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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Return from Berlin: over too soon

I woke up on my own before the cell phone alarm set for 4 a.m. I got everything together, dropped the key in the mailbox, and made my way to the bus stop. With such an early departure, I thought it could be time to go for a taxi, but when I asked on a board about arranging one for that hour, people advised me to go for public transportation, as I'm generally inclined to do. Looking at the BVG site, the best option was to start with a bus on Torstrasse, with a scheduled departure at 4.46. When I left a little after 4.15, there was a bit of daylight and some people out, and reasonable traffic on that main street. The bus showed up, which I took to the end at Hauptbahnhof; a few minutes later the TXL bus showed up at the same stop (I was worried about finding the stop on some train-to-bus connections), and got me to the airport a little after 5.

I found my way to Terminal D and checked in with no wait for my 6.40 a.m. Brussels Airlines flight from Berlin to Brussels. Security was just opening. The agent went through my shoulder carry-on, which had many wires to decipher. I'd taken things out and moved them to my checked bag to better meet the 6-kilo carry-on limit. I was about the last to board, crossing the tarmac, since I didn't hear a general boarding call before the last call. That flight was listed as a regional jet when I booked it, but they changed it to an A319 with lightly padded seats to improve the pitch. There was no SeatGuru chart of that aircraft to check against the seat they assigned me. I found that it was in the back row, in a windowless window seat, but the plane was sparsely occupied and I moved to an empty row in front of another empty row, so I could recline without guilt. They charged for all drinks including water; unusually for a short flight, they had a flight progress map TV monitor; I rested through the flight, and it arrived a few minutes before the scheduled time of 8.

I've been through Brussels Airport a few times, the last in 2000, and it looks largely rebuilt. I arrived at Schengen Concourse A, and followed signs to Concourse B, through retail areas, and finally a narrow passageway with no wait to passport control for exiting Schengen. Then I joined with originating passengers for the security check including shoe removal.

I went to the United transit desk because I thought the boarding passes that Brussels Air gave me must be incomplete, since they didn't include the group numbers that I know the UA passes to have. The agent there said no, they'd stopped having those because they were harmonizing their process with Continental; I remembered reading that today would be "Customer Service Day One." They would just be boarding by rows. Then when boarding time was close (this was a 3-hour layover) they called my name among people who still needed to go to the transit desk, because I'd missed answering questions about the bag that was connecting.

With that resolved, I got my outside aisle seat in regular Economy on this 767 to Chicago, walking past the First Class pods and some rear-facing Business seats. I courteously waited to see that no one else was taking that storage space, and put my bulky shoulder bag in the overhead bin, giving me better legroom. I took the chicken meal choice and got a decent amount of sleep through the 9-hour flight. The long flight listed an oddly precise arrival time of 1.17, and it arrived a few minutes early. There was a short wait at passport control, a longer one for my bag, and I was waved through customs and dropped my bag off. Then the train from O'Hare International Arrival Terminal 5 to Terminal 1.

Then the line for security; I was worried that the TSA might have a problem with my boarding pass that said O'Hare to International, instead of Chicago to Kansas City, but I got through. I got in the left-hand security line when I saw that the checkpoint had a walk-through metal detector on the left and a body scanner on the right. I was still directed to the body scanner and opted out. There was a short wait for a pat-down officer, who was courteous to the extent possible and let me face my belongings.

That pat-down/groping was still not so pleasant, and I was glad that, in my spree of United buying, I'd bought a day pass for the Red Carpet Club. I got there, in the C concourse, after taking the underpass. It was still over three hours before my next flight, and I was glad to settle in with a drink and take advantage of the included wi-fi. I left at around 4.30 to get a cheeseburger at the Billy Goat concession, and went to my gate at the end of the concourse. There was a note on the screen about looking for volunteers to be bumped. I thought momentarily about asking for it as the beginning of a future trip, as this one started with a bump, but I didn't ask, and boarding began. The two seats next to me were empty after boarding, so presumably they wouldn't have finally bumped me, and someone else took one of the seats to have an empty seat next to him. That flight went well and arrived early.

To conclude about the trip: I'm certainly glad I got to take it, originating from the $600 bump last summer. I'd been interested in a trip to Berlin, possibly at the start or end of a trip to Italy, and I'm glad I spent this longer time there, wishing there were more time. I could have explored more even in my neighborhood, an art gallery district with a lot going on. My previous trips to Germany were rushes through, including a time in the 1970s where everything was too fast, on a pass that wouldn't have covered the East German railways to get to Berlin. Now I have an interest in looking for old guidebooks and other sources to see about the logistics of visiting divided Berlin. In previous trips, it was on my mind that I sometimes dealt with people who were adults during the Nazi era, and it's good to see the forward-looking Germany of today. It was fascinating to see the signs of history, including recent times, and such an active city. This trip was part of a long series of trips alone, and now I'm hoping to take more trips with company.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, I know that it went way to fast for you--that's the way travel always is for me, too.
    Welcome, home.