The Odyssey to Prague: Planes, Customs and Chaos
In a former life I worked for an airline and as a perk I was able to stand by for flights. My college-age daughter met a Czech boy online and during her Christmas break from school in her freshman year asked me to take her to meet the boy. In Prague.
“Oh, sure!” I said. “I think that’s a great idea!”
It turned out to be a labor worthy of the ancient valor of Hercules. Epic poems have been written about lesser feats.
During the winter months my particular airline didn’t fly to Prague. And every airline that did fly to Prague was full then, three days before Christmas. I racked my brain to try to determine how, as lowly standbys, we would ever get to the place. By what combination and permutation of routes would it be possible to go from Atlanta, Georgia across the ocean to the Czech Republic in leftover seats on flights that were all full? The challenge was daunting.
Upon arrival at home from college, my daughter developed a different way of amusing herself than most college students. She stayed up until 3 staring at me as I invented plans B, C, D and every other letter of the alphabet for succeeding as standbys into Prague that weekend.
These weird combinations of letters fascinated her. ATL/DTW/AMS, maybe--then AMS/HAM/PRG? How about ATL/FRA/PRG? Or the really bizarre JFK/DUB/PRG or the insane ATL/LHR with the train to STN and some outfit called Ryan Air from there to PRG. Or should it be Wizzair from LTN to PRG?
"This is exciting!" she said as she rubbed her red eyes.
It was nowhere near as amusing to me. I still had to solve this riddle, or else look like a total fool to my teenage daughter. No father ever wants his children to think he’s an idiot—even though, in truth, he often is one.
Sleep came fitfully to me that night, if at all. I had a regular job back then, and I had to be faithfully discharging its duties by 6AM. Weird three-letter codes haunted my nightmares—although they were abbreviated nightmares because I think I only slept about 52 minutes.
Throughout the morning my new cell phone beeped loudly and continually in my pocket. "If those two seats disappear then we will have no chance of getting on?" "How many other standbys are currently listed for the flight?" "The very very backup flight that goes through JFK!" "If we do make the Germany flight what time would we be leaving for the airport tomorrow?"
Bystanders who were overhearing the recurring beeps must have realized I was having a family emergency of sorts. The emergency might be summarized thusly: International Teenage Boyfriend Problems.
My daily duties completed, I retreated to my suburban hideaway with my trusting daughter at my side and hunkered down. My theories from that morning were all obsolete. The travel website indicated that every human being on the planet was flying to Europe that weekend. And they were all bringing friends from Mars and Jupiter to go with them to Prague.
“We’ll get there, Mary Grace,” I lied to my idolizing daughter. I was subscribing to the Deferred Answer Theory of Parenting. That is, Jump Into the Ocean First, then Learn to Appease the Sharks Later.
“Do you really think so, Daddy?” she asked, full of naïve admiration.
“I guarantee it!”
Sleep was out of the question. An hour later my daughter collapsed on the sofa and began snoring like a hog with asthma. With these distracting noises about me, I intensified my search. My god, I discovered that 10 seats remained to Boston, 14 seats on an overnight flight from Boston to Amsterdam; then we could hop on KLM from Amsterdam to Hamburg and there were actually about 16 seats remaining on Czech air from Hamburg to Prague.
“Hallelujah!” I cried piously. “Space aliens don’t like to travel from Hamburg to Prague!”
My daughter’s snoring stopped. There was love in her eyes when she rubbed them.
“That’s amazing, Daddy!” she cried.
We would go on four flights on three airlines to four different countries. We would consume almost 18 hours en route. But we would get there. Almighty Dad had come to the rescue.
“Are you sure?” my daughter asked again.
“I’m never sure about anything.” This was the first completely truthful statement my daughter had heard from me yet during this crisis. “But I think we’ll be all right.”
The girl never knew how close we were to getting stranded. Thirty other standbys showed up for the Boston flight and I sweated till the instant we were getting seats. The agents in Boston who were working the Amsterdam flight were of questionable competence and only after their final boarding call did they bother to assign us seats on the flight.
“Business class!” my daughter beamed. I had never seen her eyes sparkle as brightly.
“You can have the champagne,” I told her. “Even though you’re underaged. Tell them you’re twenty-one. They won’t know the difference.”
I suffered no pangs of conscience because of the atrocious example I was setting for my daughter. Lying about one’s age in order to consume delicious alcohol on an airplane. How shameful. I fell asleep immediately upon takeoff and woke up on the other side of the Atlantic.
Another crisis presented itself to us upon arrival in Amsterdam. We had a tight connection of 55 minutes and we had to go through customs. As the plane pulled into the gate I gave my idolizing and trusting daughter explicit instructions.
“Let’s haul ass to customs and run to the next gate!”
I had never before been in Schiphol Airport and I quickly discovered that missiles have been fired at nearer targets than customs was from our gate. And when we arrived at customs at least eight million people were standing in line.
“We’ll never make it!” I fumed, mostly to myself as I didn’t want my daughter to get disappointed yet.
“Oh nothing,” I said. She didn’t hear it, but a Dutch customs officer did.
“What time is your flight leaving?” said the unformed Dutchwoman.
“Come to the head of the line!”
We were officially allowed to cut in front of eight million people. For the first time since we had undertaken this Odyssey I started to believe that I might have actually been right. Maybe we would get there. The KLM plane to Hamburg was waiting for us.
“That worked out perfectly,” my daughter told me.
“It was never in doubt,” I said.
In Hamburg we actually had time for my daughter to recharge her cell phone. She was purring happily, a kitten on an international adventure. The flight to Prague was barely an hour. Her tall and lanky Czech admirer was there to welcome us.
“Whew, we finally made it!” I told the boy.
“Did you have any problems?” he asked my daughter.
“No,” she said, thrilled by our accomplishment. “My dad had everything worked out.”
I would have gotten puffy-headed if I hadn’t been about to collapse from exhaustion.
© 2015 James Crawford