Fleeing Security: A Tale of Delays, Diversions, and Lost Luggage.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you ran through security? Before you try it, let me tell you what happened when a traveler pulled this stunt in Munich.
Chris and I were wrapping up our two-week adventure in Germany, Austria, and Italy with a flight from Munich to our home in Queretaro, Mexico. We were greeted by the longest security lines we have EVER seen at the United/ Lufthansa counter in the B terminal. When we asked what was up, we were told that a disgruntled traveler had run through security after the x-ray screeners detected she had liquid in her bag. She managed to run past the guards which resulted in the entire B concourse being evacuated, and every traveler who had passed through security being rescreened. I looked at Chris and we both exchanged the “we’re not getting home tonight” look. This was only the beginning. After being extensively questioned about whether or not we’d had our bags in our possession or if we had powder in our bags (???) we finally entered the maze to check our bags.
Fortunately, United was still checking luggage for about 15 minutes, when airport control told all airlines to stop accepting bags. Knowing this day would be a marathon, I decided to take a seat in line and wait for the agents to start re-checking luggage. My European SIM card had run out of data, so I popped in my data less American SIM card in my iPhone, tucked my nose in a fantastic novel, and waited to hear about the fate of my flight. I was certain that it would be cancelled. No such luck.
After a few hours, we got the news that security was still closed, but airlines could start checking in bags. We gleefully went to the counter, and the United agent tagged and checked in our luggage. Little did I know that this might be the last time I would see my luggage or its contents.
The airport escalators were turned off, so we hiked up the stairs with our carry-on luggage to find a scene that can be described as chaos. I’m talking a level of bedlam I hadn’t seen since the Yu Gardens New Year’s Day adventure of 2013. Travelers were shoved in the arrival hall like a can of sardines, marinating in sweat, panic, and frustration. I was out of data so I had no idea what was happening, and the free airport Wi-Fi had crashed. Fortunately, I was still able to get text notifications with my American number, so we learned our 9:40 flight was delayed until 11:30. If we were able to make it through security, we would make our flight.
|Here's a view from the ground.|
|Some folks were doing the Macarena. We weren't those folks.|
At this point I decided to take the advice of Fraulein Maria from The Sound of Music and a few Holocaust survivors (I learned a lot of survival skills from reading books about these subjects on the German train), and started thinking about positive, happy things. In the middle of a crisp white wine and Netflix binge fantasy, we finally got the news that security was open. The airport PA also garbled that flights would resume taking off around 2:00. Let the shoving begin! Before we started to make our way to the scanners, I told Chris,
“If we get lost, we’ll meet at the gate.” For the next 90 minutes, we elbowed our way to the security queue. At the end of the madness, security guards were passing out water, and a medical services station was set up in the center of the terminal for passengers who were having a tough time dealing with the trauma and heat. While they didn’t really know how to direct the crowds, however the German TSA knew how to treat us afterwards.
We were finally able to get through the scanners and passed through immigration with little or no trouble. I peeked past the line, and saw a perfect antidote to our stressful morning…a sushi bar! I looked back at Chris who was going through security, made eye contact, and pointed toward the restaurant. I wanted to make sure we could grab a meal before our flight to Houston. Fearing thousands of other travelers felt the same way, I ran over to the restaurant, grabbed a table, and ordered a white wine for me and a beer for Chris. Life was about to get infinitely better for both of us…or so I thought. 10 minutes passed, 20 min, Chris was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully he would realize I wasn’t at the gate and return to the restaurant area. I had ordered food and drinks so I couldn’t leave the restaurant. Luckily, I found that Gucci in the airport had their own operational Wi-Fi, so I was finally able to get in touch with Chris.
|These texts have been edited for explicit content. Chris was very concerned about getting home on time for work on Monday. He was also quite irritated about having to go through yet another security screening.|
Fortunately, we were both able to eat and I was forgiven for breaking the “let’s meet at the gate” agreement. (The beer got me out of trouble.) We scarfed down our food, and headed to the gate. Big surprise, we had to go through ANOTHER security checkpoint at the gate. Chris wasn’t particularly happy that he had to go through extra screening, but we made it to the gate.
While we were waiting, we learned the flight was going to be diverted to Boston? Why? Flight crews can only work a specific number of hours until they time out. Our crew would time out before we reached Houston. United wanted to get us home, so they came up with a plan to fly to Boston, switch out the crew, and then head on to get us into Houston that evening. Chris called United, tried to get us on a different flight, and managed to get us on a morning flight from Houston to Queretaro.
When it was finally time to board, were herded onto a shuttle that would take us to the plane. Some folks were still having issues getting through security on time, so we waited on the shuttle for about 30 minutes to make sure everyone could board. We boarded the plane, buckled up, and were finally in the air around 4:00 pm Munich time.
|Woo hoo! It was time to fly!!|
After our cannelloni airplane dinner, I watched a few movies, and eventually drifted off to sleep. Despite the prior insanity, we were having a smooth flight. The majority of the passengers were calm…disgruntled, but calm. I was able to check the status of my bag on the United App. Unfortunately, I got a message stating that my bag was going to be rerouted. Maybe this was a good thing! We were going to be rerouted too. I drifted to sleep and woke up to a turkey sandwich snack right before we landed. Then the pilot got on the speaker.
“We’re going to pull to a side gate so we can change out the flight crew, then we’ll be on our way to Houston. We apologize for everything, even though the events of today were out of our control.” What happened after this is still a little fuzzy in my mind due to a jet lag nap on the plane. A couple of hours later we were still on the ground when a new pilot got on the radio and told us that Immigration and Passport Control was going to be closed when we reached Houston, so they were going to find us a way to get off the plane in Boston head through immigration and stay there for the evening. We just had to hang tight on the plane until they could get us a gate.
A couple of hours later, we were informed that immigration was going to close in Boston before our flight could be processed, and there were no hotel rooms left at the airport so we were going to head to Dulles (in Washington DC). In DC, we were to exit the plane, go through customs, recheck our bags, go through security (again), and reboard the plane. Our current flight crew was about to time out (again) so a new crew would take us to Houston for the evening. Keep in mind, this was all happening because one person ran through security.
A while later, we lifted off and a little over an hour later we landed in DC. Before leaving the plane, the flight crew suggested we use the mobile passport control app to facilitate the customs process. I did that, thinking maybe my Global Entry wouldn’t work because the machines could be shut down. We exited the plane, took a tram and went through the vacant airport towards the baggage terminal. Guess whose luggage wasn’t there? I figured our missing bags would be okay because they had been checked through to Mexico. We would pick them up there. (BTW, there were about 30 of us on the flight with missing luggage. It wasn’t just us.)
After waiting too long by the luggage carousel, it was time for customs and immigration. The Global Entry machines were on, so I started the customs process. Since I had already started the process on the mobile passport app, I was rejected and had to go to a normal entry machine. I received my entry document with the black X of detainment so I had to go through additional screening. I was interrogated because I had applied too many times to enter the country. I had no choice but to laugh with the immigration agent.
|It was funny to experience a completely empty airport. 24 hours earlier, we were packed in.|
For good reason, there aren’t many screeners at security checkpoints in the middle of the night at Dulles, so we had to wait in another 45-minute line to get through security. While waiting, the darling child behind us in line started singing “Jingle Bells” at the top of her lungs. More laughter ensued. We had all been up and traveling for over 24 hours at this time. I felt numb all over.
We finally made it through security, rode yet another tram, and made it to the concourse when United was threatening to close the flight on the PA system. We were able to make it on the plane where I found another woman sleeping in my seat.
“Mamn.” I cried.
“MAMN.” A little louder this time. I didn’t want to jar her.
Still no response. Other passengers were starting to laugh.
“MAMN!” I tapped her on her shoulder. She woke up.
“Excuse me, but you are in my seat.” She apologized for the disruption and moved to the window seat in front of me, which was another wrong seat. (The previous tenant was the “Jingle Bells” singer.)
We buckled up, and prepared for the next leg of our flight to Houston. Despite the fact that about 20 people had not returned to the plane, United was still threatening to close the plane door. Then collective passenger outrage started to kick in.
“You have landed us in DC, you aren’t going to strand us here after everything we have been through. No! People are missing!” My fellow plane mates had formed a pack. No one was going to be left behind. A new, yet exhausted flight attendant informed us,
“If we don’t close the plane door, our crew is going to time out. You won’t be able to get to Houston.” When could my trip time out? When could I head to a hotel to get some sleep?
Fortunately, the crew held out for a few more minutes and everyone was back on the plane to Houston. After a frosty trip from DC to Houston (our flight changed from an international flight to a domestic flight so all blankets had been removed from the plane), we arrived a little after 5 in the morning central time. All I wanted was a warm meal. (Aside from a bag of cookies and a bag of pretzels we hadn’t eaten a full meal since the cannelloni.) My wish came true at Ruby’s!
After breakfast, we decompressed in the Houston airport. Suddenly, Chris asked,
“Um, honey did you bring your house keys?”
“No, I told you I was leaving them at home.” I replied, “Why?”
“Well I have good news and bad news. I packed the house and car keys in the suitcase. But the good news is I have been assured that our luggage is in Houston. We shouldn’t have a problem.”
“I KNOW! I shouldn’t have packed the keys. They were just getting heavy in the Venice airport in my sweaty, stinky jeans.” He explained. I couldn’t blame him. I took a deep breath in.
“You are SURE our luggage is in Houston?” I asked.
“Yes.” He replied. “The baggage agent verified this.” Okay…everything was going to be alright. We boarded our flight to Queretaro and had a blissfully uneventful flight. As soon as the wheels hit the runway, I got the following message.
Wow...we were at our final destination, but the drama still wasn’t over. We made it through Mexican immigration, and waited for our nonexistent bags. The immigration agent pointed us to the United counter where we filled out more paperwork to determine where our luggage might be and to develop a plan to get our luggage. Since the last time our luggage had been scanned over 24 hours previously, no one has ANY idea as to where our bags may be. While Chris was having yet another irate call with United, I was able to get a hold of my angel cleaning lady to get a house key. (She was happy to help, especially since we paid her for a day of work for helping us out.) By a little after 1:00 Central Time, 37 hours after the madness began, we were finally home.
United is apparently still looking for our luggage. According to a credible airline source, there are approximately 20,000 bags still sitting in the Munich airport as a result of ONE PERSON running through security. We may get our bags; however, we won’t know anything definite for approximately 5 business days. While on the tram in Dulles, I did get an apology letter from United, which contained a $200 travel voucher but I am afraid to accept the compensation because if our luggage is indeed lost it will cost a LOT more than that amount to cover the contents of my bag.
I know there are thousands of other travelers who have been impacted by the actions of one scared, thoughtless woman. We still don’t know if she was ever found, or if she is found what the consequences of her actions will be. I have learned a LOT from this trip: don’t run out of foreign data on your sim card, take a picture of your luggage before you travel, wait for your loved one outside immigration, don’t pack your keys in your suitcase, pack an extra change of clothes in your carryon in case of emergency, defend your fellow passengers, and when in a really lousy situation fantasies of crisp chardonnay and Netflix really do help. Most importantly DON’T RUN THROUGH SECURITY!
I’ll keep you posted as to what happens. J