A Few Hours in Frankfurt
© Copyright 2021 by Etti Hazan
Frankfurt, Germany - 5:45 AM local time
As our plane touches German ground, I immediately experience a wave of conflicted feelings. This is my first time on German soil. Considering I have just spent over 7 hours on a German airline, with ample space and good in-flight service, my sentiments are kind of ironic.
The feelings more or less dissipate once I enter the actual terminal - after all, airports are in a generic league of their own. My ever-dwindling Yiddish allows me to butcher the German language while purchasing a much needed espresso.
6:00 AM - Gate A15
My flight to Rome leaves at 7:20. Strangely, the gate is deserted and its monitors are blank. I decide to sit for a while and watch the developments.
Still no sign of life at gate A15. A young woman about my age sits down next to me. “Vai a Roma?” I ask. “Are you going to Rome?” She stutters in heavily accented Italian. “Oh, its OK, I speak English!” I tell her.
It turns out Margarita, a New Yorker of Colombian origin, was on my flight from NY.
We head to the main monitors, but our flight is nowhere to be seen. We walk to nearby gates and listen closely to all the announcements, but it’s as if our flight had been an invention of a JFK check-in agent.
Jetlagged and fairly disinterested, Margarita and I walk back to our gate. A middle aged woman approaches us- she is going to Rome as well. She flew in from Miami and was told to head to gate A15. Where is our flight?
Our new companion sets out on a crusade, firmly questioning airline clerks until they tell her, at 7:30, that our flight had departed 10 minutes ago - from gate A13. We had heard no announcements, and nobody had called our names over the intercom.
So, off we go to the transfer desk (the airport is large by European standards, lots of walking to do) to try and get on the next flight (9:40 AM).
After a stern reprimand (“You should have seen the gate number on the plane from NY” - ”Well ma'am, they had no transfers on the screen”) we all get our boarding passes and go our own separate ways.
I purchase a phone card and let my family know I will be late, then head to the new gate, A19, and pass on the phone card to my fellow travelers. We have by now formed a friendship of sorts, three very different people stranded in Frankfurt.
We sit and learn about each other. Margarita, 26, studied in Rome in 1999. She is flying back in to visit old friends. She has forgotten most of her Italian, but is fluent in Spanish because of her Colombian origin, so she'll do just fine.
The middle aged woman is originally from Belize. Her husband works for the FAO (section of the UN, focusing on agriculture) and his latest station is in Rome. She was visiting her son in Miami after a vacation back home in Belize.
A fourth woman joins our little group- she has been sitting next to us, and eventually decides to contribute to the conversation. She is married to an Italian civil engineer, and has been living in Rome for quite some time. She is originally from India.
For the next hour or two, we discuss everything from recipes to our families to the Pope and religion in general. Raztinger, the new Pope, is being shown constantly on the TV screen above us, so he is of course the star of our discussion, but I don’t have much to contribute to that particular conversation.
As the daughter of a rabbi, watching the new German Pope on a TV screen in a German airport is a surreal experience.
Nonetheless, the unexpected atmosphere of camaraderie is great and the women are all really sweet.
We split up on the plane, but Margarita from Colombia, the woman from Belize and I converge at the conveyor belt in Rome. Our luggage has not yet arrived, so we head to the baggage claim desk and are told that it will come on the next flight, around 2:30 PM.
Drowsy and irritated, I decide to fill out a form and have the baggage delivered to my parents’ house later that evening.
I set out in search of a phone, neglecting to say goodbye to the others because I am convinced I will meet up with them after the phone call, but I have to exit the luggage area to buy a phone card and so I lose track of my travel companions.
I had originally planned to take a train into the city, but because of the delay, my arrival nearly coincides with that of my teenage cousin from Israel, who is flying in to spend the holiday with us, and since a family friend who happens to be an official taxi driver has been sent to pick her up, I head to Terminal C to wait with him.
While we wait, we find a few more Roman Jews who are waiting for the same ElAl flight from Tel Aviv, so I observe the typical pre-Passover exchange with a large dose of that Roman-Jewish rambunctiousness thrown in as friends and cousins spot each other as they wait for their loved ones.
My cousin finally steps through the doors, and we head out to the car and the city, driving past the historical sites I love to see again and again… until we reach our home in a quiet residential neighborhood.