I’m going to San Francisco for a short stint1. These are the never before revelead blog posts about what happens day to day on that trip.

I got of to a flying start.

For whatever reason, I couldn’t check in. As any decent citizen born after the World War II, first I tried to check in online. To no avail. Then, as any person still old enough to remember that we used do phonecalls a lot, I called Lufthansa. They were super nice. I just lacked some permissions (hellooooo, databases), they would fix that right up.

Nope. Still naught. So I call again. They tell me I must check in a the airport. Yeah, that sounds reasonable. Let’s try that!

Getting a storm in to a teacup

So I show up at Landvetter Airport, Gotherburg, Sweden, my temporary permanent residence in this world, and I proceed to ask where the Lufthansa counter is. A greeter points to a machine.

Now, I suspect that this machine is nothing more than a browser with a touchscreen encapsulated in a 100 kilograms of metal, drilled to the floor, that can only do the exact same API calls that my own browser had tried and failed to do in the days past. Dutifully (let’s make a greeter happy!) I enter my code and lo and behold, I am told to get assitance. I ask again for a counter, and get pointed to a ticket desk for a collaborating airline.

I approach and ask them for help. I explain the situation, which has now evolved into four clear bullet points, crafted from the experience of the past few days when I’ve been asked to follow the standard procedure over and over:

  • “I tried online.”
  • “I called Lufthansa, and tried online again.”
  • “I was told to fix it at the airport.”
  • “The machine is giving me non-helpful error messages.”

That should establish the fact that yes, I do actually need your help, I’m not senile or lazy, and I’m not afraid of using all the nice tools you have put forth. They just don’t work this time.

“At least this shows that your tickets exist. You just can’t have them..”

So they help me, by asking for my code and then feeding it to their computer. I imagine hearing a new set of wires rustling with the sound of the same goddamn API call that has now been made from four different sources. I imagine the database like a grumpy countryside shopkeep, tired of getting asked the fourth time by the same person if they’r absolutely positive that they don’t carry the Ristretto Nespresso capsule, grumbling back something along the lines of “there is stuff wrong with your questions, can you please fix your questions before bothering me again?”. So the computer tells the rep (who tells me) that I can’t check in. Nice to hear it face to face, for once.

After som jostling (God knows what kind of shaman knowledge of the systems were needed for this) they manage to print me a single boarding pass covering only the first leg of my journey, a luggage tag and plain paper with my ticket number on it in monospace font, telling me “at least this shows that your tickets exist. You just can’t have them.” How reassuring.

I go to check in my luggage after having been told that I should contact Lufthansa in Frankfurt, which is my layover. I try to call Lufthansa again, but they’re closed. I check in my luggage, and get this reaction:

“You need both your boarding passes.”

I tell her the situation. I’m told that is necessary to get the luggage to the right place. I feel like the fact that the luggage tag says “SFO” and has an official looking bar code on it shuld do the trick. She procceds to tear up my boarding pass2, saying “I’ll see if I can print the whole order”. She then realizes she can’t, looks mad and glares at me, asking why it doesn’t work. I’m very close to telling her that typing before tearing might be a smart imperative for someone in her position, if nothing else out of respect for any weak hearts in the audience.

I get a new boarding pass (the same as before), after she figures out the same thing that the reps at the previous counter hade already figured out.

At this point I’m in full panic. I have about one and a half hour in Frankfurt to get everything sorted, and Frankfurt Airport is huge. Like, Chtulu built a city for all his 30 big brothers and gave them each their own block full of airplanes and pretzels to play with. I have spent a whole 40 minute layover there getting from gate to gate. Now I also need to find a specific Lufthansa counter and beg them to appease the angry shopkeep by asking the right question so that I can get my goddamn ristretto and see Silicon Valley.

Did I mention I haven’t slept in 24 hours at this point? Yep, that was me trying to beat jet lag.

Funny how many times I can ask a rep to say that everything’s going to be just fine. Have I found a cheap alternative to therapy?

I call the databa… ehrm, I mean Lufthansa again. I don’t even know why at this point. I’m just extremely stressed out, I need someone to talk to and they’ve been nice so far. I have to call the German inforamtion, since it’s the only one that’s open, and move them over to English. I tell them again what happens. I say pretty please, can you fix this? I need this vacation! Can you just check me in over the phone? No? Well, can you enter the information missing from my online application? They could do that. It doesn’t help. They tell me to find their counter in Frankfurt. They say everything is going to be OK. I ask if they are sure it’s going to be OK. They say it’s going to be OK. Oh, and now they found my ticket number. Try checking in with that online!

I try. The process goes much further than any of the ones before it. I can download a pdf with my boarding passes! Yes! Oh shit, it’s just that one single boarding pass I already have. I call Lufthansa again, just keeping them in the loop. I ask them if it’s going to be fine. They say yes.

Funny how many times I can ask a rep to say that everything’s going to be just fine. Have I found a cheap alternative to therapy?

I finally board my plane, trying to get some quick shuteye before I have to be at the top of my game again

Plan B, as in Berlin?

On the plane, I have the time to think a bit. I think about a few things.

What do I do if I can’t get on the plane to SF?

This feels like shit, but I think that I’ll at least have my vacation. I’ll go to Berlin, do some Couchsurfing, do some clubbing. Frankfurt and Berlin are not that far apart. Or maybe I can convince Lufthansa to rebook me somehow. I run through a few scenarios in my head. Each one sucks. But I feel these are scenarios I can live with.

What if I don’t get in to the US?

This one is harder. What does one do if they are, altough it is unlikely, rejected at the border. It has happend. I’ve heard stories. Or maybe I heard one story and imagined a bunch more. Either way, whether or not the risk is real, the anxiety sure is. I figure I’ll try to apply for a visa from there, or maybe go back to plan B.

Holy shit, am I priviliged

I think about class. And I now mean class in contemporary, socio-economic status kind of way.3 I think about how I figure that I could just skip this whole trip and book a new, cheaper one in Europe, if I’m forced to. I think about how that helps me calm down, whereas someone with no extra funds than the carefully planned travel budget might freak out at this point, meking their situation even rougher. I think about the fact that I can go on this trip at all, and that in the grand scheme of things, I don’t need to make it across the Atlantic this time aorund. I just really want to.

Happy endings

Frankfurt went smooth. I got seated next to Ben, a middle aged former network engineer turned big shot manager, a guy with a rock’n’roll vibe. We talked tech, Silicon Valley, weather and more tech. Good times. I am an estimated 5 hours away from San Francisco. I have filled out my customs declaration, which is hopefully the last time I write my passport number on anything for a while.4 I’m utterly paranoid over a million scenarios that have no foundation in reality, but still feels like they could get me into trouble at the border: have I done something stupid on Facebook and forgotten about it? Have I forgotten something important in the customs declaration? Did anyone plant drugs on me while I got struck by sudden, unprecedented narcolepsy? Am I Tyler Durden, or is he me? And so on.

Here’s hoping a smooth journey. I figure, once I’m in I win!

See you on the other side!

  1. Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not yet on American soil. The way this day has unfolded, I refuse to let out any of the tension in my shoulders, vague dread or absolutely murdering FoMO that I have carefully curated during today’s adventures until I’m in the US and far from any checkpoint of any kind. Then I shall kiss the ground. 

  2. She didn’t warn me. In my shocked state I swear I was a single neuron firing away from jumping across the counter and grabbing it before the tear could proceed through the whole width of the paper. 

  3. As opposed to, say, a Marxist, means-of-production kind of way. 

  4. Seriously. It’s eight digits, I have typed, spoken and written them at least 30 times in two days. How can I not have memorized them yet?