Going on sabbatical is loads of fun. The best part, without a doubt, comes at the beginning, where you get to pack your entire house into boxes.
But eventually we filled the garage with our worldly goods, turned the house over to our tenants, and headed off for a few days with friends. Then the Saetas kindly drove us (and our 13 pieces of luggage, including Xandie's miniature violin) to Ontario airport. Thus the nightmare begins.
Our flight plan, oddly enough, went through Las Vegas, where we would connect to a German tourist airline that flew directly to Frankfurt. Everything went reasonably smoothly until it was time to board. Sorry, they announced, there's a little oil leak. Or a big one. The plane can't fly. We're going to rebook you on Southwest, which leaves 40 minutes later. Only that plane is running 15 minutes late.
Originally, we had two hours to lay over in Las Vegas. Now it was down to one. That's not so bad, except that we had to pick up our bags and re-check them (little airlines don't talk to obscure ones, let alone swap baggage with them).
If you've ever been in the Las Vegas airport, you know that it's rather big. It's much easier to find slot machines than your baggage carousel. Especially when you're quite reasonably standing at the Southwest carousel and your bags are "helpfully" circling the America West one. So we wasted 30 precious minutes finding our immense collection of immense bags, then loaded them onto two trolleys and set off for the second flight. In the other terminal. Down the street "a casual five-minute walk, you don't want to wait for the bus, it only runs every 15 minutes and takes another 15 to get there." In the desert heat. With Xandie gamely tagging behind, pulling her little Scooby-Doo suitcase, and announcing halfway, "It's a good thing we only do this once every seven years!"
That 5-minute walk took 15 at high speed. Even so, the ticket counter was empty when we got there. Who would arrive 20 minutes before an international flight? Panicked, I grabbed a guy with a uniform and got him to find a ticket agent. She calmly reassured us, called a baggage handler to personally take care of our bags, and even brought over two TSA screeners to quickly swab them for explosives. Off to the gate and onto the plane with our seven carryons. Finally, we could relax for the long overseas flight.
It seems that it was hot in Las Vegas. (We already knew that, thanks.) Hot air is thin air, and the Las Vegas runway is a bit short. We couldn't take off with a full load of fuel, so we would have to stop in Winnipeg for more. Joy. Then the Las Vegas tower lost our flight plan, so we had to sit for an hour while they found it. More joy. Then the 30-minute refueling stop in Winnipeg took two hours. Ecstasy. It was midnight LA time before they served us dinner.
But we were in the air, watching a second-rate movie, and Germany was coming up after an uneasy night's sleep.
There's this little safety rule: pilots can't work for more than 13 hours. 15 if the captain says it's OK. But we were now hitting the 15-hour limit. The solution? Stop in Manchester to get a new crew. This time it only took 45 minutes. At last, we made it to Frankfurt, only 5 hours late. We bumbled around the airport, wasting yet more time before getting to the train. Did you ever try to get 13 pieces of luggage onto a busy bullet train that only stops for 2 minutes? Thank goodness for the unknown Lufthansa pilot who volunteered to help, explained our situation to the conductor, then magically reappeared in Karlsruhe to help us get off again.
The last glitch was that we couldn't get in touch with the guy who was supposed to let us into our apartment. We later learned that he had been showing the weekly movie. To hell with it, we just fed Xandie at the convenient train-station McDonald's (sometimes familiar food is best) and took a taxi to an affordable hotel. 25 hours after being dropped off, we certainly deserved our sleep.