The trip home
(We are back in Finland!)
We bought our USA plane tickets in January. They cost several thousand dollars and they weren’t even the very cheapest tickets, not quite. The very cheapest tickets had things like 13-hour layovers, or four legs (three stops), or both. I can still remember the last time we bought plane tickets under a “cheapest tickets no matter what” policy: it was in 2010 and it meant that after a 5.5-hour flight and a 6-hour layover and then an 8-hour flight we had to spend a 12-hour night with our two kids in front of the ticketing counter at the Newark airport before a final 3-hour flight (this was Cairo to Ithaca by the way). We have since decided that that is no way to live. So now we usually get the cheapest tickets, but will sometimes spend just a bit more to take a more direct flight or avoid awful layovers. For example, when we lived in the UAE we made a habit of flying the Emirates DXB-SEA-PDX route because it got us there in a snap. The way to think about it is this: if you were on the trip and encountering whatever the cheapest-itinerary-inconvenience is, how much would you be willing to pay to get out of it? Sometimes it’s fine, you can handle it, so…zero dollars. But sometimes it’s one or two hundred bucks (total, for five people), and that’s worth it to you! In the years since 2010, sometimes it has been, for us.
For us, for this trip, for the return leg, for a few reasons there was a specific flight on a specific day that would make the trip go just a bit smoother for not very much more money than other flights around the same time. So we booked it.
Two months later, we got an email from the airline saying “oh, you already bought your tickets, but we changed the itinerary, kthxbai”. And just like magic, our 10am departure from PDX - 85% of the reason for booking that flight on that day - became a 7am departure, also making our 2-hour layover in LAX a 5-hour layover. And here I thought this plane ticket was some kind of a binding agreement! Silly me.
You might be thinking that’s not such a big change. But it was annoying, because it threw out all the hard work we’d done in researching and purchasing that specific ticket, and also made sure that what was always going to be a circus - the five of us traveling halfway around the world - was now going to be downright uncivilized. Those three hours the airline yanked out from under our feet? They were three hours of sleep. And sleep is EVERYTHING when you’re traveling.
ANYWAY. Obviously we made it. We were on the road for just over 24 hours and absolutely bone-tired the whole time. But I do remember a few things.
At LAX during our substantial layover, we asked the airline for vouchers to cover lunch due to the “involuntary schedule change” (when I was on the phone complaining to an agent about the itinerary change, this is what he told me to say at the airport). I got them, no problem, but since the vouchers were from Alaska and our connecting flight was SAS, it involved a complicated dance between terminals B and 6 (yes, LAX has terminals 1-7 but also a terminal B). We walked the 2km from Terminal 7 to Terminal B and found a good spot to settle in for five hours. Then I walked back to Terminal 6 by myself to get the vouchers and the food (since the vouchers were only good in Terminal 6). Then I walked back to Terminal B with the food. Did you forget that I did a 25km trail race a few days ago? My legs certainly remembered.
It is such a good thing we got real food in our tummies, though, since our flight from LAX to Stockholm ended up being delayed. We watched with heavy hearts and droopy eyes in Terminal B as the minutes ticked by and our 2-hour transfer time in Stockholm got increasingly tighter. At one point they did finally load us on those terrible airport buses to go to the plane, which, can we just pause on that for a moment? Airports have ONE JOB, and it involves passengers walking from the terminal to the plane in a civilized fashion on a ramp. Those airport buses…they just…I can’t.
But yes, we got on those buses and they took us to the plane but only unloaded us next to the plane, into this weird multi-story covered stairway thing (almost like - wait for it - a RAMP on which we could WALK ONTO THE PLANE). And then…we just waited. And waited. It felt like the beginning of either a murder mystery or a horror movie - either someone was going to die and we 300 people would become the main suspects, or zombies were going to attack the outside world and we were going to have to start a new society right there in that enclosed stairwell. Well, since it was a flight to Stockholm and most of the people seemed to be Swedish, Jeremy and I considered pulling up Waterloo on my phone and blasting it out loud to raise morale a bit. But we didn’t. The stakes were too high (we were about to enter an enclosed space for 11 hours with these people and I wanted a flash mob, not an actual mob), plus I only had the Mamma Mia 2 version on my phone and for all I knew, these particular Swedes were ABBA purists.
Anyway, we did eventually get on the airplane, and 11 hours dwindled down to 9 and then 6 and then 4 and then 2, etc. Time does tend to pass, even when you’re uncomfortable and exhausted. We landed in Stockholm at 11.30. Our flight to Turku (the only one of the day!) was leaving at 11.55. Would we make it?!? Yes, we did! It involved sanctioned cutting in line at security, hearing our names paged on the intercom, and sprinting through the terminal.
So we’re back in Turku at last, and now the jet lag begins. Last “night” we went to bed at 6.30pm. Magdalena woke up at 11pm but thought it was 11am because it was still light outside. So she woke up Sterling to go play but then saw on a 24-hour clock that it was 23.00, not 11.00. Oops. Good thing they didn’t go knocking on a friend’s door!