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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Up the Moscow River without a paddle... Part 1

Imagine that you are sitting in a strange airport, with people who do not speak your language, with no money, and no way to contact anyone...

That is where I was at 3am on July 11th.

It all started when I got on board my connecting flight from Dallas to Chicago the morning of July 9th... we pushed back from the gate, only to have to pilot kindly inform us that we would not be leaving just yet... instead, due to bad weather in between Chicago and Dallas, we would be sitting on the tarmac waiting. We had a scheduled take-off time, that time came and went, I wasn't quite sweating it yet, I had set it up so that I had 2 1/2 hours to switch airlines in Chicago before my flight to Amsterdam then to Moscow was to leave. But, when 2 1/2 hours of sitting on the runway had passed... I started to worry.

We landed in Chicago just in time for me to call Dan Eubanks, the trip leader and have him tell me that they were already on board the KLM flight to Amsterdam. Great. Now what? The lady at the KLM ticket counter was going to have my passport (I didn't have it, because the visa's came in so late) and was going to sort out another flight for me. When I got up to the KLM ticket counter... no one was there. They were closed. The flight that left at 5pm... was flight 2 of 2 for the day. I started to panic a little. After running around asking people about KLM, I was waiting in another line to talk to Aer Lingus people (they were next door to KLM, so I figured they could help me) when someone emerged from the KLM door... I ran over and cut her off as she was heading for the front door. I asked her if she worked for KLM, and she asked me if I was John M somebody... my spirits sank. Then she looked up at me again and asked if I was Chris Warren... YES!!!

She then proceeded to explain how lucky I was to have caught her... she was indeed on her way out the door for the night, and she had forgotten that I was even needing assistance. She gave me two options for new flights. I could wait 24 hours, and take the exact same flights to Moscow... just a whole day late... or... I could take a Air India flight to London Heathrow, then transfer to an Aeroflot flight to Moscow... it puts me in 5 hours late. Which would you choose? Yeah... I chose Air India... I needed to get there.

Air India was an experience all in itself, I must have gone through 3 security checks to get on that plane, my carry on's were thoroughly violated, and I was patted down at least twice. The flight attendants who were women, were dressed in full Indian garb, complete with the dot and all... the food wasn't bad thought. Thankfully... the seat right next to me was not occupied, and the seat beyond that had this nice young lady named Mia who was traveling to Italy to visit a friend. She was just as freaked out by all the weird things that this airline did as I was... so we had some good laughs... she explained to me that it was the cheapest flight she could find... which is what a British man had told me while we were in the chaos that you may call boarding. It was dark most of the way across the Atlantic, so it wasn't too bad of a flight.

I arrived in London Heathrow with two agendas in my mind. I was going to check in on my Aeroflot flight, then pick up a Western Union money transfer. I had brought no cash with me, because I was getting what I needed from Dan when I hooked up with the team... well... plans had changed, so Gray was trying to help me out. I made my way though all the construction mess at that airport to terminal 2 for Aeroflot check in. I had to ask someone which counter it was because it was not marked. She pointed to a little one person counter that had a computer print out of the airlines handled there... Aeroflot was not on the short list... but sure enough, it was the place. The lady quickly informed me that I was not confirmed on the flight I was holding a ticket for. There is a 0% chance of you getting on this flight. What in the world am I to do? She them proceeded to tell me 3 different places where I could remedy the problem.
1. The Northwest Ticket Counter in Terminal 3. (KLM is partnered with Northwest)
2. The KLM Ticket Counter in Terminal 4, next to gate 16.
3. British Airways Counter just behind me, they handle KLM she said...

I went to closest one to me... British Airways. The nice lady there politely informed me that my information was not accurate... that BA does no such handling of KLM that I speak of... and that Northwest doesn't have a ticket counter in Terminal 3, Northwest does not exist in this airport. Well... that pretty much left me with one option... the people who originally sold me the ticket... KLM. It took me nearly 20 minutes to get over to the next terminal and walk the 1/2 a mile to the little tiny KLM desk tucked around a corner near the gate 16. The lady there was so nice to me. She called some guy named Tex... He spoke just as British as her though... so the humor of his name was lost on me. Again I was faced with an option. Get on a plane in 1 1/2 hours that would take me to Moscow 5 hours late, but at a different airport... or get on a plane that will take me to the right airport... but put me in something like 13 hours late... I again chose the quicker of the two flights.

The second part of my agenda... find a Western Union. I found a place that did WU money transfers, only to be told that they only give money out on the 'land side' of customs. Well... I was never on the land side of customs, and time was running short for me to check in to my BA flight. I talked to the lady about where I would have to go and which security stuff I would need to go past to get there... it would never happen. I checked my wallet... 2 American Dollars. Buying that pack of gum back in Dallas now didn't seem like such a great idea.

I made my way back to the very same British Airways ticket counter as before... got the express treatment because I had some crazy handwritten ticket. I finally got a ticket... and finally was told... you are going to be able to get on this flight.

So then I asked about my bags...


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