by Abbey Edmonson
If you need a good laugh, or if you need something to make your life seem less stressful, this is the article for you. This is a story in which almost everything that could go wrong, goes wrong. One time, I got stuck in Belgium. I was literally physically incapable of leaving, and I was not even supposed to be there at all.
Let’s backtrack. My art history class and I were going on a “field trip” of sorts to Greece and Italy in the summer of 2017. My teacher goes on this trip every other year, and she loves bringing her art history students with her. We could actually look at and step in front of the works of art that we’d studied throughout the semester. This would be my second time traveling across the pond. We were all obviously extremely excited about it. My parents, however, were not about to let me go to Europe for a second time when they hadn’t even been once. The only way I could convince them to let me go was if they and my brothers could join too. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go to Greece and Italy just because I didn’t want my family there!
The plan was that we would fly from Birmingham to Atlanta, Atlanta to New York, and New York to Athens. My family took an earlier flight to New York, but I stuck with my teacher because she’d already gone on this trip several times in the past. I was sticking with the person who had experience, which I thought was a good idea at the time. Plot twist: it wasn’t.
Shortly after my parents arrived at JFK airport, the airport delayed all incoming flights due to a bad rainstorm. Meanwhile, I was still in Atlanta with my teacher and classmates. Here is an excerpt from 3:30PM on day one of my travel journal, “Just landed in Atlanta! Apparently our flight to New York is delayed for 3 hours.. not sure how that will affect the rest of the trip.”
Oh silly, stupid, naive Abbey. We didn’t leave that airport for another 7 hours. We got to JFK at 3:30AM. My family had already safely landed in Athens at that point. The company failed to provide us with hotel rooms, so all of us slept on the airport floor. While my parents were comfortably sleeping in their beds in Athens, I was curled up on a ratty, old towel with a neck pillow and a jacket. I was the only one who packed all of my belongings in a carry-on bag, so no one else had any clothes to change into.
I’m pretty sure I was getting delusional at that point. Before I go any further, I feel like I should firmly establish that this is a judgement-free zone. When you read what I’m about to say, please note that I wrote it at 3:30 in the morning, and I’d gone 22 hours without any sleep whatsoever. Here is an excerpt that I wrote after receiving the news that we were stuck in JFK, “We may not have nearly as much time in Greece as I originally expected, but damn it it’s gonna be the best day and a half of my life… I’m going to stuff my face with feta and pita and hummus and lamb, and I’m gonna walk all the calories off when I visit the Acropolis and the Agora and step into a piece of history that literally shaped civilization. I’m going to put on my prettiest sun dress and take my hair out of my braid and paint my face with golden makeup and bask in my own radiance as all the dark-haired, tan, Greek boys stop in their tracks to admire that beautiful American tourist who must be a reincarnate of one of the goddesses their ancestors used to worship.”
Yeah… Life was rough. Okay, moving on.
The company that we used probably tried everything that they could, but we were less-than-satisfied with their accommodations. The plan was that we would split up. Five of us had to take a cab to New Jersey and fly to Athens from there, and the rest of us had to fly to Belgium in order to take a connecting flight to Athens.
I’m not going to lie, I was actually a little excited to go to the Brussels airport. At least I could say that I visited more countries on this trip than everyone else. We got to Brussels with plenty of time before the connecting flight, so we spent the day exploring the airport and finally letting ourselves relax. Rookie mistake.
About two hours before the flight, we tried to get our tickets at the gate. To everyone’s horror and dismay, some miscommunication occurred in the system, and only 6 of us actually had tickets for the flight to Athens. There were 15 of us in the group, so 9 of us were SOL. The 6 people who were accounted for got on the plane and flew to Athens while the rest of us were stranded in the Brussels airport.
At this point, we were all too tired and frustrated to talk. It was Wednesday afternoon, and we’d started traveling on Sunday. Out of the previous 56 hours, I’d slept for 8.
Broken and dismayed, we decided to go to baggage claim to see if the others could get their luggage and at least put on some fresh clothes. Turns out that that was one of the worst decisions we’d ever made. They didn’t have our bags, and they wouldn’t let us back into the airport because we didn’t have tickets. We were stranded in the Brussels airport baggage claim. There was only one bathroom, and it was constantly bustling with people. There was no way to get water, and the only source of food was a vending machine that only took coin euros. All we had were paper euros. Oh, and did I mention that there was a terrorist attack in Brussels the day before we’d arrived? Armed guards were EVERYWHERE.
My classmates and I slumped onto a bench and started laughing hysterically. Laughter was the only thing we could do at that point. We could either laugh or cry, and I think I did a mixture of both. Here’s an entry from day 2 of my travel journal, “Honestly, I almost just want to go home at this point. I’ll let my family enjoy the vacation I worked my butt off for while I wait for them back home… I want to scream and cry and throw a fit like a little kid. This is absolutely 100% without a shadow of a doubt the most infuriating, frustrating, and ridiculous experience of my life.”
After a couple hours, the company finally gave us new tickets to Athens. However, they didn’t tell us about the tickets until an hour before the flight was set to take off. We all sprinted towards the door and rushed through security and customs (again) as fast as we could. There were about 20 minutes to spare by the time we found the correct ticket booth.
Words cannot describe the level of frustration that I experienced when I heard the woman behind the counter say, “Standby”. After waiting 56 hours being stuck on the dirty floor in JFK and the dismal baggage claim in Belgium, three of us were on standby. And guess who was one of those lucky ducks on standby? That’s right, yours truly. My mouth squeezed shut as I cast my eyes down at my feet. I knew if I looked around at my classmates I would burst into tears.
Dejected and distraught, we all made our way towards the gate. My teacher tearfully explained our situation to the flight attendants. The other chaperone was only half-joking when she said she’d sue the company for emotional abuse. I was too drained to laugh.
To our immense relief and pleasant surprise, the flight attendants took pity on us! I was placed in the very last row by the bathrooms, and the other two people on standby sat with the flight attendants. It was a smelly, bumpy flight, yet it was the best flight I’d experienced during that whole trip.
We arrived to Athens at midnight on what was supposed to be the second day of our trip. Smelly and exhausted, we all just crashed into our beds. Everyone was so tired sick of traveling that no one had the energy to care that the company also lost our luggage!
The only solace I gained from this experience is the fact that I probably won’t ever experience anything more frustrating or stressful in this lifetime. So yeah, I hope this made someone laugh, or cry, or both.