Few guidebooks do more than hint at the “issues.”
There was an argument before we left the US. Ok, well, maybe “argument” is too strong. But when we somehow ended up with less than an hour layover between landing in Rome and departing for Sicily, we protested.
A schedule change, one that Alitalia failed to inform us of, and one that made our connection very tight. Too tight. Trouble-tight. Lost luggage tight.
Alitalia insisted that the connection time was “legal.” Ha! I thought. One of those rare times that Italians took cover in the law. We—through our travel agent—insisted that legal had nothing to do with it. It was not what we signed up for. Because I had booked purposely to avoid a short layover.
The solution offered by the Italian airline was that we pay $2000 per person more for a new ticket that would put us on the next flight: four hours later. We declined.
Still, we’d have to get seats and boarding passes for the Sicily flight we already had at the gate in Rome. NO guarantees.
We deplaned in Rome, late, and ran for the B terminal. And ran. Well, they were more like sprints, interrupted by Italian officialdom. First, we had to take our carry-ons through security screening. Three bottles of water and a razor got through, but I set off the alarms. The Italian official demanded I remove my watch and ring. No, not THAT ring, I leave that one home. He sent me back through. It buzzed again. I had nothing else. To remove.
Oh, well, maybe one more thing:
“Oh, “ I told him, “it’s the wire in my bra.” He waved me through, just like that. No wanding, no invasive search by uniformed personnel. Just how secure is Rome, anyway? And why didn’t he want me to take off my top?
Zooming out of security, we were soon stopped short by Passport Control. A very long line.
A puzzled young woman looked at the signs and then asked me a question in Italian.
Yes, it had started. I look like I should be fluent, but I’m not. I look like I should know what I’m doing, but I don’t. We struggled through my answer.
It took maybe seven or eight minutes to get through the passport line and we were sprinting again.
This doesn’t sound hard, but I had not slept more than 20 minutes at a time on the plane and only a few times. I won’t complain, because it’s so first world, but these were the worst Business Class sleepers ever. I have always hated them and I hate them still. So much for flying our preferred airlines. And yes, I am a first worlder; my poor, immigrant grandparents came to the US in the hopes of that kind of better life. And I got it. Thanks to them. I wear it proudly.
“Go here, go there” –it’s Italy
The crowd at Gate B1, flight to Catania, Sicily was dense. Zigzagging through it, we got to the gate so I could present our ticket and get seats.
“No, you must go to the Transit desk,” the Alitalia gate agent told me, pointing to the next desk. We pushed through the crowd and got to the Transit desk.
“No, we handle only KLM, it’s the next desk,” I was told. We got in line. Minutes ticked by and I could see our chances of getting a seat ticking by, too.
Our transit agent looked at our tickets, then picked up the phone and jabbered in Italian. I could make out “two passengers” “luggage” and “aspetto” which means wait. She printed out two boarding cards and told us that the gate agents were waiting for us. Yes, she had actually telephoned the gate that was 20 feet away.
We pushed through the crowd and got to the desk, where our boarding passes were waiting. We got on ahead of the crowd.
“Pretty sure our luggage didn’t make it,” I told M.
It was a quick hour to Catania, and it included some rocking and rolling as the plane circled jerkily over the city.
Mount Etna dominates from land and air
“May I have your attention, please,” the pilot said over the speaker. “We are enjoying a holding pattern while the airport runway is inspected.”
HE might have been enjoying it, but sleep-deprived me? I wasn’t enjoying it. And why was the runway being inspected, anyway?
“A plane probably blew a tire and they had to removed debris,” my very smart husband said.
A few minutes later we were cleared for landing. We landed out in the airport suburbs. An old-fashioned stair apparatus was rolled up to the plane, we climbed down it and onto a big bus that took us to the Arrivals terminal and baggage claim. People pushed and shoved to get the best position.
Our baggage conveyer was at the end of a huge hall. The crowd waited. And waited. Two bags came out. “Baggage Delivery Started,” the sign said. Apparently, it had also ended.
The crowd noticed that bags were appearing in the next room, on a belt called oversized luggage. That didn’t seem oversized at all. I wondered about the Italian definition of “oversized.” Since nothing was happening at our conveyer, the group moved as one to the next room like a swarm of bees. I stayed put.
When nothing much happened there, as a group they swarmed back to the original conveyer.
Ha! No, this sign not in Sicilia.
Our bags decided to vacation in Rome
Finally, we were the last two passengers left. Our bags had not arrived. Down at Alitalia Lost and Found, I was first in line. Having been through this before when Alitalia didn’t return my bags for three days, I was ready. And so nice.
“We have found your bags,” the lost and found agent said. “they are in Rome.” She filled out some forms.
As I picked up my paperwork, I said, “So, probably tomorrow we will get our bags?” I didn’t want to seem too anxious.
The clerk shook her head. “It is usually two or three, days. Today the airline will give the bags to the courier company and then they will deliver. It could be three days. If you are lucky.”
We were lucky in one sense. I’d insisted that we carry on three changes of clothes so we were good for three days. But that “If you’re lucky” rang in my head.
Out in the arrivals hall we were to meet our driver. It was about an hour’s drive to our hotel in Siracusa and we were exhausted.
But there was no driver. After 45 minutes and a few phone calls we were told that our tour leader had given the driver a time two hours from now. Fortunately, he was in the area and turned up about 20 minutes later.
Ah, Italia. It takes the patience of a saint.
View from our room
Our charming room at the B&B provided a view of the Ionian Sea. The Ionian is underrated; no one ever mentions it. But there it was.
Our tiny room had a few of the amenities: a TV, desk, armoire, chair, all there, but in miniature.
We are not miniature people and when we have our luggage, it isn’t miniature, either.
There was no room for a dresser. Since we had no luggage, organizing our belongings wasn’t a huge problem.
We collapsed in bed with our Kindles and finally fell asleep. We slept on and off through the afternoon and well into the night. Or at least I did. Michael did not.
In the morning, an email from our travel agent. “How did transit go?” she asked.
“Is that a trick question?” I wanted to respond.
Worse, I woke with a tickle in my throat, which I probably caught from all the time I spent visiting at Stanford Hospital.
Well, nothing to do but swing with things. We had clean clothes, at least for now. I had a bag full of meds and my doctor’s email address. What was a little lost luggage?
After breakfast, we strolled Ortygia, the island that is the historical center of Siracusa. Back at our hotel, we plotted with the hotel clerk how we might circumvent a luggage disaster. She had a few ideas.
A few hours later the phone in our room rang and our hopes were high, only to be dashed when it was just the hotel clerk with more strategy to discuss. After the call, we settled back in, but the phone rang again barely two minutes later, and yes, our bags had arrived.
You would have thought we’d won the lottery.
“You were very lucky,” the hotel clerk told us.
Don’t we know it. If you want to know just HOW lucky, Google Alitalia lost luggage.
May it continue.