I traveled back to the US for the annual enormous NAFSA conference the first week in June. I’m segmenting this story for ease of conveyance. (And apologies for the hiatus, but life has been slammin’.)
I was nonchalantly not at all checking my flights the Friday before my Sunday departure. Suddenly, my phone pushed an Alert Traveler notification about an Alitalia strike. On Sunday, May 28. The date of my departure. My flight, leaving from Rome at 10:10 am … the strike, starting at 10 am. Super. All ground crew and air traffic control. I did some quick internet research and saw that yes, this was actually A Thing.
I called Alitalia, who confirmed my flight was operated by KLM, thus not affected by the strike. Alitalia never messaged me or email me about the anticipated delays and cancellations, not to my phone, not on email, not when I checked in at the counter in Firenze. Nothing.
My early hop to Rome got out on time. Arriving in Rome, the place was mayhem. Huge lines, cranky tourists. I wrote a quick poem about it I will post in a follow-up. It was the same weekend as the British Airways system meltdown, so there were a lot of people who had been milling about the airport for most of the weekend. Tempers were short. Lines snaked on for ages. Airport staff appeared to have given up.
In the terminal, I saw that the strike was impacting many flights, as about half of them looked cancelled, which did not at all corroborate with my interweb research from home. But I felt forearmed with patience as I had known this was a likelihood for a few days before I started my trip.
|So many cancellations.
I headed to my gate and settled in with my best effort at a zenlike demeanor. The direct nonstop was delayed again, and again. People insisted on remaining in line even though no boarding was happening. I momentarily became the news bureau for my section of the line as I shared the information from my Alert Traveler app, and nosily pressed the front desk for details. A woman from LA who had been bumped from a cancelled BA flight the other day was near hysterics. I advised them all to take a seat, I was going to go get my second breakfast. They laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. I’d been up since 4 am.
|Fortunately the coffee and pastries in Fiumcino are excellent.
When confronted by disorder and grouchy travellers, see to it you obtain treats for yourself to manage.
|Pretty Fiumicino. Lovely recent reno.
|More beautiful FCO.
I returned from my seconda colazione just as the desk announced the flight would be boarding soon, to loud applause (oh, Italy ….) My new friends looked at me in amazement as asked me how I timed my coffee so well. I replied there was no way I would pass up my last macchiato for a week, and that the cornetto integrale alla frutta di bosco was fresh out!
I was in a row at the window (of course, this way I can always sleep in-flight) next to an Italian woman who was also headed to NAFSA. On her other side was a chicano man from Santa Barbara, coming back from a European trip with his older mother. The Italian and I immediately hit it off. I thanked her for also being small so that I did not have to share my seat with some huge person’s spillover, which happens to me a lot.
The plane was in a right state. Filthy, pitted out before we left. But we are going direct nonstop to LA from Rome, so this is awesome, right? Right?
No wifi on plane.
No charging outlets in seat.
The final straw – a thirteen-hour flight with my entertainment module broken. Yes, just in
Row 36. All of our screens busted. No music, no news, NO MOVIES. No movies. Good thing I brought an analog book. I read the whole novel. Then I outlined it in my notebook and analyzed it for plot and character. I got bored and went into the aisle where I chatted with a lovely couple over the airplane swill that passed for wine. I gave one of them a ton of free opinion about midcareer and working remotely. And not going to law school. He was being laid off from a large biotech firm so had many concerns and ideas to review. What are you going to do when there’s no movie at your seat? Go find some people.
The food was awful. Poor Alitalia, to have sunk so low.
But on a plus note, the flight crew looked cracking in all their Diego dalla Palma couture.
I did get a bit of sleep too. Travelling west – far far west – is so much easier than travelling east. The body can deal with a long day far better than a missing overnight.
Seriously – no wifi on a 13 hour flight? why? why?
I arrived in LAX and was quickly processed through US immigration, where I was given a receipt for entry in spite of my passport. This is weird. Why do we do this? Did the US seriously just introduce MORE paper into an already cumbersome and lengthy process?
The CBP official who stamped me back in was a congenial African-American muslim man. I felt instantly reassured by that. So it hasn’t all changed overnight, I thought. Wow, people are friendly here. Wow, we are diverse.
|Receipt not valid for cash return.
|What 20 hours of travel from Firenze will bring you to.
My friend Janice, superstar traveler and UCLA PhD student, picked me up at baggage, where she immediately drove me to a beach, per my request, to get a nice eyeful of the Pacific, my favorite ocean and lungsful of fresh salty breeze.
We were instantly rocketed into LA car culture, Parking was impossible. Fortunately, we had just picked up a nice, vitaminy fresh squeeze on the way. Janice paid $13 on a credit card so we could park for about 40 minutes. We got pedis after the beach, and hit a CVS so I could buy everything on the family import list. I knew I would have no time to do this during the insanity of NAFSA week, so wanted to knock these tasks out first. Fortunately I had fantastic ground support to aid me in the completion of these items! I count myself very lucky that this is almost always the case for me. And conversely, I have been happy to be that support when it was my turn.
Next segments: NAFSA week, and returning home. More pictures included, and a lot to cover.
Meanwhile, amusing life has recommenced in Firenze.
Poem coming right up.