(Written April 2008) I was eventually able to stop sobbing and collect myself enough to exit the safety of the bathroom stall and return to my husband. There’s nothing that can terrify a grown man more than a weeping woman and my husband’s eyes looked at me as if I was Typhoid Mary. I squeezed his hand to assure him that I was doing okay, I was done crying and that I wouldn’t make him listen to my issues.
Within another 20 minutes, we finally made it on to the plane, wedged the kitties in their respective positions "under the seat in front of us," and settled in for our eight-hour flight to Frankfurt. After all my drama (and the two Valium I’d swallowed dry in the bathroom), I fell asleep before we took off and slept for probably over an hour, only to awaken to find out that we were still sitting on the runway. Due to the "severe rain," we managed to sit on that runway for three hours before ever taking off. This ensured that we were going to miss our connection in Frankfurt... and we did.
By the time we arrived in Frankfurt, it was 10am local time, and our connecting flight had left at 9am. My husband planted me and the kitties off to the side while he went and stood in line to discuss our options with Lufthansa. We had been told that everyone who missed their flight had been put on the next available flight. My husband confirmed this and got the gate number.
Since we now had five hours to wait, we decided to take the advice of a friend who had traveled with cats. We found a vacant handicapped bathroom stall, which was basically a large closet to itself, and went in, locked it and let the cats out to stretch their legs. I had brought a small bag of dry food and was just getting them a little cup of water when someone knocked on the door. We quickly shoved everyone back in their carriers, and opened the door to see one man standing there with no obvious handicap, other than the inability to go to the next door marked "Herren." We left regardless and trundled down to the gate where our flight was supposed to depart in less than four hours. I ran off to get some sandwiches for us, which we ate in stony-eyed silence, listening to the cats munch away on their snacks.
After an hour, we were asked to leave the area because it was going to be used for another departing flight, but we could return in an hour to sit and wait again if we so chose. We chose instead to grab some seats in the middle of the airport where I proceeded to sit-n-shop for a new carry-on bag -- one with wheels as I'm tired of carrying around laptops on my shoulder everywhere I go -- and my husband proceeded to do his head-bobbing dozing act in which he actually hallucinated that I had let Chuckles out to wander the airport hallway. Exhaustion, sleep-deprivation and stress were leading us down the garden path like the poppies in Oz, and all we wanted to do was sleep.
We finally were able to check in on our Egypt Air flight, only to find out that Lufthansa had never actually booked us or our luggage on the flight. Luckily we were able to grab the seemingly last two seats on a crowded flight, and the Egypt Air ticket agent was also able to get our bags on it (we truly didn't think we'd see those for days). One note here is that at no point did they ever ask us to remove the cats from the carriers, see any paperwork for them, or even peek to confirm we were carrying cats. My appreciation was palpable.
The Egypt Air flight was yet another experience in-and-of itself. Along with being packed, it was also a very very tight squeeze to get the cats under the seat. The woman sitting next to me at the window, seeing I was struggling with getting the bags under the seat, said in very fast German something about overhead bins being "frei" at the back of the plane. Mustering all of my high school German lessons, I smiled at her and said, pointing to the carriers, "Katzen." She looked at me quizzically, "Katzen?" "Ya," I said. (And I thought I'd never use my German again.) She laughed and I continued to wedge them under. It was so squished that my husband and I had to figure out where to place our feet in the remaining six square inches we had to share.
The flight itself was fine, but I did find the service amusing. It started out with a round of soft drinks and juices as usual. Then came a dinner offering of beef or fish (since I wasn’t able to request a vegetarian meal beforehand, I nibbled at my husband's bread roll). Then, sodas and juice again, then coffee, then tea, then coffee, coffee, tea, tea, tea. All the while, no one was removing the ever-growing pile of trash on everyone's minuscule tray. They finally did remove all the trash, but it was only after another few rounds of tea and coffee. My husband and I chatted cryptically with the woman from Heidelberg next to us, collaborating with our basic German vocabulary and opting not to ask some questions because we couldn't remember the words needed. But we did learn that she was visiting her husband of 50 years outside of Cairo, and she had two kids, and maybe a dog or cat, I can't really remember. She seemed to be amused by us and gave us her card to visit her in Heidelberg when we next visit Germany.
At 9pm, Cairo time, we landed in Cairo and were met by someone from my husband’s job and an expeditor. The expeditor took our passports and the cats’ rabies and health certificates, and ran around the airport, literally, while we stood there trying to pretend we didn't feel like zombies with the flu. By 9:30pm we were all in a car, including our five bags of luggage, two cat carriers, and four computers, and were heading to our new home in Cairo.
From the point we left Robin's house the day before, it had been a very long 27 hours for us and the ever-patient felines. I was certain there would be hairballs in our shoes for weeks to come.