After making the difficult decision to leave Sarajevo for California, I faced a slew of technical problems, which made getting across the Atlantic to the Pacific coast a small nightmare. Let me give you an overview, it is kind of funny.
First, the cheapest ticket I could find was from a Student Travel agency in Sarajevo which only accepted cash and was moving to a new location where they would not have a phone for 10 days or so, which meant that I had to pay for the ticket four days after I decided to go home. Well, I didn’t have enough cash to purchase the ticket, my bank card did not work, and I could not get a cash advance from work until the following week when the agency would not have a working phone line and could not issue me my ticket. Oscar Pinheiro Sanchez, a very kindred co-worker in Sarajevo, lent me the money and I bought the ticket and came back to work glowing from joy.
Ha ha ha!!! Not so easy, I bought the ticket on a Friday and the following Monday, Swissair went broke and grounded all planes. (Since when can anything Swiss be bankrupt?) Susan bought a ticket on Swissair in CASH. Susan’s travel agent was nowhere to be found. His new address did not exist. His phone did not work. I had a worthless ticket.
When Swissair resumed flying at 50% capacity, they cancelled the flights to San Francisco. The agent re-appeared the day before my flight and called to say that my flight was cancelled. But when I had to contact him to change my ticket, he disappeared again, not answering his phone or his mobile number. I
even contacted his boss in Zagreb to no avail.
Forty-five minutes before my flight to Zurich was supposed to take off , the agent reappeared and called me and asked “So will you fly today?” I responded, “Fly where? There are no flights from Zurich to San
Francisco, I can’t fly home, remember?” RRRRRRR!!! We changed the ticket so that I could fly to Chicago instead. I had to make it to St Louis by October 11 for a family reunion. I decided to fly to Chicago and then take the train to St Louis and meet my family there.
One more complication: I am at the airport in Zurich and guess what they found in my laptop??? TNT. Yes, I got stuck in security control right in front of the boarding gate. Machines which look like a mix of a hair dryer and vacuum cleaner detected TNT particles (used to make dynamite) in my laptop. “Do you take heart medication?”, asked the security agents. “Wow, do I look that old that I should take heart medication”, I wondered to myself . “No”, I answered. ” Do you have asthma?” “Do you take
any types of medication?”. “All I have are eye drops”, I responded. (The chemical makeup of heart and asthma medications closely resemble that of TNT.)
Exactly a month after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, I was under investigation for carrying explosives in my laptop. They called a couple of special security people to examine my laptop and ask me more questions. I was bewildered because I hadn’t used my laptop since May. I thought that maybe some of that famous “Balkan syndrome” depleted uranium could have set off the alarm. However, that would not make sense because any particles left over from the war should have been detected in all of my belongings. I used to have this Styrofoam box, which I used to carry the
computer, so perhaps the left over white particles of Styrofoam set off the alarm.
Meanwhile, the frustrated Swissair personnel are looking at me and at the security agents wondering how such an innocent looking person like me could be holding up the plane. The plane was delayed because of me and all of the other passengers had already boarded. I had no idea what the agents were saying because they were speaking in German but they were very nice to me.
Finally, I was allowed to board the plane. Lucky me! My seat was at the end of the plane and I just kept my head down because the passengers were looking at me wondering why I had just made them wait for 20 minutes and had delayed take off.
Some of you will remember my famous and hilarious flying passport incident three years ago when my passport flew away in the bus from the Tel Aviv airport to the plane and one of the security guys had to drive around at night looking for my passport on the tarmac. I just have bad luck in airports.
My family was very amused and confused at this story and it made for a great story at the family reunion. With the Anthrax scare going on in the US, my TNT scene is quite bizarre.
Another complication to this whole affair: I had a round trip ticket from San Jose to St Louis for this family reunion. Since I never made it to San Francisco care of Swissair, I missed my flight from San Jose to St Louis and the airline cancelled my return flight. When I got to the airport in St Louis to board my flight to San Jose, I had to pay $100 as a change fee to be able to use my ticket home. So the money I thought I was going to save flying Swissair, I paid back in full for the train ticket and plane ticket change fee. My relatives refused going through airport security with me in St. Louis because they were afraid that I would set off another alarm.
I am lucky though, I am home safe and sound. Some people lost their lives on Sept. 11 thinking they were flying to their destinations. I knew I wasn’t going to my destination as planned and had to pay in nerves and money, but I eventually reached home.