Family and friends who see my travel pictures on social media often comment on how gorgeous they are, how lucky I am to see so many countries, and whether I need any assistance on my trips (e.g. bag handler, perhaps?). While I certainly enjoy seeing new cities and am grateful to have the opportunity to travel internationally, it is not always as fun as it looks.
Let me take you on my journey last week, to a behind the scenes look at the glamorous life of a business traveler.
I was traveling to Porto, Portugal via Madrid, where I would have a 3.5 hour delay to relax in the lounge and prep for my meetings later that day in Porto. I would be meeting with a number of colleagues from various European cities to co-deliver a training over the next few days.
I arrived at the Philly airport at 4:30 pm for a 6:30 flight and checked one suitcase, carrying an overnight bag with a change of clothes and my laptop bag with me to the gate. There was a threat of thunderstorms, which had been prevalent all week, but my flight at that point was on time. When I got the gate for boarding at 5:30, I saw the flight had been pushed back 30 minutes. It then moved back another 30, and we finally pulled out of the gate at 7:30 pm. Once on the runway, the lightning started and we remained on the ground until 9:30. I had not yet eaten dinner, as I was waiting for the in-flight meal service, and was ravenous when the meal came after 10:00. I then fell asleep for an impressive four hours (which is the maximum amount of sleep you can usually get on an overnight flight to Europe), and soon it was time to land.
My relaxing 3.5 hour delay was now 40 minutes because of the late arrival. I managed to get spotty internet as we were landing in Madrid and saw there were no additional available flights from Madrid to Porto that day (shhh… I know the phone is supposed to be in airplane mode but I needed to quickly figure out options!). The plane landed around 10:50 am, and a flight attendant was waiting at the exit with my boarding pass for the next flight. She informed me I might not make it and needed to run, as they would close the gates 15 minutes before the plane took off.
It was a very big airport and as I ran, I had flashbacks of two other situations in Doha and London where I was also making a mad dash through airports to catch connecting flights. This seemed to be a pattern. The sign above me announced the gates were 30 minutes away, and I bolted down moving sidewalks and up and down escalators, finally arriving at customs and a huge line moving very slowly. #$@&%*!
I saw someone who appeared to be in charge, but she did not speak English. I tried to explain in Spanish that my flight was leaving in 30 minutes and I needed to get through, but she pretended to not understand and directed me to the back of the line. Panicked, I texted my colleague who was waiting for her flight from Brussels to Porto that I probably wouldn’t make the connection. She wrote back, “Barge your way in! Say you need to be ahead of everyone! Don’t be polite. Just do it!” Easier said than done when most people didn’t speak English, but I decided to give it a go.
I turned to the family ahead of me. “Mi flight (could not remember the word for flight so I made a waving motion like a bird with my hands) esta en treinta minutos. Por favor…” I gestured to the spot in front of them and they nodded. I continued to move through the line – just cutting my way in front of most people as it would take too long to try to explain to everyone – but stopping to explain in Spanish every so often. People were either confused and didn’t know what to make of the crazy woman waving her arms, or understood and motioned for me to go ahead.
I finally got close to the front and used my “Mi flight… treinta minutos” speech on a family. The dad said – in English – “Of course, but we’d prefer you change your shirt first.” I looked down at my Eagles hoodie in confusion, and they told me they were from Dallas. We all laughed, and their fluent Spanish helped me get through the remaining people in line. I was now at the front.
After customs and with 20 minutes to go, I had to put my carry-on bags through a security screening. I quickly took out liquids and electronics, threw everything into bins, walked through the screening machine (where I thankfully did not set off any alarms), and got to the end of the of the luggage screening area to grab my stuff. Except – one of my bags was flagged for additional screening – and I now had to go off to the side to get it checked. #$@&%*!
“Por favor, mi flight (waving arms) esta en veinte minutos!” I begged the agent for a quick check and thought to myself, I really need to learn the Spanish word for flight!
They did check my bag quickly and I was soon running again, for another five minutes, and arrived at the gate in time for last call – sweaty, thirsty, and probably smelly.
As you can see, my day had been super glamorous so far.
We landed in Porto a little before noon (Madrid is an hour ahead of Porto so I gained time back), and I found a restroom to change into a new shirt and jeans (I always carry a spare set of clothes which are much needed after flying all night). I then walked to baggage claim. When I arrived, the bags were already on the carousel, and I suddenly got this feeling that mine would not be among them. I was correct – my suitcase was not there, so I went to lost and found to report the missing bag. The man there said that although I managed to make the flight in Madrid, my bag was probably not as fast, and it would likely come on a later flight that day. He gave me a number to call to check the status and said they would deliver it to the hotel when it arrived.
At the hotel, I met up with the rest of the team and we worked until around 6:30, when we decided to break for dinner. I called the airport to check on my bag and was informed it actually never left Philadelphia. It would be on a flight the next day. OMG. At this point in time, some of the group decided a shopping trip was in order. While I actually needed clothes, the others were more than happy to shop with me for moral support. Since we were all teaching together, we ended up purchasing matching T-shirts to wear to the training that said Citizens of the World. (I bought a few other essentials, as well.)
Over the next few days, we experienced a successful training event, lots of great networking, many laughs, and exploring a little of Porto. And while my suitcase did arrive by 5:00 pm on Tuesday, it was shut tightly with a zip tie, and I needed to call the front desk for a scissors to open it.
Now let’s fast forward to the end of the week.
To avoid a long layover in Madrid on Friday, I had decided to fly to Lisbon Thursday night so I could take a direct flight from there to Philly in the morning. I met a colleague for a very late dinner on Thursday, and given my newfound love of Portuguese wine (Vinho Verde is delicious!), she suggested going to the duty free airport shop to buy a few bottles before leaving.
The next morning when I checked my bag, I was told the flight would board at 10:45 am rather than 11:15. Still, I thought there would be plenty of time for a quick trip to duty free. I had forgotten how many checkpoints there are in the Lisbon airport where I had to show or scan my passport and/or boarding pass. And the line at duty free was insane. Despite this, I did make it to the gate on time (albeit a little sweaty) and then waited in a line for what I thought was boarding the plane. It was actually a line to walk down a long corridor to exit the airport and board a tram that took us to the plane. My arms were killing me by that point, as the two bottles of wine along with all of my other stuff made things quite heavy.
Following a decent flight where I napped for a few hours and watched some good movies, I made it quickly through customs at 3:15 pm to baggage claim. It seemed like every arriving flight had a carousel except ours – London, Zürich, Budapest, Rome, etc. Someone finally announced that unfortunately, there was no carousel for the Lisbon flight and it would be awhile until one was available. Of course it would be. I didn’t expect anything less from this trip. I made myself comfortable on a ledge and spent an hour catching up on emails until the luggage finally arrived. In a rare change of events, mine was one of the first bags out! And after an almost two-hour ride home (Friday afternoon traffic was insane!), I collapsed on the sofa, happy to see my family and share with them my glamorous international travel experience!