The journey over was a reward

(10.3.12) There’s just something so zen about flying over the Atlantic, listening to Bob Dylan (old and new) and John Lennon (sadly, only old). It’s a huge plane and packed to the gills. Aer Lingus served up a nice supper of what they called pasta with fennel sausage, which we would call Italian sausage, and a lovely cucumber and tomato salad. Also a brownie, but I didn’t eat that.

That we are even on this flight is remarkable. United Airlines arranged the itinerary, booking us through Houston and Chicago, and connecting with Aer Lingus for the hop across the pond. They could’ve kept us on an international United flight, but they chose to pass us on to their Aer Lingus partner. And very glad I am because it is a truly civilized group of folks up here. (At one point, during dinner, the captain comes on and requests that we all keep our seatbacks up while everybody is eating. Just as a courtesy to the person in the row behind, don’t you know. Left me wondering where were the Ayn Randian complaints about affronts to personal liberties, yada, yada, yada …)

But I digress. Getting to this flight was not easy. My rut-row sensors started going off last night when I tried to check in online and United’s website told me that we’d have to pick up our boarding passes at the ticket counter in Baton Rouge. Called the customer support line and was told that United couldn’t issue the boarding passes because our final leg was on another airline. Well, yeah, with their partner, to which they had chosen to pass on their responsibility for seeing us to our final destination. The customer service voice guaranteed me that we would have no problems – that everything was in order – but that we’d have to get the boarding passes at the airport. Once at the airport, we received passes for the first two legs, both on United. The sensor picked up its tempo as we headed off to the first flight, which was pleasantly uneventful, as was the second flight, into Chicago.

Now, the last time I flew internationally through O’Hare was eight years ago on a return flight from Ireland. Somehow, we’d departed from Newark, but come back through Chicago. At that time O’Hare was undergoing massive renovations in the international terminal, and my daughter and I wandered for hours like Moses in the dessert. Thankfully we had a long layover on that trip. This go-round, we were cramped for time. Remind me, please, to fly Newark on subsequent occasions.

Because our connections were a little tight, we had requested a wheelchair or cart for Marge because – while she is quite healthy and strong – at 87, she is beginning to move a little more slowly and we needed to make time. Thank goodness we did!

I’ll spare the sordid details and spring forward to when we met Milan, the wheelchair jockey who unbelievably enabled us to make the Aer Lingus flight. The first, very kind, wheelchair attendant got us – through a circuitous route – to the Aer Lingus counter in the international terminal. Sweet guy. At Aer Lingus the ladies called for another wheelchair to help us get through customs and to the gate because the final boarding call was pending for our flight. Up comes Milan and the green-jacketed lady walking with us – we were so late that we had gotten started, hoping to run into the wheel chair on the way – said “Oh, look, it’s Milan. You’ll make your flight now for sure!”

A short, handsome young man, he wheeled the chair around with a flourish and settled Marge in it, feet securely on the pads, and tightened a seat belt around her. He collected our passports and boarding passes, and ordered my brother and me to keep up with him. He said that customs security was very crowed and that we should stay close behind him. With that, he was off like a shot.

Bob and I raced off after them, barely keeping up. We could hear Marge laughing up ahead in the chair. Milan wheeled her into the customs security section, where lots of folks were removing shoes and belts, and right past the long queues, up to the customs officer at the front. Short delay here, but not much once the garda figured out we were all Donlons and quit trying to sort out the passports, then on to the conveyor belts. Milan grabbed several bins, tossed them on the floor, and told Bob and me – essentially – to strip. Not really, but he did bark that we should take off our shoes, jackets, belts, and whatnot, put them into the bins, and follow him. He told me to take my laptop out of the sleeve and hand it to him, which I did. Milan now was pushing Marge through security, somehow managing to get the TSA folks to wave her through, and shepherding our bins and my laptop through the screening machines all at once. He also had all of our passports and boarding passes. I was getting dizzy just watching him. He had us through the whole mess in about seven minutes flat. I wanted to kiss him!

Then he pointed to a cart a few yards away and told me to ask the driver to take Bob and me to M5, which (I think) was our gate (but it’s all a blur now). I did, he agreed, and Bob and I climbed on. That whole exchange took about 15 seconds and when we took off, Marge and Milan were nowhere to be seen. When we pulled up at the gate about one minute later, they were there waiting for us. Milan said: “What took you so long!” The Aer Lingus ladies at the gate knew him by name, of course, and indicated he should swipe his card so he could enter the jetway with Marge’s chair. He rolled her right up to the door of the jet, gallantly unbuckled her belt and helped her up out of the chair. He deserved a great tip and he got one. I was so flustered, though, that I forgot to take his picture. (Marge had really enjoyed the ride and later told us that Milan drove faster than her late husband, our father.)

We boarded the plane and took our seats. The flight crew closed the door right behind us and we settled in. Then we waited 40 minutes for our turn to take off. Now I’m sitting in a darkened cabin, listening to music on headphones and typing this story. All in all, a fine adventure for the first day and we haven’t even arrived yet.

Next up: More about transportation misadventures and a fabulous visit to Newgrange!

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