It has been more than a week since we flew home. In hindsight, everything worked out perfectly, but in the moment it seemed like there were going to be a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.
We woke up on July 7th with two things to accomplish: figure out how to get our bike to our gate the next morning and go sightseeing in Frankfurt. After an amazing buffet breakfast in our hotel we set off on the first task. We wanted to both figure out where our gate was as well as ensure there were not any obstacles (stairs, tight doors, etc.) that would make it so we couldn’t get our two bike boxes there.
Several months ago I made one of two reservations for our trip — a hotel room in a hotel attached to the airport terminal (the other was our Strasbourg Airbnb). My logic was that I wanted to simplify our exit and having a hotel at the closest possible location seemed like a good step. I made the reservation for two nights, just in case we needed to spend Friday looking for bike boxes if the airport was out. However, I made a bad assumption. I didn’t realize that Frankfurt had two terminals which are disconnected from each other, and our reservation, we came to find, wasn’t at the terminal from which we’d leave. Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 are about a mile apart and are not connected internally. One has to either ride a train (Skyline which didn’t appear to be running when we were there – maybe due to construction) or a shuttle bus. As we’ve had mixed success getting our bike on buses and trains, we decided to ride the bus to terminal 2 (so we knew where it was) and then walk back to terminal 1. When we asked for directions at the information desk the lady seemed to think it was a weird request to walk back, but said something that made us think it was possible. Google maps gave us a route so we started following it. However, after about 20 minutes we realized it would end on the wrong side of a busy freeway. We backtracked and used Komoot to give us a walking route. I could see a bike path that seemed to go right past our hotel, so we decided to follow that instead of the walking path Komoot recommended. Again, once we got near our hotel we found there were walls and roads making it impossible to get to our hotel – even without bike boxes. We backtracked again and followed the route Komoot gave us, over cobblestone sidewalks and through a parking lot, eventually arriving at terminal 1. We were hot, tired, and hopeful we were not going to have to walk our bike boxes from terminal 1 to terminal 2 in the morning.
Our flight was early, 7 AM, and the information desk recommended we arrive prior to 5 to check in, so our next task was figuring out if the shuttle bus ran that early. It does. Not as frequent, but it runs. Even though the Skyline didn’t appear to be running while we were there, the website says it starts at 5 AM, so we weren’t going to be able to ride it anyway. We had to be trying to get on the shuttle prior to 4:30 — that way if they wouldn’t let us on we’d still have adequate time to walk the mile (gratefully we were told we could take the luggage carts from terminal 1 to terminal 2, even though we’d be on city sidewalks outside of the terminal).
Next we had to fully check in and declare our luggage, per the gate agent. (She told us we needed to do that in advance to ensure our bike boxes could get on the plane, even though I had done it 4 weeks ago with a Delta agent who told me she was able to update KLM’s system of our intent to bring bike boxes.) It wasn’t as straightforward as we would have hoped but we got it done. By this time it was about 2 PM and we didn’t feel like going into Frankfurt. Instead we rested in our hotel and ate.
For various reasons Natalie decided 2:30 AM would be her wakeup time and we arranged to check out of the hotel between 3:30 and 4. We wanted to ensure we had enough time to deal with whatever challenges we might face. We were both a bit wired, and as we lay in bed trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, we ended up just talking about the ride and thinking about our favorite memories. Around 11 Natalie asked me to set a backup alarm on my phone. I picked it up and noticed a text message from the airline which to my 11 PM sleep-deprived brain read: “Your flight has been canceled. We couldn’t find an alternate flight. Good luck.” It said a bit more than that, but that was essentially the message. I started texting with Delta to see what options we had when I noted an email from Delta indicating they had booked us on a flight with the same departure time from Frankfurt and same arrival time in Salt Lake, but going through Paris instead of Amsterdam. We were so grateful.
While checking into our new flight online at midnight I noted a relatively inexpensive upgrade to business class for the first leg of the flight, Frankfurt to Paris. We jumped on it realizing this would simplify our check-in in the morning by giving us priority access and potentially more generosity from the airline when being asked to take our bike boxes. (We’d be flying Air France, not KLM, and Air France would have no early notice that we were bringing our bike boxes.) At this point Natalie was able to fall asleep but I was wired. I chose to lay in bed and think of things about the trip for which I was grateful. Sometimes I’m frustrated when I can’t sleep — but that night was different. I knew I was going to need to shift my sleep schedule anyway, so being super tired the next day was going to be fine.
Natalie woke up at 2:30 and we were checking out of our hotel by 3:30. We pushed our bike boxes and luggage to the shuttle stop waiting location using the predetermined route, including a new set of elevators we found the day before which saved us one elevator ride. (Originally we were going to have to take 3 different elevators as we made our way from the hotel to the shuttle waiting location, but with the newly found elevator it was only 2.) At the shuttle stop an airport worker walked up to us. Natalie immediately assumed he was going to tell us we couldn’t take our bike boxes on the shuttle and I assumed he was going to offer to help. Luckily, I was right. When the bus arrived we loaded our boxes and bags. There were a surprisingly large number of others riding the bus at 4 AM. We were at terminal 2 within minutes. We knew right where to go and were able to be at the front of the priority line as we waited for the airline agents to begin processing passengers. It ended up being quite a wait — maybe until 4:30. Our hotel had packed us a sack breakfast, so we munched on that as we waited.
Checking in as business class went really smoothly. They marked our boxes and bags for priority treatment which would help us on both legs of our trip, even though we were business class only for the first leg. We were sent to a different area of the terminal to hand off our bike boxes (and we had found this the day before, so it wasn’t a big deal to find it). The person there didn’t speak any English, but he took our bikes and gave us the hand signal to “get out of here” so we left hoping all was in order.
The security lines were light this early in the morning so we quickly made it to our gate. After a short wait we were able to go into the airline lounge (due to our business class tickets) where we ate a second breakfast. At 6:30 we boarded our plane and by a little after 7 AM we were in the air and were served our third breakfast of the morning (another perk of the business class upgrade). So there we were, having worried the day before if things would work out, sitting in our most comfortable seat of all of our flights on this trip, eating our third breakfast. Seriously, as much as we tried to plan things out, this was better than anything we had come up with on our own. While it makes sense to try hard to plan and organize, sometimes factors outside our control either make things work or make things go wrong. We were so grateful to be on the “make things work” side of that continuum. So while we felt a bit like our several hours of reconnaissance from the day before had paid off, we mostly felt like all of our bike angels had converged on the airport at the same time and sent us off in style.
The connection in Paris was uneventful although it involved a decent amount of walking and shuttle-riding. It was super clear to us by this point just how lucky we were to be booked on this flight, as it was completely full, perhaps partly due to the other cancellation shunting passengers to SLC to this flight. We were in the very back of the plane, but we had seats and we were together. (When we got on the flight and went to our seats someone was sitting in one of them — someone the flight attendant had assigned to sit there because it was an unaccompanied minor — and for a moment it seemed that the flight attendant wasn’t going to allow us to be seated — but after a bit they found another seat for the minor. There seemed to be a rule that an unaccompanied minor can’t sit next to someone else, which kind of makes sense.)
The flight to SLC was uneventful, but long. It was crazy to think of how fast we were moving on the plane compared to how fast we had been moving on our bike. It wasn’t quite 100x as fast, but close to it. An hour in the air equated to about 10 days of riding.
At SLC the priority status of our luggage allowed us to quickly retrieve our luggage and our Global Entry cards allowed us to bypass all of the customs lines. Our final obstacle was figuring out how to get our bike boxes to the arrival pickup curb (required two elevator rides). Bryan and Olivia were waiting for us in our truck and we rode home in luxury, but dead tired. Natalie had been able to doze a bit on the plane. I hadn’t. I was wired.
It was so good to be home. As we looked back on the return trip we were so grateful for how smoothly it had gone in the end. There had been so many opportunities for it to go wrong, but at every fork in the road the path we followed made the return trip better, not worse. We felt blessed.
As we tried to sort out the Frankfurt airport on Friday I decided I would never fly out of that airport again with bike boxes. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, and have a better understanding of the airport, I think I would do it again. I might not plan 2 days for packing the bike; rather, I’d have a German speaking friend verify a few days before that they have bike boxes. I’d probably stay at a hotel near terminal 1, as there didn’t seem to be any attached to terminal 2, and use the shuttle buses to move between the two (or Skyline train if my flight were a little later). Finally, I’d try really hard to get the first leg of the trip to be in business class. The rate difference for the long leg is excessive, but ideally we’d have a short hop to Paris or Amsterdam and the upgrade cost would be reasonable.
What an adventure.