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Alice Verberne in France: My tips for avoiding a holiday flight to Travel Hell

If you are planning to travel internationally this holiday season, below are a few tips to steal and some situations to avoid. And, with some luck, you can do as I say and not as I did.

Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

I was so glad I packed munchies for the trip. It is a great excuse to pull off your mask and sneak a bite. Plus, you just never know how long you may be stranded at an airport. Don’t forget to dump the water from your bottle before you reach the luggage scanner. Keep the bottle. Refill it after you pass the scanner.

Remember to eat up any fresh produce before you land. Fines can be hefty and search dogs are pros at spotting that banana in your pocket.


You look so fly!

The airline suggested to dress comfortably. But, my fashion minded French husband disapproved of my outfit. I looked like Kurt Cobain sporting pajamas at his wedding. My compromise, a sweater dress and fuzzy socks, made me feel snug and smug as I stood in line awaiting transport.

Masked men

The driver scanned COVID passes granting entrance to a bus full of what appeared to be masked polar bears. With no place to store bulky items, everyone sat miserable in cumbersome overcoats. The driver blasted the heat (and music), creating an inferno not unlike Dante’s seventh circle of hell. The worry of losing a glove, hat or scarf motivated me to just sit down and endure the three-hour ride.

A bag heavier than you

I was once told that some of the best stories are found between the pages of a passport. Would mine turn out to be a comedy or tragedy? The bus dropped us under a dimly lit overpass near Frankfurt. The roller on my 30-year old suitcase promptly broke. I received contradictory directions from preoccupied airport employees. Was it frustration constricting my throat? No, it was asthma due to the sudden temperature change and overexertion of dragging heavy gear in circles.

Hurry up and wait

Not this

I consoled myself. At least I was early. The airport was deserted, with the exception of a 19-year-old soldier who had spent the night on airport benches. The airline refused him boarding the day before because he had arrived two and a half hours early instead of the required three.

Ach du lieber Himmel!

I now felt a surge of gratitude to have a six-hour wait before takeoff. I had spent the last two playing out the first page of my passport story. It’s a sit-com. Amy Schumer speaking poor German stars as me. She attempts to wrangle a luggage caddy free from a jangly machine.

After an hour of arguing that she deserves to have the buggy since she already paid one euro for it, she wins her prize. “Calm down, it is only a luggage wagon,” one German official deadpans. She speeds down the corridor, is halted and ordered to ditch the cart and forced to load luggage onto a shuttle. Breathless, she is sent to the proper terminal.

Ease the torture of “economy class syndrome”

As more passengers arrive, our commiseration party grows. Some folks had great travel tips. They suggested flying to U.S. cities located on the eastern seaboard since European flights landing in places such as Washington D.C. or Charlotte, North Carolina take about seven hours. The advantage is that the two legs of a non-direct flight are more evenly divided.

For example, a flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta takes ten hours, the connecting hop to my final destination (New Orleans) is an additional hour. But, if I had flown to say Washington, D.C. My flight would be about seven, with a three hour flight onto NOLA.

Hush little baby

Especially with COVID, most folks prefer to keep to themselves. I know, this is especially hard for loquacious passengers, but DON’T BE A RADIO. Have a quick chat, then fake interest in the flight attendants safety instructions. Slather on some moisturizer, skip the cologne but remember to deodorize.

Creature comforts

My plan was to turn the tray table into a head rest by stacking inflatable cushions on it. With eyes blindfolded, ears plugged and face mask adjusted; I could not see, hear or breathe. I plopped my mummified face into the hole of the stacked neck pillows. I was like a child taking a nap on a school desk during a boring class.

Headrest blimps

I sat hunched over, my face mask catching drool and exacerbating my clogged nose. What could be worse torture? A bucket of water for my feet and battery clamps attached to my ears, maybe? When the plane hit turbulence the inflatable pillows shot like zeppelins aimed strategically at my seatmate, the flight attendant, and the guy in front of me.

My head hurts, my feet stink and I don’t like flying

“It’s that kind of morning. Really, it was that kind of night. I keep telling myself that my condition’s improving. If I don’t die by through customs, I will be just fine later tonight.” I hummed my version to Jimmy Buffet’s song upon deplaning. I envied the tanned travelers breezily passing me. I felt like a dork in my wool sweater dress and leg warmers.

Georgia on my mind

After a long flight, the last thing I want to feel is unwelcome. The staff at our destination was so congenial, cooperative and courteous. Amid all of these good Atlanta vibes, I still felt like the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy, please throw some water on me: I was MELTING.

The big switch

The airport staff was happy to offer assistance. They said that since international passengers typically go through the routine of claiming their checked bags from the hold of the plane; I would have an opportunity to grab a summer outfit from my suitcase. I ditched the Parisian pashmina and pearls and switched to Southern sandals and skirt. I then re-checked the bag before heading to my final destination.

No place like home

A weight is lifted the moment the flight lands. In this context, the destination is much more important that the journey. No matter how hot, bothered or smothered you were on your flight, seeing your loved ones smile at the end of the corridor is a welcome relief and a breath of fresh air. 

Especially once you remove your mask.

About the author:

Alice Verberne is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience writing for magazines and newspapers in both Europe and the United States. 

Alice spends her free time painting and sculpting at the Villa Vatelotte, a meeting place for artists and artisans in rural France.

See all of Alice’s posts here.

See her posts about wine here.

See more travel posts on Dispatches here.

Website | + posts

Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.


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