In November of 1966 I had just turned 19. I boarded a plane for Chicago, Illinois to catch a connecting flight to London, England where I would have a short layover before departing for Milano, Italy, and then on to Pisa, Italy. It was my first adventure flying on a big airplane. I was alone, excited, nervous, intimidated, and a little frightened.
Before boarding the plane, I kissed my mom goodbye, hugged the rest of my family, told them I loved them, and waved as I got on the plane, knowing that it would be 30 months before I would see them again.
The first leg of this trip (to Chicago) was uneventful (until I deboarded). The plane ride was great and as I looked out the window, I got my first glimpse of this great country. I was fascinated at what I saw and started thinking about my ancestors who came across it as Mormon pioneers, taking months and enduring a lot of work and hardships before getting to Salt Lake. I was going in the opposite direction, and it would only take me a couple of hours. I was grateful for their efforts, but more grateful that I didn’t experience what they did as they crossed the plains.
After landing in Chicago, I learned that everything didn’t always run smoothly. I didn’t have much time and was going to have to hustle through the airport if I wanted to catch my connecting flight at the very end in the opposite direction. Back in those days, passengers flying to an international destination had their luggage taken off the plane and had to carry it to the next boarding site and check in again. I was alone and had two big Samsonite suitcases (without the wheels that today’s luggage is equipped with) and a box of homemade cookies to carry through the airport.
For a novice traveler this was a frightful experience. I was afraid I might get on the wrong plane or maybe miss it altogether or perhaps I could get abducted (ok, this one I just threw into the story to create some excitement). I was grateful that the plane waited for me and I was able to board without any complications.
The trip to London was also uneventful. After we landed I changed planes to fly to Milano, Italy. The new plane was smaller than the one I had just gotten off and after sitting down in my seat I finally relaxed. At least for a minute! Then just before takeoff the pilot came on the intercom, welcomed us aboard and mentioned he hoped we would have a nice trip. “But before we can takeoff,” he said, “we need everyone to move forward to occupy the seats towards the front of the plane.”
At this moment I started to pray for my safety because I wasn’t convinced that any plane requiring passengers to move to the front was safe. But like everyone else I obeyed the captain and moved (leaving my box of cookies under my seat).
About ten minutes later we were in the air, and he came back on the intercom and told us it was safe to return to our original seats. I went back, but when I got there I noticed my cookies were gone. Now that made me mad because Mom had packed my favorite ones and I wanted them back.
I looked under my seat and sure enough, I saw them several rows back under someone else’s seat. I thought I knew how they got there, but I wondered what I should do about it. After a while I decided to confront the woman who had my cookies. I didn’t speak her language, so I pointed to the box. She knew I had caught her, so she reached under her seat and retrieved them and gave them back, but not before she got upset with me (imagine that!).
A couple of hours later we landed in Milano, got off the plane, picked up our luggage, got onto a bus, and went somewhere away from the airport. I don’t know exactly where we went or how far away it was, but it took about 15 minutes and when we got off the bus, we were told that we would have to wait an hour or so before going back to the plane. As soon as I got off the bus a taxi driver grabbed my suitcases and took them to his car and was ready to throw them in the trunk. I was trying to tell him I didn’t want to go with him. He just kept telling me about his sister who would like to meet me. He and I had a tug of war with my luggage before I convinced him I was not interested in going any place he wanted to take me. Finally, he let go and I sat down and relaxed until it was time to get back on the bus and head to the plane.
When I got back to the airport I was surprised because we returned to the same plane we had flown in on. At that moment I learned why Italians say “Mama Mia” when they are frustrated.
The trip to Pisa was an hour flight and it was uneventful (for which I was grateful). I was met by two men who greeted me and welcomed me to Italy. They took me to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa before going to Firenze where I would spend Thanksgiving Day and then head out by myself on an Italian train heading north to Brescia to begin my work.
I can look back now and see the humor of the challenges and the frustrations of my first trip on an airplane. But you know what? I would not trade the experience for anything. In fact, I like to use this example as a teaching tool for my family about living in the moment and when things don’t go the way we expect, we need to adapt and keep plugging and pushing and enduring until things are rectified. And they usually are.
Happy Failing Forward,
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