July 29, 2004

Transit

I had read in the airport guide that the last bus for the airport left Sants-Estació at 11:15pm, so I figured it left Plaça Catalunya maybe five minutes earlier. All the same, I wanted to try to get there by 11 just in case (and to allow for lateness, etc). Having left the restaurant, I walked at a fairly brisk pace and got to the plaça right on time; which left the problem of how to find the bus. Plaça Catalunya is a huge area, and it was not immediately obvious where to find the bus I needed. I saw one bus stand, but on closer inspection it seemed to be for city and night busses, having no markings at all for the Aerobus. Just then, I looked up and saw the Aerobus at its stand on the next side of the plaça, maybe forty yards away. I ran across the street, and it started pulling away. Now, I can run pretty well, and I can run with a backpack pretty well, but running with two very full, very heavy backpacks is simply not recommended. I'm not sure why I kept running even as the bus kept going; maybe I thought it'd see me and stop. In fact, he did stop, and as I approached I saw two girls talking to him in rapid-fire Catalan (or maybe Spanish; I was too addled to really notice) through the door. This went back and forth a few times, and then he opened the door for me. I tried to summon a bit of Catalan: "Aquest bus, um..." He helpfully prompted: "a l'aeroport?" Si! Si, si. I pulled out my money and got change, and then took a seat towards the back.

At this point, I took the opportunity to redivide stuff between the big and small backpacks: it had been "stuff I need today" vs "stuff I don't need today", but I had to make it "stuff I need on the plane/ever" vs "stuff I don't need on the plane/may never see again". Happily, there were only, like, five people on the bus, so I was able to spread out a little as I unpacked and repacked various compartments. I did decide to leave the bottles of wine and olive oil in the checked luggage, carefully surrounded by an assortment of clothes, despite some worry about the rough baggage handling at Schiphol, because I really didn't want to be lugging all that stuff around.

I finished the repacking and then sat back and tried to calm down from my mad dash for the bus. We got to the airport about 11:40, and a sign said that check-in would start at 1:45, so I loaded my stuff onto a (free!) luggage cart and settled in to wait. I bought a can of Coke for the exhorbitant price of €1,60, the first soda I'd had in more than a week. They use a different formula there, but it still tasted like home.

The check-in process was pretty uneventful, as was passport control (the guard glanced at it) and security (where they don't make you take your laptop out, so it's a lot less of a pain). My 3:55 flight was the only one between midnight and 7am, so we were really the only people there. I sat in the waiting area for another hour, reading, until they announced the start of boarding. Initially, they said "business class only", so I sat back down and waited; as more and more people went through, I kept wondering why they hadn't announced general boarding. They never did. The line got down to the last few people, the screen actually said "last call", and they still had made no general announcement. Whatever. It's not like it changed which seat I got. On the plane, I read for a little while and then went to sleep.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, it was somewhere in terminal B, I think, and on our way to our next gate, we had to go through passport control. I'm totally baffled as to the logistics of this airport. Anyway, I had checked the monitors and they said to go to F7, which I did (after calling home and getting a bite to eat). The monitor there did indeed include KLM611 as the next flight, so I sat down to read.

After about an hour, I glanced up and my flight was no longer on the listing. There were no general departures boards anywhere nearby, so I went in a bit, only to discover that the flight was now listed for gate E25, all the way at the end of a different arm radiating out from the main concourse. This was a solid ten-minute brisk walk, including walking on the moving walkways that covered about half the distance, so this other gate must have been at least a mile away. Sort of irritating. Anyway, I got to the gate, read for a while, realised I was falling asleep, and set my alarm for 9:00. This really freaked out a lot of the people in the area, until I groggily showed them that it was an alarm clock I was turning off; did they think it was a bomb or something?

Boarding was purportedly starting at 9:10 for the 10:50 flight, but there didn't seem to be a line and they hadn't made any announcements. I milled around in the general area (·) and noticed one person go into the gate area, and apparently through security. I asked if boarding had started, and they said yes, so I pulled out my passport and ticket and went through; I'm not sure why they didn't announce it, or why they didn't get the business class folks in first. I'm also not clear on when exactly they do at-the-gate security, whether it's for US flights or what, but in any case after getting felt up by a Dutch security guard I got onto the jetway and boarded the plane.

I've never been on a 747 before, so it was cool to see stairs in the plane going up to the business class section, but since we couldn't actually see anything up there, it was less cool than it might have been. When I got to my seat, though, I was scheduled for the window seat, but a man and his son were occupying the window and middle seats. I was disappointed, but didn't feel like making a big deal out of it, so I just took the aisle seat. This turned out to be a mistake, as the kid had to get up and go to the bathroom about every forty minutes. (I guess this probably had something to do with trying out the nifty airplane lavs, but it was still irritating.) About halfway through the flight, when he went I asked the guy if I could just take the window seat, since I was going to be sleeping the rest of the way. He agreed, and I got my window seat.

I didn't sleep the whole rest of the way, though. I slept a bunch, but then I got into half-watching the airline movie, which was the one where Julia Stiles falls in love with a guy that turns out to be the crown Prince of Denmark. The fascinating thing was that I didn't have headphones on, and it was subtitled in Dutch, which it turns out I can read more of than I would have expected. (On the other hand, this was an extremely low-entropy string of text, so maybe it's not so indicative. I'm sure I couldn't read a Dutch newspaper, for instance.)

On the plane we got our customs forms to fill out. The guy with the kid said he didn't have his glasses and asked if I'd help him fill it out. I kind of wonder if he was actually illiterate, because even after I explained what each blank was for, he appeared to be copying out of his passport and state ID, even for things like his name, which you might expect he'd already know how to spell, and his birthday, and country of origin. His English was really good, so I don't think it was just a language barrier. And he had clearly found ways to compensate. Still, it was interesting to see.

It turns out, by the way, that eight-hour flights are qualitatively longer than six-hour flights, in much the same way that four- to six-hour flights are qualitatively longer than two-hour flights. I don't know where the break is, but it's definitely there somewhere.

Finally, we landed around 11:50, and after about twenty minutes I was able to actually exit the plane. The line at immigration was long, but went fast (at least for the U.S. citizens). Then we had to sit and wait for our checked luggage to come out before we could process through customs; this took almost an hour. Actually waiting in line at customs only took about five or ten minutes, and the actual processing was pretty perfunctory. The only observation of note was that no photography was allowed in the customs area, and you're not allowed to use your cell phones either. Why not, I wonder? I can't think of any legitimate reason to ban them.

Anyway, having passed customs, I got to a bank of phones, dropped in a couple of quarters, and called home for my pickup. At 1:30 I was picked up, and I got home a few minutes before 2, having been in transit for a little over 22 hours. Whew!

Posted by blahedo at 6:57pm on 29 Jul 2004
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