Things were going too well. Except for a tight flight connection in London that got the old heart racing, a recent trip to Italy and Greece was perfect. (More on that later.)
I noticed it was overcast and a bit windy when I left for the airport to make my way home to the U.S. The only thing that crossed my mind was how lucky I was to have had such great weather up until then.
But the wind actually had airport folks worried. Especially the pilots with Aegean Airlines, the carrier I’d booked for the morning flight from Crete to Athens and then homeward.
The wind picked up and the flight to Athens went from being delayed for a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. Then, the Aegean pilot refused to fly and it was postponed to that night. (Word was, the locals were floored by the wind’s ferocity, which I found hard to believe. Certainly this wasn’t Crete’s first ill wind.)
That meant my entire return trip home, which had several twists because it was a frequent flyer ticket (they’re never a straight line unless you book years in advance), had just been blown up. And it was up to me, not Aegean, to fix it.
Two Aegean staffers were attempting to wrangle dozens of crazed passengers just like me. Complicated cases like mine landed in the office of the nice but flustered Aegean boss, who was having a surprisingly hard time dealing, given his title. What if he’d had a real disaster on his hands?
One young woman on her way back to China, her mom and baby in tow, was in his face, which he kept covering with his hands, demanding he fix things. It was an Act of God, he pointed out. Technically true.
I should add that the other airline that covers the same route, cut-rate carrier Ryan Air, was flying. By the time I realized this with a gasp, those seats were long gone.
Why was Ryan Air flying and not Aegean, I asked Mr. Flustered. We care about human life and really, really care about liability if something happens, was the gist of what he was saying. Human life. So overrated when you really need to stick to a schedule.
(Ryan Air’s alternate approach didn’t really surprise. I once flew out of Hong Kong with an approaching cyclone. My flight was the only one that left. Since I was young and thought I was invincible, I didn’t give it a second thought.)
Anyway, while I dictated, Mr. Flustered typed a To Whom It May Concern letter explaining that weather conditions in Crete would force me to miss my other connections back to the U.S. The equivalent of a doctor’s note back in grade school.
He also let me take over his desk while I tied up his landline for a good hour (saving me some dough on my international cellphone plan), re-arranging my itinerary and becoming 500 bucks poorer in the process (had to buy another flight). I was also charged more to change my frequent flyer ticket. I’ll be fighting that with my trusty note.
I also got a meal voucher from Aegean, which was good for exactly one Greek version of a potato knish from the Crete airport concession stand. Gummy, greasy, and oddly as big as my foot. I nibbled mostly out of boredom.
I was on my last bite when, finally, my Aegean flight from Crete to Athens got off the ground.
I was entitled to a free hotel room in Athens because I got there so late. But there wouldn’t be much sleep because I now had to catch a predawn flight to Frankfurt, Germany, for the flight home. (No, there won’t be a quiz.) So I hung out at Athens airport the rest of the night — a funhouse of dozing travelers, cleaning crews, duty-free dreck and cable news.
Turns out, the wind grounded dozens of flights in Greece that day. But writing this from home now, it still puzzles me that Ryan Air planes took off. They, too, have a rep to maintain, and I can’t imagine them being that reckless.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, security at Frankfurt airport — a big European hub — was a little more stringent than usual a day after the Brussels attack. Interestingly, unlike the U.S., shoes never have to be removed.