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Traveling Home

Hamburg airport wins the prize for Most Convoluted Check-in Process. Our group had to go to stand in line at four different counters in order to successfully acquire boarding passes and hand off luggage. A detailed account is below for people who like details.

I’d expected my trip home to be solitary and introspective. Instead I traveled with friends from the hotel to the airport and on the first flight. Then I made a new friend on the transatlantic flight. I’d expected to spend that flight writing or watching a bazillion movies. Instead I ended up seated next to a fellow geek and we talked most of the trip home. Then we hung out together through customs and had dinner before parting for our separate flights. It was unique in my traveling experiences to collect a friend I’m likely to keep beyond the length of that trip.

By the time I reached the Salt Lake airport I wasn’t capable of doing more than shambling toward baggage claim and my shuttle pick up. The shuttle bus driver was a truly kind and thoughtful person. He was also non-stop chatty, but fortunately there were other passengers who were able to give him answers. Because my brain was so tired he might as well have been speaking Russian, or German, or Finnish, or any of the other foreign languages that my brain learned to filter out during my trip.

Then I was home where I swapped stories with my kids before collapsing into bed.

Details of Hamburg Airport:

Counter 1: I started at a self check-in kiosk. There were four of them, but only one was functioning. This meant we had to stand in line waiting for a group of fifteen young men to check into their flight and print their boarding passes. Then I took my bags to drop them off. My travelling companions were both re-directed to the full service kiosk which was around a corner and several hundred feet away. The luggage drop off was also an automated kiosk with an attendant nearby. The first bag went relatively smoothly, though the attendant had to call out instructions when she thought I wasn’t doing things properly. The second bag was the large case for the writing excuses recording gear. The attendant brusquely told me I had to take it to the full service kiosk. So I walked to join my friends in a new line.

Counter 2: We were in line with a dozen other people and there was no one at any of the desks. The front of the line was two young women with three small children, two car seats, and several very large bags. They informed us that they’d been in line when the people at the counter had abruptly closed up shop and left them standing there un-checked-in with small children to attempt to entertain. An inquiry to the self-checking bag attendant netted the information that the posts would be opened two hours before the flight. They opened at least fifteen minutes later than that. However when they did show, they immediately observed that one of my traveling companions was riding a scooter and in need of disability services. Our group was whisked to the front of the line, much to the frustration of others who felt like they shouldn’t have been shunted aside. Fortunately their frustration was aimed at the attendant, not at us. Also fortunately the other attendant immediately took the two women and their children to help them. When It was my turn at the counter she put a tag on the box of gear and informed me I had to take it to oversize luggage drop off and then, because it was a second bag, I had to go to an additional counter to pay the fee for the extra bag.

Counter 3: The line for oversize baggage was about six people deep. My travel friend was also lugging a case of gear, so we decided to divide and conquer. She went to go pay for the bags while I stood in line to get them onto the plane. Naturally the machinery ground to a complete halt just as I reached the front of the line. The workers spoke to each other in rapid German and their body language seemed to indicate that we were all waiting on some sort of a mechanical failure or pause. But then they took the bags without trouble, so that was good.

Counter 4: Paying for bags was still happening when I reached that counter. For some reason it took two attendants eight minutes of scowling at the screen, conversing in German, and typing to manage to charge our credit card and then hand us receipts. We made a brief stop back at counter 2, where the attendant there double checked the work of the counter 4 attendants.

The party split up with half in the hands of disability services who whisked them through back ways to the airplane. The rest of us went through regular security. When we arrived at our gate, there were zero chairs. This was not that all the chairs were taken, it was that they did not exist. Wide open space, not a chair to be seen. Fortunately the airplane had saved us some seats and the Amsterdam airport was a much more pleasant experience.

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