Livin’ Large : SFO to Paris

Sometimes, I think this kind of story only happens to me… It’s better to laugh about it, though :)

So, I have to get back from San Francisco to my home in Paris. San Francisco truly is a wonderful city, but at some point (after 90 days, in my case, tops) you are not welcome anymore. I take the Bart to the airport, find my way to my plane, get searched a couple of times in between (being a geeky European is highly suspicious) and sit down. It’s 1pm, Pacific Time.

There are some technical problems on the plane, so we delay the take off by half an hour. No biggie, it happens all the time. The only problem is that in the meantime, the winds shift, and we become too heavy to take off… The choice the pilot offers is either to dump a few tons of fuel or ask some passengers to step off. After another half hour (and a false start from the passengers), we are told that the fuel has been dumped, and that we should take off momentarily. Of course, we loose the spot in the waiting queue, delaying the take off once more by a half hour.

With roughly 2h of delay, we take off. I am supposed to get a connection flight in New York JFK, with a margin of 2h30, so I keep hope. Besides, since the delay is common knowledge, I suppose they’ll be waiting for us.

Above Pennsylvania, we learn that there’s a foul weather ahead, and start cycling. Another half hour passes (good byyyyye connecting flight), and we learn that since we dumped fuel, we don’t have enough to actually continue cycling. We are rerouted to Buffalo. It is 9pm PST, midnight NY time.

We spend an hour on the tarmac, waiting for some fuel to be pumped in, the weather to clear, etc. The general mood on the plane is very good, all things considered. We introduce ourselves to people who wander in the plane, make jokes with the flight attendants, etc. Up until that point, life’s still looking good, although it means I’ll have half a day of delay. But the people on the plane are so nice that I don’t even complain of the fact we also had to dump some food, and have lived on crackers for 10h…

We manage to take off once again, and we arrive at JFK at 2am, local time. We are greeted there by an employee whose function is to tell us that the weather thing is not covered by anything in the contract, and that we are therefore on our own for everything. No food, no lodging, no coffee, no help, no luggage. Ain’t that sweet?

We manage to extract the knowledge about the whereabouts of our luggage (it’s probably on the delivery belt, although it could make it to Paris on its own…) and decide to form groups by destination. For Paris, we are 3.

Out of the 3, only 2 get their luggage back. The third one is “on its way to the next flight to Paris”. After talking a lot and keeping calm (it’s hard under these conditions), we get 3 tickets on the next plane to Paris, scheduled for departure at 7:50am local time. It’s 4 am.

We find our way to the Terminal 1. It is completely devoid of life. If you’ve never been to an airport at night, I suggest you try. It’s impressive to see all these facilities meant to manage tens of thousands of people completely empty. Of course, no one can direct us to anything to eat, drink, or sleep on.

After an hour and half, the booth opens, and we are told that our shiny new tickets are not valid. Thanks to the endeavors of an admirable woman from Air France whose name should be remembered forever, but was unfortunately invisible at the time, we actually get our boarding passes.

It’s 5:45am, we are in JFK, and the food court is said to open at 7. The flight being at 7:50am, we don’t want to wait. We roam through the terminals and finally find an open McDonalds (sorry folks, but that felt GOOD). We eat like ten. Literally.

To make a long story short, we make it to our plane, where we are greeted by a nice and warm crew, who listen to our woes and take care of everything for our comfort.

I spent more than 24h in transit. I like the french people who are the only ones in this adventure who acted at least partially as human beings. And I think my two comrades in pain like them too. It was their first trip to France. They might stay…


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