky enough to just be there for a day and get home. But, this does not make it any less of an ordeal and it does not make Cengiz Bey's actions any less appalling. I can admit my mistakes, I highly doubt he would.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, okurken acı çektim desem yeridir! Çok iyi dayanmışsın! Ben olsam sanırım ilk kuyrukta vazgeçer ve ne yapacağımı şaşırırdım, birkaç gün orada mahsur bile kalabilirdim!!! Çok geçmiş olsun, Cengiz Bey'le karşılaşmak istemezdim!!!


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