Incovenienced Abroad: Scared In Switzerland

This entry is mostly done by the lovely Amanda, guest blogger to this site and my partner in crime for my trip to Zürich on Cinco de Mayo.

When I got the invite to join Brian on his twenty-four hour Zürich overnight recently, I jumped at the chance. I am also a flight attendant, so I used my flight benefits to hop on his flight in and tour around the city for a fun weekend in another country. We had a great time wandering around Old Town Zürich, sitting on the lake, and just generally soaking up the local flavor. I love spontaneous adventures.

Little did I realize the adventure part was only just beginning when we met the rest of the crew in the lobby the next morning waiting for the hotel van. I was already a little nervous about my timing – I still had to check in at the ticket counter and make my way through both security and passport control before boarding the flight home. But the airport wasn’t too far away, and, as a standby passenger, my name wouldn’t be called until the end of the boarding process anyways. As long as I checked in pretty quickly, the ball would be rolling and I’d no doubt waltz to the gate at the beginning of boarding, at the very latest.

I wasn’t too nervous until I heard more than one person on the crew say, “Where in the world is our van?” My heart sank a little deeper each time I heard it. I looked at Brian’s face, and his eyes were fixed anxiously on the street outside where it was supposed to meet us.

Finally I heard someone announce its arrival, but my momentary relief washed away as the tired inbound crew very slowly hopped out.

I floated through the next few minutes, feeling a bit defeated and incredulous at my poor decision to not go to the airport on my own. Meanwhile, Brian explained to the van driver that I need to get to the ticket counter ASAP. Another pang of disappointment hit me as the driver replied, “Ticketing is in another building.” He then offered to drop me off there to save me a little time.

“Yeah, when he said that another building was involved I honestly thought there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to make it. Even with an on-time pick up from the hotel it was going to be a photo finish. When the van came 20 minutes late I thought she had a 5% chance. Once I heard about this second building noise, I was already thinking of how I was going to explain it to everyone back home.

 I was going to come out looking like an asshole any way I spun it though. You don’t take your girlfriend on a trip to another country and leave her behind. I’ve never met her parents but I’m sure I’d be beaten severely the first time I did.”

The whole ride to Zürich Airport I wrung my hands nervously as I stared out the window at what I hoped would be my last glimpses of Switzerland for the day. The flight wasn’t full, that I was assured of, so I knew I wouldn’t be competing with other passengers to get on their flight, but I still had several hurdles ahead of me. Both Brian and the Captain assured me that they wouldn’t take off without me, and that was a bit of a relief. But who wants a delay attributed to them, especially when it was my own dumb choice to save a few bucks and not jump on the train by myself an hour earlier?

“I’m not really sure if I could’ve backed up that promise of not leaving without Amanda, but I felt like the words needed to be said to her at that moment to prevent a breakdown.”

We pulled up at Arrivals to drop off the crew. I watched everyone hop off without a care in the world. I don’t know if I felt more sad or stupid, but definitely a combination of the two. Brian and I stared at each other with forlorn eyes, hoping we’d be seeing each other again before the flight departed. The van driver got back in and drove me the 150 or so feet to the Departures area, and he quickly got my bags out for me and pointed me to the correct counter.

No one was in line! And there was an agent, hallelujah! All that panic for nothing!

I sighed with relief as I handed the agent my passport and ticket, telling her I was going to New York. She took them and began typing away on the computer. Suddenly, her countenance changed just a little, and she asked me when I packed my bags, and who packed them. I thought to myself that she must be new, because she seemed a little nervous when asking me. I told her I packed my bags, just an hour ago.

“When did you purchase your bags?”

Okay, I thought, this is getting a little weird. “Um, nine years ago and…thirteen years ago?” I had no idea.

“What electronics do you have on you?”

“A phone and a computer.”

“When did you purchase them?”

Oh my God! I don’t have time for this!

“Two years ago and six months ago.”

She turned around and led me with a wave to a counter behind her, where another agent was waiting, this one bubbly and cute. She was handed my passport and ticket, and I began to unclench a bit. After some typing and a little difficulty processing my ticket, which was solved with the help of a stocky and sturdy woman seated next to her, I was handed my boarding pass and passport with a smile. Whew! I turned around and started marching away. Success! And wow, I even had a seat assignment! 20E. And my name is Denise.

Wait a minute, no it’s not.

I immediately turned around and trotted back to the ticket counter, as wearing my backpack forced me to do. I saw the agent and anxiously informed her of the mix up. Her eyes widened, and she told her large coworker in German of the error. “Scheiße!!,” she yelled.

I laughed aloud at her loud swearing. It was funny, but I also was looking for something to distract me from my tension. The first coworker again got to work, still confused as to how to check me in, but after a phone call to a supervisor and checking, double-checking, and triple-checking my new boarding pass, I was off and trotting once more.

Security was a breeze, and I was once again reassuring myself that I’d been panicking for nothing. I couldn’t wait to see Brian and laugh with him at how silly it all was. I followed the signs pointing toward my gate number, and I felt like I was in the clear. I’d even considered browsing through Duty Free, because I’d already been through the two places that could possibly hold me up. I decided against it as soon as the perfume cloud wafted into my face, and headed down an escalator that led to the boarding area. When I got to the bottom, I saw a sign pointing toward Passport Control.

“I would have killed her if she showed up with a bunch of Duty Free purchases. I was absolutely freaking out while I was trying to get my First Class galley together. Every other second someone was asking me if she’d boarded yet or if I was starting to get worried. Ummm yeah, I was getting a tad concerned.”

I always get nervous walking through Customs. I’d blame the show “Locked Up Abroad,” but I think my minor fear had started before that. I guess I feel like I’m going to stutter when posed a question, as I sometimes do when I am on the spot, and it’s going to set off alarm bells, which will then bring about an interrogation in a dark room for hours, with one agent screaming in my face, another with a clipboard analyzing my behavior.

It’s never happened, but I fear it nonetheless. I gulped a little and went up to the friendliest-looking agent, a frizzy-haired lady named Claudia. She was talking to a plain-clothes agent in her booth and she cheerfully went over my passport. I began reviewing in my head how I’d answer the question I was expecting her to ask, which was why I’d only spent twenty-four hours in Switzerland.

Instead, after lots of typing, I noticed her brow furrow and her conversational tone turn inquisitive toward her booth mate as she pointed at the computer screen.

“Have you ever lost your passport?,” she asked me, but more in a friendly way than suspicious.

“No,” I’d responded, thinking little of it, “but I just used it yesterday.”

“Hmm. It looks like it was used again,” she said. The lump returned to my throat. “Are you sure you’ve never reported it lost or stolen?”

“No, never. I’m a flight attendant, I have it on me at all times.”

“So you’ve never lost it?” A big smile crossed her face, and she sang, “Never ever ever?”

I laughed nervously. “Never ever ever!”

“When does your flight leave?”

“In thirty-five minutes!”

She cartoonishly grabbed her hair, stuck out her tongue, and yelped. I couldn’t believe I was in the real world at this point. She called up a fellow agent, and she assured me that agent would be here right away and they would try to get it taken care of in time for me to catch my flight.

“At this point the gate agent had told me that she had checked in so I felt very good about her making the flight. My biggest fear had been that the flight was set to depart in less than an hour. Since my flight was the only one my airline operates each day, there’s no need to keep the counter open after the JFK flight checks in. I had no idea all of this drama was going on and there was no way she could let us know.”

The next agent, a very pretty younger woman, came to her booth and looked over the screen with her. I looked at this new agent pleadingly, hoping she would somehow make it all go away.

My hopes  were dashed when I saw her writing Claudia’s full name and badge number on a form. Claudia then said to me with a reassuring smile that I was to go with this new agent and it would be sorted out. I couldn’t bring myself to look around the room as I was being led away by the armed customs agent. I was absolutely sure that everyone around me thought I was about to start pooping balloons of cocaine in the Customs toilet (if that’s what they make people do). I’m sure that’s what they told their friends, at least. “You’ll never believe it, I saw a drug mule get arrested,” I’m sure they said. “She looked so guilty!”

I was led to an office in the corner of the room, where I was sat on a bench behind it, I suppose to avoid nosy stares from other passengers. I was again asked if I’d lost my passport ever in my life, and once again I answered with a confident NO!

She told me to wait there as she went into the frosted-glass office, where another officer had been sitting. They again stared at the computer, scratching their heads and obviously producing no answers. I tried desperately to send help messages telepathically to Brian on the plane. All I wanted was for him to reassure me, and I knew there was no way for that to happen. I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to hang on to the shred of hope I still had left.

“I did not receive that telepathic message.”

My final obstacle after this was to get to the gate and get on the plane, so if it was resolved soon, my fate would mostly be in my own hands. That said, I also began thinking out a contingency plan for flying back to the US whenever this fiasco was over.

I saw the female agent get up. Perhaps she had good news! She bent down to pick something up before walking out of the office. Something jingly.

HANDCUFFS!!!

I nearly fainted as I saw them. I’d done nothing wrong! I wondered if Brian would think I was cool if I went to a Swiss prison. That’s kind of hot, right?

“way hot.”

As soon as I saw and heard them, though, she’d clipped them to her belt. Of all the times to accessorize, she had to pick that moment! She looked at me empathetically, however, and said, “I am so sorry for all this, I am going to check with one more agent. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” She quickly disappeared, and so did my hope for getting on the flight. I watched everyone else walking freely to their gates, and I felt like a mangy dog at the pound, being passed over by prospective owners and aware my days were numbered.

Finally, I saw the agent quickly heading back toward me. I readied my wrists for the handcuffs, just in case. She again apologized. “We’ve found nothing. I’m very sorry, have a great day.” Really? Nothing? All of this and it was suddenly okay? I didn’t waste time asking more questions and I ran off like a crazy person toward the tram to my gate – the final obstacle.

Of course, the tram pulled away as I reached it. I tapped my foot nervously as I stood there sweaty and frazzled, physically feeling every second ticking down as I waited. The next tram finally arrived and I cursed its slow speed. When it arrived at the departure gates, my inner New Yorker came out and I pushed my way though the doors first and ran, no longer rolling my suitcase but running with it, down corridors and up the escalators, until my gate was in sight.

There were still plenty of people boarding. Success! My name was called shortly after at the podium so I could get my seat assignment. It was all over. I handed my ticket and passport to the final agent I had to go through. She was smiling until she put her hand up in a stop sign.

“Have your bags been out of your possession at any time?”

I looked around. No one else was being asked this question. I wasn’t imagining this – I was a suspect.

“No,” I replied with exasperation. She began looking through my passport and at my ticket again, and told me to wait. I started again trying to summon Brian with my mind, but that worked as well as it had the first time. She called a second agent over, and, with a raised eyebrow, pointed to the security sticker on my passport. He instantly told her it was fine. She waved me through. I felt like I had no physical or emotional strength left in my body as I entered the jet bridge. I could see Brian on the plane, watching for me to board. I collapsed in his arms with relief, trying to laugh about it, but not at all ready yet.

“I don’t think I’ll ever tell Amanda that she was being punked and all those agents were in on it. Even the inbound crew and the driver that were so late were in on it. Ok, not really.”

He quickly poured me a glass of champagne, which I drank so fast I nearly choked on it. I wondered what lay ahead of me in the US, but at least it would be on my own soil when I would potentially be held and questioned.

I slept through most of the flight home, except to occasionally review the situation with the crew and finally start laughing about it. I hurried off the plane in JFK, anticipating a problem, but got through Customs in a blink of an eye, perhaps because the agent was too busy reviewing the previous night’s basketball game with either a traveler or an agent in plain clothes going home for the night. I met Brian by baggage claim, and I don’t think I’ve ever chanted “USA!” with such little irony in my life.

Before we even started our trip to Zürich, Amanda said she wanted to write about it. I think she secretly sabotaged her ordeal to make it seem more dramatic/impressive, like in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Haunted.” At the very least she may have done it subconsciously 🙂

You can follow Amanda’s Twitter

And also My Twitter

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3 responses to “Incovenienced Abroad: Scared In Switzerland

  1. great as always,when i try to imagine the story,i see it as an action movie !

    in the near future i will be a flight attendant,and will have interesting stories like this one and all the other in the blog,

    have a great day,both of you.

    • congratulations! Yeah, you’ll have many zany adventures that’s for sure. Well, as long as you venture out of the hotel on layovers, some people just stay in and never do anything!

  2. Heidi Sue Bloebaum

    Excellent as always! Glad Amanda shared her story. Talk about a nerve racking experience!! The two of you should do more writing together! Just a suggestion, but one that I think others would agree should be considered!! Hugs to both of ya!!!

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