I knew something wasn’t right when the pilot’s voice came on the intercom.
It was my first flight, the 12:10 from Cincinnati to JFK, and we had already been in the air for at least 40 minutes so it didn’t seem like a normal time for a “this is your captain speaking” message.
It turned out that the hydraulics (or something) had failed in our little connector plane and, even though the backup was working fine, protocol was to land the plane. So instead of New York City, we would be landing in Cleveland. Fuck.
The weather was windy, and the constant turbulence didn’t help calm my nerves after the realization that I was careening thousands of feet in the air in a heap of metal with a bum engine (or whatever). I accidentally let myself start thinking about the movie United 93–I never should have watched that movie–and when we made a sharp left at a low altitude at Lake Erie–into a beeline for downtown–I started wondering… Obviously everything was fine, but it was strange to fly so close to skyscrapers. I thought that wasn’t “allowed”, but maybe since it was a slight emergency it was okay. But there I was, flying a couple hundred feet from downtown Cleveland.
Once safely on the ground, I noticed some fire engines and ambulances with lights flashing waiting to guide us back to the gate. A lady in front of me looked distraught to see this, but I felt fine. The workers in the cars looked bored. I pretty much figured that this was standard and yet another item on the checklist for our shit aircraft.
We deplaned. The guy at the gate counter was friendly and helped me figure out how to get to Helsinki, since I was obviously going to miss the über-convenient straight shot from JFK. I accepted to go to New York at 5:15 with most of the other displaced passengers from the original flight, and would catch a ride to Manchester before going to Finland. Blah blah blah, whatever. I figured it was good to be safe, and at least I wouldn’t have to spend the night at some airport hotel. I tried not to focus on the fact that I had just added about 10 hours to my travel time.
It turned out that the father of the girl who took me to Prom as a freshman in high school was on the same flight as me. An anthropology professor at Miami (Ohio), he was on the way to Miami (Florida) for the night, where he would then leave for the Bahamas the next morning to take part in a dig at the site where Columbus landed. He wasn’t too inconvenienced because there was a flight from Cleveland to Miami at 5:30, so in all he was only loosing 30 minutes–which I think you can usually expect to happen anyway. We had a nice chat while waiting for our new flights.
The other passenger of note was a girl who was also flying to Helsinki. She overheard that I was headed there as well, so we talked a bit. I learned that she was originally from Cleveland, went to Xavier University, and now plays professional basketball in Finland. We would talk from time to time over the course of our long trip.
Finally, about 5 hours after I had expected to, I was leaving Ohio. I’m always excited to take off under a grey sky to find the sun once you finally bounce your way above the clouds. Over Cleveland, I got to watch the orange light turn quickly to dark blue and black over the cottony white clouds.
In New York, they sent our plane to a gate at the very end of the terminal. I was the first to exit, and found that the jetway led us into a deserted hallway. The ramp inside dead-ended on a set of doors with signs warning to knock and have personnel open the doors for you. I banged on the doors as the rest of the passengers crammed in behind me. Somebody said something about being screwed by the airline once again. We decided to just go through, so I had the honor of setting off an alarm in an airport and smiling back as JFK’s finest greeted me with disapproving frowns and head shaking.
We left New York City a little late, but luckily a big tailwind got us across the pond earlier even than was planned, around 8:00 a.m. I had gotten a bit of sleep on the plane, but only an hour or two. I got to watch the sun come up from above Dublin, and hoped that that when I saw it set next I would be ground-level in Finland.
The Manchester Airport, viewed from my Finnair plane
The Manchester airport was an interesting place. Once I got to the Finnair Terminal, I found that to get to any gates you have to go through a shopping mall full of fragrances and chocolate and beer. It was a bit like Disney World in that sense. I was able to get some currency converted without charge at a bank there, thankfully, and soon I was in the air headed to Helsinki.
My lack of sleep began to catch up with me on my final flight. I watched Denmark go by between nodding off for 10-minute naps.
We finally landed in Helsinki, in what was apparently the first real snow of the season. My biggest regret of the trip is that I didn’t photograph the scene when we deplaned in the middle of the tarmac, snow billowing, into a standing-room-only bus that took us the rest of the way to the gate. It was a quite a welcome to the country.
The airport was as well. I saw how clean the Finns are right away, in a design sense from judging the architecture, as well as the cleanliness of the bathrooms. After hours of travel, that was enough to make me fall in love with Finland right away.
I went down to baggage claim a bit apprehensive… And, yes, they lost my luggage, of course. (The basketball player’s, too.) Finnair apologized and gave me a dop kit and sent me on my merry way. I still had to get to Turku so I let that be and went looking for the bus.
The language barrier made itself apparent quickly, as I realized that although people speak English here, the ability to converse in it is not as consistent. Nonetheless I found my bus and, just before departing the airport, I was able to update my student tutor on when I would finally get to Turku via email with my iPod wifi connection.
Entrance to my apartment building. Notice the "Sauna" sign!
It felt like a miracle once I got off the bus in Turku and met my tutor, Julia. I’d been nodding the entire trip, and somehow managed to switch buses in Espoo even though the bus driver only alerted the passengers of our location in Finnish. I was so thankful to have someone meet me and lead my estranged self to a warm bed for the night!
In all, it was about 24 hours of flights, crash landings (so I say), lost luggage and sleepy bus rides to get from my bedroom in Cincinnati to my new student apartment in the Student Village of Turku.
Whew! I promise I won’t write that long again. But I thought it was worth recounting. Now the fun begins!