Subtitle: I got to see Greenland!!!
Flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Europe (to Frankfurt, then a hop to Amsterdam) was wearying (see my earlier post). For some reason I had it in my head that the “jet stream” made it a quicker flight coming back.
My head was wrong. It was longer by 50 minutes. (And what is that mysterious “jet stream” travelers speak of so knowingly, anyway? What is streaming up there? Faster air that your pilot can only catch heading west to east? Is it like a big hitchiking thumb in the sky and your pilot hops aboard??? Can you tell I’m a bit fuzzled from the flight still?)
This time around, Mom and I didn’t have assigned seats for either our Budapest to Frankfurt or Frankfurt to LAX flights. That meant it was time to hover at a wifi site 24 hours out to snag two seats together (and hopefully not near the bathrooms where the queues of sidestepping, wiggling passengers can impede on your floor space). It was raining in Budapest the morning before our flight so we did some housekeeping tasks at the hotel room and enjoyed a leisurely morning waiting for the check-in time. I snagged two seats together on both flights (for the long one, up over the wing—darn, views aren’t so good there), one window, one middle. Mom said she’d take the middle and make friends (or at least co-exist peacefully) with the unknown passenger on her left. We downloaded our boarding passes on to our iPhones (that way we didn’t have to worry about printing paper passes) and anticipated no problems with our flights. So much for plans.
When we checked in at Budapest (more on airports later) we were dismayed to discover that our seat assignment for that long flight had changed; mom was now in the middle seat in the row behind me. Arriving at Frankfurt, we stood in two lines at Lufthansa service centers (they’d been unable to make the switch in Budapest) and then were directed to try to switch at the gate instead.
The gate agent checked the seating plan and suggested that the person beside mom’s window seat was traveling alone and would likely just switch with me when we got on the plane. Okay; that’s what we’d thought of, too, but we were wanting to do this “right” and had hoped for an “official” switch.
I tell you all this to explain why I wasn’t totally on top of things and relaxed to face an 11-1/2 hour flight. In short, I wasn’t my really ready and usually (!) prepared self.
I’d barely had time to visit the bathroom and here I was, lining up to spend my day in a long metal tube with hundreds of strangers.
This flight took us from 2:05 pm local Frankfurt time to a landing in LAX at 4:40 pm. Not bad, only two hours to get clear across the globe. Oh, wait, there was that time difference thing…
We boarded the 747. Okay, I know these big planes have a whole bunch of first class seats (some upstairs) as well as business seats. As a lowly coach passenger we’re only allowed a peek at some of these elite areas as we board. I look longingly at the almost flat seating, just two across. And there are even rosebuds in vases in first class! So this is how the other half lives (or at least flies), huh?
Instead of roses, at our seats we find a plastic-wrapped blankie and another bag containing earphones. Almost as good as a red rosebud…almost. And you can’t really listen to the in-flight audio portion with a flower so we’re doing just fine.
After a seat switch (thank you, 19K), Mom and I nestle down in our seats and prepare for the hours (and hours, and…well, you get the message) ahead. I have my “comfort” items close at hand and we begin washing down the table (both sides), arms and audio/video controls with our HandiWipes. No, I’m not sure it does anything really to kill germs but it smells like “clean” to me and makes me feel better about becoming very close to stranger-touched surfaces for the next 11 hours.
We take off and, for a while, are able to watch the ground beneath us (I really like those two onboard camera views from the nose of the plane as well as the GPS map). Then clouds roll beneath us in a carpet of white and the view disappears. Lufthansa attendants serve us a “light” lunch (always choose the meal containing mashed potatoes on Lufthansa, the mashed potatoes are great!) and we slip into flight oblivion.
Heading west and leaving at mid-day, our jet chased the sun across the earth as we skittered along in the ever-bright sky. The wide wing of the 747 outside my window added to the brightness reflected inside so I slide the shade down. As on the flight to Europe, my goal is sleep. Again, though, it eludes me. I write a few posts about our cruise, read a bit and then check on the GPS on the seatback screen in front of me. Over seven hours left…I watch “Up in the Air” and that chews up one hour and eleven minutes. I stretch sideways and try to doze once again. I am absolutely positive the little white “No Jet Lag” homeopathic tablets I’m faithfully chewing every two hours are simply Tic-Tacs in disguise. But I keep popping them out of their tinfoil beds and chewing them on schedule.
The plane is quiet, even the four-year-old little guy in the middle seats across the aisle has settled into a nap. Then I become aware of a gentle tipping of the plane, dipping the right wing down. We straighten then tip again. Huh? We’re somewhere in the middle of the flight…nothing here to turn anywhere for…but this is more of a soft nudge downward to the right. I crack open the window shade.
And I gasp! It’s Greenland.
Greenland is down there below us clear and shining in the sun and the captain is giving us passengers who are still alert the chance to see it.
Oh. My. Gracious.
I can’t stop smiling. See, I really like maps—I’ve loved ’em all my life. And, as a kid growing up in the USA, our maps always showed that seemingly-huge continent of Greenland clutching the eastern side of the map past the Atlantic and creeping up toward the North Pole. And the mysterious name, “Greenland.” Every map I ever pored over showed the continent as a white-painted entity. Just white, like maybe it was not really a continent at all but a huge ice chunk kinda shaped like Africa (I was a kid imagining this, okay; give me a little slack).
And now it was beneath me.
Unmistakeable. Huge. Pierced with icy-blue rivers choked with glaciers above. And white. Very white.
I wake up Mom. I want to wake up the whole plane. Based on Mom’s reaction, I’m guessing my fellow passengers probably wouldn’t be overly thrilled with a wake-up call for a Greenland sighting, either. (Confession: Mom smiled—that’s what moms do with their children, you know—and told me she was happy I was happy seeing Greenland. Fair enough.)
The pilot kept the plane tilted and, even though that broad 747 wing was a bit in the way, I plastered my head on the plexiglass window (yes, we’ll just ignore the thought of the germs there, waiting to pounce on my face) and stared. And smiled.
A flight that’s over 11 hours? Suddenly it seemed all worthwhile. After all, I’d seen Greenland, and time in a metal tube was a very small price to pay.
[Follow up: I spoke with a flight attendant as we disembarked and told her to thank the pilot for tilting to provide the view of Greenland. She smiled: “I’m glad you noticed. It’s not often as clear as that and the pilot wanted passengers to have a good view.”]