(For the next ten days I’ll be blogging from Italy, as one of the instructors in INS 280: Discover Italy/POS 262 Italian Political History, a travel course offered by U. Maine Farmington. The course is co-taught by myself and Sarah Maline, a Professor of Art History. It was designed by the two of us and Professor Steven Pane (Music History) and Luann Yetter (Literature) who also co-teach the course, but did not accompany us this time).
We made it to Rome, and it’s now 5:00 PM on a long day one (remember my blog post time is GMT, which is a couple hours earlier than Rome time), a short break before dinner. But it almost wasn’t to be.
University vans took us to the Portland Jetport well in advance of our 2:40 departure time. However, due to circumstances in New York at JFK airport, we were told that there were delays. Apparently high winds had been causing backlogs, and air traffic controllers were limiting the flights.
The people at Delta, especially a very helpful and competent woman whose name I didn’t catch (I think she’s hispanic, probably mid-forties) answered our questions and concerns thoroughly. She and others were up front that there was a chance we wouldn’t make it, and we’d already been booked on the February 13th flight for the event we missed this flight.
I was starting to plan. OK, we don’t make our flight and we’re stuck at JFK. Maybe we can pile students up in rooms, go into New York City in the evening, and then catch the next day’s flight. The key would be to do something fun so the students would not be disappointed. Suddenly, we were told the flight was bording earlier than expected, and we got our hopes up. But the early boarding was done in order to be ready “just in case” they got permission to leave early; in actuality we only got off the ground probably five minutes earlier than we otherwise would have, taking off at 3:50. Our flight to Rome was at 5:15.
International flights usually stop boarding ten minutes before departure, so I was mildly pessimistic during our flight. But we made good time…maybe we can make it…but then we circled while, and by the time we pulled into our gate it was 5:00. Worse, our plane passed our Rome gate (Gate 9), which was not only in the other terminal, but a very long walk — and we’d have to go through security again! My only hope was that the Rome flight had gotten delayed. Then suddenly the pilot, after thanking everyone for flying Delta, said “there is a group on board heading for Rome. Just to let them know, there is a bus outside the plane waiting to take you directly to your gate.” Suddenly our spirits were uplifted, we were going to make Rome after all!
I worried abit about the luggage, of course, but as soon as we got out the baggage folk said “we’ll have the luggage on the plane before the people are there.” One pushy guy not going to Rome tried to board the bus to get a lift to the other terminal, but ultimately he was led away, and our group was on the bus. A woman told us to follow her after we arrived. The bus dashed across to the other terminal, and we got out, going through employee areas following the woman who was now spriting to the gate. We’d only had seat request cards, so they already had printed boarding pass for us. They called our names, we picked up the passes and boarded. As soon as we were aboard, the plane left the gate. Shortest layover ever!
Then the pilot said that we were on “expediated treatment” and I could tell from my window that we cut ahead of a large number planes in order to take off on time. That had nothing to do with our group of course, only the fact that international flights get priority. Later a stewardness said that if we had waited, we’d have sat on the runway an hour and a half before take off. But some of the students seemed to think everything was going our way.
When we got in Rome all our luggage was there. So far we’ve had a great day walking to the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, Maria del Popolo and Pantheon, as the students get an overview of the sites on day one. Still without sleep, we’re going to eat at 6:00, then see the Colesium at night — it’s impressive when lit. And of course, that’s just the cursory overview of what Rome has to offer.
One thing I noticed yesterday. A lot of people got rude or upset with Delta’s employees over the delays. I was determined not to. That was clearly something they had no control over and they were following procedure. When customers say “your company should do X if you care about business,” that’s not really something to shout at an employee about. They don’t make the procedures. Treat the employees with foremost courtesy, they’re working a stressful job and they don’t want to see you late either. Perhaps the fact I always thanked the Portland folk, asked questions pleasantly, didn’t get upset about the prospect of spending a night at JFK, and showed no sign of irritation might have caused them to want to go to some extra effort to help.
In any event, from the baggage handlers, to the woman at JFK who led us to our flight, and especially the Portland crew who answered questions and gave us information — thanks for getting our trip off to a great start! The students were great too — no panic over the possibility of not making the flight, no complaints and a generally positive attitude. And it worked out marvelously!
So, now an evening meal (I can’t wait!), another walk, and hopefully by 10:00, after 34 sleepless hours, I’ll get a good long internal clock re-setting sleep. I can’t promise how often I’ll blog about the experiences (and it’ll shift from being about logistics to the experience itself), but I’ll try to keep up. Ah, Roma!