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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Vienna and the return

I boarded the Austrian Airlines plane, notable for the sea of red.
The flight to Vienna went efficiently enough, with a map showing how far east we were going, seeing the Istrian coast, and a warning that we'd be going over a storm on arrival; we landed in heavy rain. There were long hallways to get to the arrivals hall (no stop needed at baggage claim) and I was ready to go to the city. In researching the trip, I'd looked into the trains to the city, then determined that it was instead best to take the bus to Morzinplatz/Schwedenplatz. I found the stop for it, having just missed the 16.50 bus, so I would get the 17.20. Having done most of my research for this well in advance, I didn't remember if it was possible to buy the ticket on board, and didn't see any sign indicating that. I went back into the terminal and found a counter for the Airport Bus line, with two men there talking to each other and a sign big enough to imply "We're closed"; the English text on it said "Comming [sic] soon: buy from Automat or driver," suggesting that those services weren't available yet. I wasn't getting help there. I went to the regular airport information counter, where they confirmed that I could buy on board. Back at the stop, the driver showed up, I put my bag in the hold, and I knew to ask for a R├╝ndfahrt, or round trip, for €13, versus two round trips of €8. The rain had cleared, and the drive was interesting for the road signs directing to several other countries.

It was a 20-minute ride: of the two adjacent squares along the Danube, I'd thought of Schwedenplatz, but it really arrived at Morzinplatz, so it was an extra block between bridges, after I crossed the river, to get to my hotel, the Schick City Central. The man checked me in pleasantly, expressing regret that I just had one night, and gave me a wi-fi login. I got my bearings in the room before going out for my brief walk and dinner. I basically just had went as far as Stephensplatz (St. Stephen's Cathedral), seeing the streets full of people. The restaurant that I'd chosen was EF16, with an entrance in a little alley, where I'd made a reservation. I had a dish of large ravioli, and a Wiener Schnitzel, which overall fell short of expectations. Back through the lively streets and riverfront to the hotel, to bed before too long, as I got a text of Margaret's arrival in Charlotte.

I woke up to broad daylight and the fear that I'd overslept, but it was in fact 5 a.m. I could sleep a little longer and was still up before the alarm-set time of 6.30, which was where breakfast started. The hotel really shone in its breakfast offerings, with a room full of spreads of all kinds of pastries and cold cuts, even sparkling wine but I didn't partake of that. I did well enough before checking out and getting to the bus stop in time for the 7.30 bus. That went well this Sunday morning.

With my boarding pass in hand and no bags to check, I just needed to get to my departure gate. There was the security check and exit passport control, and long hallways to take in this airport that is like the big German airports in having gates on several levels above each other, differentiating Schengen and non-Schengen. With all this, it was 15 minutes from the bus arrival to my gate, two hours before scheduled departure. I'll also note that a cappuccino there cost €4.60, compared to an espresso at Rome airport for essentially the city price of €1.10. Agents reviewed my passport as I entered the gate area, and I got my Chicago-Kansas City boarding pass (my attempts to get a mobile pass on the United app hadn't succeeded).

Then we got past the posted boarding time of 8.40, and they announced a delay from 10.05 to 10.40. I thought this would end all hope of making my 95-minute connection in Chicago, and I asked at the counter about being protected on a later flight. At the gate counter, they said they couldn't help, but I could see about it at the ticket counter at the start of the concourse if there wasn't too long a queue. I found that I could get attention there, but the agent would not give me help. I was back at the gate, and before too long they called boarding, for all Economy passengers. Once I was seated, I heard the man in the couple behind me realize that he'd left his jacket in the gate area. He asked about getting back (the plane being much lower than that gate) and the attendant said she'd see about getting it retrieved. She did in fact show up with the jacket. When the plane pulled away, I was glad to see that the seat next to me was empty, it was around 10.30, and it took off before 10.40. My big worry had been that, once a delay is announced, it tends to get extended.

When flight information was showing on the seatback screen, it was showing an early arrival; apparently flight conditions were favorable. In the typical chicken-pasta choice for dinner, I got fried chicken. After the wine with lunch, I had some sleep; then I spent most of the rest of the flight working on blog composition. The good run of the flight kept up, and we landed early at Chicago O'Hare.

I still had to worry about making my connection. The flight arrived at Terminal 5 for international arrivals; on previous trips, I'd been on the American non-stop from Rome arriving at gate M1, the farthest gate to the northwest; this flight came to gate M19, the farthest east, where it seems like quite a long walk to get to the central customs area. There were some moving sidewalks. As we got close, there were signs saying that people with only carry-ons could keep right. This was posted in several languages, with English to the left, which could disorient people coming off a long flight. Another sign gave the program a name like OneStop. When I finally got there, there was roped-off line to the right just saying OneStop; I confirmed with the woman there that this was where to go with a carry-on. The customs agent confirmed that I was just going with a carry-on, took my landing card, and waved me through. People behind me were asking if they should have taken that line and got it answered. There I was in a hallway along the edge of the building, completely bypassing the customs hall, and winding up in the public arrivals hall.

I knew that I needed to get the train to my connecting terminal, and my United Express flight could use either Terminal 1 or 2. My walking route did not take me by any board that showed my connecting gate. I went onto the United app to determine my gate at Terminal 1. I got the train to that terminal. Since the pass issued by Austrian for a United flight would not show if I had Pre-check, I went to a kiosk (there was a line of them with no one using them) and got a pass which, happily, showed Pre-Check. I had a peek at long lines for regular security, while I went to the special entrance for Pre, where I was cleared promptly. Now there was the underground walkway to Concourse C, and to my gate close to one of the ends of that concourse. Getting between some of the most distant gates, it was 55 minutes from the runway to my connecting gate, and plenty of time before boarding; things had worked out well.

I boarded, with a friendly young woman coming from Paris seated next to me on the regional jet. There was an announcement that the boiler didn't work and there would be no coffee, which I hoped to have, and the plane went through a storm when landing. I had a shuttle to the motel where my car was parked, and I made my way home to see Margaret and the neighbors who had us over. A full day to end a full trip, a great experience as my travel has taken a new form with Margaret as part of it.

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