As we walked into the Rochester Airport on Aug. 23, I immediately had the sense something was amiss.

A few days prior to arriving at the airport, the person who booked my flight from Minnesota to Saudi Arabia told me to review the flight information and let her know if anything was wrong. I did. It all seemed correct. I was especially excited to be flying out of Rochester so I wouldn’t have to fight the crowds with the two 50-pound storage bins I was using as luggage.

But I remembered the carrier I was to fly on was not one I’d heard of before. Etihad. Blinded by the excitement of it all, I had failed to think about that: Would Etihad be flying out of Rochester, Minnesota?

When I arrived on Aug. 23, I asked the Delta person at the counter (there are only two counters at Rochester … Delta and American). She noticed the error right away. My purchased flight originated at ROC (Rochester, New York, airport), not RST (Rochester, Minnesota).

So after a nearly two-week delay in my departure date (originally slated for sometime around Aug. 11), I was now delayed again. I let a few of my contacts at my future employer know the issue, but the eight-hour time difference meant it was after 10 p.m. where they were. I didn’t expect to hear back for 8 to 10 hours. Dejectedly, my family and I packed up and left the airport.

Two people — my principal and a person from the HR office — contacted me almost immediately. They had me on a plane out of RST a few hours later. Granted, it was a few hours later than I was originally scheduled to fly, but all things considered what they’d been able to do felt, to me, like first-class service. I knew then I was going to like my new employer. It was a mistake. Any human can make a mistake, but the way they rectified it was first-class.

My First International Flight

My puddle jumper out of Rochester landed one hour later in Chicago. Prior to that flight, I had a short layover. Back at the Rochester airport I’d had a few beers with dinner, which ran contrary to my mother’s advice. My mom, a seasoned international traveler, told me to stay hydrated. I took a picture of my beer glass and sent it to my mom. I would later regret that, both the beer and the picture.

By the time I landed in Chicago I was feeling a bit sick, but I just figured it was my body reacting to the wide range of emotions felt over the last 12 hours. One thing was for sure: I wasn’t feeling 100 percent as I boarded my first international flight.

Quick interruption of story: I am not sure why I hadn’t noticed it yet at this point, but I had left my laptop when I passed through security in Chicago. All laptops have to be taken out of the bag and placed alone to go through the luggage scanner. I never picked it up on the other side. Not sure why I even brought it with. It was an old laptop, but it did have a lot of my pictures of the kids on it.

So I am immediately impressed with the size of the airplane on which I’m flying internationally. 9 or 10 seats wide. A worker at the Rochester airport gushed about Turkish airlines. Best food. Soft blankets you get to keep. Hot towels to wash your hands after you eat. Great movie selection.

It all proved true, but I had a hard time keeping my eye on those prizes because of a weird combination of things:

 

  1. My cold was getting steadily worse, lots of sneezing, snot dripping into my throat, feeling dehydrated (my mom is reading this, saying “I told you so.”), spiking temperature. It was a true Man Cold.
  2. The air vents in my row did not seem to be working. It’s possible they were but I just didn’t know how to work them. But this plane was so big I couldn’t reach them anyway.
  3. I was in a middle seat.
  4. Amazingly, the woman to my right in the window seat NEVER WOKE UP ONCE. She was tiny, and for much of the trip she could fit her whole body on the seat (feet tucked under her body). So I tried not to disturb her.
  5. The guy to my right (aisle seat) NEVER WENT TO THE BATHROOM. For the first six hours and 15 minutes of the flight, I held it. Finally, I had to ask him if I could squeeze by. The planes were big, but it’s still an airplane, so this was not easy.
  6. Due to a combination of the above reasons, I couldn’t fall asleep on this 10-hour flight. I remember looking up at this graph on the wall that showed how far into the trip we were. It said 3 hours. I was certain that meant how much remained of the trip. Nope. We were three hours into the 10-hour flight.

We did eventually land in Istanbul, Turkey. I had a four-hour layover in one of the world’s busiest airports in one of the world’s greatest cities (according to world traveler Jerry Bizjak). I thought about leaving the airport and taking a taxi somewhere but with the $11 in American dollars in my pocket I didn’t know how far I could get. I thought about using the Mastercard I have that charges for international transactions, but then I overheard a couple talking about the massive security at the entrance to the airport due to the bombing that had occurred at Istanbul airport less than two months prior. They said, leaving the airport required a long walk to the taxi area.

So now I had four hours to people watch. Being my first time in a foreign airport, I was overwhelmed by the lack of English I heard. And there were people everywhere. Most certainly the busiest airport I’ve ever been in.

The people watching was a treat, but I also felt sicker as the time passed. I knew the next plane ride, a four-hour jaunt to Dammam Airport, would seem like nothing compared to the last one, but my fever had pitched and my throat was parched. My immune system was certainly weakened from lack of sleep.

When I disembarked the last plane in Saudi Arabia, I was greeted by a man in thobe and headwear holding a sign with my name on it. What resulted was a reminder of what a first-class organization I was going to work for. We exited through a side door, out of the walkway, out into the heat (it was the middle of the night, but the heat was oppressive). The man brought me down to his BMW parked on the runway and drove me a few feet over to an unmarked entrance. I was brought into a waiting room where a travel agent and a representative of the school would greet me. We waited there for the luggage, which was gathered by someone else and brought to our awaiting vehicle. So much for the horror stories you hear about going through customs.

And that is an experience I was happy to miss. I was sick and dehydrated. I was deliriously tired.

About 2:45 a.m. we arrived at our compound. It was Aug. 25. Aug. 24 had passed and I’d never seen it. Had I not been so tired, I might have mourned Aug. 24, the day I never knew.

I was led into Villa 120, our home for the next two years. A bowl of fruit and a box of dates welcomed me. After about a half hour exploring our new home, I fell into bed and slept for 12 hours.

It was the last extended sleep I would get for five days, as jet lag and sleep deprivation used my body as a boxing ring.

UP NEXT: A real story about jet lag and the nice people I work for. Plus, a photo tour of our villa and the school campus.
-RMW