Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And so begins our life in Vienna...

I entitled this blog or whatever it shall morph into as "Wiener Living" because only four days ago, I flew over to Wien, as Vienna is known in German. Many of you have probably eaten the Viennese delicacy Wiener Schnitzel. You'll notice the Wiener in front of Schnitzel; therefore Wiener means all things Viennese.

And so begins our life in Vienna...

It's an interesting thing to pack up your life into a small 8' X 4' X 8' smartbox and depart to a country where you neither speak the language nor have a job.

That's where I find myself. Luckily, my wife Rachel, does have a job starting in Sept. with Universitat Wien (Vienna University). Yesterday, I took a placement test and was enrolled in Level A1/2 German courses at Uni Wien. Today, we students met our teacher who will guide us for the next month through the trials and tribulations of language learning.

Starting to learn another language was one of the most exciting things for me, having previously studied Hungarian intensively in Budapest and French throughout much of high school and college. I feel in my element in the language classroom.

On the other hand, there have been quite a few hurdles since arriving last Sunday.

(Side note: Although this will be Rachel's first experience living abroad, I should be an expert having previously lived in Budapest, Hungary from 2001-2003. As the reader shall see, this move has proved more challenging.)

Now is where I gripe:

I am surrounded by a beautiful, centuries old city. The seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Emperor Franz Joseph summered in Schönbrunn. I am thoroughly enjoying walking around the city, exploring its shopping boulevards and taking the U-bahn (underground metro system) easily and conveniently anywhere.

Getting back to those challenges, though...

My original flight itinerary had me board American Airlines at BWI, transfer at JFK to Aer Lingus, which would then fly me to Dublin and onto Vienna. My wife is traveling separately as she has our cat, Simon, as her travel companion. The original flight itinerary I was given was to take around 15 hours of air travel time. Unfortunately, things did not go well from the start.

The American Airlines leg was delayed. Although they had listed the flight time from BWI to JFK as 1 hour 25 minutes, in actuality the flight time was less than 40 minutes once we got airborne. The difficulty lay in the inexplicable delays before we took off. So when I should have had a window of a couple of hours to land at JFK, take the airtrain to the International Terminal and catch the Aer Lingus flight, in reality we landed at JFK around 5:10 and my next flight departed at 5:45. After running through the airport with at least 50 pounds of carry on baggage, I arrived at the Aer Lingus check in just as the last call sign was posted next to my flight. As if in a scene from some overly dramatic movie, I yelled out (disregarding the two couples ahead of me in line) "I'm about to miss my flight, it's leaving in 5 minutes"

The woman at the counter asked, "Are you Lantos?" After responding in the affirmative, she had a prolonged discussion via warlike talkie with someone at the gate, to then confirm what I had most dreaded... I missed the connection.

What then ensued can only be described as the equivalent of when one calls a customer service department to lengthily detail a problem, only to be forwarded to another department to again state one’s situation, only to be passed along once again… you get the point!

The buck stops here--- with Lufthansa.

After racing across the airport from Terminal 8 (AA) to Terminal 4 (Aer Lingus) only to miss my connection (the first time this has ever happened to me on an international flight in over 30 years of travel experience), I finally got through to an AA rep who could rebook me on another flight. At this point, I am still at Terminal 4, talking to the AA rep over the phone. First they tell me there are no flights that would bring me to Vienna earlier than Monday but after persisting, I finally got re-booked onto a Lufthansa flight. On another side note, Lufthansa is a marvelous airline that I wholeheartedly recommend, showing as much competence compared to AA’s polar opposite.

So now I have a flight, but I had to return to Terminal 8 to get paper tickets according to the rep who helped me (As I later learned, the rep should have electronically processed everything and sent me straight to Lufthansa). So I trudge myself, my 50 pounds load back to Terminal 8 only to be told by a rep there that, “No, you are booked on Lufthansa, you must go check in with them at Terminal 1.”

But first, I inquire, I need to figure out what is to become of my checked luggage. Please bear in mind, we’re moving to Vienna for two years and so I fit mostly all my clothes in two pieces of checked luggage. The sweaters, the pants, the collared shirts, the suit, the winter coat, not to mention boots, shoes, and sandals.

I wanted to make sure this sudden change in itinerary wouldn’t negatively affect the chances of my luggage making it to Vienna. So after standing in yet another line for 30 minutes at the baggage claim center for AA in JFK airport, I was informed by what looked like a very competent worker (looks can be deceiving) that once my itinerary was updated in the system, the luggage would be forwarded to my next flight. THIS IS FALSE! If anyone ever tells you this, scream liar in their face and present this blog as proof.

She did correctly educate me as to the intricacies of the airport baggage handling system. If you thought your luggage stayed with the airline, which treat it with kid gloves, ensuring your precious cargo arrive from point to point in a complicated travel plan, think again.

Like everything else in life, AA doesn’t handle baggage movement, they outsource. Apparently there is another company called Triangle something or another that is in charge of moving luggage between airlines.

Well, mine didn’t get moved.

In fact, when I later returned to Terminal 1 (Lufthansa) to check in. (Try to picture, a small man with a huge pack on his back weighing at least 30-40 pounds and dragging a wheely carry on behind going back and forth between Terminal 8> Terminal 4> Terminal 8> Terminal 1)

Finally arriving at the Lufthansa desk, hoping for the best but fearing the worst, it is at this moment I find out just how incompetent American Airlines is. I would go as far as saying AA makes the US Congress look like it’s run as well as Apple Inc.

So, Lufthansa proceeds to tell me: “No, we don’t have your info. You were supposed to have been issued paper tickets.” “No, your luggage probably won’t be forwarded and we recommend you initiate a claim upon arrival in Vienna.”

And here appears the superhero in this grisly, grim tale… LUFTHANSA.

Instead of forcing me to do the round-trip Terminal tour yet again (to be honest, I was running out of time before the rebooked flight would leave), they called AA and sorted my ticket out.

In the end, I had an awesome flight and arrived in Vienna the same day I was originally booked to arrive!

However, my luggage is still missing L

Stay tuned tomorrow for more adventures in Wiener Living.

Tomorrow I will focus on the following events:

1. Almost getting jacked by some hoodlums while taking the U-bahn from the airport to our temporary accommodations in Wien

2. Purchasing a cellphone from a shady shop in the city

3. Being told that the 1100 Euros that I received confirmation were wired from Bank of America to our Austrian landlady never arrived and initiating a trace on the monies.

As you can see, living abroad is part James Bond adventure, part Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

For your viewing please, some pictures here.

1 comment:

  1. Gutten Tag? Ich heise Kyle (aka Seigfried); Wie heist du? Woher bist du? Your flight sounds like a disaster but at least you are settled in somewhat. It is truly amazing how much a part of every day life internet is. You don't appreciate it until unlimited access is taken away from you. I may actually cancel my cable because I rarely watch TV. Instead, I am on the net. Tell Schmoo I said what's up. I guess this is more appropriate for an email than comment response. Whatev!