Friday, December 12, 2014

Heading Home

On Thursday morning at 3 am I checked out of my hotel (with the same Indian guy that didn’t speak German or English earlier) and took a taxi to the airport. Even though I was told to get there 2 hours before my flight, Germanwings didn’t open their check-in until about an hour before the flight.  As with most things on my trip I had to wait. Then to get into security you had to scan your boarding card for the door to open – but there were no signs to tell you that. I had to watch some random person do it. Unlike the TSA (which makes you take off your shoes, belt and basically stripe down) the only thing German security made me take off was my belt. The flight to Munich was fine – I wasn’t made to stand-apart from everyone else like I was before.  The real drama started when I got to Munich.
I knew from when I arrived the week before that I had to change terminals by bus (this time from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2.) I got on the bus with several other people and when we got to Terminal 2 the bus driver let some people off but wouldn’t let us out. He didn’t even say a word to us and just started driving away. We were banging on the windows for him to let us out.  He finally pulled over and let us out where me and several other people gave him a piece of our mind (I started remembering all the “choice” German words that you first learn in any language.) The guy was a real jerk, but seemed to fit the profile of the other Germans in Munich that I dealt with.
I had breakfast and then had to find a Lufthansa person to ask where my flight was leaving from (again the signage was awful.) I went through German exit immigration. The man didn’t look at my picture and just stamped my passport and waved me through. Then in the 25 minutes it took to walk to my gate I had to go through 5 other Passport Controls (and not one single security checkpoint – the only one was in Dortmund.) It was weird. The officials just kept looking at my passport, but didn’t stamp or say anything.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.
There was more waiting only this time I had 4 and a half hours (and not 9.) This time I was flying Lufthansa – luckily they weren’t striking this time. When we boarded the gate, officials got mad whenever someone would show then their passport with their boarding pass – even though every time you take an international flight you are supposed to show your passport when boarding.  There were around 200 people boarding and we had to take a bus to our plane and then board it either in the front or the back – but no one told  you where your seat was  so they had people going up and down the aisles from front to back and vice versa to find their seat. It was complete chaos. Maybe the employees of Lufthansa should stop worrying about themselves and always going on strike (it was their 10th this year) and focus more on customer service and the passenger.
I had a window seat and was sitting next to a very smelly man from India. Luckily the flight wasn’t full and he moved before we took off. Unlike, the United entertainment system (which was easy to use) Lufthansa’s was very difficult  - it was touchscreen but didn’t always work. It seemed that everyone was hitting the call button for the flight attendant to come and fix their screens. I guess their screens were on strike that day. I was eventually able to watch 5 movies during the 10 hour flight and the flight attendants and food were good.
When we landed in Charlotte it was a mad rush to get off. I have been to Charlotte Airport before but only connecting through and never had to go through their Immigration before (the other flights had US Pre-clearance so when you landed you just went to your next flight.) I did not care for Charlotte Airport or the people there. They made all the Americans use immigration self-kiosks. You had to scan your passport, answer some questions, get your picture taken and then get a printed receipt. Next you had to take that receipt with your passport and stand in the regular Immigration line – of course there was only one lane open for all the Americans while the few foreigners had 3. It was an extra step that was both time-consuming and useless.
The Immigration guy I had (the only one) was a real prick. He was one of those welfare-to-work people who probably has never been outside of the country. He was asking me all sorts of very personal questions that had nothing to do with my travels and got mad at me when I asked him what they had to do with my entering the country. He started yelling at me that he had the authority to ask me anything he wanted to. It was "funny"  because he had the worse grammar when he was trying to act tough. I was laughing on the inside the whole time. Once he handed my passport back – he didn’t stamp it though – and the receipt. I asked for his name and badge number and let him know I planned to file a complaint about him – which  I just did. I hate those people who try and abuse what little power they have and be arrogant pricks about it. I have travelled so many times and dealt with many US and foreign immigration officials and so know what to expect. You can be nice to people (like say "Welcome back home", etc) and still do your job in a professional way at the same time - it's called multi-tasking. I picked up my bag and then was told I had to go to secondary Customs screening because the earlier prick had marked my receipt. The new Customs guy was pretty stupid as well. He asked me what was in my bag and I told him a bottle of wine, candy and clothes. He then x-rayed the bag along with my carry-on and then opened them both up. He kept going on and on about the candy and the wine (I was below the allowed limit and told him so.) He then told me to repack my bags and I said that he had opened them and that he could repack them. We had a mini-Mexican stand-off, but eventually he did repack it  and I left. I know many foreigners "fall" for this tough-guy routine and I'm sure I have when I am overseas and dealing with a foreign immigration guy, but I know my rights here in the States and will not be treated like a criminal (aren't you innocent until proven guilty here?) I then went to the US Airways connection area to check-in for my last flight and that guy couldn’t find my ticket. I told him over and over again my destination and my name and even gave him my confirmation number but he apparently put my name in the confirmation number section and vice versa so it wasn’t showing. Eventually he figured out his job and I was able to leave – like I said – the people at the Charlotte Airport were not the brightest.
I was meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in several years –who lives near Charlotte with her family. I had 4 hours in Charlotte but in the end we only got to catch-up for about 45 minutes before I had to go through security and my gate. It was fun. Then there was a long line at security as there were 6 flights leaving and only one lane open.
Luckily, my flight was on time as so  many others were delayed or cancelled. On the plane a guy sat next to me and he was acting very weird. He kept shouting random things and had to constantly go to the restroom – even when the fasten seatbelt sign was on. Then when they gave out the drinks I found the reason for his odd behavior – he got several cups of Coke and kept putting his own stash of alcohol in them. He was completely wasted. When we landed he left his bag on the plane and didn’t realize it until we were already at baggage claim.
I got my bag and then headed for my car. It was a long drive home in a blizzard and the pitch-black.. It was very hard to see. When I finally made it home I say that my garage had collapsed from all the snow and ice we got while I was gone – I had been told about it by e-mail, but seeing it different.  After 26 hours I was finally home. It was so good to see my dogs – they were over-joyed to see me too. Now I have to get over my jet lag and things organized again.
Despite the long travel times and all the waiting and dealing with unintelligent people and not finding many Germans that spoke English – even at the airports – I had a a good time. It was nice to see my old friends and to meet some new people. The Christmas Markets and Harbio were icing on the cake.

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