Thursday, May 12, 2011

On the move

Here I am in Tirana again, after another excellent trip operated by Lufthansa Airline. Each time I travel there are new experiences, as usual. This time I really understood why passengers are asked to show up at the airport at least 3 hours before departure. I never saw such crowds in my life!

Terminal 1 at JFK airport is usually busy since it handles at least 5 foreign airlines, but, now some of them are using the new, huge Airbus 380 crafts that house almost 400 passengers each. I came to realize this after I spoke with someone at the gate where I arrived this time just a while before they started boarding.

While the check-in procedure is always very efficient and speedy notwithstanding the line of waiting passengers, the problem this time came when I almost couldn't find the end of the line to go through security. It was spanning the entire length of the terminal although there were just 6 flights due to depart in a 2 hour time frame. As usual, not to rush, I allow myself plenty of time, and end up having to spend quite a bit of waiting at the gate before boarding. This was not the case this time around.

While I stood on line for 1 1/2 hour to reach the security point I watched many frantic passengers being selected from the waiting line by some roaming security staff who had the situation under control. They whisked away the late passengers through a special line so that would not miss their departing flights, while pushing the rest through several check points.

Overall it was a slow and agonizing process to finally reach the gate. This time I, at the airport 3 hours ahead of time, only had about 15 minutes to spare before getting a priority boarding. The flight was fully booked, but it left the gate on time. We arrived in Munich 1/2 hour ahead of time.

On board the service was good as usual, although somehow I always manage to be on the side that has the slowest steward. This time it was a tall blond German woman, who, evidently still in training, was, however, kindly supported by her more senior and experienced colleagues. The food was ok although very definitely of an exotic type. Interestingly, the meat was pre-cut. Although Lufthansa furnished real silverware and not plastic, it's always a hassle to maneuver the eating process when there is practically no elbow room in economy class and the flights are packed.

Several young families were traveling with small children, for which no special facilities were available. One couple with their very active son was seated across the raw from me. They lovingly put up with his antics for a couple of hours as he was jumping on their laps and pulling the hair of the woman sitting in front of him, but never slept themselves. When he finally went asleep on one of their 2 seats they gave themselves turns using the remaining one.

I received, as usual, very efficient service in Munich and was shuttled to the connecting gate for Tirana in no time. Many were the elderly and disabled that needed assistance on this flight, but Munich airport was ready for them all at arrival. The flight to Tirana was operated this time by Augsburg Airline, an affiliate of Lufthansa with newer and greater capacity aircraft and was also fully booked.

At Tirana's airport is always interesting to watch the lines at passport control. This time there was an even number of passengers split between local Albanians and foreign visitors, who were given a thorough screening.

To my surprise I didn't find the friend I was expecting to pick me up, but, unbeknown to me, had send an employee to take care of me since he was himself outside of Albania on business. As I was making some phone calls before heading for a taxi, I was approached by a very courteous gentleman, who spoke fluent English and Italian and made me an offer since he operates a private car service. In less than 1/2 hour I was delivered by his chauffeur to my apartment, while he stayed at the airport to drum up more business. The driver, with whom I carried on an interesting conversation, actually knew the city very well. As we approached Tirana and the traffic was getting heavier, he took side roads and helped me with my luggage all the way into my building.

Meantime, my friend, finding out that his man didn't meet me at the airport, called me from abroad and instructed him to come to my apartment and be at my disposal for other errands, if needed. I took advantage of it and, although quite tired, had he drive me to renew my TV and Internet service and I also did some shopping for food at my favorite Italian market. In less than an hour I had everything done and was able to unpack and settle in my apartment, which was previously cleaned and ready for my arrival.

After installing several updates on my computer that remained unused for 4 months, answering a few emails and making a couple of phone calls, I succumbed and slept on and off for a while. Am still trying to cope with the jetlag and getting ready for the work and meetings that are on my to-do list during my stay here.

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