Why I Chose a 7-Hour Layover En Route to Croatia

I’n sitting in the Hilton at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport waiting for Rachel and counting down the hours of my lengthy layover – seven hours – between my flight from Richmond and our flight to Munich. You might be asking: why did you fly to Chicago first? This is a good time to share my prior experiences with traveling to and from Croatia. Despite being a country I love so much, it’s given me my top three travel tales of woe!

I first visited Croatia in August 2006. My mom, brother, and I flew from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt, where we were supposed to be on a flight to Dubrovnik with my aunt and grandmother, who were flying from Chicago. As often happens in summer, a wall of thunderstorms surrounded the airport, and we were about two hours late in leaving DC – the exact length of our layover in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, we didn’t make up any time in the air, and we missed the flight to Dubrovnik. But this was no ordinary miss. We could literally see the Croatia Air plane, not more than one or two gates away from us, when we pulled into the gate. If Frankfurt didn’t require an extra round of security (because clearly we all acquired forbidden items mid-flight), we would have probably squeaked on. Instead, we joined about 300 people from ours and other delayed flights who were trying to get rebooked.

We ended up “lucking out” and being rebooked on a flight to Paris and then another from there to Dubrovnik. I didn’t mind the chance to speak some French, but I had no idea what awaited us at Charles De Gaulle. Our flight to Croatia was to leave from a tiny satellite terminal with only a few gates and hardly any amenities – maybe one place to get food. The time when our plane should have begun to board arrived, but there was no plane. We waited about two hours (at this point it was around 5 pm) for the delayed plane, and then just as we were about to board, everyone in this tiny terminal was suddenly forced to leave the gate area.

It’s fortunate that I speak French because none of what ensued was explained in English. There was some sort of bomb threat, so while all the travelers watched, police came in with dogs and spent about 45 minutes checking the area. When they finished, it was time for the 200 or so of us to go back through security – which in that terminal had a total of two metal detectors, so this took at least another hour. We finally got underway around 9:00 and landed in Dubrovnik around 11:30.

Of course, despite all these delays, our luggage didn’t arrive with us. At that point we just had to laugh. We left the airport, took literally the last taxi, and finally arrived at our hotel about 12 hours behind the rest of our family. My mom and brother got their luggage 24 hours later, but mine took a full 48.

Do you see now why I was willing to fly to Chicago so that Rachel and I would be on the same flight and why I brought several days worth of clothes in a carry-on?!

The other two stories are quicker to tell. On that same 2006 trip, we managed to make it onto our connecting flight in Frankfurt to go back to DC, but just barely, so we were sure there was no way our luggage had made it on. I wish we had been so lucky. My beautiful, newly purchased suitcase appeared on the conveyor belt, and my brother said “why does it look wet?” I quickly thought of what might have broken inside (I had a few small bottles of kruškovac, pear brandy), but nothing was large enough to have made the entire suitcase wet.

When the suitcase reached us, our noses explained the source of the wetness. Suffice it to say that it was as though my poor suitcase had been under a toilet the whole flight. Lufthansa gave us cash on the spot, without getting more than a few feet from the suitcase. This is why I always pack my clothes in plastic bags (which fortunately I had done)!

Then this past February, my flight from Zagreb to Paris was cancelled at the last minute (ie while we were on the runway), leaving me standing at the end of the long line of everyone on that flight who was waiting for rebooking from the ONE agent available to do that. I stood in that line, holding expensive Croatian cheese I’d just purchased from duty free, for a solid three hours! I was just thankful there was still a way to get me home. I ended up with a voucher for a beer and a flight to Frankfurt and then Paris. At least there was a beer…

So hopefully Rach and I will not have any such trouble! We’ll be in Split less than 24 hours before we head to an island, so if our luggage isn’t there tomorrow, we’re not likely to see it again until we’re back 8 days later. I packed my carry-on accordingly. And at least we’ll be together from the start!

As a final note: the 2006 trip was worth every ounce of patience required to get there. Once you see the gorgeous Adriatic coast, you immediately stop caring about everything else!

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