Due to a long-unresolved labour dispute, all Lufthansa crew in Frankfurt engaged in a mini-strike before noon on August 31. This meant the plane we were to fly across the Atlantic on was late arriving in Houston that afternoon. And then there were technical difficulties, such as a flat tire. All of which pushed our departure from Houston to Frankfurt back by about two hours.
Those two hours were exactly the amount of breathing room we had arranged in our itinerary to make our transfer to the flight to Toulouse.
Eventually, we boarded and took off. Hurricane Isaac caused the pilot to divert north around its very bumpy edges.
Despite that, we actually made up a little bit of time. When we landed in Frankfurt early the next afternoon (Greenwich time), we had all of 15 minutes (!) to disembark, go through passport control, get to the regional terminal, go through security, find our gate, board…. Lufthansa assured us (and all others on board) that the airline would rebook passengers who missed connections on the next available flights. However, after 21 hours of travel, we preferred to not have to take them up on the offer.
So we ran.
Frankfurt is a huge airport.
To passport control: Cleared, stamped, waved through.
Fortunately, the flight to Toulouse was also Lufthansa, so we didn’t have to collect and transfer baggage.
We ran to the regional terminal.
We ran to security. Where there was the expected, usual screech to a halt as we divested ourselves of carry-ons and jackets, pulled out laptops and cameras, emptied pockets, etc. Except that there were no plastic trays into which to dump the stuff that was now spilling out of our arms.
And then it happened. You hear of these kinds of incidents occurring. You see them in the movies. But this time, it took place right in front of us. The woman in line immediately before me, who had also been on the flight from Houston, got impatient with waiting for the Security Guy to get around to doling out the trays, one by one, to the passengers waiting for them, as if the trays were priceless relics that could be appreciated fully only in scarcity. She darted around the person in front of her and grabbed a couple of trays stacked there, so close, yet so clearly not close enough.
Security guy took issue and told her to wait her turn.
She said: “Yes, of course. I’m just trying to get my things ready.” And reached around for another tray.
He remonstrated again.
“Look, I’m very sorry, but I have a connection to make, and there are no trays at the end of the table here where they should be.” She pulled a nearly full bottle of water out of her pack and plunked it down right in front of him for him to deal with. She looked utterly exhausted and totally stressed, and was completely intent on getting her computer and jacket and phone and other stuff laid out and preparing to go through the metal detector.
The person before her went through, and there were still no trays at the end of the table in which to dump my stuff.
Security Guy was taking his time, moving slowly and doing only one single thing at a time. And, at this particular moment, that was talking to the woman in front of me as she unloaded, arranged, emptied, and did the required baring of objects and artifacts for the gods of transportation safety. I debated internally for a microsecond, reached around her—exactly as she had done earlier—for trays for me and Gaston, watching the two of them out of the corner of my eye. I think he noticed, but was too focused on her and their exchange to engage with me.
He was saying something to her, and she cut him off abruptly with a chopping hand motion. “Excuse me. My plane was late getting in, and I have just 10 minutes until my next flight leaves. I am in a hurry, and you are very slow. There is no excuse for this slowness and for not having the trays at the end of the table where all these people are waiting for them. You really must hurry up the way you do your job, because this is completely unacceptable.”
As She turned away and marched towards the metal detector, he said something. I didn’t catch what it was, but She apparently did.
She apparently did, very clearly indeed.
She stopped short—as if jerked on a leash—paused ever, ever so briefly. As those microseconds unfolded, her face showed the struggle taking place between her limbic system and her prefrontal cortex. Executive function lost in the face of exhaustion, stress and whatever other issues she was experiencing: She swung around and, in doing so, changed the course of the rest of her day.
And nearly ours, too.
“What did you say?!”
“No, what did you say to me! I demand that you repeat what you just said.”
“You told me to Go f*** myself. I heard you. Do you call that professional? Do you call that good service? I’m trying to catch a plane…. yadayada.”
Security Dude backed right down, making every nonverbal sign that he was ready to let it go, but She just wouldn’t. And didn’t. He quietly disappeared into the restricted area, and someone else took his place.
And She kept going, loudly.
I kept my head down, my face neutral, and finished dumping my stuff. Meanwhile, the inner monologue: “Crapcrapcrap Why couldn’t the crazy woman have been in line behind us What if they lock down because of her What if we miss our flight because of this If this were anywhere in the States, the sirens would be going and the guys in uniforms with guns would be running over here and we would be having drop to the ground with our hands in the air Not that she didn’t have a point or two or three God he was slow unreasonably slow Five minutes left just five minutes and we miss our flight If we haven’t already missed it Oh, thank gods, she’s going through the detector Maybe we’ll get through before this escalates further oh, crap, the detector guy has left his station They’re all gathering around her This is it Crapcrapcrap BREATHE!!!. ”
Minutes seemed to pass.
Then another person took up the metal detector station and waved me forward.
Phew. One of us through.
Crazy Lady was still ranting, still gesticulating, on the other side, waiting for her bags to come through x-ray, now asking for the manager. Three security personnel were peering into the monitor as Her stuff was x-rayed, scrutinizing everything minutely and slowly.
Gaston came through the detector. We stood quiet and mouselike at the end of the conveyor belt, next to Her, waiting for our stuff. She still carried on and on, getting shriller and shriller as they took longer and longer with her stuff. Every bag she had placed onto the x-ray belt was being pulled off for extra-special attention. And She kept at it. Security people were converging on our x-ray station from across the hall. The manager came out, went back behind the bullet-proof glass, came out again. No big-chested law-enforcing bruisers had yet appeared. (Mimi to self: “Man, they are really tolerant here. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”)
“He told me to F*** myself, blah, blah, blah.”
It occurred to me, as I was waiting, and pretending to not watch, and making eye contact with nobody—nobody!—that: a) She was experiencing a complete blood-sugar meltdown; b) She was bipolar manic, and; c)—again—why did we have to be in line behind Her?
Then, finally—finally!—my trays came through. I grabbed, stuffed, loaded, buckled. Gaston said, “Go. Run. I’ll see you at the gate.”
And ran. And ran. Made a wrong turn and backtracked.
Got to the gate, everyone was milling around, the flight had not yet started boarding. Gaston had beat me there. And—
The gate attendants announced that the flight would be delayed 20 minutes.
Fifteen minutes later, an American came panting up and asked anyone who would listen/understand English/care enough to respond, “Is this the flight to Toulouse?!”
“Yes,” I answered. “It’s been delayed. They’ll be boarding at 20-after.”
“Well, thank goodness for that. I thought I was going to make it, but there was an incident at Security and they had it all locked down for about 15 minutes.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “We know. All about it.”