The root of the word travel is the same root as the French word “travailler,’ which means to work. This makes sense when one thinks of how difficult it was to travel in the past – it was indeed very hard work. In the twenty-first century, it is easier, but it helps if you are an anal-retentive planner who likes a challenge.
I made it to the Sofia airport after a short cab ride, and checked in. It was my first time having any experience with LOT, the Polish national airline. I was headed to Newark via Warsaw. Check-in was fine [they didn’t care about the Italian citizen born in New Jersey thing] and I proceeded to the gate. Now, I find it a challenge to see how quickly and efficiently I can get through the queues and get myself on the plane. It’s like my own Project Runway of another kind.
Every move is calculated, and a backup move is planned just in case the variables change. I planned this one perfectly, and I am happy to report that I beat my record: I was actually the very first person on the plane. This was possible because LOT does not call passengers on the plane by section or row. It is a strategic free-for-all, an area in which I excel. The plane was an Embraer 170. It’s not my favorite plane [you can feel every air current in those] but other than the particularly bumpy starts and finishes, the flight was fine, and less than two hours. I soon realized, however, that the airport travel gods had gotten angry at me for mocking them by being so efficient in Sofia.
As we were landing, I checked the time of my connecting flight to Newark – only 50 minutes later. Crap! How did that happen? The airport travel gods were after me. From on high they snickered, ”let’s see how you do on this one, Mr. New-Yorker-I-know-how-to-travel-through-airports-better-than-you.”
Damn, I thought. Strategy. Strategy. What strategy should I use?
I already had my boarding pass, and knew the gate number. Check!
I only had carry-on and it was easily accessible. Check!
I was wearing sensible shoes. Check!
All I needed to do was, when the plane landed, walk down the ramp to the terminal and run through security, then through passport control [silent with no smiling], and then run to the gate. I had it all figured out – I would be at the gate with time to spare by doing my best OJ Simpson in an Avis commercial from the 1970s. Ah, but the airport travel gods were not done with me
As the plane taxied, I noticed we were headed away from the terminal. The plane was going to disembark in the middle of the tarmac, meaning, a passenger bus would arrive and wait until all passengers had disembarked and then it would drive to the terminal, where my connecting flight was. This threw me a curve ball and made me do something I hate the most when travelling – wait for the human cattle to graze their way off the plane, checking to see what they can steal [do we need some sugar packets at home?] before getting off the plane as inefficiently as possible.
Damn those airport travel gods! The plane landed at 15h40 local time, and my connecting flight was at 16h30. By the time the plane was empty and the bus was full and moving, it was already 15h55. My pulse raced, but the challenge was there.
Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin International Airport is actually quite nice. I had fun imagining most Americans travelling through it calling it Frederic Choppin’. I had never been to Poland, but since I am a purist about including countries in my country count, airport transfers do not count. Therefore, I wasn’t concerned with getting a photo, or sending my nemeses Adrian or Robert a message to tell them I had one more country on my list – and then laughing like Vincent Price…bah ha ha!
The bus pulled up to the terminal, and the airport travel gods got me once more, as my calculated guess based on the available data as to which side of the bus we would disembark from was wrong. So I had to wait for everyone to exit first as I was pressed against the closed glass door on the wrong side of the bus. I did my best to weave in and out of the herd, and ran down a long corridor to a lonely security check with lots of fancy gadgetry, including a bomb-sniffing contraption that looked like a giant vertical Easy-Bake oven.
As the consensus is that I apparently look suspicious, and that for some reason governments tend to fall after I have visited a country, I was asked to deconstruct myself by the security personnel such that my parts were in several bins being x-rayed. It was quite a lengthy process, and I even had to show them my bag-o-converters in detail. When I left security with my dignity almost intact, it was 16h10. Twenty minutes to go and still a passport control ahead of me. I could hear the final boarding announcement. I could almost taste the sweet nectar of victory – almost.
As luck would have it, for once passport control went smoothly – they barely even looked at the passport. I then ran to the gate about 50 meters away where the beautiful ladies of LOT were waiting for me, like the Sirens beckoning me to shore. They had heard the legend of the mere mortal from New York who dared thumb his nose at the airport travel gods. They finally got to meet him.