Friday, 5/23/14

We were an hour late leaving Dulles yesterday, and to my surprise, we don’t make any of that time up during the long flight. It has seemed to me that most airlines build extra time into their schedules so that they can still be on time if they’re a little late getting out. But we’re an hour late leaving, and over an hour late arriving in Zurich. That could be a problem, since we have a relatively short turnaround time for the flight to Dar es Salaam. As we’re approaching Zurich, the flight attendant tells those going to Dar (and several other places) to just report to the service desk to get rescheduled. I figure it’s worth the effort to try to catch the flight anyway, since there are 13 of us, and often the crew will hold a flight for a few minutes if a late connecting flight has a good number of passengers on it.

We land on Runway 14 and park right next to an aircraft from Edelweis Air; that strikes me as funny for some reason. We head briskly a few gates down the concourse to arrive at the departure gate 8 minutes late; the door is closed, but the plane is still there. “Has Dar departed?” “I’m sorry, sir, it has.” “I see the plane right there; there are 13 of us. I don’t suppose you could let us on?” “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t.”

I just don’t understand that. They’re going to have to rebook all those flights, most of which will probably end up on another airline, so they’ll lose that money. They should be able to make up the lost time on the flight (although this last leg makes me wonder). What’s for them to lose by opening the door and letting us on, especially if our luggage can always join us later?

But that’s their call and their business, so we wend our way back to the Swissport service desk to get rescheduled. It’s a long line—we wait for well over an hour—and I have time to think. I assume there won’t be another United flight to Dar from Zurich today, and certainly not one with 13 open seats. I may have to get us a hotel for the night, or even more, if there aren’t 13 open seats tomorrow. I bet hotels in Zurich are expensive. Will they take US cash? Or will I have to call my credit card company and tell them to honor a charge from Zurich? I guess I could use my debit card to withdraw Swiss francs? And why is the Swiss currency called the franc, and not the swiss? And why isn’t Switzerland on the euro like everybody else?

523a 523b

At the head of the line, sitting at the desk, is a remarkable young woman who takes us on as a group. With the precision of a Swiss watch or army knife she lays out options for us. There’s a Turkish Air flight to Istanbul in 30 minutes, with a 3-hour layover before a flight out to Dar. We’ll get there at 2:30 am. But there are only 9 seats. She offers us several other options for the other 4, who, for reasons I don’t understand, all have to be girls. We can send 3 of them to Frankfurt, then Nairobi, then Dar, arriving at 9:30 tomorrow morning. And we can send Hannah to Bucharest, then Istanbul, where she can join the 9 for the flight to Dar.

523c

Hmm. A college girl, alone, in Bucharest, Romania. Nope, I’m, not gonna do that. Can we switch her with one of the guys, especially me? Nope. No time to ask why. Hannah, are you OK with traveling alone? Yes, she says, tentatively. Well, I’m not OK with that. What else can we do? The lady says, “I can get her in with the other 3 to Frankfurt.” I wonder why she didn’t just do that to start with, but we barely have time to make the Istanbul flight, so I don’t ask. Time to make a hard decision, fast. Split the team, or lose a day or two and try to keep us all together?

OK. The 4 are all adult females, who will be together the whole time. One of them is a college graduate with travel experience in Europe; another is a couple of years older than the rest. They’ll spend the overnight on an airplane, not hanging around an airport somewhere or trying to get a hotel in a strange city. And we’ll have cell phone contact. I have Sarah S call my phone, and we confirm that it works. OK. Let’s do this.

So 9 of us say goodbye to Caitlin, Hannah, Kaleigh, and Sarah S and run for Gate E62 and our flight to Istanbul. Wheels up from Runway 28 at 12:03 pm.

You know, nearly every time I’ve taken a team, I’ve left somebody somewhere. In 2010 I left 3 people in London; in 2013, 3 people in New York. This is not a good record. All the way to Istanbul, I’m second-guessing myself. Sure, we have cell phone contact, but most of the time one or the other group will be in the air with cell phone off. What good is contact if it’s only theoretical? But there’s little I can do now. For better or worse, I’ve made the decision.

Istanbul. Turkey. Cool. That was unexpected. And for the record, Turkish Air was probably the best airline of the trip out. They start off by giving you a free sample of turkish delight, a confection of jellied fruit juice and various bits of fruit and nuts, cut in cubes and generously dusted with powdered sugar. It brings back powerful childhood memories for me; years ago, some Turkish immigrants in Cashmere, WA, near my hometown of Spokane, started producing Aplets and Cotlets, which became a family tradition for us. You can get them on the internet if they don’t distribute in your area. I recommend them. Plus they have a lot more flavors now.

523d 523e

The flight to Istanbul’s Runway 36 is routine, as is the layover. The airport is like a mall for tourists—but aren’t they all?—with gigantic duty-free shops (why do people buy the absurdly overpriced stuff there?) and a food court and a bazaar filled with turkish delight and pashminas but no shot glasses that say “Turkey” and are made in China. I turn everybody loose and tell them to meet me right here at 5 pm. To my surprise they do, and we head out to Gate 307, Runway 36, and then to Dar.

523f

Up in the air, junior birdman, and another sample of turkish delight. This flight too is routine—isn’t that the best kind?—and we land in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, at 2:30 am. To my surprise, it doesn’t feel that late despite our general exhaustion from 36 hours of travel, I suppose because it’s only 7:30 pm EDT, and our heads and bodies haven’t had time to deal with the time-zone change yet.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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