If only the world would listen to me. As he mentioned in the comments this morning, Tony did call Tunisair to confirm our flight. They said everything was fine. And when we arrived at the airport, our flight was listed as on-time. In fact, they didn’t get around to changing the flight status until it was already past our 16:35 departure time, and there was no sign of the plane even landing, let alone anyone boarding.
Our first clue about the trouble should have been that while we were standing in line to check in, the Tunisair staff told the front of the line something that caused a massive stampede over to another check-in desk on the other side of the room. Fortunately, Tony and I are old hands at making the most of a Tunisian line (because if you don’t make the most of it, you’ll stay at the back no matter how long you are in line, as everyone else somehow worms or pushes past you). As we normally do in these types of situations, we split up with one child each. He and Axa strategically maneuvered toward a good place in the now amorphous original line, while Dominique and I joined the stampede.
Tony did better than I did. Stampedes are a little intimidating for me, especially when I and every other stampeder is pushing a fully-loaded luggage cart. Fortunately, Tony’s line turned out to be the right line. The stampede line was the people whose flight was supposed to go to Rome this morning. Surprise, surprise for them (and Tunisair too, apparently); there is a general strike in Italy today, and their flight was cancelled. So it looks like our plane will be pretty full. Due to Tony’s maneuvers, we were only three people from the front of the line now. Despite the lady at the desk poring over each passport as if they were written in Chinese, taking multiple breaks to chat with co-workers, and being limited to two-finger typing, it only took us about an hour to finally get checked in.
We made our fastest time ever through airport security, mostly due to not packing as many weird things as normal, and not taking out our laptop, removing our shoes, or having our clandestine yoghurt, water, and toothpaste-in-container-too-large confiscated. Score! Our bags were not even searched. I don’t remember the last time that’s happened. Is this a Tunisian thing, or have regulations just become more lax since I last flew, seven months ago?
We had one tense moment when Dominique had to make an emergency bathroom stop as we were rushing to our gate for our (so we thought) imminently departing flight. We screeched up to the gate with a bare half-hour left before takeoff. I was sure the plane must be at least half-boarded already. So much for the fact that business class tickets had been the cheapest we could find. We weren’t going to get to board early anyway. However, when we screeched up to the gate, we just saw a bunch of bored Tunisians sitting around talking. There was no sign of the plane, or even anyone sitting at the desk, so we sat down and had the snacks we had been promising the children. Then I did another bathroom break, this time with Axa.
After a half hour or so waiting (by this time it was fifteen minutes past the scheduled departure time), people started congregating around the desk. We were sitting right next to it, so we had the luxury of eavesdropping on a half-dozen identical conversations about when the plane was leaving (the woman who was by now sitting at the desk seemed quite annoyed to have the same question of her asked over and over, but it didn’t occur to her to make a loudspeaker announcement about the now-obvious fact that the plane was late). The first people were told it would be an hour late, but this quickly mushroomed to four. It was pretty obvious to me that what had happened was that the plane we were supposed to take couldn’t leave Italy until after the strike was over, and would not be showing up here for two hours after that. Why Tunisair hadn’t foreseen this, especially after the morning flight was cancelled, I don’t know, and will refrain from speculating.
The room was so full of conversations between animated travelers that I couldn’t hear myself think. The children were getting increasingly rambunctious. The next four hours stretched before me like an endless wasteland. Just as I was about to utterly give up hope, the woman at the desk glanced at our tickets, saw they were business class, and told us we could go wait in the “privileged” lounge. Hallelujah! (As you can see, we’re not very experienced posh travelers, or we would have certainly had this idea on our own.)
Plush leather couches, big flat-screen T.V.’s (playing cartoons!), snacks, and free WIFI internet. It was like walking into paradise. Looks like the next few hours might be bearable after all. And somebody in Heaven must be watching over me.