It’s 6:15am Eastern Standard Time as I start typing this. Yesterday, at 6:15am Central European Time, 30 hours ago, I had just left my apartment in Leiden to get a bus to the train station, a train to Amsterdam Schiphol airport, an air plane to New York JFK airport, and a plane to Columbus International Airport, where someone would pick me up and bring me to my final destination: Granville, Ohio.
All of that worked out, sort of.
The bus was on time and I got to the train station at 6:25am. I wanted to get the 6:30 train, so I’d be at Schiphol at 6:50: two and a half hours before my 9:20 flight. The airline actually recommends coming three hours before departure, but you never need more than two, so I figured a half-hour buffer would be enough.
I bought the train ticket and walked to the platform, where the 6:30 train was announced to have a 20-minute delay. Not a brilliant start for a long day of travelling, but if things at Schiphol weren’t extremely slow, this delay would be no problem. Besides, it was only a 13-minute delay, because the regular 6:43 train was on time. (Leiden-Schiphol has a very frequent train connection.)
At 7:00am sharp, I entered Schiphol’s main hall and looked up my flight on the monitors to see where I had to check in. There came a bigger problem: my flight was delayed by over four hours to 1:25pm. That wasn’t good! I had an almost five-hour stopover at JFK, of which about 40 minutes were now left. That wouldn’t be enough to get off the plane, go through immigration, get my luggage, go through customs, recheck the luggage, and board the plane. So, off to the Delta information desk to see how they might solve this.
Me: “Good morning. I was supposed to fly to Columbus through New York JFK, but with this four-hour delay, I’m going to miss my connection at JFK.”
Delta lady: “Don’t worry, sir. We’ve already changed you to the 10:10am flight to Atlanta, where you’ll have a connecting flight to Columbus. You’ll now arrive at 6:54pm EST instead of 6:50pm.”
Now that’s what I call excellent service! It did seem to be a bit of an odd move, though, because I also heard about people being changed from the Atlanta flight to the New York flight because of bad weather in Atlanta. (As it turned out, the weather wasn’t so bad there at all.) For a man standing next to me at the check-in desk, this meant he wouldn’t get to his final destination until the next day, instead of that evening.
After a rather lengthy check-in procedure (the computer had some difficulty with my new itinerary), I got to the gate in plenty of time. From there on, the journey was about as good as can be for a 10-hour flight, a three-hour stopover and another one-hour flight. The security check at Schiphol was no more stringent than previously, despite the new rules regarding batteries. In fact, no one ever even asked if I had spare batteries in my checked luggage (which I didn’t) or if any spare batteries in my carry-on bag were protected against short-circuiting (which they were).
The plane was a Boeing 767, with a two-three-two seating arrangement. I had an isle seat in the centre section, sacrificing some view (it was cloudy anyway) for the chance to stretch at least one leg. And… the seat to my right stayed empty, so I had plenty of room for my other leg as well. Ten hours is still a long time to spend in a big tin can, but the good amount of leg space made it tolerable.
Getting into the US went a fair bit faster than I had anticipated based on stories from others. Waiting included, I was through immigration in maybe 20 minutes. Rechecking my luggage and taking my carry-on bag through security didn’t pose any problems either. (Again, not a single question about spare batteries.) Of course, all of that left me with quite some time to kill at the gate. Fortunately, the chairs at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport are very comfortable.
The low clouds caused some delay in taking off, as the traffic tower had to wait each time until they could see the next incoming plane before outgoing planes were allowed to get on the runway. When it was our turn, there were still a dozen planes awaiting theirs behind us. I had an another isle seat on this Boeing 737, and again the chair next to me remained empty. In addition, I was at one of the emergency exits, so now I had more leg space than I could ever fill.
We landed at Columbus International at exactly 6:54pm. Steve Doty, the assistant professor I’m visiting at Denison University, and his son Matt were waiting for me exactly where Steve had said they would. They brought me to a lovely Bed & Breakfast in Granville, where I went to bed at 9pm EST (3am CET). What with the jetlag, I awoke at 5am and gave up trying to get more sleep at 5:30am. After a shower and a breakfast, I discovered that this place has a wireless connection, allowing me to type this. Steve will pick me up around 10:40 (he’s teaching until 10:30), so I’ll have a look around town until then. The weather looks nice, if a bit chilly.
I’ll be in Granville for the next two weeks and a bit. Steve has been a frequent visitor of Leiden Observatory, most recently for five months in 2006. We started collaborating on a few projects back then, and we’re at a point now where it was a good idea to get together again. I’m looking forward to doing that and to staying here for a while. If the first day is any indication, I’ll have a great time.