Part 2 of 3 of the “Here We Go” Saga
We are booked on a Lufthansa flight to Kraków with a 3-hour layover in Frankfurt. Arriving at the Lufthansa counter at Logan Airport in Boston, we hand our passports to a very genial Lufthansa representative. He enters our round-trip flight booking into his computer. We have booked an arbitrary date for our return trip for the summer of 2016. My U.S. passport becomes a setback. The agent informs us that persons are not allowed to leave the U.S. if their passport expires within three months of the departure date or return trip date. My passport would expire in October 2016, a mere two months after the date we randomly chose to return to the U.S. I knew about the three-month passport expiration rule and thought I could just get a new passport next year at a U.S. consulate in Europe. I mention to the representative that I have a Polish passport and sheepishly, that I have dual citizenship. For a reason that I don’t remember now, I was advised that upon leaving the U.S., I should use my U.S. passport and not my European passport. In retrospect, that was a dumb idea. Producing the Polish passport moves the process for the representative.
Greg’s passport is reviewed. His visa is requested. Visa? We don’t need any visas. We have a thoroughly researched plan. We have business-class tickets. Don’t mess with our checklist! I’m sure my eyes had a bewildered patina. The representative, a good-natured, young fellow explains that Greg cannot get on a plane to the Schengen Area** without the visa that would allow him to stay beyond 90 days. We knew about the Schengen Area** and the 90-day stay limit, of course. We had already worked out that we would get Greg’s visa in Kraków and, I being a Polish citizen, was a citizen of the European union. There was no 90-day limit on me. We were very confident of the depth of our research done on the Internet, in chat forums, at the Polish consulate in New York, and on the Lufthansa web site. Up to this time, Lufthansa had not asked us for visa numbers at any time during the booking of our flight. We did not realize until this very minute, that the airline would not let us board their flight to Europe because our round-trip ticket had a return that was a year away and we had no visa with us. All the hoops we jumped through to administer the bureaucratic details for this trip were about to be flushed down a great hole of reality because of a randomly chosen return date. We were ‘no-goes’. We needed additional paperwork or a quick fix as we stared down our departure time.
The representative places a call to his supervisor for assistance. The supervisor arrives at the counter. She is a beautiful young woman wearing a jihab (head scarf) with artfully applied make-up and the energy of an Airedale terrier. The representative gives her a synopsis; she appraises the situation and has the solution in hand within 30 seconds. With an authoritative but not unpleasant voice, she submits that I must travel on my Polish passport. This would solve my visa problem for the Schengen area and the issue of my passport expiration. Greg’s return trip will have to be changed to just three months from his departure date. That would make him legal until he got the long stay visa as the spouse of a European national.
My Polish passport number is entered into the airline’s computer, it is accepted and the subsequent sound of ‘clickety-click-click’ is so satisfying as the boarding pass comes through the printer. I have a pass! Greg’s return date is changed to a date in December, the computer accepts. The printer spits out another boarding pass. He has a pass! The agent, Andre, smiles and jokes as we start to load our many bags onto the belt. We thank him and are off to the business class lounge to wait for our flight.
We have cheese, crackers, and lattes in the business lounge as we take photos, chat with other passengers and wait for our flight to be called. We have survived six legs (which means ‘segments’ in airline jargon) of our exit-adventure: 1. selling our big house and purchasing our little condo; 2. moving out of our big house and moving into the condo, an ordeal of a week’s duration; 3. forsaking our condo, putting it in the care of friends, packing our bags and driving 45 miles to the bus station; 4. riding four hours by bus to the hotel for an overnight stay; 5. loading our eleven bags onto the hotel van, unloading the bags from the hotel van, loading the bags on the van again in the morning and unloading them at the curb at the airport.
The unloading of the bags at the curb at the terminal, reminds me that I forgot to mention that Greg had shoulder surgery in July. He had a rotator cuff repaired. The orthopedist had said that he had a very long ragged tear, which could not be repaired orthoscopicaly. His recovery was going to be a long one: two years. His right shoulder was still painful and so he was travelling in a sling to protect the shoulder from injury. A jolt to the affected area, like a friendly pat on the shoulder, still caused him serious pain.
Greg was not to lift any bags – nada. I had a cataract removed just five weeks ago, so I had to be careful about lifting heavy loads as well. Up to this point we had had help with the heavy lifting: our son, the driver of the bus, the hotel van driver and the hotel porters had all helped with our bags. Now we were at the curb at the airport, after being dropped off by the hotel van. It was deserted in the middle of the day. There was no curbside check-in at Lufthansa that I could see. I left Greg with the bags to go and find a couple of luggage carts and wonder how many carts we might need. Three at least, I think. How were we going to manage three carts into the terminal?
As I approach the line of metal carts, a friendly face greets me with a smile and an offer of help. His name is Jean (the French for John) and he appears in a flash out of nowhere so I think he might have been an angel. He was wearing a service uniform that I did not recognize, a white shirt with red trim on the collar, a black and red cap and black pants. He had a French Caribbean accent and a beautiful smile. Yes, I said, your help would be very appreciated. Jean headed to the curb to get our bags, and ferried them into the terminal. The Lufthansa counter was not open yet and there were no passengers in the queue, so he arranged the luggage in a neat circle near the business class counter. We talked for a bit with Jean and then he was off. For me, this was an experience of spiritual guardianship because as I hoped for help with the luggage and for the ability to get these bags inside, Jean appeared. It was magical and I was thunderstruck.
The sixth leg of our trip was our comedy of visas, return trip booking dates, and impending passport expiration at the Lufthansa counter. And now at number 7, we are at the security checkpoint, after our bags, coats, shoes, watches, cameras, computers and belts went down the belt and through the x-ray screen. In the melee, we also pass our bodies through x-ray screening and then start gathering up our stuff and putting ourselves together on a bench nearby when Greg announces that he cannot find his passport. This causes a big fuss as the TSA agents are still close by and they start rechecking the belts and the floor and the machine. They advise Greg to recheck his bags, as the passport is not in the TSA screening area. This happens all the time, they say.
Here I want to reaffirm that Jean, our curbside savior, was indeed an angel. We had not seen him for several hours yet he appears again in the middle of the chaos of the lost passport, reassuring us that we would find the passport. “Check his jacket”, he says as Greg is going through his bags again and talking to the TSA agents. Greg has already checked it twice but I take the jacket, and check his pockets again. As Jean stands there, I reach into the inside pocket and there is the passport. See he was an angel.
**The Schengen Area is made up of 26 European countries that have abolished passport and border control at their common borders. The Schengen functions as a single country for international travel purposes. The visa regulations are the same for all Schengen countries. Internal border controls with the other Schengen members have been eliminated and external border controls with non-Schengen states have been strengthened. A visitor from outside the Schengen Area can only stay in the area for 90-days without a visa.