Thank all of you for bearing with me on this—at the time, I didn’t really write any of this down, and part of me wants to make sure that I do it now before I forget most of the details of this pretty amazing voyage. I don’t want to leave you all hanging in the middle of the best part of the story—so I’ll continue :
Monday morning (December 21) my phone woke us up super early with the message that our rescheduled flight to Philadelphia had also been cancelled. Oh my. We got dressed, packed up our stuff quickly and headed back to the airport. There was already a line at the US Air desk, but we finally got to the counter and met there a somewhat disgruntled but positively stubborn lady named Fran working the desk. She worked for at least an hour to get us on a flight out of St. Louis that would (via Pittsburgh) just barely get us to Philadelphia to make the connection to Frankfurt. She (and Kimberly, who came to eventually relieve her) told us “when you get to Philadelphia—run to your connection.” Fran and Kimberly were our second and third angels of the trip at this point. By this time, we were somewhat famous with the US Air people. When we met Kimberly, she said, “oh, you’re the people going to Moscow for the baby!” So: all of our luggage
was loaded onto the conveyor belt—and after a stop at the McDonald’s in the concourse for one last sweet tea for Sus, we were on the plane for Pittsburgh. Finally, after two days, we were actually in the air and headed east.
The rest of the story should have been simple. Alas, it was not. In Pittsburgh we had some time before the connection to Philadelphia, but we also had to gather our checked luggage and re-check it (apparently they can only through-check bags twice). Next problem: all of the bags showed up but one. Of course, this was the bag with all of my clothing in it (except for the change of underwear in my carryon). Seriously. Sus took the situation in hand and went to find the guy who was in charge of luggage for the terminal. He was able to confirm that the bag was, in fact, in the airport—they just didn’t know where. So: Sus went up to the check-in and checked in everything else while I waited for the bag. And waited. Finally, the nice baggage guy (angel #4) said “maybe it’s just at the top of the conveyor belt—sometimes they get stuck there.” Low and behold—my clothes!
Found bag was rushed up to the desk where Susan was waiting—with angel #5—the nice man who was also waiting for me to check the bag:
I wish that I remembered his name—I think it was Kevin. I do remember that he was extremely helpful and kind (and a calming presence) and that he told us about how his church had been helping to raise money for Heifer International. Susan and I decided that he looked very much like Captain Kangaroo.
On to Philadelphia. We did, indeed, reach the airport there with not much time to spare before the flight to Frankfurt. We RAN—in our Russia winter coats and snow boots down the terminal to the Lufthansa check in desk and MADE IT! I won’t bore you with the details of how crazy we looked or how much we were sweating by this point—the amazing thing was that we had made it.
The celebration was a bit deflated a few minutes later when we found out that this flight was also delayed. This meant that the next connection was also going to be tight. At this point, I took the tickets and went to the Lufthansa desk where I made sure that we would have a flight from Frankfurt to Moscow if something happened. The sweet lady at the desk there (angel #6) confirmed us. I asked if I could give her a hug, and she laughed and said “sure.” I would have taken her picture, but Sus had the camera.
It was at this point that we learned about something that saved us from deterioration—and that was the business lounge for Lufthansa. Because we had business class tickets (thanks to Cheryl, angel #1) we were able to recharge our phones and the laptop, make calls home and to our agency contacts (who had already rescheduled our Moscow airport pickup once at this point), and to sit a bit on soft couches and nibble lounge snacks.
An hour or so later, we finally boarded the plane for Frankfurt. Surprise #2—business class seats on Lufthansa flights are AMAZING. I had only longingly gazed at business class seats on previous flights to Russia, hoping one day that I would perhaps save enough frequent flyer points to earn one. Here was one that was a gift—and you have no idea how thankful we were at this point because we were pooped. My only regret is that we were so tired that I’m not sure we really thoroughly enjoyed the seats—but we did make very good use of them!
Let’s just say that in business class we got to order our dinner off a menu (a FANCY menu), they gave us champagne, and we had little gift bags with sleep masks, toothbrushes, slippers, and golf tees (ok, that one was odd). The best part—the seats reclined about 500 different ways so that we could lay down and sleep.
It was a good thing that we slept almost all the way to Frankfurt, because it turned out we would need it. When we reached the Frankfurt airport, we found out that the snowstorm that had shut down the American east coast had also slammed Germany the day before. Something like 5000 people had been forced to camp out in the airport—and we were headed into this. Our flight to Moscow was cancelled. It took nearly 2 hours to go through security just to get to the gate we were supposed to leave from. So, we got into yet another line to see if we could get on a different flight. The lines were so long that the airline had put out sandwiches and water for the people waiting:
Again, we were blessed by the fact that we had business class tickets—we were able to get into the business class line. We did have to wait in line for a long time, but eventually we made it to the desk where this nice lady worked hard and got us on to a flight leaving that evening for Moscow (it turned out it was the only flight that would leave for Moscow that evening). She was angel #7 of the trip.
With our new tickets, we headed off to the business class lounge. While it wasn’t quite as comfy and was more crowded than in Philadelphia, there was food, a place to plug in the electronics, and some nice people that we visited with. We made yet another call back to the agency to let them know we were arriving later but still Moscow-bound.
We found out later that the two guys from Kaluga who were meeting us, Ivan and Vasili, had just decided to camp out at the airport and wait for us (they were angels #8 and 9). However, the highlight of the Frankfurt lounge has to be the self-sanitizing toilet (if you have questions how this worked, I’ll explain privately)
After a couple of delays we were finally on the LAST plane of our trip. Again, we had an amazing meal on the plane (they actually served goose because it was a holiday meal):
We arrived in Moscow sometime around 1:00 in the morning on December 23. All was good—a bit crazy, as customs can be in the Moscow airports, but we made it through ok. We should have been home free at this point—but when we went to get the luggage, one of the bags wasn’t there. This was the same bag that we lost in Pittsburgh! After a trip to the lost baggage part of the luggage claim (where there was obviously no computerized system to help find the bag), I just started walking around the baggage claim area and looking—and lo and behold, after several trips around, there it was! (I no longer take this bag anywhere now—it has a reputation for hiding.)
We loaded up and headed out—it was after 2:00 in the morning of December 23 at this point.
Ivan who was waiting for us and the infamous “hiding” bag:
We reached Kaluga about 5:00 in the morning, checked in to the hotel and crashed for about 2 hours, since we had to meet Nadia as soon as possible to get things done later that morning—but I’ll save that adventure for the next post
Things we learned from the adventure?
1)Kindness does get you a lot further down the road than being a jerk.
2) Every possible snafu that could have possibly gone wrong did. And every time I doubted that we would make it. BUT every time the craziness worked out—and many times it worked out for the BETTER. Susan wrote down (and I quote from her) : “Stop Doubting: the Angels are amongst us.”