I woke up at about 7 this morning and just about panicked. I walked around in a daze, wondering what the hell I was doing and what the hell I had been thinking, leaving my family to live abroad for a month. When the initial shock and fear wore off, I was left antsy and excited, anticipating every move and meticulously planning in my head how I would possibly navigate airports, let alone another country, on my own.
I arrived at Lambert St. Louis International Airport around 8:30 with my parents, sister, and uncle. I was greeted at the check-in by a lovely, avuncular man who weighed my luggage (at just 39 lbs!) and directed me where to go to get to my gate. He made sure to remind me to be safe and get souvenirs from Ireland for my mother. I waited close to security for about an hour with my family, laughing, talking, and people-watching, as I was fairly early for my flight and had much time to kill.
After a while, it was time to embark. I hugged my tearful mother and thanked her for giving me this chance, kissed my father’s cheek, and laughed at my sister’s silly jokes. It was, after all, the last time I would for close to 30 days. They stood and watched me go through the mercifully short security line, waving me off, and then left as I dragged my carry-on luggage right to the gate, not stopping for a bathroom or a bottle of water until I got there. It was, of course, at the very end of the terminal, and I was not missing my plane.
The flight to Newark was short but highly uncomfortable. The plane was very small, smaller than any I’d ever been on. Despite fitting the size parameters, I was forced to check my carry-on at the gate. Because of this, I still had to take medication and my laptop out of the bag and ended up holding on to far too many things. I was terrified I would lose something.
I sat in a single seat on the left side by the window, lucky number 7. The arms of the seat dug into my thighs the whole time. I think I maybe slept an hour, if that, and hardly touched any of the water I bought. We hit turbulence and the fasten seatbelt sign never went off, so I didn’t want to have a full bladder.
When we arrived in Newark, we had to wait another twenty minutes for them to move the jetway so we could deplane. I sat, cramped, with an older woman’s ass right in my face for that entire time. When we finally were able to leave, my carry-on was waiting for me on the jetway. I entered the familiar terminal, Terminal A, and immediately went looking for a way to get to Terminal B, from where international flights leave.
The signs said to take the elevator or stairs to the lower level and take the shuttle, so I headed that way. When I got to the exit, the woman informed me the shuttle would not allow me to access the Aer Lingus gate, and that I would have to take the AirTrain. The AirTrain, for anyone as ignorant as I was, is literally a train attached to the airport, high above the ground, that jets passengers between terminals. After struggling to select the correct train, I boarded and waited the 90 seconds the ride would take.
When I got to Terminal B, I am ashamed to say I was completely confused. Signs were unhelpful, and I realized belatedly that, though I knew Newark airport intimately, I had never been to international departures. So I did the only rational thing: I asked for help.
Unfortunately, the woman I asked for help had a serious language barrier and sent me through to security. I went through another screening (and nearly got tackled because I forgot to discard the water bottle I had bought in St. Louis and accidentally left it in my bag), only to find the gate area I was in was exclusively for Delta airlines. I asked someone else for help at a currency exchange, had to leave that set of gates got completely turned around, and eventually had to get an escort to the other side of the terminal.
On advice from my uncle, I didn’t stop for food, water, or a bathroom, though I was in dire need of all three, on fear I’d miss my boarding and my plane. I had to stand in yet another security line, longer than the last, and be pat down because my bra clasps threw off the sensors. Finally, finally, I made it to the departure gates and found the Aer Lingus gate.
I checked in for my flight with a lovely woman in a teal uniform that looked highly professional and old fashioned, Pan Am style. There was only one bathroom past the duty free cosmetics and alcohol, and one place to stop and get food. I stopped for food first, inhaling a chicken wrap, a cup of grapes, and a water bottle as though I hadn’t eaten in three years, and finally had my bathroom break. By then, I had a minute to charge my phone and call my parents one final time. The three hour connection time had been perfect.
And then we were boarding.
The plane was incredible. The seats were cushioned, there was an entertainment system on the seat back (though mine was broken), there was plenty of room, and I was seated by a native Irish girl around my age. Everyone had lovely accents and was very friendly.
The flight was excellent. I even had ravioli as my in flight meal and managed to sleep a few hours in the night.
Travel was a breeze. But the real test would come in the morning when I finally arrived in Dublin….