I almost got stuck in Europe because I didn’t know this rule about air travel

Almost five years ago to the day, in early 2015, I attended a wedding in Poland. My friend, the groom, was marrying a first-generation Polish-American and they thought it would be incredible to have a wedding in Poland, so all of the bride’s family could attend, as they were older and had less money and ability to travel than the groom’s American friends and family. So, they made the decision to have the wedding in Luszyn, Poland. It was about 90 minutes west of Warsaw.

A small town, in the middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless, I agreed to go and used all of my United Mileage Plus miles to book a round trip flight from Dulles International Airport to Warsaw, laying over in Copenhagen on the way there and Frankfurt on the way back.

Except, I wouldn’t make the layover to Warsaw, and that decision was by choice.

I had decided that, instead of making the connection in Copenhagen, that I would take a train from the Danish capital to Berlin so I could see my favorite thrash/death metal band Skeletonwitch who were in the middle of a European tour. I’d been to metal shows in Europe before and they were awesome, so I decided that this would be just as great.

When my plane landed in Copenhagen, I saw that I had already missed my connecting flight to Warsaw, so I thought it fit into my plan to take a train to Berlin.

Me on a ferry that connected two of the different train tracks between Copenhagen and Berlin.

I hopped on and found myself in the German capital about seven hours later. After visiting the Olympic Stadium and witnessing a crushing thunderstorm come through the city, I left my hotel, only a few blocks from the club where the band would be playing, grabbed some food and saw the show.

The next morning, very early, I made my way via the Berlin subway system to the main train station and took a train east into Poland.

About four hours later I got to my stop, a town called Kutno, the last stop before the train service ended in Warsaw. Kutno, as I was told by the wedding party, was closest to Luszyn.

And there, just as the groom said, was a car with big black letters that read “PARKER.”

I walked up to the car and saw two men standing next to each other. “Hello!” I said loudly. They acknowledged me and continued talking in Polish to each other. One of them had an Iron Maiden t-shirt on. I pointed, and said, “Yeah, Iron Maiden. Great t-shirt.”

The burlier of the two men looked at me, “No! I take you to Luszyn!”

“Okay,” I said smiling. “You take me to Luszyn.”

I hopped in the car, having no idea where we were going or where Luszyn really was, but about 45 minutes we arrived at a large mansion and I saw a few familiar faces out front. I paid the driver probably way too much, and got out of the car.

The front of the mansion in Luszyn

Then began the most epic three-day bender of a wedding weekend I had and would never known. But this post is not about the wedding, its what happening trying to get home. Sunday, the day after the wedding and party, we took a bus to Warsaw and many of us checked into a hotel downtown. I crashed early and woke up around 5:30 a.m. to catch my flight to Frankfurt which departed at 7:45 a.m.

When I arrived at the airport, I got out of the taxi, grabbed my bags, and went to check-in at a self-service kiosk. When I scanned my passport, I received an error message.

“No itinerary found”

What? How did I not have an itinerary? I walked over to the main line and waited for one of the attendants behind the desk. When it was my turn, I approached and explained my situation.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t seen an itinerary for you,” the attendant told me in her Polish accent. “Because you booked through United, you’ll have to call them.”

“May I use your phone?”

“I’m sorry, our phones do not dial internationally.”

What? Was she serious? This was an international airport in Europe. How did the phones not dial internationally?

“You can go to the airport hotel and maybe they can help you.”

I grabbed my bag and walked out of the airport terminal, turning right toward the hotel, at which point I saw the groom’s parents.

“Hey, Parker! Where are you going? Planes are this way!” the groom’s father joked.

“Yeah, I tried. Apparently I don’t have an itinerary.” His facial response showed both disbelief and concern. “Maybe I’ll see you in there.”

When I arrived at the hotel lobby, I told the woman at the front desk about my situation and she graciously gave me a phone card to dial the US number for United Airlines. When I called, the phone card credits started running down quickly, so I knew I had to speak fast.

“Thank you for calling United.” I heard the female voice say. “Please call back in an hour as our computer system is offline for routine maintenance.”

“Please I need help!” I spurted out. “My reservation has been cancelled.”

“I’m sorry, sir, please call us back after an hour…”

The phone call cut off. I was out of minutes. At this point, I had a choice: I could freak out or I could be calm and wait the hour and see what could be done. My normal mode of operation would be to freak out, but I had just had an incredible weekend, and didn’t want to ruin the high, so I remained calm, sat in the lobby, and journaled about the weekend. When the hour was up, I approached the front desk again and told the woman what happened.

Feeling bad for me, she handed me her desk phone and told me how to call the United States. It was incredibly gracious of her, a gesture I’ll never forget.

By the time I called United, my flight to Frankfurt had already departed. A woman answered the phone and I explained my situation. I had my confirmation number and a copy of my itinerary with me, so I didn’t know why I had a problem.

“Sir, your reservation was cancelled because you did not complete your itinerary.”

“What does that mean?”

“You did not check-in and board your flight from Copenhagen to Warsaw. If you read the terms and conditions of your itinerary, you will see that you are required to complete the itinerary as listed or it will be cancelled.”

I had no idea that was the case, but I remembered that I missed the original flight to Warsaw anyway.

“Well, I was planning on completing my itinerary, but my flight getting into Copenhagen was late, so I missed the connection.”

“Yes, sir, and we rescheduled you for another flight.”

“Yes, I recall that, however, I had to get to Berlin, Germany by a certain time, and the new flight time would not have gotten me there by my deadline, so I took a train instead.” I was lying my ass off, but I needed to come up with some excuse for why I broke the policy.

“I see, sir,” she responded. “In the future, please let us know if that is the case, so we can update the itinerary. I’ve gone ahead and reinstated the rest of your itinerary, and have booked you on the next flight to Frankfurt because you have already missed your originally scheduled flight.”

“Thank you so much,” I said, taking a cleansing and relaxing breath, knowing I would get home.

When I went back to the airport, my itinerary was listed and I checked in for my flight to Frankfurt. When I arrived in Germany, I found that my flight to the United States was already boarding so I had to make a run for it. The problem is that Frankfurt’s airport is HUGE. I had transited through a number of times and knew it was going to be close. I ran, and ran, and ran, and eventually got to my gate. I must have run at least a mile.

Huffing and puffing, as I approached the gate, the attendant smiled. “You’re fine. You have plenty of time,” she told me.

I handed her my ticket, boarded the plane, and took the eight hour flight home. At least it all worked out. It was a far closer call than I would have liked…

The reason it was so important for me to get home was because I was teaching my volunteer music classes at the Sitar Arts Center that evening at 6 p.m. EDT. My flight from Frankfurt was scheduled to land at 3:55 p.m. If I did everything right and had a quick customs trip, I could make it to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC in just enough time.

After I got off the plane, I hopped on a bus that dropped me at the Rosslyn Metro station. From there, I took an Uber to DC and walked into the arts center at 5:56 p.m.

Most of the students in my class were already in the classroom waiting for me.

“Do you know where I woke up today?” I asked the students.

They shook their heads.

“Poland.”

A blurry picture of the plane and train tickets I used on my advance.

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