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April fools

In retrospect, it was probably overly optimistic to hope that a cross-Atlantic trip scheduled for April 1 from the tiny airport in Portland to an even smaller one in Chisinau would pass without some misadventure.

D had toyed with the idea of sending an April Fools message to his officemates, claiming to have been delayed in his return to Moldova, but checked his impulse. The last time he had sent a prank email, it had snowballed a bit out of control. He had been serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, when a series of protests led by indigenous groups against a possible free trade deal with the United States paralyzed the country. The protests lasted long enough that they might have even made CNN’s nightly news, so D sent an email to his friends and family urging them not to worry but mentioning that the Peace Corps had initiated the first phase of its evacuation plan. He had meant to send a follow-up gotcha! email but then the internet connection went down and before it could be restored a strong storm knocked out the power to D’s village for several days. By the time D was able to log back into his email, his inbox was overflowing with worried messages.

A funny thing happened on the way to Moldova. Checking in at the United counter in Portland, D was only able to print boarding passes for the first two legs of his trip. The final flight, from Munich to Chisinau, was on Lufthansa and because the company does not fly into Maine, airport staff there seemed clueless and unable to help. They suggested D check in at the Lufthansa counter in Newark upon arrival, but that airport is so archaic and poorly run that it did not seem worth the effort. There are buses connecting the different terminals but because Lufthansa’s desk was in a different terminal than the one from which D’s United flight departed to Munich, airport staff would not let him board the bus. They wanted him to exit the terminal and go through a second security screening instead. Whatever the issue, D decided, he would sort it out upon arrival in Germany.

It’s unclear whether Lufthansa’s pilots had a sense of humor and intentionally planned a major strike to coincide with April’s pranking holiday, but at least the company was well prepared to handle the blowback. There was no pandemonium, like we witnessed last year in Paris in the midst of the French air traffic controller strike. The non-striking Lufthansa staff calmly triaged the stranded passengers and then sent most of them to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, where they became someone else’s problem. Istanbul was a little hectic with the extra influx of travelers, but the detour only added four hours to D’s total itinerary.

D thought it would likely take a minor miracle for his luggage to make it all the way to Chisinau after being handled by four different airlines over the course of 24 hours and was relieved to see the first bag emerge on the conveyor belt. Unfortunately, the second one did not follow suit, and is still out and about, trotting around the world and having adventures of its own. Near as we can tell, it got mishandled in Istanbul so we’re holding out hope that it will complete the journey in the coming day or two.

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