Living in a foreign country, I find myself on an airplane a lot more often than I used to. I traveled back to the US for Easter a few weeks ago in order to take care of some family issues and to visit loved ones. There are no direct flights between San Francisco and Stockholm because the distance is too great and (presumably) the jets cannot hold enough fuel to go the whole way. I’ve taken all sorts of configurations of the two flights it takes to get to California over the past 20 years. I’ve changed planes in Reykjavík (that’s the Republic of Iceland, to you), Munich, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, New Jersey…This time I changed planes in Chicago. I prefer to change planes in Europe somewhere so that my final destination is where I go through customs. It just seems easier. Chicago is always a roll of the dice because of weather delays and because it is a large hub so it’s not my favorite.
I managed to get yelled at twice before I even left Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. First I forgot that I had a bottle of water in my backpack and I attempted to pass through Security with it. Then I neglected to show my residence and work visa when passing though Passport Control. Actually I didn’t forget, I had no idea that I was supposed to show this when leaving the country. How are you supposed to know this stuff? I’ve never even showed it when coming into this country but that’s because I have so far always entered from a EU country and no one showed any interest.
On the way back to Sweden, I had trouble navigating Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Why is it that your connecting flight is always in another terminal (and gate) that is as far away as is geographically possible? Yes, I was switching from domestic to international but still… (this should be ready in a whiney tone)
After finally locating the elevated transport system that moves people between terminals, I rode to Terminal 5. We passed terminals number 2,3, and 5. Where was number 1? Where was number 4? They didn’t seem to exist. Perhaps they were sold off to real estate developers or something.
For the first time ever (and can I just point out that the first rule of traveling must always be flexibility because every flying experience seems to bear little resemblance to the previous one?), I was not issued the second boarding pass when I checked in in San Francisco. So, after locating Terminal 5, I walked up and down the terminal trying to find the SAS counter so I could check in for the flight to Stockholm. After many attempts, and after asking two airport employees who had never even heard of SAS, I found the tiny SAS counter at the end of a line of Mexican and Irish airline counters.
Next I went through Security and discovered that I no longer had access to anywhere to eat. Isn’t it also strange that you never really know where you will end up in airports? Once you go through Security you are stuck on the other side. (Well, you could leave and go back through Security but that’s such a big deal these days that it’s not worth it.) In San Francisco, there are lots of places to eat after you go through Security. But in Chicago, for this flight, there was nothing. I was forced to make do with a yogurt, some Pop Chips and an Odwalla fruit juice. Hard to not eat decent food right before you are trapped on a plane for 8 hours!
The best thing about flying? It’s the first time I hear Swedish again. It may be a family boarding in front of me on the first leg of my trip, it may be in the waiting area in Chicago. When I hear it I feel like I am a member of a special group. And then there is the first moment I see Swedish land from the plane. There she is, patches of snow; flat, flat land; and endless bodies of water. And I feel like I am home.