“I want to ride the train!” says my four year old daughter as she sees an elongated bus pull up outside the airport terminal doors.
We are at gate E60 at FRA and I’ve lost track of how many hours since we left Florida, and finally it is almost time to board the plane for the last leg on our way to Kosovo.
1-2-3-4, I count the carry-ons. 1-2-3 backpacks, 1-2 kids, 1 purse.
I feel like something is missing, but everything is here. Usually I’m counting more. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.
Only half of our family are traveling to our new posting, but still it seems to take me extra time to round up our family and things and once again we are at the end of the line to board the shuttle to the the airplane.
The bus is crowded. I see a lot of fresh young faces with short trimmed hair. They’re traveling in civilian clothes and trying to blend in, but it’s obvious we have quite a few military personnel on board.
My husband lifts our daughter into a seat next to a woman with a backpack, water bottle and eyes experienced with travel.
My 7yo wants to “surf” as the shuttle bus moves, but I make him sit down. If he loses his balance, I imagine a domino effect down the aisle.
Hurry up and wait. It’s ten minutes before the shuttle doors swish closed, even though our family was the last to board.
The bus jerks forward. The further the shuttle takes us from the terminal the smaller the planes are. I hold my breath. Commuter planes. Propeller planes. We’ve flown in planes designed for just a dozen passengers, and it isn’t my favorite. Hubby names most of the planes for our son, but even he doesn’t know a few of these.
The bus stops in front of a plane sized for about a hundred passengers (thank God) and the tail symbol is not one I’ve seen before. This is the national airline of a small Central European country which I know exists, but couldn’t find easily on a map.
It’s still being fueled and my seven-year-odl calls out, “Look, there’s my suitcase!” From the bus we watch the flight preparations and I’m not sure whether to be thankful they are being thorough or concerned because it is taking so long.
I remember flying as a child, focusing on every word the flight attendant said during the safety briefing and studying the laminated card in the pocket in front of her. I see my daughter does the same. It’s curiosity for her, not anxiety. In spite of her interest in everything around her, she’s asleep before the plane takes off.
Unsurprisingly by the time we gather our carry-ons and usher a sleepy 4yo down the plane aisle, bumping each seat, we are the last to disembark. The flight attended smiles, not looking nearly as tired as I feel.
“Big step!” I coach my daughter as she jumps over the narrow crack from the plane to the jetway.
Everyone’s gone ahead so we are following signs rather than the crowd.
There is an uncertainty that overcomes me each time I arrive at a new airport. I saw the terminal as we landed and I know that it isn’t a huge place, but the endless hallways seem a maze and I’m a mouse that is running it for the first time.
The airport smells familiar — not antiseptic or like bleach or cleaners, but it smells simultaneously clean and yet somehow stale, as air circulating through large spaces and filters does.
We arrive at passport control. There is no VIP/Dip line, not that we need one as there are so few passengers arriving. (But oh how I’ve appreciated it when traveling alone with all the kids in super crowded airports!) We are the last except for the experienced backpacker we met on the shuttle who stopped in the restroom to freshen up. We wend back and forth, back and forth until we are in front of the passport control officer.
“Mirësevini!” he says. Hubby replies in Albanian and I can’t think of a single thing from my 9 weeks of lessons, not even hello.
Efficient, smiling, the officer hands us our passports and waves us through.
I do my quick scan. 1-2-3-4 carry-ons, 1-2-3 backpacks, 1-2 kids, 1 purse.
When I look up, Hubby smiles.