Sunday, November 28, 2010

Foulup at Fiumicino

When I stepped into the taxi at 4 a.m., I thought to myself, "this is more like it!" Lidia had arranged the early morning taxi ride through a private company, which was not only punctual, but quite comfortable. Transportation to Rome's Fiumicino is difficult to arrange between midnight and 6 a.m., and taxi fares can run high: this one charged 48 euros. However, the car was not the usual service-type vehicle: instead, it was more of a luxury car, feeling more like a limousine than a taxi. A handsome, well-dressed young Italian drove quickly through the empty streets of Rome, and it seemed a lovely way to end my soggiorno (stay) in Italy. Uh, hold that thought.

When we arrived at terminal 5, the terminal designated for departing American flights, we found it was closed. The driver told me I was there too early. However, my flight was at 6:30, and the standard advice for international flights as to arrive 2 hours early, so I was right on schedule. He said he had to pick up another fare, then left me standing outside the terminal with my baggage. Terminal 5 stands apart from the other terminals, and I could not see them or even guess where they were. I had my cell phone, but had no idea where to call for information.

I had once arrived at the Florence airport around the same time, only to discover the airport didn't open until 5:30 a.m. to accommodate 6:30 a.m. flights. With that in mind, I assumed it would be the same in Rome, and I just needed to wait. I saw a few people entering nearby buildings, but no one came near terminal 5. I wondered why there were no other passengers showing up: did they know something I did not?

I waited outside in the cold for 45 minutes, when two Americans, father and son, arrived for their 7 a.m. flight. By now it was 5:20 a.m. I noticed a woman going towards the employee entrance, and asked her what time the terminal opened. Her answer: 6 a.m. "But my flight leaves at 6:30!" I was starting to feel a bit panicky. She found another employee who spoke English, and he told me that we were at the wrong terminal. Terminal 5 is only for international flights, and since I was flying to Amsterdam for the first leg of my journey, I should be at Terminal 2. Likewise the other Americans, whose first flight went to Paris.

I asked how to get to Terminal 2? There were no shuttles at this time. I could call a taxi, but didn't know what number to call. The Italian man was no help. His comment: "I don't know the number. Italians don't use taxis: only the tourists." (Not true, but no point in arguing.) Then I asked him if we could walk there, and how long it would take. "Yes: 15 minutes." And so, lugging our baggage behind us, we three began our trek along the street leading back to the main terminal complex. The panic was building, but what could I do but keep moving forward?

It was a bit hairy walking along the street while cars and buses whizzed by, but thankfully, there were only a few so early in the morning. I was thankful to have some company, though the two men were of little help to me. When we arrived at Terminal 2, there was no evidence of our airlines. Exasperated, I flagged down several carbinieri (military police) who were in the terminal chatting. They informed me that we should be at Terminal 1. By now, I was beyond panic, but not yet ready to concede to defeat.

At Terminal 1, all the counters were the same: Alitalia. The Americans wished me goodbye and good luck, and I made a tour of the counters, looking for one with a Delta/KLM flight, finally finding it in the last row. By now, it was after 6 a.m. and I still had to check in, go through security and find the proper departure gate. But somehow, I made it, and just in time.

My error was in assuming that I needed to go to Terminal 5. My previous flights at Fiumicino have all been international, to or from the U.S., so it didn't occur to me that things would be different this time. When I bought my ticket, I had arranged for a flight from Rome to Atlanta. But Delta changed the flight plan, adding an extra connection in Amsterdam.

Once on the plane, we had to wait 30 minutes for other delayed passengers to arrive...wouldn't you know it? I was just thankful I 'd made it and was settled in my seat. The connecting flights in Amsterdam and Detroit were uneventful, though time-consuming. In Amsterdam one has to go through Passport Control, an interview and then a Security check; in Detroit, it's necessary to claim your bags, go through Customs, recheck your bags and go through another Security check. It was more of a hassle for me than most passengers, as I had two computers to pull out and put back into my carry on bags. On the flight to Rome, I'd only had to go through security once, so it was a much simpler process. With each country you pass through, another security check is necessary. But it's for everyone's safety, so I have no complaints.

Since I was traveling on Thanksgiving Day, the airports in Detroit and Kansas City were nearly empty. The flight to KC arrived 20 minutes early, so I had time to retrieve my bags and was ready to leave the airport when my son arrived. As we drove west to Lawrence, blue sky greeted us in all directions, and a vivid, colorful sunset welcomed me home. And truly, I was thankful to be in sunny Kansas again.

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