Monday, November 4, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Israel

Some couples golf together, some ski together, and others bike together. Vince and I lead trips to Israel together. I know, it sounds kind of funny. The very first time we went to Israel, we sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and said to each other, “We have got to come back and bring our kids and our friends!” So, that is what we have done the last few trips.
Our very first trip was the most unforgettable though. Not only was it amazingly wonderful and gave us a greater love for the Bible, our Lord and His people, but it started out as a comedy of errors.
***Disclaimer here: If you go to Israel, this will NOT happen to you. This story could happen on any international or national flight. ***
We joined a tour group, where we knew no one, except the leader. He held some meetings where a travel agent told us what to expect during international travel and answer any questions.
At this point, we were in our early 30’s, and had traveled a few times, mostly non-stop to Phoenix or Dallas. The verse “pride comes before the fall” was written on our foreheads as we sat and listened to the expert advice of a TRAVEL AGENT, who had flown internationally many, many times.
I took copious notes, and we listened intently to every word.  All I can say is our pride got the better of us. The travel agent strongly recommended, that, since the flight would be about 24 hours with the plane changes, we should pack a change of clothing in our carry on bags. Looking back, it was excellent advice. At the time though, Vince and I looked at each other like she was from Mars. We had never heard of such a thing. Why would we want to carry around, for 24 hours, an extra set of clothes, including underwear, extra toothbrush, and toiletries? Instead, we both packed a small backpack with vitally important necessities like: peanut M & Ms, corn nuts, trail mix, cheese crackers and gum. I also packed make up, which is vitally important.
We used frequent flyer miles for the trip. This meant we would not be flying with the group, but would be by ourselves until we met them in Israel. We had enough points for Business Class. We had never flown First Class, nor did we even know there was a Business Class. The morning we checked in, the lady at the airline desk asked,
“You do know that you will be changing airports in London, right?”
No, we didn’t know. She spoke like it was just a simple gate change.
“You land at Heathrow Airport and you will take a short bus ride to Gatwick Airport to catch the final leg of your flight to Tel Aviv.  Don’t worry about your luggage. It is checked all the way through to Tel Aviv.”
So, off we flew. The first stop was Dallas, because no matter where you are flying from, when you are on this particular airline, you must fly through Dallas. We then flew to Chicago, and then overnight to London. I started wondering how our luggage was going to get from one airport to the other. Was someone going to carry it on the bus over to the next airport? Shouldn’t we be carrying our luggage from one airport to the other? Did they have a finely tuned system, where the passengers took the bus, but their luggage mysteriously got to the other airport by train, helicopter or magic carpet ride?
When we landed in London, I asked the first British Airways attendant I saw,
 “Do we need to pick up our luggage and bring it to the next airport?”
She looked at our tickets. She was wearing a crisp, navy blue dress and an old fashioned, round top, keystone cop type of hat. She answered in a polite, British accent, “No, your luggage is checked all the way through.”
We walked through the airport and I found another keystone cop capped attendant and asked again. He replied, “No, you are checked all the way through.”
Finally, I went to a British Airways counter and asked again, “How does our luggage get from one airport to the other?”
Again, in a pleasant, yet firm, quaint accent, she said, “I’m not exactly sure, but if your ticket says the luggage is checked all the way to your final destination, it will get there.” Alrighty then.
It was about 3am, our time, when we got on the very tall, but not quite a double-decker bus. Feeling terribly sleep deprived, I was dizzy, light headed, feeling a little green and had a headache. We sat in the first row behind the bus driver, because I am also a terrible passenger and got carsick just walking up the steps onto the bus. As we took off, speeding very fast on narrow, winding roads, I remember feeling like the top of the bus was swaying from side to side as we raced through the countryside. I had no idea a bus could take a roundabout at 90 miles an hour and not tip over. I was sitting sideways, leaning my head against the back of the seat, with my eyes closed. I asked Vince, very weakly, if he would ask the bus driver how our luggage was going to get to the other airport.
Only because he loves me, and saw how green I was, did he ask the bus driver. The driver rambled something very fast, and not loud enough to be heard over the roaring engine. Vince turned to me and said, “I couldn’t understand a word he said. But I think he said our luggage is checked all the way through.”
Agitated at this, I remembered Vince was terrible at understanding any accent. He could never follow any of the Pride and Prejudice type movies. I think I said something to him like,
“This is England. The man is speaking English. You should be able to understand him.”
Fed up with me, and exhausted too, I think he finally said, “Robyn, you don’t have to understand how everything works. Trust them. They do this all the time.”

Somehow, without any sleep, and feeling more dizzy and nauseous, we boarded our last flight to Tel Aviv. There were 6 rows of First Class, which was nothing more than larger seats. The last row was labeled Business Class. Basically, they were all the same, except there was a sign posted that read:
“No Smoking in First Class. Smoking is allowed in Business Class only.”
 I thought this was some kind of joke!
Smoking had been banned on American flights for years. But, apparently, it was not overseas. Our section was filled with businessmen, returning from whatever business they had done. The only thing they wanted to do besides, talk really loudly and laugh, was, you guessed it . . . smoke! There were about 20 men and every one of them took turns getting up out of their rows, walking the few feet to our row, sitting down next to us and smoking. It was the weirdest thing ever!
I was beyond sick at this point. I was huddled in the corner against the window, legs up in the seat, with my arms around my knees, in a fetal position. I had the blue blanket covering my head, trying to filter out the smoke, and wondering if I could request that they drop the oxygen mask from the ceiling for me. I held the blanket in one hand and the airsickness bag in the other hand. Vince is as allergic to smoke as I am, but I had no idea how he was fending off the growing cloud of smoke.

The only thing I remember him saying to me during the entire five-hour flight, was, “Sweetie, they are serving fish for dinner. Do you want any?”
FISH! On an airplane!  Gagging was the only response I could muster up. I think I heard Vince laugh a little.
The best part about the entire flight was that it landed away from the terminal, so we had to walk outside to get to the terminal. This was the freshest, sweetest air I had ever breathed. I wanted to stay right there and let the wind blow all the fishy, smoky stench out of my hair and off my clothes. This may be a slight exaggeration, but I really felt a physical revival inside my lungs and nose. It was almost more than I could stand, to breath in the clean outside air. I felt like I was coming back to life with every breath.
When we got inside to the baggage claim area, there was laughter, noise, and people hugging each other and clamoring to pick up their luggage off the winding belt. A tremendous amount of luggage came out. Vince and I waited for everyone to clear out and stepped up to the baggage claim belt.
We waited
and waited
and waited
until there were no more suitcases going around. Our suitcases were nowhere to be found.

We went to a customer service counter and told them we couldn’t find our luggage. They had me fill out a lost luggage form. I told them of our unique situation.  I said our luggage had been checked all the way through, but we changed airports in London, so maybe our luggage got here before us, and was sitting in an office somewhere.
The man shook his head; “You changed airports, but left your luggage at the first airport?”
“Yes, because they said it was checked all the way through to Tel Aviv.” I said meekly.
“If you had to change airports, that changes everything. Why didn’t you ask someone if you should get your suitcases and bring them to the next airport? How did you think they were going to get from one airport to the next?” he asked incredulously.
Yes, how indeed.
He assured us, that the airline would find our luggage and drive it out to our hotel. It could take between a week and ten days!
The airport pick up area had cleared out by now. The multitude of taxi drivers and bus drivers that had been holding up cardboard signs with people’s last names, were mostly gone. I had scanned the names on the signs earlier, when we were waiting for our missing luggage, but did not see anything that resembled our last name. Finally, after an hour had passed there was only one taxi driver left holding a cardboard sign. We, minus our luggage, were the only tourists left looking for our ride.
Vince went over to the man whose sign was printed in big, black letters:
Vince told the man our last name, and asked if, perhaps, he was really waiting for us? The man shook his head and said he was waiting for a REUBEN party. 
Vince asked, “Do you think you could mean ‘Robyn’ - R-O-B-Y-N?
The driver, obviously irritated from having to wait so long, said,
“Yeah, yeah. That is what the sign says, Rueben.”
Not at all sure this was our driver, but not having any other options, we got in his taxi.
He was puzzled when we told him we would be staying twelve days and had no luggage. He laughed and jokingly said something about us having all our clothes in our small backpacks.
The trip got MUCH better after that. Amazingly, the airline found our luggage and delivered it to us the next day! We were shocked and so happy to be able to change out of our stinky clothes.
We have been back several times since then. We have never flown again without a complete change of clothes, including a toothbrush and toiletries. We have never seen anyone smoke on an airplane before or after that flight.

Our life lessen?    Proverbs 13:10
 “ Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”