I’ll be the first to admit that most of the time when I’m late, it’s my own fault. I have a bad habit of not getting out of the house till three to five minutes after I probably should have left. I usually can still make it to places either barely on time or not late enough to be a problem, but there’s not a soul in the world who would call me “timely.”
But this time, it wasn’t my fault. And no, I’m not making excuses. It really wasn’t my fault. It was the airline’s fault.
First, we (my two school friends and I) drove to the Basel Airport on the border of France and Switzerland to board a flight that would take us to Paris. In Paris, we were supposed to catch a flight to Amman, Jordan where our families lived. But see, after we got to the Basel Airport, checked in, checked our bags, and settled down to wait, things started to go wrong.
And by that, I mean the plane didn’t show up.
Now, in case you’re not a seasoned traveler, it’s normal for planes to be a little late. Sometimes they’ll show up fifteen minutes late, sometimes longer, and the airport staff will have to push back the whole schedule of boarding, getting seated, and getting towed out to the runway before finally taking off.
However, planes aren’t supposed to be over an hour late.
That’s right. Over an hour.
Over an hour of fidgeting, sweating, and metaphorically biting my nails until the plane finally arrived.
The entire flight from Basel to Paris, I was squirming nervously, checking my watch, and trying to distract myself (all attempts to do so failed spectacularly).
When we finally touched down in Paris, France, I was more than just a little anxious. Our flight to Amman was set to depart in under an hour, and we were nowhere near on it. It would have been a bit tight anyway trying to get from one flight to the other, even if the plane had been on time. With the delay in play, the situation was grim.
I kept trying to hurry my friends along so that we could get to our flight (an unnecessary thing to do because, a: they were just as eager to get to our flight as I was, and b: airport lines do not move forward at my command). For some reason, we had to go through a myriad of security and passport checkpoints before we could finally get from our small plane to the airport proper.
And by that time, it was too late.
We hurried over anyway, just to see if maybe the Amman plane had been delayed as well, but we all knew it was a slim hope. By the time we reached the airport gate that should have been our way home, the place was deserted.
I won’t lie, I was still panicking. I was stuck in Paris, with my family in one country, my dorm in another, and a couple other sixteen-year-old friends with me. Needless to say, things were not looking so good. Things were looking just great.
I texted my parents about a thousand messages, telling them what had happened, and asking for help! help! help! Meanwhile, my friends, Shaden and Lois, and I searched the airport for the information desk. It took us forever to find. It was tucked away in an area behind the escalators that had poor lighting and was practically a grave yard, deserted except for the other ghosts who, like us, had missed their planes. And there weren’t many of those.
I tell you, if a spy agency or criminal network had wanted to hide the entrance to their secret base, this would have been the place to do it.
Anyway, we went up to the desk and explained the situation. Fortunately, some of the clerks spoke some English. Unfortunately, they were either highly understaffed or simply lacked efficiency. We waited there for another couple hours, trying to get on the next flight. We finally did get our tickets for the next flight, but there was one little hiccup.
The flight was twenty-four hours after the flight we had missed, which gave us practically an entire day with nothing to do and nowhere to sleep. I suppose we could have tried sleeping in the airport, and after what happened next, I almost wish we had.
The airport people agreed to send us to a hotel to stay the night and then get us back to the airport the next day in time for our flight. But because Shaden, Lois, and I were all minors under eighteen, they had to send a chaperone with us to make sure nothing bad happened to us. The chaperone wasn’t going to be able to leave work to help us for several more hours (yay!), so they gave us vouchers for free airport food and sent us off into an area of the airport nearby that had a single store.
Things could have been better, but they could have been worse too. We got food, hung out on the couches, and sent pictures to our family to show we were doing fine. We eventually moved to a more comfortable area to do chill things like watch a movie, read, or write. I even gave Lois french braids (very appropriate to our Parusian adventure).
Eventually our chaperone showed up to escort us to the hotel. I have no memory of her name, but she was extremely nice, which was something I hadn’t particularly expected. She helped us with our bags on the train, and when we got to the hotel she took care of checking us in while we stood around on tired feet and waited. Then she came up to us.
“You will have to check out of the hotel at twelve tomorrow,” she said, coming back over to us.
Our shoulders all slumped. Our flight wasn’t until six pm the next day, and now we’d have to leave early and wait in the airport for six hours.
“Six hours,” I groaned.
“Is there any way we can stay longer?” Lois asked in her British accent. “Since our flight isn’t until six?”
The chaperone nodded thoughtfully. “I will talk to them,” she said, smiling, and see if you can stay later.”
Oh great Lady of Chaperoning, goddess-like caretaker, we tired travelers offer our most profuse thanks and gratitude for your kind actions and attention.
Of course I didn’t say that outloud, but it’s certainly how I felt. In any case, we thanked her in a more ordinary fashion and headed upstairs to our rooms. As we three friends were about to enter our connected rooms and our chaperone was about to enter her separate one, she stopped us and added one more important piece of information.
“I will have to go back to work at the airport in the morning,” she said. “But don’t worry, someone else will be sent to take care of you and help you out. Breakfast ends at ten, so you should go at around nine.”
We nodded. “Okay.”
“Goodnight,” she said with a warm smile, and entered her own room.
“Goodnight!” we all chorused back and entered our room looking forward to some rest.
Inside the room, Shaden, Lois, and I relaxed back on our beds in blissful, exhausted relief. It was about one in the morning at this point. We talked and laughed, but only for a short time, then went to sleep feeling that this might not be such a bad adventure after all.
Heh heh heh…
My awakening the next morning was far from pleasant. My friends woke me up because our new chaperone was banging on the door. It was important, since unless we wanted to miss breakfast, we’d have to hurry downstairs soon, but still, it wasn’t a nice start to the day.
And guess what!
Things only got worse.
The moment I met our new chaperone, I knew she did not want to be there. She was grumpy, irritable, and sharp as a California desert cactus. In her defense, she didn’t seem to speak much English, and I’m sure she hadn’t been hoping she’d get to spend her day taking care of three teenage strangers. Still, it’s not like we’d planned for any of this, and it definitely wasn’t our fault. So eating breakfast with her at the table was an awkward affair, and I was quite relieved to get back to the comfort of my bed and hotel room. Lois had just hopped in the shower and Shaden and I were just settling down to chill (me with my writing), when BANG BANG BANG! The chaperone pounded on the door. We opened it, rather surprised at the sudden intrusion.
“It’s time to go,” the chaperone said.
“But, we were supposed to stay here until at least twelve,” Shaden and I tried to explain.
“No, we’re leaving now,” the chaperone said, looking extremely cross.
I took a deep breath. “Look, we can’t leave now. None of us are ready, and one of us is in the shower.”
The chaperone seemed even more put out than before. “Fine,” she snapped, “twenty minutes,” and stormed off down the hall.
After shutting the door, Shaden went to inform Lois of the development, while I started to clean and pack up my stuff. Lois got dressed and out of the shower, and she joined Shaden and I in doing the same. We all agreed that this was a frustrating and disagreeable turn of events, and that the chaperone did not like us.
After we’d packed everything up and I’d done my last minute check under the beds and in the outlets to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, the chaperone came to get us and ushered us downstairs.
Unlike the chaperone from the night before, who had been sweet and friendly on the train, this woman hardly spoke a word to us, and I think we were all fine with it that way. I certainly didn’t feel well-disposed towards her enough to be inclined towards friendly conversation.
When we got to the airport, she guided and maneuvered us through small hallways and extra walkways that only the people on the inside, the staff, must use. Up elevators and around corners until finally we turned into a small cramped office space where several other women were.
And off to the side of the room, even more cramped than the office space, was a teeny tiny childrens play area with a game console, to elementary age kids, and chairs much too small for us to sit comfortably on. It was a place made for those children who cannot travel alone and have nowhere else to go.
And we were supposed to wait the next seven or eight hours in there.
“We know how to take care of ourselves in an airport,” Shaden tried to explain. “Can’t we just go wait by the gate?”
“I can call my parents so they can tell you that we can go in the airport by ourselves,” Lois said, phone out.
“We’ve all traveled by ourselves before,” I said. “We travel a lot. We know what we’re doing.”
But the airport workers just didn’t seem willing to listen.
“No,” one of them said, a tall blond woman (then again, everybody seems tall to me) with a heavy French accent. “No,” she said again. “We can’t let you go. You are minnows.”
What an insult! I felt quite offended, and more than a little annoyed. A minnow? As in a tiny helpless baby fish? As in a tiny helpless child? ‘Excuse me,’ I wanted to say, ‘but I have been to more than ten different countries, I speak some German and Arabic, and I am sixteen years old! I’m not a minnow!’
Fortunately, I didn’t say that, as such an outburst probably wouldn’t have helped our case to be seen as capable, responsible, grownup teenagers. Instead we kept trying to reason with them.
“We have traveled a lot before. Our parents can give you permission to let us take care of ourselves. I have my dad on the phone right now, and he says I can go. Don’t we seem a little too old for a room like this?”
And all we got in response was, “No, you are minnows.”
Finally, another woman stepped forward and said something that threw the whole conversation into a new light for me.
“You are minors,” she said. “We’re not allowed to let you out from under our care.”
You are minnows. You are minors. Ohhhhh… The heavy French accent of the tall blond woman had twisted her words until I totally misunderstood their meaning. She hadn’t been insulting us by calling us weak baby minnows. She’d been saying we were minors, under eighteen, not adults. Needless to say, things made a lot more sense then.
The whole situation was still frustrating and ridiculous considering our history of travel, and we still were arguing tooth and nail to not stay in this tiny room, but at least we hadn’t been insulted, at least not blatantly.
Looking back on it, this was probably just an excuse to get rid of our annoying arguments and make us someone else’s problem, but finally one of the airport women said they were taking us to another children’s room nearer to our gate. We went once again through the mysterious passageways of the airport workers, winding our way till we came to another children’s room and an office full of workers. Our escort handed us over gladly and retreated quickly back to her own work room.
The new airport worker looked us over once and said, “We’re going to try to make it so that you can go to your gate and wait there instead.”
We still had to wait in another children’s room (this one bigger) while the woman and her coworkers sorted everything out, and we still called our parents to make sure they could vouch for our responsibility. However, it wasn’t long before we were moving through security and into the main part of the airport, armed with more vouchers and our luggage.
One crisis averted, but who knew what else might happen in the Paris airport.
We waited on pins and needles for our flight. Even as we got food, watched a movie, and chilled, the nervous anxiety remained.
“Flight 1713 to Amman, Jordan now boarding.”
I leapt to my feet, scrambling to collect all my things as the line at the flight desk nearby started moving. We shuffled through the typically slow-moving line. We walked down the blue-glassed tunnel. We got on the big airplane and at last squeezed our way all the way down to the very end of the plane. We sat down. Seatbelts on. Tray tables up. Seatbacks in the upright position.
The plane moved out onto the runway.
The blast of the engines grew louder and louder.
The scene outside the window began to roll past slowly, then faster and faster.
The wheels came up, and we flew up into the sky!
We had escaped Paris. We were on our way home, with our families and soft beds awaiting us.
Although, I wasn’t quite sure there wouldn’t be any more trouble till we landed safely in Amman.
But that’s how it is with airport travel, at least if you’re a stresser like me. Still everything was going smoothly. I did some writing as we floated along, while Lois dozed against the window and Shaden dozed on my shoulder (yay middle seat).
Then the pressure started changing and we moved to peek out the window at the nearing lights of the city. Almost almost there.
When we finally landed, we inched along through long-lined immigration. Once we got to the desks though, everything went smoothly, and we went on, each with another stamp in our passports. Then at long last, we grabbed our suitcases from the baggage claim and bid each other farewell as we went to find our respective families.
My parents and brother were waiting for me, but when I ran forward to hug my brother, he ran helter-skelter away from me (of course, little brothers). I chased him though, until I gave him a squeezing hug, in spite of his wriggling. Then I hugged my parents, and gladly followed them outside the airport and off towards home.
The Great Paris Adventure had ended, and but I would never forget it, the good and the bad. Ever since, I’ve found it a fun story to tell. After all, adventures are much better told than lived.
About the Author
Aleah Zubrod is friendly, outgoing, and energetic. She thoroughly enjoys writing, singing, and good conversation. Her perfect day would include warm spring weather, friends over, a good book, and several cups of hot tea. She loves international travel and telling stories of the places she’s been. She is a Freshman at Eastern, part of the Templeton Honors College, and a Music Major.