This was to be an easy trip. I would be flying out of Southwest Florida International, the big airport on the quiet side of the southernmost state in the country where my family, by a vote of two-to-one, chooses to live.
Although Fort Myers, Fla., has not an iota of Southern charm, the population does share one important belief with every true Southerner: To make it to the Pearly Gates you will first have to fly Delta to Atlanta to change planes.
It is only a 70-minute flight to Atlanta, but that opens up vast horizons of nonstop service around the globe. The International in our airport's name has to do with the daily Air Berlin flight to Dusseldorf, Germany.
It was an easy schedule. We'd fly to Atlanta, change planes and head out on the nonstop to Munich. We would be met, spend the night in the city and then we would be picked up for the two-hour drive to Passau, Germany, for a ceremony.
My wife had spent time running around the shops of Naples, Fla., looking for the perfect white dress. It was packed away in bag No. 2. Our daughter was with us, by far the better traveler in the family, and all should go smoothly. In keeping with Turen tradition, we arrived at the airport a good 45 minutes earlier than we needed to. No stress for us when we travel. We had it all figured out.
What we didn't have figured out was the announcement by a too-perky counter agent that our flight to Atlanta was going to be delayed by a scant four hours and 10 minutes. No way we could make the Munich nonstop.
My first reaction: Well, this is a good thing. Now we'll experience what some of our clients have experienced over the years. Now we'll be able to tell our own story of airline stress. Now, finally, we can really walk in our client's shoes.
There was only one little bit of concern, and that had to do with the actual purpose of this trip. You see, my wife, Angela, was being named the godmother of the newest Scenic riverboat, the first American consultant to be so honored. It would be nice if we showed up on time to join the festivities.
The first thing you do when you're in trouble is take out your smartphone. That proved generally useless. The tickets had been issued by Scenic, and there was little they could do. I went searching for a Red Coat.
Americans have not always had pleasant encounters with Red Coats, those, to quote a recent Delta press release, "distinctive airport agents of yesteryear when airlines stressed personal service." But in airports they are often lifesavers.
It isn't always easy to spot them. The nice ones wear red sweaters or red blazers. They stand out from all the other airline personnel in the terminal like robins at a convention of blackbirds. You can usually find them walking the terminals in comfortable shoes with extra arch support. They look world-weary, not snappy. Sometimes you will find them hunched over a computer at the gate check-in, never a good sign. That's where we found our Red Coat.
We told him our story, and he was actually Delta nice and sympathetic, that is until he started searching the computer on our behalf. It was difficult. We had virtually no options to get out this afternoon, something we would need to do to get to sleep before the big event tomorrow. We had been told that Fox News was going to be covering the event, and Angela would be interviewed. She had to be there on time, and she had to have her white dress. Her carry-on was packed with workout clothes.
Oh yes, our luggage. I had momentarily forgotten about that. Let me summarize the situation: There were three of us with four checked bags scheduled to fly out of Atlanta in two hours, and we were still in Southwest Florida International entering our third hour of anguish.
Finally, after more than an hour of trying, our Red Coat found a solution he described as "not the best," but it might work. We would leave in an hour on a flight to New York JFK, where we would have 40 minutes to change terminals, pray that the baggage handlers were in a good mood and hop the evening Air France flight to Paris. We were flying business class, so that would help. He would call ahead. They would know we were coming.
Our flight into JFK was only five minutes late, and we ran to the terminal bus and through lines to get to the Air France flight.
It had been delayed. The gate agent, a chatty young man who enjoyed speaking French and English at the same time, assured us we were lucky, since we had two hours to make our connection in Paris to Munich. Of course, nothing had been put in our record.
On the approach to JFK I had induced a certain Zen state of mind that I use whenever I enter New York. It is the best way for me to handle stress. So as I boarded the flight to Paris I was in a calm state. I think we all were. We're optimists.
We arrived on time in Paris. But all passengers in transit are required to go through both passport control and TSA-like security checks. Unfortunately, at Charles De Gaulle Airport, customer service in the security line is as foreign a concept as a slice of white bread. We were going to miss our flight to Munich. In addition, we had to take a train to get to the terminal, and one of the tracks was closed down.
The Turens ran. Not all that fast with our carry-ons and my concern that my agility might serve to embarrass others in the terminal, but it could be called running. As we approached our gate, we noticed a crowd. Our flight to Munich had been delayed. We were going to make it. Not, perhaps, the Pearly Gates, but somehow we had remained calm and remembered our guiding life principle: "There is no Zen on the mountaintop; you have to bring it up with you."
As we entered the priority check-in line, there was a very well-dressed gentleman taking tickets. He was wearing a red coat. My wife asked him if he thought there was any way our bags might have made it. He smiled, a lovely smile, and kept the line waiting while he checked.
"Yes, all four of your bags have definitely been checked onto this flight," he declared. "The computer is showing they are aboard the aircraft."
We toasted our good fortune on the flight to Munich. We were pleased with ourselves for remaining so calm. We emailed the christening officials that we would be in Munich in an hour. Our 30-year track record was intact.
Of course, the bags did not make it. Only my daughter's bag arrived on the carousel in Munich. Our other three bags were missing, and Air France was blaming New York, New York was blaming Delta and Delta was suggesting I talk to the Germans. No one could find our bags. The white dress and all of our clothing were missing.
We tried to make friends with the Air France people in Munich, but they use an outsource service for lost luggage. We went to the Le Meridien hotel, where I sat in the lobby for a while trying to determine which member of the concierge staff might be best suited to help us in our search.
They tried their best, but we were leaving for the riverboat in the morning, and we had no bags. My wife went out in search of an emergency dress, a bit of jewelry and a pair of shoes. She came back to the hotel that evening with a few shopping bags. But she had not been able to replace the white dress.
The next day we decided to have our driver stop at the airport en route to Passau on the chance that our bags had arrived from Paris or New York overnight. It turned out that the company that handles lost baggage is behind security and they didn't want to let me in as I had no ticket. Finally, I entered a deserted portion of the terminal, went into a side office and found our three missing bags sitting neatly on a baggage cart.
We sped to Passau, arriving 40 minutes before the start of the christening. Staff was waiting to hustle the luggage into our stateroom, and Angela walked out in the emerging sunshine on schedule, looking beautiful in her new white dress.
We'll change planes in Atlanta and see the Pearly Gates another time.