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Yesterday my daughter, mom, and I woke up pre-dawn in an overcast and dreary Barcelona to head to the airport in order to start our long journey home after spending six great days in Spain. We checked out of the hotel, took a cab to the Barcelona airport, waited in the normal security and immigration lines with other travelers, grumbled about the lack of decent food in the part of the airport our flight was departing from, and uneventfully boarded our United flight slated for an on-time 9:40AM departure.
We were looking forward to getting home, but not necessarily to the 9 hour + TransAtlantic flight ahead of us, followed by another three hour domestic flight before we would land in Houston Tuesday night.
My daughter was unimpressed by having to walk past the BusinessFirst seats to her coach seat as she hadn’t noticed them on the outbound when we also flew in coach since we didn’t board through the front door, but now she was acutely aware that we were not in the “good seats”. We talked about how it wasn’t our turn to sit and those seats and that was more or less the end of it (well, after I posted her happy face/grumpy face pre-departure photo on my personal Facebook page). That small discussion about seats was the biggest issue we faced on our flight.
We then flew across the Atlantic for most of Tuesday. The plane had no WiFi, so I binge watched chick flicks until we landed in Newark early Tuesday afternoon. I didn’t have time to get online after we landed before heading through immigration and customs, so we were already at the boarding gate for our next flight when I heard the news both from my husband on the phone, as well as by overhearing my mom talking to my dad on her phone.
A flight leaving Barcelona within minutes of ours on Tuesday morning had crashed. There were no survivors.
Of course, as you undoubtedly know this flight was GermanWings Flight 9525, a low-cost Lufthansa subsidiary, bound for Dusseldorf that was scheduled to depart at 9:35AM Tuesday morning, just five minutes before our flight. It ended up departing a little late at 10:01AM, just 21 minutes after us.
Hearing that any plane has crashed stops the heart and reels the stomach, especially for regular travelers and their loved ones. Hearing that one has crashed that departed the same airport so close to yours hit close to home. Knowing that you had seriously looked at re-routing options through Germany on Lufthansa that morning makes that an even more sobering feeling.
You see, when we checked in online for our flight home the night before, it showed as potentially overbooked. I wanted us to be able to get home on Tuesday, but like any travel deal hunter, I looked at other fight options that left around the same time as ours from Barcelona in case we had the opportunity to be re-booked and re-routed in exchange for compensation. Most of the viable options that left around the time of our flight and got us home the same day went through Germany via Lufthansa.
In the end, they didn’t need volunteers to get re-routed as our flight went out with a few empty seats, I’m not 100% sure we would have taken the offer even if they had needed volunteers, and if they had agreed to re-routed us, it’s much more likely would have gone through Frankfurt, not Dusseldorf, if we did pick another way home. Still, who knows. I’m glad we didn’t change our flight at all in this case. It was certainly the closest I have been, or ever want to be, to a deadly aviation disaster.
The travelers on that GermanWings plane were waking up in the same city, at roughly the same time, and heading to the same airport as we were for what they probably thought would be an ordinary flight across Europe. Only it heartbreakingly wasn’t.
Back home, my dad (who like a crazy person, sleeps with the TV set turned to a news channel), woke in the middle of the night and heard the spotty reports on the TV that a plane that had departed Barcelona around the time as our flight had crashed. As is the case with these sort of things, the information that first is reported is spotty and incomplete.
Of course ultimately he was able to check our flight information and status and learn that the flight was not the one carrying his wife, daughter, and grand-daughter. Terribly, 150 other families weren’t that lucky yesterday. I’m sure those moments of uncertainty for my dad were not ones he wants to repeat any time soon. In fact, I will share what we he wrote about the event a bit later today.
When I learned of the crash while waiting at the boarding gate for our next flight it was frankly a little too much to process. Honestly, it still is kind of is for me. We still had to fly that day to get home, of course air travel is still statistically very safe, but we all know there is some risk. There is also that element of turning your life over to others who you have never met. There is still that fear that creeps in, at least for me, on every flight. I still hold my daughter’s hand on every takeoff and for the first 3-5 minutes of flight. If something were to happen then, I want to have her hand. It’s all I can do.
I fly a lot, but I still get uneasy for at least a few minutes on every flight. It doesn’t stop me from traveling, but it is always there in the back of my mind. I try to keep those feelings in the back of my mind.
This of course brings those thoughts to the forefront. I will still travel, but I will do my best to continue to remember that landing safely is the most important thing. Much more so than upgrades, mileage earned, in-flight entertainment, and delays. If at the end of your journey you are able to return to your home safely, it was a successful trip. Everything else is minor in the grand scheme.
We got to return home to our families last night and sleep in our own beds. We get to wake up the next day and continue on with our lives and journeys. I wish with all my heart all the travelers yesterday could say the same.
Safe travels, friends.