Let’s start where things began.
I’ve flown since Covid started, but I haven’t flown internationally. It’s not an easy lift at the best of times. Add to the ongoing pandemic a record-breaking hot summer with tons of storm cells dancing their way across the northeast, and you have a recipe for a real bad time. Luckily, airports have bars.
I want to say before we start that we were in Italy for 14 days that that it took me months to pull together the itinerary. We didn’t stay in one place. We went from the toe of the boot all the way to its pull strap. There was no room in our itinerary for error. So when we got the email Wednesday night that our flight from Roanoke to Dulles had been canceled, I was just a wee bit concerned. We needed to fly from Dulles to Brussels and from Brussels to Naples to start our trip. After about an hour on hold, sometime around 1 am, I finally got someone on the phone from the airline. She told me that they could fly us to Rome, but it wouldn’t be for three more days. I told her that was not going to fly, literally.
Anyway, long story short we drove up to Dulles airport. It’s about four hours by car from us. We got there just in time to maybe make it through security for our flight, walked up to the kiosk ready to check in, entered our information — and got a big red error message.
“That’s about what I thought was going to happen,” I told my baffled S.O. He had heretofore flown an entirety of one time, from Virginia to Texas, back when flying was an easy and sane thing to do.
Following instructions, we humped our luggage over to a line to wait for some in-person help. And wait. And wait some more. The time for our flight to leave was nearing, so we definitely weren’t making it through security. I was, relatively, calm. You see, a few days prior to our travel date I had gotten another fun message, this one from the Brussels airline. They were expecting the airport to go on strike the day were were flying in, and politely informed me to expect travel issues. But our flight from Dulles to Brussels was with United, so since they hadn’t canceled the flight (or at least hadn’t canceled this leg of it) I had a feeling they were going to find a solution. Hopefully. I told the S.O. that if they didn’t find a solution, we were going to take our stuff and drive to the northeast to find a cabin in a National Forest somewhere and bum around for two weeks.
Just as our original flight time finally rolled around, a very nice United representative managed to book us a flight from Dulles to Lisbon. “You drove here from Roanoke?” she demanded, aghast, before handing us our new boarding passes. We shrugged and smiled.
Once we made it through security we had a few hours to kill, since our flight didn’t leave until 10pm. We wandered the airport, got surprisingly edible dinner, and the S.O. ordered me a cocktail from the bar that was way stronger than I thought it would be. Thus fortified, we went and took a nap in the airport floor, which is somewhat disgusting (but where else are you supposed to nap exactly?), wandered around some more, and finally boarded our plane. Lisbon airport is, for the record, somewhat more accommodating since there are benches you can conceivably sleep on (the S.O. certainly did). Naples airport also has benches, and lounge chairs! Frankfurt airport (on our return trip) had a microhotel inside the airport, which is just absolutely genius. Dulles needs to step it up.
Once in Naples, we found that the taxi drivers were also on strike. Luckily, the bus was running, so we used our very rudimentary Italian to take that down to the port, then caught a very late ferry to the isle of Ischia. By the time we got to Ischia it was 9 pm. We’d been traveling for over 24 hours, and awake for longer than that. Luckily Italy has pretty good public transit (especially by American standards) so we had very few issues once we were in the country.
The trip back was a bit smoother. Highlights included being stuck in customs in Frankfurt, being stuck in customs for an eternity in Dulles, having to wave goodbye to our luggage despite the fact that we were parked at Dulles because the United reps wouldn’t change our plane reservation to take us off of the Roanoke flight, and having to drive four hours after not having slept for about 24 hours again. Also our luggage didn’t make it on the flight to Roanoke anyway so it didn’t come in until the next day.
Anyway, all of this to say that flying right now is not for the faint of heart.