Airport Stories You Tell Your Grandchildren

Whenever you make a mistake, you intend to do it better next time. So when for example, you find yourself running around Shiphol airport in Amsterdam to catch your flight at the last second, next time, you tell yourself, you’ll do everything differently and everything will go smoothly.

When my next time came along, however, I imagine destiny just decided to lean back with a bucket of popcorn (probably salt and lime flavored like the one I am eating right now) and let itself be entertained.

The machine at the airport in Berlin would only print a ticket to Frankfurt. While the other passengers who have been waiting in line with me, as it is custom in Germany, nearly an hour in advance kept staring holes into my back, the Lufthansa employee told me to try again once I arrived in Frankfurt. Meanwhile my luggage would go all the way to Mexico. All I had to do now was hope to see it again any time soon.

But even in Frankfurt, the computer system kept asking for a visa before it could spit out a boarding pass for a plane to Mexico City. Another lady from Lufthansa, very optimistic at first, kept staring at the screen, growing even more confused by the minute. She looked at my Belarusian passport, a poor little thing visibly marked by endless journeys and visa stamps over the past seven years, and couldn’t stop wondering.

“The database says you are a german citizen. You have a biometric german passport. Why do you keep travelling with this then?”

Whatever it was that the computer knew about me, which was probably everything from what I have had for breakfast that morning to the color of my underwear, this time it knew something I didn’t. I did actually not own a german passport in the physical sense but it seemed like the Big Brother was already aware of the fact that my application for citizenship had gone through and had apparently been approved. What an irony to hear the good news from a Lufthansa employee with less than an hour left till my connecting flight across half the planet. Was this it? Was I going to get a firm handshake, a copy of the constitution and be welcomed to my new identity as a german citizen? Was this just part of an episode of Candid Camera?! Could somebody help me out here?

“There it is”, the woman’s voice got me out of my mess of thoughts. You have to re-book your returning flight to an earlier date. You have crossed the 180 day deadline for the tourist stay. ”

Indeed I had. My mistake of mixing up the months when booking my flights chased me down the hallway to the service terminal. It was like “Shiphol marathon” from two years ago all over again. Why did I choose Frankfurt with a longer layover and pay half a grand more? Why? It was definitely so I could gasp for air like a dying fish while, after a generous extra payment for changing my returning flight, the visa recognition system decided to die on me for good it seemed.

With less than half an hour till take off, I still had no boarding pass. My last hope was the check-in desk at the boarding gate. That hope however, was slowly dying, too just like I was on the inside from running up the stairs all the way to terminal B. Those of you who have ever been to Frankfurt airport will feel my pain.

Ahead of me stretched out a sea, no a whole ocean of travellers waiting for passport control. Right before me in line, stood a kuwaiti family of six. The policeman at the desk seemed to be in his best mood and as I watched him let one of the kids put the stamps into the family’s passports, I realized that there would be no more flights today to Mexico City and that I should probably start imagining what it would be like to spend the night on the floor of an airport.

But at the very end, destiny decided it had enough fun for the day and here I am, arrived on time, writing this.  The jetlag is still tearing at my nerves. For now, sleep to me are just two shifts of naps, each lasting for about 4 hours but nevertheless, the most intense emotions will always make the best stories.

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