Craziest day of travel

I have traveled my whole life and have had some very long travel days spent in the airports, lost luggage, interesting stories shared on the fifteen hour flights… but nothing like this. My last travel experience was crazier than I ever thought was possible, like I was living in an action movie, with the way things aligned I thought there had to have been a hidden camera somewhere.

In forty hours I managed to drive across Spain, fly to Serbia through France and then just after a few hours get on the plane again, not once but three times, to get to my destination in the United States. Forty hours, five flights, two continents and five countries. Highest level of stress, very little sleep and a meltdown in front of everyone at the airport. But it was a family emergency and I had no other choice but to make it happen any way I could.

The journey started in a city in Spain, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, six hours drive from Madrid. I finished my match in the evening and after two and a half hour battle, I had to get on the road right away. I booked the first flight out of the country, and the fastest way to get to Serbia, which was at 6am next morning from Madrid with a connection in Paris. I got in the car right away and started driving. An hour within the drive it started getting dark. No lights on the road or city lights along the way since there aren’t many cities on the way to Madrid. Just an empty highway and six hours of driving straight. I got to the airport around 3am, returned the car and headed to check in. The line was already long which meant I wouldn’t have any time to rest before the flight. As an athlete I’m used to get at least eight hours of sleep every night so not being able to close my eyes until 6am when I got on my first flight was harder than I expected. It has been a long time since I had to pull an all-nighter in college… I’m sure we all have had one of those, but the best part of all-nighters is getting to sleep in after all the work is done, but here, my trip was just getting started.

After two flights, I made it home to Serbia. Spent the rest of the afternoon running errands, repacking, and making phone calls. Before I knew it, 3am was here and time to go back to the airport. In front of me were three new flights, one of them being 10 hours across the pond. My first flight was to Germany where I had just over an hour of a layover, I knew I was going to be cutting it close but it never occurred to me that the first flight of the day from the airport would be running late. We landed half an hour late, leaving me only 45 minutes before my next flight takes off… and I was still sitting in my seat from the first flight at the back of the plane! And the next 30 minutes were like in a crazy, action movie scene…

For some reason for the first time Lufthansa decided to disembark people off the plane based on their seat numbers, leaving me to be the last one coming off the plane. I talked to the passengers in front of me and all of them were going to let me squeeze through in front of them, but the flight attendant had different plans. She refused to help me and work with me, instead started raising her voice and put a suitcase in front of me to block my way, so I had no choice but to wait. At this point it was 8:45am and my next plane was taking off at 9:15am. I had no idea how I was going to make it to the other side of Frankfurt airport to the international terminal in just 15 minutes, but all I knew was that I had to make that flight because if I missed it, I wouldn’t make my other connection in Chicago later that day and I had to end my trip that evening.

As soon as I stepped off the plane, I started running. There were cops waiting in front of the plane to check our passports as additional security but the other passengers were kind enough to let me skip the line and go to the front. With six rackets in one hand and a big, heavy bag in the other I started running to terminal Z, which was on the other side of the airport and I had to take a train. Train wasn’t close but from all the adrenaline I was there faster than I thought. However, as I was going up the escalator to get on the train, I see that the doors were about to close. There was a family in front of me and for some reason the woman decided to stop and not move. Maybe she was waiting for someone else, not in a rush, or just looking around, either way she stopped right in front of me blocking my way, and as I was trying to pass her she stepped the same way and blocked me again. I was so determined to make that train that I didn’t realize she was moving in my direction as I was telling her “excuse me m’am I have to make that train”, and we collided, she fell. I kept yelling “I’m sorry” but the whole thing felt like a slow motion, her falling, the doors closing, and the people on the train slowly moving aside leaving space for me to get on. I couldn’t afford to wait another 4 minutes for the next train. I know that might come off as weird but 4 minutes out of 15 is not leaving me any space to work with and my chance to make that flight was almost gone. Doubt this will ever happen but the world is smaller than we think so to that woman, if you are ever reading this, once again, I’m sorry.

After getting off the train, I look at the gate number and it was Z25, the last one on that terminal. I start running again, through the Duty Free, getting many stares and people moving out of my way, but as I got around the corner another passport control and security was waiting for me. The economy line for passport control was so long and I knew I had no time to spare so I went straight for the first class line. Luckily, the woman there was kind enough to let me through. As I was making my way to security check, she yelled “line 4 is open for you, hurry!” but once I got there they decided to take my bag and check it again, in detail. I kept saying “sir I have been through three security checks now with the same bag, I promise you there is nothing, I will miss my flight if I spend another second here,” but he didn’t care. 8:58am and I’m leaving the security, running towards the last gate in this terminal. At this point everything felt like a blur, it felt like I was running 400 meters around the track (one of my worst nightmares as a college athlete), and running in a mask definitely didn’t help. My legs were starting to give out, my zipper broke as I was trying to hurry the security guy so my things were falling out of my bag, but even with all this I somehow made it to the gate at 9:01.

They were just closing the doors as I was approaching, but the woman saw me run as fast as I could and was going to let me through. Right as she took my ticket she goes “sorry m’am you have been selected for extra security, therefore I will have to close this flight, I can’t let you in.” In this moment, as I heard those words come out of her month, I completely lost it. I don’t know if it was lack of sleep, anxiety, so much stress, fear of not making it to the hospital that night, or all of it together, but I wasn’t myself. I started hyperventilating, excessively crying and just yelling “you can’t do that to me, not now, please just let me on this flight I have to make it, you don’t understand.” There were people around already getting ready for the next flight at that gate, looking at me with those pity eyes. I’m sure some of them even had their cameras on and if that video ever come to light – I apologize. You know, I never understood when I watch those videos of people making a scene at the airport for not making a flight. I always thought, why make a scene, just take the next flight in a few hours, but now being one of them, I understand. I had no time to waste, if I waited for the next flight I wouldn’t catch my connection in Chicago, therefore not land on time and not make it to the hospital before they close the visiting hours, and just the thought of all that gave me an anxiety attack in front of everyone. A few people from the security came to get me, at this point I didn’t know if they were trying to calm me down, arrest me or get me through this extra security check so I could still make this flight.

One person starts taking off my shoes, another starts going through my bag again, the third policeman keeps rechecking all my documents and PCR test, another woman is constantly patting me on my back telling me to calm down while the other two keep scanning those slips that detect dangerous material on us. In that moment, the lady that said she wasn’t going to let me on this plane, comes in, takes my documents, and yells “Mamma Mia I have never seen something like this,” stares at me and goes “SO HURRY”. She reopens the door and I run through. As I get on the plane, passengers were already bucked up and of course I was the last seat 50K, so everyone got to stare me down as I walked down the aisle, with that stare you always give to the person who boards last and you’re thinking “oh you’re the reason we haven’t left yet”. As I sat down, I couldn’t stop sweating, it was like I just finished one of my hardest track workouts. But I was even more in shock that I actually made the flight, I couldn’t believe it!

After I calmed down, I crashed from all the exhaustion and total of five hours of sleep from the previous two nights. However, after three hours of sleep on the plane, I woke up due to the worst stomach pain I have ever had. Not surprised, probably caused from all the stress, but I wasn’t prepared for it. In this whole mess I forgot to move any medication into my bag since they took my carryon in Belgrade and I had none of the medications with me. I asked the flight attendants but no help there either. Spent the next two hours in horrible pain not being able to move or sit in any position. It was that kind of pain that makes you forget about everything, time, everything going on, scary reality, reasons you’re making this trip… and just focus on your breathing to be able to bear it somehow. Finally after the cramping stopped, the turbulence started, I just couldn’t catch a break! I have been flying since I was two years old and have never had a fear of flying, until this day. We were just getting off the ocean onto this continent, somewhere above Canada, and crazy unexpected turbulence started. The worst part is when you can feel the insecurity and fear in your pilot’s voice when he tells the flight attendants to take a seat immediately, you know it was unexpected and they weren’t ready for it. Even worse, when you can see the plane’s wing moving so much in the wind that it looks like it might break, it definitely doesn’t make you feel any better.

Those 20 minutes of turbulence felt like hours but shortly after that, we finally landed, in time for me to make my last flight. There is this sense of security I get every time I land in the United States, and this time it felt extra comforting. Things were starting to look up again and even though my bags didn’t make it in time and had to wait for my luggage a few more days. Looking back on those crazy 40 hours of travel right now feels surreal, like I woke up in my bed about to tell this crazy dream I had… but wow can’t believe it actually happened.


1 Comment Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: